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After exploring the baritone saxophone, sometimes I wish I could play a bit lower. If you can relate, consider learning how to find the best contrabass saxophone, which goes an octave lower than the bari.
These low saxes may be hard to come by, but they’re out there. If you know how to find a good one, you may be able to enjoy the extreme low notes.
Bottom Line Up Front: I like that the Eppelsheim Tubax Contrabass Saxophone is relatively easy to find and decently priced. But consider a few other models to ensure you select the right one for you.
How to Find the Best Contrabass Saxophone
If you’re looking to expand your collection of saxophones, the contrabass is a great option. It’s one of the lowest members of the sax family, so that you can play some cool bass lines.
Before you buy the first contra you can find, you should consider if it’s the best one for you. For better or worse, there are a lot of things to think about.
Here are some of my best tips for how to find the best contrabass saxophone for you.
Consider What’s Out There
First, you need to determine what models even exist. Unlike the more popular saxophone sizes, you can’t just walk into a music store and expect to find a contrabass sax.
You may not even be able to find one in stock anywhere close to you; I know I can’t do that. However, you can find a few brands that make these large saxophones.
Since only a few companies manufacture the instrument, that can limit your search. But it’s still good to know what’s available so that you can start shopping around.
As I mentioned, you probably won’t find a contrabass sax at your local music store. And even if you live near a major chain, they probably won’t be able to order one in for you.
That means your best bet is to look online for a contrabass sax, and I found more contras than I thought I would. You can look for new and used models for sale, and you can research the brands that make these instruments.
Most of the standard sax brands don’t sell contrabasses, so you have to go with a different company. So be sure to research the companies and models to get a better idea of what you may like.
Avoid Wholesale Sites
When I did a brief search for contrabass saxes for sale, I came across a page of results on Alibaba. That’s a pretty popular wholesale site where you can order items from China.
Unfortunately, I’d be willing to bet that those instruments probably aren’t going to be of very good quality. They may be much cheaper than the other contras, but you get what you pay for.
Make sure to avoid buying instruments from any wholesale site, especially if the instruments don’t have a brand attached to them. They may work for a while, but you probably won’t be able to keep them in good condition for very long.
I think it’s better to save a bit more money to get an instrument that will work and stand the test of time.
Bulk Up Your Savings
Most of the decent contrabass saxophones you’ll find cost as much as cars do. That means you’ll need to start saving money as soon as you decide you want to buy an instrument.
I’d look into financing the purchase to get your sax sooner, but it’s nice to have plenty of cash on hand. Then, you won’t have to drain your bank account to make your first saxophone payment.
And you won’t have to rely on a payment plan to cover the cost. Having the money can give you more flexibility regarding when you purchase your contrabass.
Think About How to Acquire It
Since the contrabass sax is so big, you have to determine how you’ll actually get it. Depending on the store and model, the store may be able to ship it to you.
However, in my search, I found that there’s at least one model that you have to pick up in person. So if you don’t live near the store that sells it, you’ll need to drive or even fly.
Most contrabass saxophones ship from Europe as well. Since I live in the states, I would need to pay for international shipping or for a roundtrip plane ride as well as import taxes and perhaps an extra plane ticket for the new sax.
That may be worth it to some, but I don’t know that I’d want to spend that much money. But I do think it’s good to pick up the sax in person because then you have an excuse to test it out.
Plan to Be Available
If you’re able to have a music store ship you the sax, keep an eye on when it will get to you. Then, make plans to stay at home or have someone else at your home all day.
That way, you’ll be able to sign for the saxophone when it arrives, and you can get it off of your porch. Leaving the sax there may attract thieves, which could cost you a lot of money.
I did this when I ordered a piccolo online, and I was able to bring it in quickly. This was particularly good because I ordered the instrument in early August, so I didn’t have to leave it on a hot porch for hours.
In the case of picking up an instrument, make sure you book a flight or schedule the drive. Make time to go to the store, and book a hotel if necessary so that you don’t have to travel back and forth in a single day.
Find One to Test
Before you actually purchase a contrabass sax, ask other players if they know of one you can test. Maybe your teacher or another student has one, but I have yet to meet anyone who owns this instrument.
However, the players you know might know more saxophonists, one of which could own a contrabass. Asking your network may help you find one that you can borrow to make sure you like how it sounds.
You can also ask a music store that does carry contras if you can do an in-store trial. You’ll need to travel there, but you can test out the models they have in stock to choose one that works for you.
Look for Recordings
Since can’t test out a contrabass saxophone myself, I would look for some recordings. YouTube and Naxos are two popular options when it comes to finding recordings of classical music.
You can also research players who are famous for their contrabass saxophone playing. They may have recordings on your website where you can hear how a sax sounds.
Check the description of a recording or video to see if the poster lists the model they played on. Then, you can figure out if you may or may not like a specific brand without having to try it.
Practice Your Baritone or Bass Sax
Another thing that can help you find the best contrabass sax is to practice your bari or bass. Those are the two models closest in size to the contra, but they’re a bit more common.
Many players have a bari that they own or that they can at least borrow from a school or another player. I have a bari but not a bass, so I’d practice what I can to work on my low register and prepare for a contrabass.
Having that experience can make it easier to start playing or to test out contrabass models. If you’ve never played a bari or bass, you should play one or both first to make sure you can handle the large size and low range.
Ask About Financing
Once you get close to purchasing a contrabass sax, ask the store if they offer financing. I’ve done this, and some stores will let you pay off your instrument for over a year without you having to pay interest.
Others will offer longer loan terms but will have some amount of interest that you’ll owe. Either way, financing allows you to get your hands on a contrabass sax much sooner, so it may be more practical than saving the total price in cash.
If you can’t save much money each month, this is a good option. Just keep in mind that you’ll need the money to make your monthly payments until you pay off your new saxophone, so I’d recommend having a good budget in place.
Don’t Ignore Used Saxes
As with any instrument, I’d recommend you look at new and used contrabass saxophones. New ones are probably easier to find, but if you can find a used one, you can save a lot of money.
Used models aren’t always on the market, so you might have to wait a while. If you can’t wait, it may be worth spending more to purchase a new sax.
Be sure to consider both options and decide which is more important. You may need the contra now, or you might have the option to wait, and neither is right for everyone. I’d probably wait, but that’s because I don’t play low saxes that much.
When you buy a contrabass saxophone, leave some money aside for accessories. You may be able to get a mouthpiece with the instrument, but you might have to buy one separately.
Also, you should expect to buy some reeds in addition to the instrument. Then, save some money to buy new reeds every few months since reeds die. Without those accessories, you won’t be able to make a sound on your new sax.
I’d also suggest getting some sort of chair or a neck strap so that you can support your instrument as you play. But those things can wait, so you can figure out if you really need them.
Make Sure You’ll Use It
Regardless of the model you buy, your contrabass sax will cost a lot. I’d recommend making double, triple, and quadruple sure that you’ll get enough use out of it for the purchase to be worth it.
Sadly, you won’t find this instrument in many bands or other ensembles. There also isn’t much (if any) solo music for it, so you shouldn’t expect to play it all of the time.
But you also don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on a sax that will sit in storage. So find a good balance, and find groups that will let you use the instrument, so you can get your money’s worth.
I’d recommend finding a group that will let you double the baritone sax part. The two saxes are in the same key, so you can fill out the low end.
Since contrabass saxophones are so rare, you may not find one right away. This is especially true if you want to look for used models to save money.
You might have to wait weeks or even months before one comes out on the market. And if you want a new contra, you may need to wait for it to ship.
I would use this time to practice my other saxophones and save a bit of extra money. Then, I’d be able to get the best contrabass sax for my playing, and you can do the same for your playing.
Best Contrabass Saxophones
As you search for the best contrabass saxophone, you should know which models to look at. I already mentioned that you should avoid buying from cheap wholesale sites.
To help you find models you should buy, I looked for reputable brands and music stores. I made sure the models are in good condition and that the companies have a history of making nice saxophones.
Here are a few models I found that you may want to research further.
Orsi Contrabass Saxophone
The Orsi Contrabass Saxophone uses the standard brass that you’d expect from a saxophone. It features a hand-engraved bell and comes with a bass mouthpiece, and I love that you don’t have to search for a mouthpiece yourself.
Now, this is a used model, so once it’s gone, it’s gone. You may find another Orsi saxophone, but it could be a while before the next one is available.
Also, you’ll have to travel to London if you want to try or buy this sax, which is annoying to me as an American. The store won’t ship it domestically or internationally.
- Good sound
- Nice condition
- Professional level
- Cheaper than others
- Excellent materials
- Used model
- Only available in London
Eppelsheim Tubax Contrabass Saxophone
As the name suggests, the Eppelsheim Tubax Contrabass Saxophone is like a cross between a sax and a tuba. I like that it comes with a baritone sax mouthpiece, so you can use bari reeds, and I already have one available.
This model has three automatic speaker keys and can play up to a written high F#. Meanwhile, the narrow bore makes it easier to play compared to other large instruments.
It’s also about 45 inches tall, so most people won’t have a problem playing it. You can get a fantastic sound when you play the contra, so it’s a good option for many players.
- Easy to play
- Narrow bore
- Good design
- Nice range
- Comes with a mouthpiece
- Pretty expensive
- No low A
Eppelsheim Contrabass Saxophone
This Eppelsheim Contrabass Saxophone is a bit different from the tubax model. I love that it goes down to a low A, so you can play almost anything you’d need to play.
The bore is wider to help give you a full tone, but it requires more air than the other model, and that can be hard for some of us. However, the neck has a new design that helps minimize resistance while you play.
And you’ll get a special stand that holds the sax upright so that you don’t have to hold it all by yourself. This is a fantastic model for serious players or even collectors.
- Good intonation
- Full sound
- Low A
- Nice range
- Special stand
- Quite expensive
- Requires a lot of air
J’Elle Stainer Contrabass Saxophone
Another model to consider is the J’Elle Stainer Contrabass Saxophone. It’s a handmade model with a large bore, and its written range is from a low A to a high F#.
You’ll get a special mouthpiece designed by the maker to help get a nice sound, and I love that the maker doesn’t use a bari or bass sax mouthpiece. But this does mean you’ll need a contrabass reed to play the sax, and those are hard to find.
The sax comes with a flight case to help you travel with it if necessary. And you can get a special stand to help hold the sax in place as you play.
- Good sound
- Nice range
- Comes with a mouthpiece
- Includes a flight case
- Optional stand
- More expensive than others
FAQs About How to Find the Best Contrabass Saxophone
Answer: You can play the contrabass saxophone if you want to improve your skills, especially when it comes to breathing. If you can get through a phrase on the contra, other saxophones may feel much easier to play.
Another reason I might play the contra is that I like the low range. You can play an octave lower than the baritone, so you can enjoy even more low notes.
Answer: I’d recommend you play other saxophones before learning the contrabass. If you’re big enough, you can start on the tenor and slowly work your way down through the baritone and bass saxes.
Once you master the fundamentals, then you can try the contrabass. You won’t have to worry about learning new fingerings, so you can just focus on the size.
Answer: I believe contrabass saxophones are expensive for many reasons. First, they require a lot of materials and time to make, which is a big part of their cost.
However, not a lot of companies make them, so there isn’t much of a reason for makers to lower their prices. They know that people who want a contrabass will pay more for it.
Answer: Anyone who loves the lower range of the sax family may enjoy playing the contrabass saxophone. But you should also be big enough to hold the instrument and to reach the keys and mouthpiece.
That means you should wait until you’re an adult or at least until you’re in your late teens.
Final Note on How to Find the Best Contrabass Saxophone
If you want to play low, thundering bass lines, you may wonder how to find the best contrabass saxophone. This instrument isn’t very common, but it can be fun to play or listen to.
Be sure you start saving money and take a look at the few models on the market. Then, you’ll be able to choose the contra that suits your needs, such as the Epplesheim Tubax model, which is probably what I would get.
Soon enough, you may be able to play some of the lowest notes that humans can hear.
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