Saxophone Accessories: Important Or Not?
One look at the saxophone market, be it online or at a shop in-person, and you’ll come away with one predominant thought, “That’s a lot of sax accessories!”.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed in today’s day and age by the sheer amount of options one has when it comes to all of the extra bits that you can either add or swap out on your saxophone. However, every single product that can be found is said to have a purpose with which can help your musicianship reach new heights in some form or another.
Just how many of those little odds and ends can actually make a real difference in your playing will be exactly what this article will be setting out to tell you. The list below is by no means representative of every single brand/product in shops but instead a condensed view on the more popular items available.
Easily considered one of, if not THE most important saxophone accessory, is the mouthpiece. There are numerous brands, designs, and even materials that make up the landscape of the sax mouthpiece market.
With there being so many different options to consider it would be understandable and expected for the beginner to become a little lost. Is it really worth struggling over?
Well, yes and no. If you’re truly a beginner at the instrument, or just want to play it for fun, then I would say to stick to the mouthpiece that came with the horn. Don’t worry about what you do or don’t have, just practice and play as much as you can.
Now for the more experienced player, someone who’s looking to take music seriously to possibly the extent of making a career out of it, then unfortunately there’s no way to get around the search.
The mouthpiece is an important part of finding your musical identity. It can help point you in the direction of how you want your tone to eventually sound, and even how aggressive or subdued you want your air support to be.
One of the most diverse accessories for saxophones are the reeds. Walk into any music shop in the world, wherever they may be, and one of the first things that you’ll see is the multiple shelves (sometimes multiple shelving units!) full of brightly colored boxes of reeds.
Regardless of the fact that they’re simply slices of wood, these are arguably the most important accessory of them all. They can help you to control all aspects of your playing, from tone to even your time, a great reed can put you in a happy mood, and a bad reed can ruin your day.
This is done, in particular, via a few different ways. The shape of the reed, more specifically how the reed was cut by the CNC machines, as well as the stiffness and thickness of the reed (thicker reeds are usually softer, who knew??), and finally, the quality control of each box of reeds.
This little band that keeps your reed on the mouthpiece is one of the fastest-growing products as of this article’s inception. In previous years there might have been only 2 or 3 ligatures designs that were sold as more than just simple replacements for whatever your saxophone came with.
In recent years, however, the past 10-15 years, whole companies have been started with no other focus than making and selling expensive ligatures. (i.e. Silverstein)
These companies can do this, and not just survive but even thrive, because musicians are inherently curious and always searching for anything to get them one step closer to their musical goals. While there are some extremely slight differences to tone or timbre between different ligatures, most if not all of the difference that a player is liable to hear is due to the direct vibration going from your jaw to your ear.
However, what a ligature can do is make your reed easier or harder to play depending on which shape and material the band is made from. I’ve personally used practically every lig style (2-screw, 1-screw, no-screw, metal, plastic, wood) and in every one of them I never heard a significant tone difference.
Cases (sax case, reed case, mouthpiece case)
Put simply, a case is just a box for you to put something in. No matter how fancy or expensive they are they won’t do anything more than keep your instrument in good condition.
There are a few notable saxophone case companies that have some very nice products; they’re designed to be cool looking and sleek, in reality though, any case will suit you just fine as long as you make sure your case fits your saxophone.
Reed cases and mouthpiece cases are also marketed as important products that a professional musician will have, although any adequate saxophone case will have a spot for your mouthpiece, and your reeds come in individual cases already.
Coming in all sorts of different shapes, styles, and colors, a neck strap is assuredly a must-have piece of kit for every saxophonist.
Is it so important that you shell out more than $20-$30 dollars for one? Ultimately, no. While it is nice to have one made of elk leather, dyed lightning-blue, and encrusted with fake diamonds (looking at you Oleg brand straps), it certainly won’t help you navigate your way through a tricky chart.
Style is nice, but practically any sax strap you can buy at a music shop will do. The one caveat being that it would be smart to get a neck strap with a metal hook if you’re really worried about durability.
Pocket Size Accessories
There are a few more products among the vast array of accessories that can actually be very helpful to a saxophone player, that are not things that you can connect to the instrument.
These pieces are incredibly useful in contrast to their small stature.
A great product with a similarly great name, the ReedGeek can help you out in a pinch when your reeds are too hard and need to have some material taken from the bottom or the sides.
It also can be helpful in extending their life-span with a few swipes along the bottom in order to expose some fresh wood.
Another common piece of hardware in many reed players’ arsenal is the reed clipper. True to its name, the reed clipper can clip the tip of your reed if it is too soft..
Why do this? Well by taking off a bit of length from the tip of your reed, the length of wood regains some stiffness as it gets shorter. Need another few days on a particular reed? Then look for a reed clipper.
Take a look at this reed clipper if your reeds tend to go soft on you too quickly.
Listed above are some important, and not so important, popular saxophone accessories. While the parts closest to your mouth, namely the mouthpiece and reeds, are easily the most important for ease of use and great tone, there are many items that have much less importance and some that have practically none at all.
In short, be careful when you look around the shop, as you’re bound to find another interesting accessory that you can’t help but try out.