How It’s Made: Alto Sax

The alto saxophone is the middle child of saxophones. It is smaller than the tenor sax but larger than the soprano sax. It is one of the woodwind instruments created by Belgian instrument designer, Adolphe Sax.

The alto saxophone is commonly used in a classical capacity, meaning it is commonly found in concert bands, chamber music, marching bands, and jazz.

Parts of an Alto Saxophone

The alto saxophone is made up of a handful of components. These components include the mouthpiece, ligature, neck cork, octave key, neck, neck screw, octave pin, keys, body, keyguard, bell, and bow.

The mouthpiece is found on the neck of the saxophone and is slid onto the neck cork to hold it in place.

The ligature is a metal piece that holds the reed to the mouthpiece. The vibrations against the reed, caused by a player blowing into the mouthpiece, are what produce the sound.

The octave key is located next to a single hole, known as the octave vent, on the neck of the saxophone.

The neck is a removable metal tube that is attached to the body of the alto saxophone.

The keys are located along the body. The keys located on the middle and lower part of the bow are known as spatula keys whereas the keys on the bottom right side of the instrument are known as side keys.

The body is a brass tube on which all of the rods, keys, and other parts of the saxophone are attached.

The U-shaped bottom of the body is referred to as the bow.

The bell is the flared part of the sax located on the body.

Alto Saxophone Production

The primary material used in making an alto saxophone is brass. The body of the saxophone is made from brass which is an alloy made from copper, tin, nickel, and zinc.

The Mouthpiece

The mouthpiece is made up of one solid material molded into a particular shape. Some common materials used to make mouthpieces are plastic, ebonite, crystal, wood, metal-plated brass, and metal-stainless steel.

The Reed and Ligature

The reed’s used in saxophones are made from bamboo, typically from Southern France. The reed is attached to the mouthpiece using the ligature which is formed from materials including leather, plastic, or more commonly, metal. The ligature is a cylindrical piece that is wrapped around the reed and mouthpiece and screwed tight to hold them together.

The Body

To begin the body, a large brass tube is slid onto a mandrel which is a cylindrical axle that is used to hold the brass. The brass is then lubricated and reshaped. Heating the brass allows the manufacturer to shape the saxophone to specific specifications.

The tone holes are then punched using a machine that uses computer precision to create perfect saxophones. These are the holes that are opened and closed based on which keys are pressed down, controlling the tone of the sound.

The importance of the computer precision is paramount. If the tone holes are punched in the wrong position, it will cause two things. First, the tone will be off because it is either further down or higher up the body of the sax. Secondly, the keys will not be lined up properly in order to clamp down on the tone holes.

The Keys

The keys are created through either a die-casting or stamping process. Die-casting forces molten alloy into a die. The keys are formed once the alloy cools and hardens. The stamping process cuts keys for sheets of metal. Screws and springs are then attached to the keys so that they can be attached to the instrument.

The Key Pads

Each key also has pads attached to them. These pads serve two purposes. They keep the metal keys from clamping down against the brass metal which could cause wear over time. They also muffle the sound that would be made from metal keys hitting brass, ensuring that the only sound coming from the instrument, is out of the bell. The key pads are made from layers of cardboard, felt, or leather.

Posts

Posts are screwed onto the saxophone’s body. The small pillars are placed in holes next to the tone holes. These posts are used as mounts for the keys which are screwed onto the posts.

To finalize the process, the alto saxophone is pieced together and played for quality assurance. It is then disassembled and prepped for the consumer.