Learn about saxophones, their care, sounds and more!

Articles coming soon:

  • Your Sound ...
  • Buying a quality sax ...
  • Most Undervalued saxes ...
  • Talk on finishes and sounds ...
  • pairing the right mouthpiece with the vintage sax ...
  • Reed care...
  • working with a vintage case ...
  • how to get the stick out...
  • Maintenance Tricks ...
  • How to select a pad ...
  • Pairing modern Cases with vintage saxes
  • Does a ligature really affect tone? YES - see SOUND FILE/research

Your Sound on Sax

Wisdom from Sarge:

Playing sax is so much more personal than something like piano or drums... you have to play, yes, practice too, but you also have to work to make your particular sound... unlike piano or drums or similar instruments, it involves a technique (embouchure, wind control, reading, and controlling the instrument) Then, it also means that you have to decide how you want to play, jazz, blues, new orleans dixie, etc. Most people decide on a sound and a style, or genre. To get that sound, you will need the right tools. The tools are: 1) a mouthpiece (and there are over a hundred designs/tonal shades) and 2) a saxophone (also a lot of designs, ergonomics and sounds). Each sax will shade you to the sound you like best, for your personal taste. I have my favorite sound, but it might be different that what you prefer... ok, now i'm getting to my point, the only way i can help point you in the right direction, is if you can help me help you.
Usually, people find one or two sax hero's (fathead newman, ben webster, etc) and decide that their favorite sound and style is similar to one of their heroes. We can help you sound like the legends by pairing the right sax and mouthpiece.
So, the ball is in your court. If you say john coltrane is closest to your favorite, we find you a old Florida era Otto Link and a Selmer Mark VI. That said, sometimes people don't want to sound like anyone else... They want to pick three famous horns and try them, to see what sound they get and then decide what they're drawn to! We can usually help with that too (for locals, they can play them in person, for out of the area players, we record them with state of the art equipment and email a sample mp3 of each horn or mouthpiece).

I hope that helps to get you started. Here's a great webpage to help you look at different models: Saxophone Comparison Chart--don't forget, the chart is a compilation of our opinions.


Chadd (& Sarge, in spirit)

Basic sax care:

My short collection of tips that are less commonly mentioned.
These are from my 'player' and 'repair' brain.

LEVEL 1: "Often Missed"

A good case –

I see so many saxes that get damaged in shipment! Unfortunately, the vintage cases that we love don’t pass the Safety Grade (most/near all!). If you paid over $2500 for sax, you should probably invest in a good case. Unfortunately, the return value is not in your case when selling later.

Retrofit your case:

...For Safety use: Towels, foam, cloths, bubblewrap. …

A good mouthpiece cap –

If my mouthpiece cracked or died, I would cry. You know what I’m talking about! Never risk your good mouthpieces to bounce around in the case. Level 2: a bag around your capped mouthpiece.

A pull-through swab –

Water/spit will rot out your pads faster, also, it causes pads to stick, grow green stuff… gross. Just buy the $15 swab, it will save you more than that in pad repairs, but you’ll have to be willing to spend the extra 10-minutes on this step before putting the sax away. After long practice sessions, run it through 3 times.

LEVEL 2: "Commonly Said"

Cork grease

Perhaps the biggest money waster, yet, necessary evil. I’ve not often needed to put new cork grease on after recorking the neck. Perhaps during the first month or so. However, unless you’re changing mouthpieces, or testing new ones…. Yea, it will probably be melting in your case. But you do need this for mpc tests. This is a necessary evil. I can’t tell you how many very vintage cork greases I’ve seen come with old saxes… some of which were still good after 50 years!

Oil –

For rollers! If you learned how to add a few drops of oil to your pinky clusters, you’d likely take care of 70% of the key noise that I see. It’s the plastic vibrating on the metal!

LEVEL 3: "Advanced Case Kit"

Screwdriver, or two.

My small one I put in my alto case saved me a few times. Hey, even Buescher 400 “Top Hat & Canes” came with the Buescher logo screwdriver when they sold the saxes in the 1950s! [INSERT OLD B400 PHOTO]

Plumbers tape/masking tape 

For your neck cork emergency! Or testing of mouthpieces.

Sand paper

For reed-geeks or advanced cork adjustments. A piece of 220(or +) grit is my recommendation. A 12" x 12" patch will last decades.


The (3) Real Problems with Cheap Saxophones:

This article is mostly from my 'repair' brain.

Poor Materials (Glue & Pads)


Using cheap glue, you will often find that the corks will fall off sooner than expected during use of such instruments.


The quality of pads are a huge component to the longevity of easy playing. Cheaper pads use poor quality leather, that is treated in such a way that it may stick and cause playing issues. Sometimes the felt underneath the leather can be too fluffy and that will cause pads to stock easier (more surface area to stick to) and also cause issues for having a good seal to the tonehole for the long run of use.

Lack of Engineering (Build/Intonation):

          Cheaper horns are often a copy of a more Established company. This is something that exposes the lack of scientific planning in a cheap instrument… The variables are unpredictable; the horns are inconsistent. ***However, there are actually good ones! Good luck finding them.
Sometimes you can see the poor quality control of such factories without established engineering oversight. Example: keys are soldered on crooked (not to a horrible degree, but things I've noticed--even on "student" Selmers vs higher quality models) ...aka: more quality control.

Brass Quality: (Tone/Repairs!)

This category as a factor can be a huge one. There are different alloy mixes used in brass instruments. They are a combination (percentage) of copper & zinc--depending on the use, the blend to make brass can vary in the %s! The conclusion of such metals can be noticed in the varying "tone quality”.

***Perhaps another reason for the fabled Mark VI and trying to figure out the correct blend that it used. The world may never know.

-- I have had a repair person run into poor brass that could not be repaired.
-- I have personally tried to do a high – temp repair with silver solder. A part of a saxophone brass tube melted under the high temperature… It should not have done this.
-- an easier worry to see is how the wrong metal structure could gain metal stress and be bent. Brass of a poorer quality may suffer micro-fractures and be susceptible to misalignment more often.
Aka: once it starts going out of adjustment, it will continue to have this problem without custom repairs of Frankenstein additions (like adding more brass support arms).
-- Another Example: steel rods strip out the threading on the brass post and do not stay put.


Should you Buy an Intermediate Sax?

1) What is the student’s commitment level?
2) How well will your player care for it?
3) Are you planning to upgrade later?
4) Will you ever need a second/backup sax?


(alto price) 6th Grade 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th 12th College+
Student Sax $600 - - -?- $2500 - - -
Intermediate $1100 - - - - $2500 - -
  +mpc Sell St. for $250? Sell Int. for $500?

= Net better horn from the start, longer use on the intermediate, delayed upgrade purchase.

= 4-5yrs on better sax for net cost of $250 difference after selling. Or $250/4 = $50 a year for a better sax… and better backup sax.

***or depending on the sax cost, and player: $30-65 a year for a better sax.

(Table below under construction)

(alto price)6th Grade7th8th9th10th11th12thCollege
Student Sax  $600 -?- upgrade $2500 -   - - - Intermediate Sax 
$1100 - - upgrade $2500   -   -   - Invest/Re-invest  -
+Mpc - Sell St. for $250?   Sell Int. for $500?   -   -
Cheers, I hope that helps you out!