Biggest saxophone Contrabass sax

Biggest Saxophone – The Contrabass Saxophone: Meet the Giant Jazz Star

Written by Greger Hillman, Saxophone teacher and music educator

Origins of the Contrabass Saxophone

The contrabass saxophone is the biggest saxophone in the world.

Quick backstory: The Saxophone was created by Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone family.

His original vision for the saxophone family included the contrabass, and it was part of his 1846 patent.

However, if we are being honest it's not that useful. The size alone makes it very hard to handle and in my experience it's a real beast!

The contrabass saxophone is unique in that it combines elements of both woodwind and brass, featuring a brass body but using a clarinet-type mouthpiece.

Here are some key facts about the contrabass saxophone that I found interesting:

  • Invented by: Adolphe Sax
  • Part of: Saxophone family
  • Mentioned by: George Kastner (in 1844)
  • Patented in: 1846
  • Inspired by: Bass and contrabass instruments

Although the contrabass saxophone not be as well-known as its smaller siblings like the alto and tenor saxophones, it still holds an important place in the saxophone family.

But as I mentioned it's very unpractical and big. Still, if you want a super low sounding saxophone this is the one for you.

Design and Construction of the biggest saxophone

When it comes to the contrabass saxophone, this remarkable instrument never fails to impress me.

As one of the largest members of the saxophone family, the contrabass saxophone boasts a distinctive design with an equally impressive construction process.

As I've learned, the contrabass saxophone is primarily made of brass, just like most other saxophones.

Thanks to its large size and significant use of brass material, the contrabass saxophone has a sonorous, deep, and rich tonal quality, setting it apart from other members of the saxophone family.

Over the years, several manufacturers have contributed to the development and production of the contrabass saxophone, and I'll mention some of them:

  • Benedikt Eppelsheim: This prestigious German manufacturer played a significant role in the innovation of low woodwinds, including the contrabass saxophone.
  • Tubax: A unique and innovative woodwind instrument developed by Benedikt Eppelsheim, the Tubax differs from the contrabass saxophone in its design and structure. It's more compact and easier to play but is still able to produce a comparable low range.
  • Orsi: An Italian manufacturer that produces a variety of brass and woodwind instruments, including the contrabass saxophone.
  • J'Elle Stainer: A Brazilian company well-known for its production of high-quality, handcrafted saxophones, including the contrabass model.

In constructing the contrabass saxophone, certain design aspects must be considered to maintain its unique sound, such as:

  1. Tubing: This instrument features an extensive length of tubing, allowing it to produce those deep and powerful low notes.
  2. Mouthpiece: Similar to a bass saxophone's mouthpiece, the contrabass saxophone's mouthpiece has a wide tip opening to accommodate the instrument's large reed.
  3. Keys: To enable the musician to play this massive saxophone, the keys are strategically placed on the instrument's body, with some designs incorporating additional support systems for increased comfort and playability.

I find it particularly fascinating that despite its large size, the contrabass saxophone remains an essential and cherished part of various ensembles, showcasing its versatility and the dedication of those who play it.

The blend of unique design, careful construction, and attention to detail make the contrabass saxophone a truly remarkable instrument.

Famous Contrabass Saxophonists

I'd like to introduce you to some incredible musicians who have mastered the art of playing the largest saxophone – the contrabass saxophone.

These talented individuals have truly showcased the powerful and unique sound of this remarkable instrument. Let me share a few of those exceptional contrabass saxophonists with you:

Blaise Garza is a versatile musician who has played with various ensembles and orchestras.

His impressive skills on the contrabass saxophone have led to collaborations with renowned artists like Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys.

Paul Cohen is a prominent figure in the saxophone world and a professor of music at the Manhattan School of Music. His dedication to the contrabass saxophone is evident through his numerous solo performances and recordings.

Jay C. Easton is a multi-instrumentalist who has a particular love for low woodwinds. His passion for the contrabass saxophone has made him a sought-after performer for festivals, concerts, and studio recordings.

Scott Robinson is a versatile and imaginative musician, well known for his proficiency in playing a wide range of saxophones.

The contrabass saxophone is one of his preferred instruments, which he has used to create innovative sounds and compositions.

Here are a few more contrabass saxophonists who have made significant contributions to the world of music:

  • Anthony Braxton: An experimental composer and improviser who has worked with various ensembles. His dedication to exploring the unique sounds of the contrabass saxophone sets him apart.
  • Randy Emerick: A renowned musician who has played with notable bands like the Jaco Pastorius Big Band. He is well known for his talent on the contrabass saxophone and other large woodwind instruments.
  • Daniel Gordon: A versatile musician and composer. His passion for the contrabass saxophone has allowed him to share the magnificent sound of this instrument with different audiences.
  • Attilio Berni: A dedicated saxophonist who is passionate about preserving and sharing the history of the saxophone family. His private saxophone museum exhibits his impressive collection, including the contrabass saxophone.
  • Gilberto Lopes: A Brazilian musician known for exploring the diverse sounds of the contrabass saxophone. His performances and recordings have delighted many enthusiasts of this fascinating instrument.

I hope you've enjoyed getting to know these outstanding contrabass saxophonists, who have truly demonstrated the capabilities and unique tonal qualities of this remarkable saxophone.

The passion and dedication of these musicians have contributed greatly to the world of music and have inspired countless individuals to explore the captivating world of the contrabass saxophone.

Contrabass Saxophone Performance

The contrabass saxophone is an impressive instrument in the saxophone family.

It stands out not only because of its enormous size but also its deep, resonant sound.

While it may not be as popular as its cousins the soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones, I think the contrabass saxophone deserves some recognition for its unique qualities and the challenges it presents to musicians.

This gigantic saxophone sure makes a fine addition to any ensemble, but it also comes with its own set of challenges.

Due to its large size, the embouchure, or the way the performer's mouth shapes around the mouthpiece, requires considerable strength and endurance. Just like other saxophones, the contrabass is a single-reed instrument and the same fundamental technique applies.

As for the pitch range, the contrabass saxophone plays a full octave below the baritone sax, with its lowest note being the C at the bottom of the piano keyboard. For comparison, here are the pitch ranges for the other mentioned saxophones:

  • Soprano: B♭3 to A♭6
  • Alto: E♭3 to F6
  • Tenor: B♭2 to F5
  • Baritone: E♭2 to A♭4
  • Contrabass: C1 to B♭3

The fingering for the contrabass saxophone is quite similar to that of other saxophones, but given its size, the hands and fingers may have to stretch a bit more to reach the keys. If you're curious about the sopranino saxophone, it's a smaller sax that occupies a higher pitch range, usually between E♭4 and F6.

In terms of repertoire, the contrabass saxophone remains relatively rare compared to more common saxophones.

Its unique tones, however, provide an opportunity for composers and performers seeking to experiment with new sounds and textures.

To sum up, performing on a contrabass saxophone can be quite the experience.

While it poses some challenges related to its size and embouchure, the rich, deep tones it produces certainly make it a standout among other saxophones.

As a saxophone enthusiast, I must say that the saxophone family is quite diverse and fascinating. Allow me to introduce you to some of the variants and related instruments of the contrabass saxophone.

Firstly, let me talk about the bass saxophone. It's one of the more widely known saxophones, right after alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones.

The bass saxophone is pitched in B♭, and it holds a vital role in the support of ensemble music.

Speaking of the baritone saxophone, it's pitched in E♭ and is used more commonly than the contrabass saxophone.

It has a lower range than the tenor saxophone but is still an essential component in any saxophone ensemble, lending depth to harmonies.

Another exciting instrument is the Eppelsheim Tubax, a family of saxophones that come in two versions: the B♭ subcontrabass and the E♭ contrabass Tubax.

The B♭ subcontrabass is a modified version of the contrabass saxophone, while the E♭ contrabass is closer in range to the baritone and bass saxophones.

When it comes to the subcontrabass saxophone, this intriguing instrument is extremely rare and humongous. As a lower-pitched version of the contrabass saxophone, it's designed to provide extra depth and resonance in music.

Other interesting saxophone variants include:

  • C soprano: A straight saxophone pitched in C
  • F alto: An alto saxophone pitched in F
  • C-melody saxophone: A saxophone designed to play in the same key as most pianos and guitars
  • F baritone: A baritone saxophone pitched in F

Each of these instruments contributes to the rich variety of the saxophone family, making it an exciting field for any music lover to explore.

While some of these variants may be less common, they still hold a special place in the hearts of musicians who play and appreciate them.

So, the next time you attend a saxophone ensemble performance, keep your eyes (and ears) open for these unique and beautiful instruments.

Musical Contexts of the Contrabass Saxophone

When I think of wind instruments, specifically saxophones, the contrabass saxophone always stands out in my mind because of its unique size and fascinating sound.

Invented by Adolphe Sax in 1846, the contrabass saxophone is the largest saxophone family member and features a clarinet-type mouthpiece.

While it may be less common in comparison to its smaller siblings, its powerful presence adds depth to various musical contexts, such as marching bands, military bands, and concert bands.

One of the most well-known uses of the contrabass saxophone is in jazz ensembles. Its deep, rich tones provide an excellent foundation for the more commonly used smaller saxophones, such as the soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones.

Chamber music also frequently features the contrabass saxophone, as its unique texture can add another level of dimension to a performance.

It's important to acknowledge a few exceptional instances in which the contrabass saxophone has been utilized in the music world:

  • Violent Femmes: This notable alternative rock band incorporated the contrabass saxophone in their music, showcasing its versatility beyond traditional jazz and classical music.
  • Moonlight Big Band: This ensemble highlighted the unique sound of the subcontrabass saxophone, showcasing the adaptability of the instrument in a variety of musical settings.

To sum it up, musicians and musical ensembles looking for an instrument that adds depth and character to their sound should consider the contrabass saxophone.

  1. Wind Instruments: The contrabass saxophone is a unique and powerful addition to the family of wind instruments.
  2. Mouthpiece: Its clarinet-type mouthpiece differentiates it from other saxophones.
  3. Marching Bands / Military Bands / Concert Bands: The contrabass saxophone adds a hearty foundation to these ensembles.
  4. Jazz Ensembles / Chamber Music: Its low frequency and rich tone enhance these musical styles.

Understanding the Contrabass Saxophone

As a saxophone enthusiast, I couldn't wait to share my knowledge about the contrabass saxophone, one of the largest and most impressive members of the saxophone family. This fascinating instrument is pitched in the key of E flat and can captivate listeners with its deep, resonant tones.

When thinking about the family of saxophones, the most commonly used members are the soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone.

However, there is a broader spectrum of instruments available, including the incredibly rare and massive contrabass saxophone. Among these other members, you'll find the sopranissimo, which is the smallest and highest-pitched saxophone.

When it comes to the playing range of the contrabass saxophone, it typically spans from low A up to E flat or F above middle C, depending on the instrument's specific configuration.

The tubing of the contrabass saxophone is a whopping 16 feet long, which contributes to the instrument's lower pitch. Its large bell tends to produce a distinct sound with a much lower frequency than other saxophones.

There are only a few manufacturers creating contrabass saxophones today. Some noteworthy companies include J'Elle Stainer in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Benedikt Eppelsheim in Munich, Germany, and Romeo Orsi Wind Instruments in Milan, Italy.

If you're interested in learning more about these manufacturers, I recommend visiting their respective websites for more information.

Though the contrabass saxophone is not a common sight, there are a few musicians known for playing this instrument, such as Blaise Garza and Scott Robinson.

If you find yourself in Toronto, the University of Toronto has one available for its students, and the E flat contrabass has even made an appearance in an Evette-Schaeffer advertisement.

I hope this brief overview has piqued your interest in the biggest saxophone – the contrabass. With its impressive size and one-of-a-kind sound, it's a unique and unforgettable experience for saxophone lovers.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does a contrabass saxophone weigh?

A contrabass saxophone typically weighs around 20 kilograms (44 pounds). It's a large and heavy instrument, which can make it challenging to play for extended periods of time.

What is the height of a contrabass saxophone?

The contrabass saxophone stands at approximately 2 meters (6 feet 7 inches) tall. Its large size contributes to its deep, rich sound.

What key does the contrabass saxophone play in?

The contrabass saxophone is pitched in E♭, one octave below the baritone saxophone. This gives it a low, resonant sound that can add depth to musical ensembles.

What are the different types of saxophones in the saxophone family?

The saxophone family includes 10 types of saxophones, such as the soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, and contrabass. Each of these saxophones is pitched in a different key and has its unique sound and range.

What is the range of notes for the contrabass saxophone?

The contrabass saxophone has a wide range of notes, starting from low B♭1, up to high F♯5. This expansive range allows it to provide a strong foundation for ensembles and contribute a rich, deep sound.

What type of reed is used for the contrabass saxophone?

The contrabass saxophone uses a large, wide single Contrabass saxophone reed, similar to those used for other saxophones, but sized appropriately for the contrabass instrument.

As with other saxophones, the specific reed strength and brand may vary based on the player’s preferences and playing style.

Saxophone teacher online Greger Hillman

Written by Greger Hillman

Greger Hillman is a saxophone teacher with +36 years of experience playing saxophone. 

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