The Structure of the Saxophone
Jazz saxophones and classical saxophones
The characteristics of the instrument change with different tapers
The saxophone is loved by both jazz and classical musicians, but the qualities demanded of the instrument are different for each genre.
With jazz, the ideal instrument allows players to express their individuality, and so they like a saxophone with a greater taper (a high angle of graduation). The raspy tones and buzz of the instrument contribute to the texture of the music.
With classical music, the player must perform with the many other instruments in the orchestra, and so they prefer an instrument with a clean, finely controlled pitch. For accuracy of pitch, a more gradual taper is better, and so the instrument can appear to be almost as straight as a clarinet.
The mouthpieces are also different
There are also different mouthpieces for jazz and classical music. Let us start with an explanation of the structure of the mouthpiece. Take a look at the two diagrams below.
The facing is the surface against which the reed vibrates. The tip opening distance is determined by the curve of the under-side of the mouthpiece. This combination of the facing length, tip distance, and the reed is very important.
Note the shaded portion of the diagram. The jazz mouthpiece is very wide. The thinness of the walls creates a natural voice. In contrast, the classical mouthpiece is designed with a narrower space. The sound of the instrument will change with every 1/1000 millimeter change in thickness, so the mouthpiece is very precisely designed.
Despite this discussion about jazz mouthpieces versus classical mouthpieces, many jazz soprano saxophonists prefer the classical mouthpiece for its clean tone. Changing the mouthpiece will change the timbre of the instrument, so some players will change mouthpieces to suit each song. The cork on the end of the neck allows a variety of mouthpieces to be attached.
Don't drop the mouthpiece!
The mouthpiece is a critical component of the saxophone. The tip is especially thin and vulnerable to cracks and chips, so it's important to be very careful not to drop it. Any cracks, chips, splitting, or other damage to this delicate part of the instrument can have an impact on the quality of sound.