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What Is a Bamboo Saxophone?

By Kathy Dowling
Updated May 23, 2024
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Closely resembling a recorder, the bamboo saxophone has a cylindrical bore with eight holes along the top and one underneath, which is played by the thumb, that produce different notes when fingers cover them. It is also small like a recorder, being about 12.5 inches (31.75 cm) in length, and, as such, is often called a pocket sax. One early version of a first bamboo saxophone was developed in the 1970s in Hawaii, in the United States, by Brian Whittman as an alternative to the traditional brass version of the instrument, and was called a xaphoon. It was made similar to the chalumeau, a woodwind instrument originating from the late Baroque era in the 18th century. Since its invention, the instrument has become popular in many countries, including Jamaica, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and Argentina.

Bamboo has been used to make a variety of instruments due to its hollow inner stem, which makes it a good material for wind and percussion instrument construction. A bamboo saxophone is made from bamboo, which is a type of plant belonging to the Poaceae family. Bamboo has also been used to create different bamboo flutes, such as the jinghu and xiao, and the aboriginal didgeridoo in replacement of eucalyptus wood.

There are several differences between the bamboo saxophone and brass saxophone, including bore shape. The bore is the inside chamber of an instrument where air passes through. A bamboo saxophone has a cylindrical bore, with a diameter that remains the same through its entire length, while brass saxophones have conical bores that begin with a small diameter at the top and gradually increase in diameter along the length. Despite these differences in shape, they both produce a similar sound.

In 1846, the first saxophone was created by Adolphe Sax and is a member of the the woodwind family. When air is blown through the saxophone mouthpiece, the reed attached to it vibrates, creating a sound. Different sounds or notes are produced by pressing keys, which are positioned along the brass surface of the instrument. The instrument is popular in different styles of music, including blues and jazz, and it can produce tones that are either smooth or edgy.

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Discussion Comments
By Heavanet — On Feb 13, 2015

@raynbow- I have a fried in Hawaii that plays a bamboo saxophone for special events and parties. Though I haven't played it myself, I have watched and listened as he has performed. I actually like the sound that it produces more than a traditional saxophone.

I think that the bamboo saxophone has a sound that is rich and deep, and has a depth to it that is hard to mimic. I also like traditional Hawaiian music, so that might be why I enjoy this instrument so much.

By Raynbow — On Feb 12, 2015

I don't see how a bamboo saxophone could sound similar to a regular saxophone. I have never tried to play one, but I am interested in learning from someone who has what to expect from the sound.

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