In the big vast world of woodwind instruments, there’s this curious instrument that looks like a toy or a kid’s clarinet but produces such a beautiful sound that it has been compared to the tenor saxophone – that is a pocket saxophone.
A pocket saxophone is a small and lightweight, keyless, single-reed woodwind instrument that sounds very similar to a tenor saxophone and can be played in a two-octave range. It has nine tone holes and is suitable for playing music such as jazz or klezmer.
At first glance it looks like a small clarinet without all the keys, but you will be pleasantly surprised by how potent it sounds.
Who invented pocket saxophone
The first mini pocket saxophone was made from bamboo in 1972 by Brian Wittman, a Hawaiian saxophonist who was trying to create an instrument that sounded like a saxophone but could be played by a young child.
He attached a tenor sax reed to a simple bamboo flute and he was blown away by the sound this little instrument produced.
After playing it at different performances, and motivated by others’ curiosity, he refined, patented, and started manufacturing the pocket saxophone.
Average size and weight of the pocket saxophones
Obviously there are multiple companies producing pocket saxophones and their sizes do differ, however on average pocket saxophones measure less than 13 inches (33 cm) in total length and weights approximately 3 ounces (85 grams).
Compared to the 32 inches of a tenor saxophone, the mini pocket sax is as portable as a woodwind instrument can get, but the lightweight injection molded plastic it’s made from makes it durable and resistant.
The pocket saxophone produces a sound similar to a clarinet and a saxophone, with the ability to play in a two-octave chromatic scale and the same intonation of the tenor sax.
It is a surprisingly powerful instrument, something you wouldn’t expect from such a small and simple looking woodwind instrument.
It even plays two octaves lower than flutes of the same size.
If you know overtone techniques and how to use tone bending, you could play the pocket saxophone beyond one octave.
This allows you, with some adjustments and moving notes an octave up or down, to play any music with a mini sax.
What materials are a pocket saxophones made of
Initially, they were produced from bamboo and were known as the bamboo sax.
It was exclusively handmade by Brian Wittman’s company up until 2000, but it became so popular that they had to start producing the molded plastic version or ABS (the same material used for producing Lego blocks) using the original patent, which was shared with Indiana Plastics.
Plastic also added durability to the pocket saxophone.
There’s not much difference in the sound produced by the bamboo saxophone and the plastic pocket saxophone, only slight variations given the characteristics of the materials.
The reed is a #2 ½, which is considered a general strength reed.
How to play / playability
Playing the mini sax is so simple that anyone, even beginners, can achieve it easily.
Children and adults can play the pocket saxophone without difficulty, and the fact that it is small and light facilitates the transportability of the instrument. You could easily fit it inside a backpack or even a purse.
Compared to a record player, the xaphoone requires more wind pressure to play it, and you will need to use your lip muscles differently.
But if you are a sax player you will find that it requires the same playing skills, with a difference in the shape of the mouthpiece and that would be the main obstacle because the mouthpiece is responsible for its well-rounded sound.
As with every instrument, there’s a learning curve, but we can safely say that learning to play the mini pocket sax would take less time than learning to play a saxophone.
When searching about mini saxophones for sale, you will find that another perk of the portable saxophone is its price range.
It is one of the most affordable woodwind instruments on the market.
Depending on availability and the model you want, you can get a new mini pocket sax for as low as $50 or as high as $100 USD.
The original Maui Xaphoon, made from bamboo wood from the rainforest of Maui, is listed for $120 USD.
There are also bundles available that include a Portable saxophone, a cloth case, instructional course books and DVD, as well as an instructional and a music CD for $150 USD.
Pros a pocket saxophone
Besides the affordable price range of the xaphoon pocket sax, its main pro is how portable and easy to play it is, especially compared to a regular sized saxophone or a clarinet.
The portable saxophone is so light and small that you could easily carry it in a backpack or purse, which eliminates the need of getting a heavy and bulky case to carry your instrument.
The fact that it’s so easy to play adds to the appeal because the learning curve is relatively short, and practices would be more fun.
If you already are a sax player, you will see that the skill set necessary to play the pocket saxophone is very similar to the saxophones.
For seasoned players this could be a handy instrument to have around.
Music wise, you can play any tune with this instrument, you just need to make slight adjustments and move notes up or down to make magic happen.
Cons of a pocket saxophone
Although it emulates the sound from a tenor sax, the pocket saxophone’s key range limits to C.
If you already know how to play a saxophone or a clarinet you will need to get used to moving your fingers differently and adjust to the different mouthpiece, so you’ll need to put some practice to be fluid with the pocket sax.
Ergonomics could be an issue; experienced sax players have said that the instrument feels awkward in their hands compared to the robust feeling a tenor sax has and the fingering of the instrument can be tricky.
They’ve also said that it resembles more a clarinet than a proper saxophone, and that you can achieve the same results with a plastic clarinet by taking off the bell.
Also, since the embouchure and fingering are different from those of the saxophone, the pocket saxophone could distort your muscle memory and playing skills, so using it as a practice substitute is not recommended.
A final con, the instrument is not tunable.
Where to buy a pocket saxophone?
If you want to get the best pocket saxophone, you can get it on the original online store xaphoon.com.
There you will find the original Maui Bamboo Xaphoon as well as the plastic pocket sax in different shades and price ranges.
You can also get it from traditional online stores such as Amazon and Ebay, whether you want it new or used.
Since this instrument is handmade and produced by a limited group of brands, productions are not large so you may have issues finding it in music stores, so we suggest calling ahead to make sure they have it available before visiting.
What are the top 5 pocket saxophones?
The Xaphoon Maui Pocket Saxophone, besides how beautiful it looks because it is made from bamboo with attention to the finishing details, makes playing and practicing easy for beginners and experienced clarinet or saxophone players alike.
The sound is like a clarinet and a saxophone, with powerful and vibrant sounds. You can also get the ABS plastic version.
Made from resin, the Ammoon Mini Pocket Bb Saxophone is a small yet powerful instrument that produces rich and vibrant sounds matching those from the original handmade bamboo xaphoon.
As an added detail, this pocket saxophone is embossed with patterns on a frosted surface and comes with an alto mouthpiece, two carrying bags and four reeds.
If you are looking for an instrument made both for amateurs and professional players alike, HiXing Simple Pocket Saxophone stands out and comes equipped with a standard alto sax mouthpiece, making the transition from this pocket sax to a common saxophone much smoother.
Then we have the Yuevan Pocket Saxophone, with a more somber design and made from ABS plastic. It is a very durable mini saxophone and comes with an alto mouthpiece.
Interestingly, this pocket saxophone comes with an after-sales 12-month warranty that provides free service and guidance from the manufacturer.
Another option is the Bumlon Mini Saxophone C, made from solid ABS and is ideal for amateurs because of its’ price range, but could easily fit the requirements of a professional player. The sound volume of this mini sax is comfortable enough, so it won’t disturb other people.
If you search online information about “best pocket saxophone” or “xaphoon for sale” you will find mixed reviews about the pocket saxophone.
Forums where the instrument is criticized because hardcore sax players consider it’s no where near a saxophone, and forums where the mini pocket sax is praised for its versatility and powerful sound.
So, as we established in the beginning of this article, in the end the decision relies on your personal preferences.
Additionally, if you prefer to try a digital saxophone you can check our article on yamaha yds 150 and discover yet another alternative to classical saxophone sounds.
help you decide whether or not to get a pocket saxophone. Remember that each instrument has its own magic and what fits your wants and needs depends solely on your expectations.