What are the various saxophone finishes, lacquers and materials available on the market?

Saxophones are generally made of brass (though you’ll find some made of bronze or sterling silver) and can be found with many different finishes and lacquers. There are definitely some unique saxophone finishes out there! You might wonder if those different looks have any effect on the way the horn sounds. The answer is … it depends. Let’s take a look at a variety of materials and options and discuss whether or not each will make a difference in your sound.

Lacquered vs. non-lacquered / un-lacquered

Before we get into the various finishes and colors, let’s first talk about lacquered versus non-lacquered (or un-lacquered). A non-lacquered horn does not have the clear or colored liquid material that dries into a hard, outer shell on it, meaning you have a raw brass saxophone (check out the picture to the right to see what a non-lacquered saxophone looks like). 

Instruments without lacquer will lose their polish more quickly, and may become discolored. Some musicians like and even desire that "well-played" look, so it comes down to personal preference. For younger musicians, you should always choose a lacquered horn, because that hard layer offers protection and reduces maintenance costs.

Here are three non-lacquered horns to check out in you’re interested in this look:

Eastman 52nd St. Bb Tenor Saxophone - exceptionally responsive horn in all registers from low to high, and produces a big, fat sound with precise intonation

P. Mauriat System 76 Professional Tenor Saxophone Un-lacquered - with an expanded bore and bell the P. Mauriat System 76 Tenor Saxophone produces a bigger sound with a core that is full of rich overtones.

Yamaha YAS-82ZII Custom Series Alto Saxophone Un-lacquered - the ultimate combination of expressiveness, response and control

Now, let’s get into all those different finishes, platings and lacquers.

Gold- or Silver-Plated Saxophones

Gold- and silver-plated saxophones lean a little brighter and more powerful for the same effort because there is no lacquer. Be aware that silver-plated instruments will tarnish; gold-plated saxophones will not.

If you’re looking for a silver-plated horn, check out the Yamaha YAS-62III Professional Alto Saxophone Silver Plated or the Selmer TS44 Professional Tenor Saxophone Silver Plated.

Nickel-Plated Sax

Many of the top manufacturers make nickel-plated horns. Due to the nickel and the lacquer over the sound tubes, they tend to have darker harmonic content. Look at the Selmer SAS280 La Voix II Alto Saxophone Outfit Black Nickel or the Keilwerth SX90R Black Nickel Model Professional Tenor Saxophone Black Nickel for truly striking-looking saxophones.

Gold Lacquer Horns

This is the traditional sax finish that is most commonly affiliated with the saxophone. It provides a good balance of rich tone and response. Almost all student saxophones will have the gold lacquered look, but once you get into intermediate and professional horns, you’ll see more options.

Vintage or Antique Matte Saxophones

These finishes aim to recreate the look and sound of older saxophones.  They produce a large, mellow tone and have a brushed metal look.

Black Lacquer Sax

This is an eye-catching finish (see image at left) that may provide a slightly deeper and darker sound. Black lacquered horns might have gold or silver keys, but remember that silver is prone to tarnishing. The Yamaha YAS-875EXII Custom Series Alto Saxophone Black Lacquer is a great horn if you’re looking for the black lacquer look.

Other Lacquers for Your Saxophone

You’ll also find horns like the P. Mauriat PMXA-67R Series Professional Alto Saxophone Cognac Lacquer and the P. Mauriat PMXA-67R Series Professional Alto Saxophone Dark Lacquer which give you an unusual look that will stand out from the crowd but with the reliable sound and intonation from one of the best saxophone manufacturers out there.  

Unique Saxophone Finishes

What about novelty finishes and lacquers like whites, reds, greens, and other colors? Brands like Cannonball produce horns with finishes like “black ruby” and “white pearl.” If you’re looking for only a different-colored horn, then something like the Cannonball Stone Series Pro Alto might be your thing. But it’s much more important to choose a horn based on quality materials, durability, good tone and intonation and excellent response. The finish or lacquer should be far down on your list of why you choose a horn. Check out this article for more information on whether instrument finish impacts your saxophone sound.

Shopping for a saxophone at Woodwind & Brasswind

Brands like AlloraP. Mauriat and Yamaha craft world-class saxophones for musicians of all levels. Don’t be overly tempted to purchase a second-tier horn simply on aesthetics alone - do your research and try out many styles and brands to find the sax that is best suited for you and your playing style.

Woodwind & Brasswind carries a huge assortment of saxophones and woodwind accessories from the best manufacturers on the market. You can browse the full selection or reach out to our music experts, who are standing by at 800.348.5003.