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I am a saxophonist who has been contemplating the idea of doubling on another wind instrument for a long time. My teacher recommends doubling on flute (closed tone holes), but professional-level instruments are rather expensive, and I do not feel comfortable with making such an investment right now.

Some things I am looking for:

  • Price. I am looking for something inexpensive. I realise that this attribute is very subjective. I am listing it, because when I was picking up saxophone, I knew what I wanted, and it was not a problem for me to make an investment. I love saxophone with a passion I have for no other instrument, and I knew how to look after one before making my purchase. With a 2nd instrument, I am not so sure. What I am trying to say is that it's not a matter of being broke, it's a matter of having to invest time, money and effort into maintaining an instrument that requires care. I won't be able to slack off on an instrument that costs $10k (meaning, I will be forced to practise, clean it and have it checked regularly), and that is not the kind of investment I can make at this point in my life.
  • Maintainability. Something that can be made out of plastic is preferable, as wood tends to dry out over time, particularly if not in use. Probably something without a reed as well or with a plastic reed.
  • Dimensions. Something that's not bulky and can be tucked into my saxophone (tenor) case. Carrying 2 heavy cases to gigs or on planes does not align with my idea of comfort.
  • Range. All of the options I could find myself (mostly folk instruments and practice instruments like the bagpipe chanter seem to be limited to a particular set of notes from within an octave and don't allow for others, except through "cheating", like half-covering the tone holes).

I would appreciate to see a list of instruments I could pick from. Naturally, it doesn't have to be comprehensive, I simply want to know what my options are, given the limitations.

There seems to have been a slight confusion as to this question's purpose. I am not asking for shopping help (for example, "where can I buy a cheap ..."). I am looking for instrument options I could not find or failed to take into consideration (for instance, I did not research plastic closed tone-hole flutes, because I did not know they existed to begin with).

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    Made out of plastic? Like a vuvuzela? – Your Uncle Bob Jul 6 at 14:14
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    Clarinet/bassoon/oboe wood is not going to dry out in any meaningful sense of the word. If you have worries, wipe down with bore oil every few months or so. – Carl Witthoft Jul 6 at 14:31
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    Well, yes, if left unused and uncared for in a dry environment, that can happen. Cracks can happen even in regularly used instruments - it's the care more than the usage. – Carl Witthoft Jul 6 at 14:39
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    My read of the help center is that this kind of question is explicitly off topic, but it seems not everyone agrees with me on that. – Todd Wilcox Jul 6 at 15:38
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    I've always thought the phrase "shopping help" isn't very helpful - pretty much any answer about equipment or instruments could be considered shopping help, if it happened to inform a purchasing decision... – topo morto Jul 7 at 5:19
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A lot of the sax players in big bands I've played in double (triple?!) on clarinet and flute. So they are the go to instruments for you, as the fingering isn't too different, and both read in treble clef.

You have mentioned price. My first clarinet was bought for the princely sum of £15. I still play it several years on from buying it. A standard B♭. I have several flutes, the most expensive being £75 at auction (maybe £275 new - and it was!) - with a bent section as well. I don't mean that's why it was cheap - it's designed for players with short arms! Or a piccolo, bought at a car boot for £45. There really is no need to spend a fortune - especially with a second hand, second instrument. Buy carefully, and chances are you can sell later with no loss. Or even a profit. Not the first time it's been said. However, if you're really strapped for cash, a second hand recorder should cost a couple of pounds - cheaper by the dozen...

Both are small enough to go into the sax case - especially if it's a tenor, but still feasible if it's alto. Or, keep it in its own case. Really couldn't be simpler, and will earn you a better chair in a band, as a doubling player.

  • Thank you very much, Tim. I play a tenor, so it'll definitely fit. I haven't been that lucky with garage sales, but I will keep my eyes open. – Pyromonk Jul 7 at 4:01
  • I started on clarinet then doubled on sax and recently bought a flute. The flute I bought used from my regular repair guy for about $100 (US). I figured I could take a crap shoot and buy something off eBay then have him fix it up, or I could just buy something from him that he's already fixed up. I did (b) and has worked out well for me. – Duston Jul 16 at 14:25
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Flute would be an obvious choice, you don't need to buy a pro instrument to start with. You can buy a metal flute from about $150 upwards.
Clarinet would be another good choice. You can buy a plastic clarinet and play with a plastic reed if you want to ($180 upwards).
Recorder is another possibility.

  • Flutes are made out of metal, which makes them more expensive, even for a beginner-level instrument... Or do plastic versions exist as well? I wasn't aware there were plastic clarinets, for example. And I have completely forgotten about recorders. Thank you! – Pyromonk Jul 6 at 14:29
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    @Pyromonk just how cheap do you want to go? By comparison, would you really settle for playing a $75 saxophone? If you want your new instrument to work properly , spend the few hundred to get a reliable axe. Compared with the cost of lessons, the hardware is almost incidental. – Carl Witthoft Jul 6 at 14:33
  • @CarlWitthoft, I've never seen a saxophone so cheap. Maybe with the exception of "my first saxophone". I love the instrument, so I started on a professional one (if you don't count the crappy 1937 Conn I rented before that). I knew how much time and effort I would invest into the instrument, so money was not a question. Doubling on a different one is more of a curiosity, which, I think, does not deserve a huge investment at the initial stage. And getting a cheap one would also mean that I won't get upset if the instrument breaks from misuse or lack of maintenance. – Pyromonk Jul 6 at 14:42
  • @Pyromonk I've seen plastic flutes, but I wouldn't want to have to play on one. You need to be aware that a cheap instrument isn't going to sound good. – PiedPiper Jul 6 at 15:08
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    @Pyromonk I agree with PiedPiper, the Nuvo flutes are terrible, and what’s more they’re terrible at a price that will get you a decent second-hand student flute that you would actually be able to play properly! – Steve Mansfield Jul 8 at 11:20
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Would you consider a chromatic Harmonica? Probably depending on the main type of music you study, it would make you rather unique and if you play relatively current music, I'd guess there might be frequent opportunities to use such skills. Price and time invested in learning shouldn't be a determent, only whether there is such interest.

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If you are looking for cheap then consider the tin / penny whistle: Tin whistle at Wikipedia. They only cost a penny. Okay, more than a penny but still not much. They are not fully chromatic except by what you call cheating but they are so cheap that you could probably buy several in different sizes. I have three. An attraction is you can just pick them up and play. Much less hassle than getting the clarinet or sax out. Also, much easier to carry around

  • Thank you. I have considered that option before as well. – Pyromonk Jul 7 at 4:01
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Sax players can increase their employment prospects by being able to double on:

Other sizes of sax.

Flute.

Clarinet.

Bass clarinet.

Oboe.

Bassoon.

etc.

Or pick something completely different. If you are any use as a sax player, I doubt you'd be happy with a 'toy' instrument though.

It probably SHOULD be flute. Flute meets all your requirements except price. Or clarinet. But all sax players double on clarinet. You'll be more in demand if you can offer flute.

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    OP is looking for something cheap, plastic and small. That would exclude oboe, bass clarinet and bassoon. – PiedPiper Jul 6 at 16:03
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    We don't (and certainly often shouldn't) always get everything we ask for in this life! – Laurence Payne Jul 6 at 16:55
  • Thank you. I can double (and have doubled) on other "sizes" of saxophone, but part of the problem is that I hate E♭ instruments, and that rules out pretty much anything except soprano and bass. Sopranos are incredibly quirky, and bass saxophones are almost impossible to find. Given the fingering similarity and looking at other answers, I should indeed probably go with flute. – Pyromonk Jul 7 at 4:06

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