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What Is a Bamboo Saxophone?

A bamboo saxophone is a unique wind instrument, handcrafted from natural bamboo, blending the earthy tones of woodwinds with the expressive capabilities of a sax. Its organic sound invites a touch of nature into music, offering a sustainable alternative to traditional brass. Curious about its melodic charm? Discover how this eco-friendly creation can harmonize with your musical journey.
Kathy Dowling
Kathy Dowling

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a bamboo saxophone and how does it differ from a traditional saxophone?

A bamboo saxophone is a wind instrument similar in design to a conventional saxophone but made primarily from bamboo. Unlike traditional saxophones, which are typically crafted from brass and use a complex system of keys, bamboo saxophones have a simpler structure with finger holes to change pitch. They produce a warm, earthy tone that is distinct from the bright, metallic sound of brass saxophones. Bamboo saxophones are also lighter and more environmentally sustainable due to their natural material.

Can a bamboo saxophone play the same range of notes as a regular saxophone?

Bamboo saxophones usually have a more limited range compared to standard saxophones. While a professional brass saxophone can play a wide range of notes with precision, the bamboo version, due to its simpler construction and finger hole system, may not reach the full chromatic scale or the extended range of a traditional sax. However, skilled players can still produce a variety of melodies and harmonies suitable for many musical styles.

Is a bamboo saxophone suitable for beginners?

Yes, a bamboo saxophone can be an excellent choice for beginners. Its simpler mechanism and the absence of keys make it easier to learn the basic fingering and blowing techniques. Additionally, it is often more affordable than a brass saxophone, making it a cost-effective option for those just starting out. However, if a student plans to transition to a traditional saxophone later, they may need to adjust to the more complex key system.

How do you maintain and care for a bamboo saxophone?

Maintaining a bamboo saxophone involves protecting it from extreme temperatures and humidity to prevent cracking. Regular oiling of the bamboo can help preserve its natural properties. It's important to clean the mouthpiece and interior after each use to prevent the buildup of moisture and bacteria. Storing the instrument in a padded case when not in use will also protect it from damage and extend its lifespan.

Where can I purchase a bamboo saxophone, and what is the typical cost?

Bamboo saxophones can be purchased from specialty music stores, online marketplaces, or directly from artisans who handcraft them. Prices vary widely based on craftsmanship, size, and tuning, but generally, they are more affordable than brass saxophones. You can expect to pay anywhere from $50 to several hundred dollars for a quality instrument. It's advisable to research and read reviews before making a purchase to ensure you get a well-made bamboo saxophone.

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Discussion Comments


@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.


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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