History Notes: Sopraninos

History Notes : Sopraninos

A very delicate instrument both in its playing approach and in its construction, the sopranino saxophone is the highest pitched voice in the saxophone family. Douglas Pipher opens the second season of History Notes by telling us about the production of these atypical instruments over the years...


The production of the sopranino is a little different from most other typess, in that its development ran on a very separate timeline.

There are no known examples of a Series 1922 . The very first Sopranino I have seen has serial number 1,900 and is stamped Model 22. It had a range only to high E-flat, and it did not feature the BIS B-flat key. Next, it appeared in the mid-4000 range, stamped as a Model 26, but no apparent changes.

Sopranino Model 26

There were a few changes made at the end of the 4,000 serial range in the 4,900 range, and interestingly, there were no model stamps on these instruments, but they had a few tweaks to the development, including adding the BIS B-flat key. Then at serial number 5,000, this is where the archive records start, so I'm able to have much more information, there were at least three batches of Sopranino production, all in the 5,000 range. We know that there were somewhere up to 18 instruments produced.

The next Sopraninos appeared in the Large Bore era, in the 10,000 serial range. Now, there was no change in design to the Sopranino. They did not have a model stamp on it. So for simplicity, I call these Large Bore era in that they were built during the Large Bore time, but they were essentially the same as a Model 26 without the model stamp on them.

There were three additional production batches in the 11 and 12K range, a total of 18 more instruments were made. There were no Sopraninos built from the 12 to the 24 serial number range, so there's nothing during the Super Sax era.

Sopranino Super Action

There was one production in the 24 range. Then there were a couple built in the 31,000 range and a couple built in the 34,000 range. These appear not to be full production batches of six but may have been left over or bodies that were started and were finished at that time. I call these Balanced Action era Sopraninos, but they still are essentially the same design as previous.

By 40,000, there were some design changes. The octave mechanism was moved around and the keys on the right-hand side, the B-flat and C-side keys were made a little more ergonomic and there were some small improvements.

In the Super Action era range, there were four production batches made, so approximately 24 instruments would have been built. Now this is where it gets interesting.

The next batch was built at 54,000, but there was no design change to indicate that it should be called a Mark VI. In fact, the earliest Sopranino stamped as a Mark VI was not until, get ready for this, the 345,000 serial point. So essentially, from 40,000 to 345,000, I consider the Sopranino to be a Super Action model, not a Mark VI.

The next development is at around 190,000. Some models were introducedwith a range too high F sharp. These were produced in conjunction with high E-flat Sopraninos from 190 to about 298. Their production is roughly equal between the two types. The latest I have seen with a range only to high E-flat is at 298, but there may be some examples into the 300 range.

Starting at around 351,000, the Mark VI stamp appeared on the Sopraninos, but there was still no major design change.


The only major redesign of the Sopraninos occurred with prototypes around 411,000, and 415,000, with production starting at 426,000. This was a radical redesign with Mark VI style left-pinky keys, raised left-palm keys, essentially a complete remake of the instrument. Now, this was not marketed as a Mark VI or a Mark VII, which there were none, or even a Super Action 80, there were none of those as well. It was marketed as a Super Action 80 Series II. So Super Action 80 Series II started at 426 and continues until this day.

So just to review, the Balanced Action design was from 31,000 to 34,000, minor changes from the previous. The super action design was from 40,000 to 345,000. The Mark VI design, stamped as a Mark VI, but no change from the previous, was from 351,000 to around 426,000, and then the Super Action 80, Series II was from 426,000 to today.

In terms of total production, I estimate as many as 60 Sopraninos were built pre-war, including an estimate of what was built before the archives start at serial number 5,000. During the Mark VI era, 55,000 to 40,000, there were about 390 Sopraninos built. In the Mark VII era, again, still the same Super Action design, this is from 240 to 317, there were about 370 Sopraninos built. During the Super Action 80 era, which is 1980 to 1985, there were about 85 Sopraninos built. And then the redesigned Sopraninos after 1985, there's another 390 or so built to the end of the 20th century.

Total 20th century production of the Sopranino would be in the range of 1,330 examples. Current production of the Sopranino continues at somewhere around 20 to 30 units built per year. Theoretically, from 1922 until today, there could be as many as 1,800 Sopraninos built.

gray sopranino

For a breakdown by the finish f the instruments, the vast majority were lackered. Over 1,100 of them were lackered. There was about 120 silver plated, and I believe there's 26 that were lackered with silver plated keys. If you're looking for a really rare example, there are five examples of colored lacquered sopraninos. Four of them are black and one is white. So if you're looking for a really rare example, go for that one.

Subscribe to our youtube channel so you don't miss any episodes
Listen to History Notes podcast