One thing’s for sure, the saxophone is not a quiet instrument and, in this article, we’re looking into how saxophone mutes can help you keep practicing at night, or in close living conditions.
As a young saxophone student living in Central London, I had my fair share of problems with neighbours. It turns out that getting inspired to practice at 2am doesn’t always please those living upstairs or next door..!
Back in the early 2000s, there were less options when it came to quiet sax practice but, as you’ll see in this article, there are solutions today – albeit.
The headline is this though: if you really need to cut the noise level drastically, you will want to look into a case-style silencer like this…
The only saxophone mute that allows you to play at full volume while outside the case only a whisper can be heard.
But first, let’s get the full lowdown on the topic!
The chances are, if you’ve found your way to this article it’s because your neighbours can’t handle your incessant long tone practise sessions for a moment longer.
We’ve all been there!
In fact, back in 1959, legendary saxophonist Sonny Rollins took to practicing on Williamsburg Bridge as a way of putting in the 12-hour sessions that were just not possible as resident in a New York apartment block.
Luckily, since then, technology has come a long way and one great solution is to invest in a saxophone mute.
But anyone who’s taken even a quick look online for one of these can see that it’s not an easy choice.
In this article we’ll highlight the different options on the market today and look at the strengths and pitfalls of each, at a variety of price points.
What is a saxophone mute?
OK, let’s make sure we’re on the same page: we’re talking about any piece of equipment which can reduce the volume of your saxophone.
You might see it called a saxophone muffler or saxophone silencer, but saxophone mute is the most common description.
Your first logical thought might be to put something down the bell of the horn, and there are undoubtedly many great players out there who have tried literally putting a sock in it!
In fact, alto saxophone great Lee Konitz was once seen pulling one out of his horn during the first song on a gig!
But due to the nature of saxophone sound production, which doesn’t come out just from the bell (and the fact that socks aren’t designed to be soundproof!) it’s not particularly effective.
So let’s take a look at some slightly more high-tech options out there, with some saxophone mute reviews…
And remember: alto saxophone mutes will vary in size to tenor saxophone ones, so be sure to buy the correct version!
One small step up from the sock-in-the-bell trick are a range of low-cost in-bell mutes.
They too try to reduce the sound which comes out of the bell, albeit in a more suitable material such as lightweight aluminium or plastic.
In reality, though, these mutes make a minimal impact on the volume and are not one we recommend.
On the plus side, they are generally very low-priced, but probably still not enough to justify this purchase, as many of the reviews on Amazon (often quite hilariously) suggest.
MMD Sax Mute [Review]
The MMD Sax Mute is a more sophisticated approach to the above concept.
Consisting of precisely fashioned pieces of foam that fit in the neck, mouthpiece and bell of the saxophone, it dampens the sound of the instrument.
However, by solving one problem, the MMD Saxophone mute can create another:
By putting something down the end of the horn you may render the low notes unplayable and create a considerably more restricted playing experience.
With regular use this could lead to overcompensating with your embouchure, creating bad playing habits and effecting tuning.
Considering the low cost of this saxophone accessory, having one it for the occasional practice session may be a good idea, but not our favourite option if you’re looking to really put in the hours with a mute.
Saxmute ONE [Review]
Saxmute One is arguably one of the most cost effective sax mutes on the market, dramatically reducing the volume of the saxophone to as low as 60-70dBa (as opposed to a saxophones usual 90-95dBa).
It also comes highly recommended, including by an American sax great:
“The Saxmute ONE is an amazing product. I believe that you have finally created something that players have needed for a very long time. No other mute works as good as Saxmute ONE. I have tried them all” – Greg Osby
Essentially a sound isolated box that engulfs the saxophone, the Saxmute One is now in its third iteration.
The current models allow the saxophonist to play through all the registers of the instrument with relative ease.
The mute comes with a shoulder harness and is also compatible with a Hercules stand that will allow the player to take the weight of the horn and mute off their shoulders.
One drawback is that the player cannot hear the true voice of the horn when using the Saxmute One, only the muted sound.
E-Sax Whisper Mute
The E-Sax Whisper Mute follows in the footsteps of the Saxmute One, but with some additional developments that make it a fascinating piece of equipment.
It too is an acoustic mute that encases the horn and reduces the sound of the instrument considerably (down to around 69dBa).
However, it also includes an inbuilt microphone and headphone input, allowing the player to hear the true sound of the saxophone.
On top of that, it has an inbuilt line-out and AUX in.
This is fantastic as it will allow the player to record themselves and listen to audio tracks as they practise – very useful for transcribing!.
They will also be able to run the saxophone through effects pedals which could lead to a whole world of musical possibilities.
Check out what Zhenya Strigalev does with it, incredible!
Pricewise, this is certainly a bigger investment than the previous two options.
It’s smaller than the Saxmute One and, anecdotally, may end up restricting the low notes from playing as freely as you want.
But this is one small drawback from what is otherwise a great design.
And what’s more, the E-Sax Whisper Mute doesn’t have to simply be a practise tool, but could be taken out and used on gigs, which is certainly an intriguing possibility.
Yamaha YDS-150 Digital Saxophone
Whilst not a saxophone mute exactly, the YDS-150 digital sax from Yamaha (which we reviewed here) is an all together more expensive curveball to the problem of limiting the volume of your practice routine.
If you need to practice saxophone in complete silence this could be the answer.
With a stylish design that looks similar to a soprano saxophone, Yamaha’s YDS-150 is a totally digital instrument which uses the same key layout as an acoustic saxophone. With the use of headphones, it allows the player to practise anytime, anywhere!
On top of that, it offers a plethora of sounds to choose from.
Of course, developing a sound in a traditional way and working on embouchure technique isn’t really a possibility with this instrument.
But if you’re looking for a silent option to work through fingering practice, transcription or jazz patterns, it’s a highly interesting option.
Even more so than the E-Sax Whisper Mute, the YDS-150 has been designed to be an instrument before being a practise tool and, as such, the possibilities of where one could go musically with it are very exciting.
|Check Price on Amazon|
Saxophone mutes – Final Thoughts
The sax mutes and instruments we looked at here are all viable options for dealing with noise problems whilst practicing, for a range of different budgets.
For those looking for the ideal solution to the problem of doing long practise sessions whilst keeping their neighbours (and housemates) happy though, there’s another possibility: a sound isolation booth.
There are various options out there for specialist musician booths which will bring the sound insulation to around 46dB – almost half the usual level.
This seems a rather drastic solution that will only be suitable for some, but is certainly the most effective way of preventing your saxophone playing from intruding into anyone else’s sound space.
As this isn’t necessarily a viable option for most saxophone players, we’d highly recommend the Saxmute One as brilliant all rounder that will adequately mute the saxophone whilst allowing it to blow freely in that all important low register!