Cannonball is one of the most prominent and beloved saxophone brands today. With flashy looks and bold sound, it’s no wonder they’ve become so popular.
As music industry veteran, I’ve had loads of experience working with Cannonball instruments. This comprehensive guide will go over all of the current models and answer some common questions about Cannonball saxes and the company as a whole.
Are Cannonball Saxophones Any Good?
Cannonball saxophones are highly regarded by professional saxophonists and music teachers. They’re known for their powerful projection and edgy tone, making them a favorite among certain players. Music teachers also approve and recommend the student and intermediate models. Many players appreciate the unique aesthetics and customization options Cannonball offers.
What Makes Cannonball Stand Out?
Cannonball goes to great lengths to ensure the best products possible. Every saxophone goes through an extensive acoustic customization process before leaving the warehouse, including student models.
Unlike other brands, Cannonball isn’t a faceless corporation. The founders (Sheryl and Tevis Laukat) and other top-level employees are saxophone players themselves. Each of them is heavily involved in designing and promoting their instruments. You’ll see them in most of their promotional content like in educational videos and professional performances.
Cannonball has two series of student saxes: the Falcon and the Alcazar. Both are well-regarded among sax players and band teachers. You can find them in select music stores as rentals.
Falcon Standard Series
The Falcon Standard is Cannonball’s introductory student sax. Like many student horns, it features a post-to-body construction. This lets it vibrate freely, and makes it relatively lightweight. These traits make it ideal for young beginners.
Other features include a high F# key, which many players and teachers prefer, and a rich gold lacquer that gives this sax a more premium look.
This student sax comes in a durable ABS plastic case, which will protect the horn in a busy junior high band room.
Falcon saxes are more budget-friendly compared to the Alcazars. As of this writing, the Falcon series only features an alto saxophone (Model A90-L). There’s currently no tenor sax.
Alcazar saxes are what Cannonball calls their “premium” student saxes. Price-wise, they directly compete with horns like the Yamaha YAS-26.
The most significant difference between the Alcazar and Falcon is the ribbed construction. Alcazars have ribs, meaning the extra mass helps give the sax a warmer tone. The trade-off is that it’s slightly more resistant.
The Alcazar also comes in a wood shell case with faux-gator skin leather covering. It’s a highly sturdy case that’s identical to the one that come with their pro saxes.
Models for the Alcazar series include the AA-L alto sax and TA-L tenor sax.
Cannonball has one line of intermediate saxes: Sceptyr Semi-Pro Series. These horns have the same body tube as the Big Bell Stone Series and go through the same meticulous setup process as all their pro horns.
Instead of Cannonball’s trademark semi-precious stones, Sceptyr saxes feature blue abalone key touches. These are like mother of pearl, but come in distinct shades of blue.
The Sceptyr series horns are available as alto and tenor saxes. Each one comes in three finishes:
- Rich gold lacquer (ASCEP-L, TSCEP-L)
- Black nickel-plated body with gold lacquer keys (ASCEP-BL, TSCEP-BL)
- Black nickel-plated body with silver-plated keys (ASCEP-BS, TSCEP-BS)
Sceptyr models are great alternatives if you don’t need a high-end horn. They could be great secondary horns for doublers, or perfect step-up instruments for advanced students.
Cannonball currently has six different lines of pro-level saxophones. Most of them are variations of the Big Bell Stone Series, but there are a few others as well.
Big Bell Stone Series (Premium Pro Models)
These are the flagship horns that put Cannonball on the map. Big Bell Stone Series saxes are known for their bright and edgy tone, powerful projection, and flashy looks.
Big Bell saxes are famous for their patented semi-precious stones, which Cannonball claims affect the horn’s resonance. Cannonball uses these stones instead of pearls or plastic for the finger buttons. You can also find them on side keys, palm keys, bell key guard, and the front of the neck (16 total).
The other defining feature is the namesake Big Bell. This oversized bell, along with an enlarged bore taper, enhances the sax’s projection and volume. In other words, it peals paint.
Other features include a high F# key, double-arm bell keys, and two necks — one traditional neck and one Fat Neck. It’s like having two saxes in one!
Stone Series saxes are available as alto, tenor, baritone, and soprano saxophones. They also come in over 10 different finishes (See “Customization Options below).
Big Bell Stone Series (A4 and T4 Models)
These are “Lite” versions of the Big Bell Stone Series. The A4 altos and T4 tenors are identical to the Premium Pro Models in every way except for three things:
- These saxophones don’t have stones on the side keys, palm keys, and key guard.
- They only come with one traditional neck. No Fat Neck.
- A4 and T4 saxes are only available in three finishes (gold lacquer, raw brass, and black nickel).
These differences cut down the cost, making them more affordable than the mainline Stone Series. Otherwise, they’re the same exact horns.
Gerald Albright Signature Series
These are special edition saxophones designed in partnership with sax artist Gerald Albright. They’re identical to the Stone Series, and the differences are mostly cosmetic.
For starters, Albright horns come with black leather pads and multi-colored Picasso Jasper stones. They also feature a unique engraving showcasing two golf clubs, one of Gerald’s favorite pastimes.
Gerald Albright saxes come in one of two finishes:
- Polished black nickel
- Silver-plated body and keys with black nickel bell
The Signature Series horns are available as alto, tenor, and soprano saxes.
25th Anniversary Special Edition Models
To celebrate their 25-year history, Cannonball released the 25th Anniversary Special Edition alto and tenor saxes.
On the surface, these look identical to the Stone Series. But there are a few key differences that make these saxes truly special:
- Solid nickel-silver necks, bell, and bow. This alloy makes the sax a lot more responsive and amplifies a lot of its tonal characteristics
- Red “Snakeskin Jasper” stones mined from Australia
- Titanium neck screws which slightly affect resonance and sound transfer between the neck and body
- Premium White Tiger engraving as opposed to the standard engraving.
If you get a chance to try these side-by-side with the standard Stone Series, do it. The differences between the horns might surprise you.
Vintage Reborn Series
As the name suggests, Vintage Reborn saxophones are a throwback to vintage horns from the 1960s and 70s, down to the finishes and case.
Essentially, these are reverse-engineered from the legendary Selmer Mark VI, but with the flair only Cannonball can provide.
Compared to the Stone Series, these are much more mellow-sounding horns. They have a traditional-sized bell, single-arm bell keys, and other small touches that lend to the vintage tone and feel.
Vintage Reborn saxes come in vintage-inspired finishes, including an amber-colored lacquer and aged raw brass.
- For a deeper dive into the Vintage Reborn Series, check out this comparison with the Cannonball Big Bell Stone Series.
These are the newest members of the Cannonball saxophone family. Designed with classical players in mind, these saxes produce a rich tone with plenty of warmth and complex harmonics.
As of this writing, only the Artist Series bari saxes are available. The alto sax has been delayed, partly due to the global pandemic. And while it’s probably in development, no Artist Series tenor has been announced.
Speaking from experience, the Artist bari has a beautiful warm sound that takes away the edge from the Stone Series bari. It’s highly versatile, making it a great choice for both jazz and classical settings.
Cannonball produced several other models over its 25+ year history. We won’t go over everything, but there are two series of horns worth mentioning. If you run into these online or in person, they’re worth checking out.
Key Artist Series
The Key Series was a line of alto and tenor saxes targeting more “classical” players. They’re incredible horns, but Cannonball couldn’t seem to find an audience for them.
Key saxophones have a traditional-styled bell and bore taper. But the most distinguishing feature is the cocobolo wood bell-to-body bracing. They also used cocobolo wood key touches instead of the usual stones or pearls.
Compared to the Stone Series, they have a warmer and darker tone. But unlike Cannonball’s other horns, Key saxophones only came in a gold lacquer finish.
They were recently discontinued sometime around 2020, so it’s possible to still find one in new or like-new condition.
Big Bell Global Series
Like any young company, Cannonball had a lot of growing pains. But the Global Series were the first horns that really clicked with people.
These were the immediate predecessors to the Stone Series. In fact, they share a lot in common, including the Big Bell design. The only major differences are the lack of semi-precious stones and the Fat Neck.
Cannonball saxes are widely known for their flashy looks and unique aesthetics. Many of the pro saxes are readily available in several finishes. You can also special-order a Cannonball horn with customized stones and engraving.
There’s practically a rainbow of colors to choose from. Here’s a complete list of finish options for Cannonball saxes:
- Rich gold lacquer
- Silver plating
- “Mad Meg” (unlacquered raw brass)
- “The Brute” (aged patina raw brass)
- Polished black nickel plating
- Black nickel plating with gold-lacquer keys
- Black nickel plating with silver-plated keys
- “MidKnight” (dark, matte-black nickel)
- “The Raven” (textured black nickel)
- “Black Ruby” (dark red/purple colored lacquer)
- “Hotspur” (textured black nickel body with textured silver bell)
- Silver-plated body with black nickel bell (available only for Gerald Albright models)
- Dark amber lacquer (available only for Vintage Reborn models)
Most of the stones Cannonball uses come from mines located in Central Utah. Other stones, like the red stones on the 25th Anniversary saxophones, are mined elsewhere around the world.
They use a variety of stone types like Jasper, Tiger Eye, and others. You can pick stones that match your own style and personality. Check out Cannonball’s website for a complete list of stone types with images.
You can special order your sax with a deluxe engraving. All the engraving is done by hand at Cannonball HQ in Salt Lake City.
There are dozens of engravings to choose from. Some are more intricate than others. So naturally, you’ll pay more for them.
How to Order a Custom Cannonball Sax
Talk with your local Cannonball dealer to special-order a customized sax. If you don’t know where that is, you can contact Cannonball directly.
Cannonball offers additional accessories for their saxophones. You can purchase them from your local dealer.
The Fat Neck
Normal sax necks place the octave key on top. The Fat Neck has it on the underside. This makes it more free-blowing and helps bring out middle and low frequencies. The result is a bigger, “fatter” sound, hence the name.
Fat Necks comes standard with all Big Bell Stone Series, Gerald Albright Signature, and 25th Anniversary alto and tenor saxophones. They’re also compatible with any other pro Cannonball alto or tenor. They likely won’t fit with saxes from other brands.
Titanium Neck and Lyre Screws
These were introduced during Cannonball’s 25th Anniversary. They’re substitutes for the standard neck screws, and slightly alter the resonance of the horn. It’s a similar concept to other aftermarket screws. The titanium screws come standard on the 25th Anniversary saxes.
These are a great alternative to cases like the Protec Pro Pac or other compact saxophone cases. There’s plenty of space for your sax, plus an inside compartment and external pouch for accessories. It all comes together with backpack straps for easy transportation. Compact Cases are available for alto, tenor, and baritone saxes.
This is a unique swab with several sheets of fabric lining the pull chord. But rather than pulling the whole swab through the sax, you grab hold of both ends and “floss” it back and forth. This absorbs more moisture from inside the body tube and tone holes. Drag’n Swabs are available for alto, tenor, and soprano saxes.
Where are Cannonball Saxophones Made?
Cannonball saxes are made in Taiwan. Once made, they are shipped to the Cannonball headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah where they undergo extensive acoustic treatment.
All the final touches happen in Salt Lake. This includes hand engraving and embedding the stones and key touches.
Where to Buy Cannonball Saxophones
Cannonball works exclusively through their dealer network and doesn’t allow them to sell their products online. If you see one listed online, chances are it’s used, or it’s not from an authorized dealer (which would void any warranty).
If you’re not sure who your local Cannonball dealer is, you can find one by reaching out to Cannonball directly on their website.
How Much Are Cannonball Saxophones?
Since Cannonball doesn’t sell online, there’s no definitive answer. Cannonball allows their dealers to set prices. And as a result, prices will vary from store to store.
With that in mind, Cannonball prices are usually competitive with other brands like Yamaha, Eastman, and others. These price ranges should give you a rough idea of what to expect:
Alto & Tenor Saxophones:
- Student: $800–2500
- Intermediate: $2500–3000
- Professional: $3000–4500
- Professional: $6000–$8000
- Professional: $2500–$4000
Keep in mind, these are ballpark estimates. Actual prices will vary.
How do Cannonball Saxes Compare to Other Brands?
Fairly or unfairly, players often compare Cannonball to other brands. We’re going to lump them into two groups: the “Big Four” brands and other Taiwanese-made saxophone brands.
The Big Four
The “Big Four” is an unofficial name the online sax community gave for Yamaha, Selmer Paris, Yanagisawa, and Keilwerth. These four brands have been around much longer, and so have established themselves as market leaders in the professional saxophone world.
Price-wise, these saxes are generally more expensive. This is for multiple reasons:
- The Big Four saxes are mostly made in Japan and Europe, so manufacturing costs will be higher.
- Three of the four brands only manufacture professional-level horns. So naturally, the average price goes up.
- Part of the price is brand recognition. People trust these brands to put out quality products and are willing to pay a little extra for them.
From my experience, Cannonball saxophones tend to be louder and have an edgier tone. They’re also more free-blowing. These traits make them great for pop, funk, and other contemporary styles. But some traditionalists find them too brash for straight-ahead jazz or classical music.
Other Tawainese-made Saxophones
I think it’s pretty disingenuous to lump every Tawainese-made sax together. That said, it’s hard not to draw comparisons.
Some notable brands include P. Mauriat, Selmer USA, and Growling Sax, among others. Older Eastman saxes also fall into this group.
Unlike other brands, the Cannonball factory in Taiwan only produces Cannonball saxes. They don’t make or relabel saxes for other brands.
Price, sound, and playability for all these saxophones are comparable.
As with any saxophone, it comes down to personal preference. What you like will be different than what others like.
Cons and Criticisms
While Cannonball saxophones are well-regarded among players, they aren’t without their criticisms. Here are some of the most common ones among players:
- Intonation: Some players feel the intonation on Cannonball saxes isn’t as accurate as other horns, especially in the upper register.
- Weight: Many Cannonball saxes have thicker brass walls. Plus, there’s added mass from the stones, double key arms, and other components. Combined, these make them relatively heavy compared to other horns.
- Sound quality: While countless players love the sound of Cannonball saxes, a small subset of players and teachers feel they have a hard time blending in with other sax sections.
Other Frequently Asked Questions About Cannonball Saxes
Are Cannonball Saxophones Durable?
Cannonballs are very reliable horns. The keys are fluid and mechanically sound. They use high-quality materials and have several points of quality control.
Parts are readily available if you ever need to repair it. The saxes also boast a detachable bell, which makes it easier for repair techs to work with.
Do Cannonball Saxophones Come With a Warranty?
Every Cannonball sax comes with a limited 5-year warranty. It covers manufacturing defects, but won’t cover cosmetic issues, weather-related damage, or damage from misuse and botched repairs.
You can get full details of the warranty on Cannonball’s website.
Do the Different Finishes Affect Sound?
The differences are extremely subtle, but present. Each material has unique properties and vibrates differently. The finish might change how the instrument feels to the player, affecting its playability. That said, the differences might be imperceptible from the audience’s perspective.
What matters most is your ability as a player and your mouthpiece/reed setup. Get those right, and your sound
Do the Stones Really Make a Difference in the Sound?
Cannonball has several patents for how the resonance stones affect their instruments. So at the very least, they think that they make a difference.
It’s a bold claim to make. But then again, many players fuss about ligature designs or use things like heavy mass screws and other tone boosters.
But regardless of where you stand on the topic, it’s hard to deny that pro Cannonballs have a characteristic sound.
Why Doesn’t Cannonball Sell Instruments Online?
According to their website, Cannonball claims that “customers are most happy when they purchase Cannonball Instruments from their local dealer.” It’s also a way to protect both themselves and customers from fraudulent sales.
My hunch is it also adds some mystique to the Cannonball brand. You can’t buy their saxes online, so it makes them all the more alluring.
I can also say it’s incredibly beneficial to their dealers. Cannonball only works with one dealer in a given area. As a result, they don’t compete against each other for sales like they do with other brands.
This also incentivizes customers to visit their local music store. Otherwise, the dealer might lose sales to online stores like Sweetwater or Woodwind Brasswind.
You could argue that Cannonball leaves money on the table by not selling online. But it’s a strategy that’s clearly working for them. Plus, it’s made their dealers very happy.
Learn More About Cannonball Saxophones
Want to know more about Cannonball saxes? Check out these other guides:
- Cannonball Alcazar vs. Falcon Student Saxophones: This guide explores the similarities and differences between Cannonball’s two lines of student saxophones.
- Big Bell Stone Series vs Vintage Reborn (Differences Explained): Take a deep dive into two of Cannonball’s most popular lines of professional saxophones.