With so many metal sax-shaped “things” available in the collector and vintage toy market, what makes a kazoo a kazoo? How is a kazoo different from another vintage metal sax-shaped toy? It all comes down to a membrane.
Scientific American offers up the following information regarding kazoos:
A kazoo is a very simple musical instrument, made up of a hollow pipe with a hole in it. The hole is covered by a membrane that vibrates, resulting in a buzzing sound when people sing, speak or hum into the pipe. People have been making and playing kazoos for years. The first kazoos were made from hollowed out bones, with spider egg sacs used for the vibrating membrane!
Although a kazoo looks and feels more like a flute or clarinet, it’s actually most closely related to a drum. As the player sings, speaks or hums into the open end, their vocal cords create sound waves that travel through the instrument. As they travel through the tube, some of the sound waves bounce off the walls of the instrument. This change in direction can add harmonics to the sound of the player’s voice (depending on the material of the tube); however, most of the sound waves strike the membrane, causing it to vibrate. This vibration adds resonance or harmonics to the sound and creates the characteristic buzzing that we associate with the kazoo.
Saxophone-shaped kazoos appear on eBay fairly regularly. Unfortunately many of them are in very rough condition. In October 2011, this example popped up. Although clearly quite old, it has not been abused.
This particular toy was made in Japan, and according to the seller, measures 5¼ inches in length.
The seller said he believed that this saxophone-shaped kazoo was made of tin.
This little toy instrument reminds me of the Calura Jazzophon that someone else was selling on eBay sometime ago. However, the Jazzophon’s condition was much rougher, and is commonly how we way we find these vintage toy saxophones for sale.
OK, so I just had to add some more. This one had actually appeared earlier in the year, but I’d forgotten that I’d saved it in my photo galleries. If you like shiny, then you’ll love this one…
The seller describes this little toy like this:
This kazoo measures about 5″ in length and is stamped “Pat.P 7500.” and “Japan.”
In the summer of 2012, a painted kazoo with the same “Pat. P 7500 Japan” popped up on eBay. The seller claimed it was from the 1920s but I have my doubts. Unfortunately I haven’t yet been able to figure out where to check Japanese patents.
Source: Nigel Scott Old Advertising Tins
Source: Nigel Scott Old Advertising Tins
If the seller of this next kazoo is correct, then it is a bit of a rarer bird. Although I cannot see a country of origin stamped anywhere, according to the seller, this little, gold-coloured noise maker was made in the US.
It is quite a bit bigger than the Japanese toys shown above, as demonstrated in the photo below.
In December 2012, a seller on eBay was selling a set of kazoos. Included in the set was a rare Sirenephone (third one from the left).
The first one is unmarked, and looks a lot like the gold painted one above. This seller however, speculated that it came from Japan. (The seller of the gold painted one thought it was made in the US.) It is apparently 9″ long.
This colourful, 10″ long kazoo is marked Japan.
In early 2022, as I was doing a major update for this this section of my site, I happened across another 2 kazoo pretty much identical to the gold and unfinished ones above. They were not finished with a nice paint job, nor did they have a country of origin stamp.
The seller describes them like this:
2 Saxophone Vintage Child Play Tin Toys
TWO (2) Toys. These vintage toys show wear from use including scuffs, scratches, discoloration, corrosion, and other wear from use and age. These toys were tested by blowing air into them, but no noise was made. Each toy measures approximately 8 inches in overall height, 6 3/4 inches in overall width, and 1 inch thick across the round top portion. To avoid missing details in writing, plenty of photos are included so purchaser’s can verify items themselves.
Obviously kazoos were made in many countries all over the world, and many times were intended for local or regional sales only. The Argentinian-made Saxo is an example of one such toy that wasn’t intended for worldwide export. I know that Germany also made kazoos. I haven’t been able to track one down however, for inclusion on my site.