Finish on a saxophone is a hotly debated topic. Whether it's on the internet forums or phone calls in the shop where we discuss it at length, it's always a subject that most players want to talk about. Yes, we all know that they look different, but does finish affect the sound? Drum roll please…
YES! Yes, it does. *opens big can of worms and proceeds to duck* Do I have scientific proof in this blog? No. If that's what you are looking for, you can stop reading now. What I do have is the chance to play lacquered, unlacquered, matte, silver plated, and gold plated horns on a daily basis. While it's true that every horn is slightly different no matter what the finish, there are still specific traits that stay true to each finish when you compare them across the board. Below I'm going to list my notes on each finish and how I perceive these characteristics.
Cognac, also referred to as dark lacquer, has the most balanced frequencies (lows, mids & highs) present in the core. This gives it the most focused core of the finishes. Cognac has the least dry and most colorful sound, though it can be perceived as a “smaller” sound when directly compared to the plated horns.
Unlacquered has more low and middle frequencies present in the core than highs. It is typically more spread and husky compared to other finishes. While not as dry as the matte, it is a little more dry than the lacquered but still fairly colorful.
Matte horns have more mids and highs than lows in the core. The core is slightly spread, but more focused than the unlacquered. It is the driest sound of all the finishes and extremely powerful and punchy. Personally, I find this finish reminiscent of the Conn 10Ms.
Silver plate has more lows and mids than highs in the core. It has, by far, the biggest and roundest sound of all the finishes. The “darkest” sound of all the finishes with plenty of power.
Gold plate has more lows and mids than highs. It is almost the same as the silver plate, but with more color and a smoother core. Even so, it remains very powerful.
Ultimately, each horn within each finish will have differences, but these trends present themselves across the board 99% of the time. It's always best to come to the shop and pick out your saxophone, but if you can't make it and you want us to voice one for you, this blog should give you a good idea of how the different finishes slightly affect the core sound of each model.