Saxophones Me and the baritone

Andante cantabile

Senior Member
Two years ago I bought a new YBS-32. It is a handsome instrument. Playing it is very satisfying, especially in the lower range. The high end can sound thin in the beginning, but it too responds well to appropriate:) practice.

I have now decided to concentrate on the tenor only. My main reason is that even with three hours of practice a day I cannot do justice to both instruments. I expect to part with the baritone in the new year, perhaps by selling it outright, or perhaps by exchanging it for a good alto.

This may be time for putting down a few thoughts on the baritone. There is no novelty in them. Nor are they intended either to dissuade you from getting one or to nudge you closer to a decision to buy. it’s a bit like putting a full stop after my baritone playing.

First, aspects of cost. A good-quality new baritone can now be obtained for much less than one would expect to pay for a high-end alto. Second-hand they can be quite affordable. So, the purchasing price may in many cases not be an issue. But everything else associated with a baritone costs more. You will notice it with cane reeds. The price differences for synthetics are smaller. New mouthpieces usually also cost more (compare, for example, the prices for the Vandoren AL3, TL3 and BL3), but you can keep that cost down by shopping and selecting carefully. Investing in a heavy-duty harness or strap with a metal hook is IMO a necessity.

If you play your baritone mainly at home, handling is not much of an issue. That changes when you have to take it to a rehearsal or performance venue. The case is big and heavy, and the instrument also weighs a fair bit. Public transport may no longer be much of an option, and lugging the instrument from the far end of the car park (the near spots are always taken) can make you doubt the wisdom of buying bass instruments. Moving about among the other players requires and, preferably, adequate space.

Range matters. The YBS-32 goes from low A to high F. Other models go to F-sharp. Older models in particular often go from B-flat to F. From what I have read, these are often highly appreciated by jazz musicians. If you play classical music, and if your ambition is to play saxophone music written in the last fifty years, you will need low A. This is worth bearing in mind even if you are not yet ready to tackle that kind of music.

Some famous jazz musicians, and of course many lesser known ones, have turned the baritone into quite a solo instrument. If you are not yet at the advanced level, and if the other members of your group are not generous-minded, you find that the good bits go the alto or the tenor. You will play the bass part, necessary for a good sound, but less likely to produce rounds of applause. If you play baroque music, you may find yourself by and large helping the group to keep time. OTOH, modern SATB quartets usually give the baritone a voice no less interesting than those for the others.

Finally I have found the baritone to be a truly docile instrument. Playing pp is easy, but I have found that getting a real ff level is hard. Low A to C require a bit of air, especially in longer passages, but above that it is surprising how little air one needs. An alto player probably will always be able to play more quickly. I suspect that the reason is that everything on the baritone is bigger, i.e. longer rods and probably greater stiffness because of that. One thing that will never bother you is a sticky C-sharp or G-sharp. Condensation is trapped well before it gets into the conical tube.

Here endeth the lesson. The baritone is a great instrument. Enjoy it if you decide to get one.
Interesting thoughts. I've been hankering after a Bari for ages. but it'll be a while yet..... But I feel a bit as if I'm admiring a fabulous woman from a distance, and as I approach the beauty fades.... I'll bide my time, am still waiting for an ebay bargain, I missed one..... Lol.
Excellent article, Becks!

This should be a sticky - best introduction I've read about the Baritone. I play a tenor trombone as it is the same range as the Baritone but only weighs less than 2kg - lighter than a trumpet, and more portable.

Kind regards
Shame you're packing it in, but it's not everyone's cup of tea.

On the issue of loudness - don't forget it's very mouthpiece dependant. A decent high-baffle, wide tip mouthpiece should give you plenty of noise. In the right hands it is definitely not a docile instrument. See here for instance.
One thing that really attracts me to the idea of taking up the baritone (not that I'm in any danger of being able to afford the time or the money in the near future) is demand. Went to the RNCM Sax Day recently and was struck by the ratio of altos to baris---10 or 20 to 1, I'd say. Could hear the tutors muttering things like "we could use a few more baritones". If I ever wanted to play in a sax quartet, which is quite an appealing thought, I reckon I'd have a much better chance of finding one as a bari player than alto or tenor or even soprano. The inconvenience and expense can have it's upside, it seems.
Last edited by a moderator:
Hi Beckmesser

A really great informative read very enjoyable.I was a bit surprised you said you bought a 32 new 3 yrs ago I thought this was quite an old discontinued or replaced model, which just goes to show how little I know, my only encounter with a bari was when my tutor turned up at my house with one and allowed me to have a blow,I was surprised how easy I found it to blow and really liked it, as for owning one (THE COST).AARRGGGHHH...JOHN
Last edited by a moderator:
Good article. I agree. But I think the bari sax has become more anonymous nowadays?

Costs: Don’t forget the cost of a new good case to give protection to your old and perhaps newly overhauled bari!! Ricos (Graftonite and Metalite) baritone mouthpieces are good and not that expensive? To repair and overhaul a bari is nearly twice the price compared to a tenor.

Handling: Sometimes I hear that touring musicians leaves thier barisaxes at home because lack of space in the bus/wagon !! The bari sax has more become a session instrument instead of a stage/performance instrument. Sad, very sad.

Range: The low Bb bari is good in Rocksax (Blues, oldtime R&B, Rock & Roll …. ). The professional players I know are playing low Bb baris and some of them are not using the bari for soloing. Some guys are on low A baris but that’s because they are playing in Big Bands as well. To add some altissimos tones to your bariplaying is nice. Needs lot’s of practise to hit the tone nice and at the right pitch.

Right now I’m listening to ”A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spectors”. There are nice barisaxes and solos on the songs. I think it’s Steve Douglas that blew the barisax. The barisax is a great instrument with a deep impact.

I like Rocksax and I think the barisax was almost as important to the early sound of Rock & Roll as the tenor. The saxduo (tenor/baritone) was important: ”Little” Willie Jackson (bari) and James Jackson (ts) in Joe Liggins band (a million seller hit with The Honeydripper, one of the first ”rocksongs”), Lee Allen (ts) and Alvin Red Tyler (bs), Red Prysock (ts) and Zack Wright (bs), King Curtis (ts) and Haywood Henry (bs), Big Jay McNeely (ts) and Robert McNeely (bs) … and later Lee Allen (ts) and Steve Berlin (bs) to todays Sax Gordon (ts) and Dough James (bs) are good samples of the collaboration between the baritone and tenor in Rocksax. But also the bari individuals like Paul Williams, Cecil Payne (ok, most known as a jazzplayer but he blew some R&B bari as well)… and later Johnny Williams, Mike Terry, Ronnie Cuber, Steve Douglas played on lots of recordings. We have good bariplayers today as well: Lenny Pickett, Stephen ”Doc” Kupka, David ”Woody” Woodford, Pete Thomas, Sax Gordon (he is also a very good bariplayer), Dana Colley ….. There are others as well. But I think the biggest problem is to get producers/arrangers to let the bariplayers out in the front!?

The bariplayer is still here around. But sitting behind a notestand in big bands instead of out honking in the front. Did the low A kill the bari???

We need new and more barihonkers!! The barisax is one of the most powerful and expressive instruments. The tenor trombone may share the same range but to replace a bari with a trombone is,IMO, not possible.

Shame you're packing it in, but it's not everyone's cup of tea.

On the issue of loudness - don't forget it's very mouthpiece dependant. A decent high-baffle, wide tip mouthpiece should give you plenty of noise. In the right hands it is definitely not a docile instrument. See here for instance.
Don't call me, I'll call you!
What!? You didn't like it? Oh well, each to his own.

There appear to be quite a lot of bari players who think that low A baris are all complete rubbish. I suspect they're the same sort of people who think no decent tenors were made after the Mk VI. Blinkered is what it is.
****, 3 hours practice a day and you still don't have time to do a bari justice? Each to their own. I guess objectively you would probably say I don't do justice either, to a £1400 investment - but it gives me a huge buzz playing it, and one of the bands I am in does loads of Motown stuff that it suits perfectly. I've always dabbled with bass as well, so playing it in a rhythm capacity is no problem with me (bloody sight easier using an electric bass, it must be said!). I love it - great big forgiving, easy-going, pussy-cat of an instrument. The tenor will always be my preferred sax, but bari is an excellent "bit on the side", even if it does live in a case larger than my wifes weekend bag. :)
What!? You didn't like it? Oh well, each to his own.

There appear to be quite a lot of bari players who think that low A baris are all complete rubbish. I suspect they're the same sort of people who think no decent tenors were made after the Mk VI. Blinkered is what it is.

Hey Nick,
I realy don't see what the fuss is about low "A". My Beucher ( sorry if that isn't spelled right, I've been on the booze) was "Bb", and I wished it had been "A" but I still loved it. I sold it for £60 in 1978 and have regretted it ever since!!!!!
By the same token I loved my MkVI in 1964, which was nicked (no pun intended), and that's why I've just bought another one. The thing does seem to play itself, thank God!!!!!!!

Thank you all for the generous comments. I would like to address some of them. The baritone is a great instrument, and it deserves understanding.

I can assure you, gladsaxisme that according to the Yamaha website the YBS-32 is still very much in production. Mine is actually a 32E, but this seems to be sales designation only (I think E means Europe). In the United States it is called the YBS-52. The upmarket model in both cases is the YBS-62.

I would not want to dissuade anyone from getting, or at least trying out, a baritone. Your time will come, Kevgermany. Just hold off buying that Volkswagen Lupo until you've been able to measure your chosen instrument. Dooce expresses in far fewer words then I needed to describe the pleasure baritone playing can give.

TomMapfumo points out that the tenor trombone, which has the same range, is much easier to carry around. This is obviously a option for someone looking mainly for the sound rather than the instrument. I myself did not appreciate the beauty of the tenor trombone until I paid much closer attention to it. Eric Ewazan's music was a revelation.

Nick Wyver points to an area where I have obvious shortcomings. If one wants to turn the baritone into a solo instrument, one has to be able to draw on one's imagination. Otherwise the docility of the instrument wins out. Getting the right mouthpiece is an essential aspect of that. I cannot improvise, and my playing by ear is not good. But I greatly enjoy playing written music in the classical style. And herein lies a problem. What sounds good on tenor or alto may be rather mournful on the baritone. These too are easier to make to sing. Making the baritone sing is a skill in itself.

Big Martin is in my view right on the money with his comment on the demand for baritone players. If it gets known that are willing and able, a seat will be found for you. Chances are that when you join a community band there will indeed be lots of altos, clarinets and flutes, but very little in the bass range. This may give tutors a headache, but for alto players it is a big asset because there is always someone more experienced around. If someone gets lost, the music will not stop. When I fronted up, I was the only baritone. Inevitable I lost my spot (several times), and there were no sounds from the basement. The look of the group in your direction is definitely character-building.

Thomsax, I very much appreciate your realism. Your experience in various environments shows that very clearly. As to whether low A killed the baritone (is it really quite dead?), I suspect not. I think that is more that some very good players shudder at the thought of lugging the baritone around, especially if long-distance travel is involved. I fully agree with your observation that low A has brought baritone playing into a new dimension. Periodically the argument over the advantages and disadvantages of low A flares up on saxophone sites. I find it quite sterile, and I cannot see why the addition of low A, properly engineered and all, would make a dog of a good instrument. Moreover, no-one improvising is forced to use it. johnboy OTOH has found the instrument he likes. That's what matters. For many low A is a necessity, actual or potential. If it isn't, and the right instrument comes along, you may be in for hours of great enjoyment.
Your time will come, Kevgermany. Just hold off buying that Volkswagen Lupo until you've been able to measure your chosen instrument.

lol - Lupo is a 4 letter word.... And I'd see it as a serious downgrade. Especially in all the snow/ice we have every winter. I bought my second Landrover 7 years ago, had the first for 14 years (and only sold it cos I emigrated), and the new one has to last another 15 years at least. I reckon a bari case would fit nicely alongside a bass and tubax case in the back, as well as my youngest's drum kit, and my daughter's cello....
I love playing my bari. We played in the proms in August so I had to transport it on the train and through london on the tube 2 or 3 times a week for a month for rehearsals. I bought a gig bag that I could wear on my back and it was no weight at all adjusted properly. People kept their distance or got wiped out occasionally ;} Nothing beats playing a bari. You can go anywhere and it raises an eyebrow or two and there still aren't that many around so its never over crammed with them at play days and courses. and that sound, what are you thinking? getting rid of it indeed ;}

keep it for a while and have a think. I'm sure you'll regret selling it. I fell out with my alto for a while and nearly sold it, but we're back together now.
Nice post :)

Bari sax is my main instrument (I hardly play alto and tenor anymore). It's big, and everything is expensive indeed. But I feel like, for me, it's the most satisfying member of the saxophone family. Not only because of the sound, but also because of the parts you get to play in bigbands and jazz combos.
The other day i took my two tenors for a thorough periodic check-up. My timing was good. I went straight into the start-of-school repair season, and it will be a few more days before I can pick them up.

So I got the baritone out of the case, and almost a week I have now done my daily practice on it. What struck me first is just how beautiful the sound of the bari can be. I suppose that's why I bought it in the first place.

The second thing that struck me is the weight of the thing compared to the tenor. (In practical terms the difference is actually quite small). For some time I have used a harness, and I wonder how I ever managed with a strap. After about ninety minutes the weight begins to tell, and after two hours I have to have a long break. I recall reading that saxrax (I think) can be used for playing the bari. If that is indeed the case, it may be an option well worth examining for practice session. I admit that it might have an inadequate look about it in a jazz or rock band.

I think I will stick to my idea of concentrating on the tenor. But I also think that experiencing the baritone, even for a short time only, does add to one's enjoyment of the instrument.
I'm glad you'Ve not sold it, even if you're concentrating on tenor. Maybe by the time you get the others back, you'll really find the bari tone.

New Posts

Latest: Members' Recordings


Top Bottom