The saxophone family shares a characteristic of having a conical bore – the instruments get wider from top to bottom. To accommodate the length of the air column needed to produce the lower notes, and still be able to handle the instrument, the body of the deeper saxes – baritone, tenor, alto – is curved. (There’s a bass sax too, but that’s very rare). The soprano sax is available in a curved version (as played by Jan Garbarek and others), but is more usually found as a straight instrument, about the length of a clarinet. Mine is a straight one.
The part of a saxophone to which the mouthpiece is fitted, and which joins the body, is called the neck. The baritone (which I have not got) has a very complicated system of curves in its neck. The tenor has a double curve – a sort of S-shape which I find elegant. The alto neck has a single curve and a straight section.
When you get a straight soprano you normally have a choice of two necks, one slightly curved, and the other, well, straight. I prefer the curved neck, as it gives me a better posture when holding the instrument. The mouthpiece fits onto the neck by means of a tube of cork at the top end of the neck, and, over time, the cork tends to wear thin and to crack, which is what happened to mine.
Most woodwind players have a tool kit to carry out running repairs, and this usually includes a set of thin rectangular sheets of replacement cork. You have to cut them to size, bend them to form the tube, and glue them to the neck with special adhesive, then sand them down to take the mouthpiece. I’ve just repaired the one on the right, and I’m rather chuffed that it worked. It’s the first time I’ve recorked a sax, and the end result should last for several more years.
The little key on the right is the octave key, played with the left thumb and connected from the body by a system of levers.
I enjoy playing all three of my saxes, but I’d have to say I found the soprano the hardest to learn to play properly. Controlling pitch is harder than with alto or tenor, and reaching the top notes gave me a bit of trouble at first. But now it’s a joy to play, and I love the sounds it makes.