Quite a popular option is a plated finish. Silver and gold are the two most common, and they vary greatly in tone. Silver has an extremely complex sound and has an absolutely stellar range. It offers more of a spread sound, having a darker sound when the sax is played more softly, and an enormously bright when played with more emphasis. The downside to silver though is that it is quite prone to tarnishing over time, so more care is generally involved. Often times a lacquer is added to silver to help maintain its appearance, but you'll lose some of the character that silver is known for in doing so.
On the other hand, gold plating offers more of a big, full, dark sound, with more resonate free-blowing qualities. Not as spread as silver plated saxophones, the only real drawback is the lack of extended range known as Altissimo notes, as gold plated saxs are quite focused and limit the upper notes. To create a gold plated saxophone, first a coat of silver plating is placed over the brass instrument, and then gold is plated over the silver. Beautiful in look and sound, gold is a fantastic alternative to silver.
What about the different colors in lacquer though? Well, to get straight to the answer, differently colored lacquers makes no difference at all. Lacquer is a liquid material that dries into a hard outer shell on a saxophone, offering protection and reducing maintenance costs, but it unfortunately doesn't change the tone. There is a difference however between a lacquered instrument and an un-lacquered one.
A raw brass saxophone has noticeably more projection and are quite free-blowing, earning them a reputation as more of a jazz horn. Once lacquer is applied though, the sound get more compact and centered, but it won't play as loud. Aesthetically, instruments without lacquer will lose their polish more quickly, and potentially become discolored, but many musicians appreciate that "well-played" look, so it completely comes down to preference in appearance and sound.
The same applies to the neck of the saxophone as well. Different finishes produce different tones, and by experimenting with different necks, you'll be able to get the exact sound you're after.
If you decide to purchase a saxophone from Woodwind & Brasswind, you'll be happy to know that all products are backed by The Woodwind & Brasswind's hassle free 45-day return policy. It promises that you'll love the instrument or accessories you choose or your money back*. Because all we care about is helping find the equipment you need to make your music.
* All returned woodwind and brass instruments incur a $10.00 sanitization fee.