This is the largest playable saxophone in the world, and it sounds brilliantly monstrous

9 February 2017, 09:51

Subcontrabass saxophone

By Tim Edwards

The 3m-tall subcontrabass saxophone’s lowest note is just about within the human range of hearing.

Enjoy this wonderful video of Italian jazz musician Attilio Berni, a graduate of the Santa Cecilia Conservatory, performing ‘Cute’ on the biggest playable saxophone in the world and the smallest: the subcontrabass saxophone and the soprillo. The ensemble is the Moonlight Big Band.  

Attilio Berni plays a 3m-high subcontrabass saxophone

The Italian jazz maestro performs 'Cute' on the biggest and smallest saxophones


What is a subcontrabass saxophone?

The subcontrabass saxophone was conceived in 1846 by Adolphe Sax, who named it the ‘sax bourdon’ after the lowest stop on an organ. However, it was not until the 2012 that a full-size subcontrabass sax was finally built by German manufacturer Eppelsheim.

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The one used by Attilio in the clip above was built in 2013 by Brazilian J’Elle Stainer. At 2.8m high, it is the largest saxophone that can be played by one person.

The lowest note that this gigantic instrument can play is 25.95 Hz, which is just within the range of human hearing (20Hz-20,000Hz).

Meet the soprillo saxophone

The soprillo, or sopranissimo, saxophone is also a rare instrument. At 33cm long, its highest note is an octave above a soprano saxophone and the corresponding key is positioned in the mouthpiece. It is extremely difficult to play and a warning on the website of the German manufacturer, Eppelsheim, reads: "Due to its extreme range and the required very firm embouchure only professional players can play the soprillo. It may take several months of practice to reach the highest notes."

Watch a slightly more compact version of the subcontrabass and soprillo in action once more in the video below, in which Attilio performs 'Indiana' on both instruments at the Napoleonic Museum in Rome. 

Attilio Berni plays the mighty subcontrabass saxophone at the Napoleonic Museum in Rome

(Plus a guest appearance by the soprillo - the smallest sax)


Find out more about Attilio Berni and his fantastic selection of wind instruments at his Facebook pages: 

Attilio Berni


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