There are 3 important items to look at when purchasing a saxophone mouthpiece, Material, Tip Opening, and baffle. Here is a breakdown of why these are important:
The material that a mouthpiece is made of can greatly influence the sound of a mouthpiece. Harder mouthpiece materials tend to have a brighter and more projecting sound. Softer mouthpiece materials tend to have a darker sound that provides less projection.
Plastic mouthpieces tend to be less expensive. Because of they are affordable and quite durable they tend to make great entry level mouthpieces for students. They tend to have a bright sound that lacks focus.
Ebonite – Hard Rubber:
Ebonite tends to be a popular choice for the classical saxophonist. Ebonite has a warm and focused tone. This material also lends itself well to a jazz saxophonist that is not looking for the projection that a metal mouthpiece offers.
Wood mouthpieces offer a very warm tone. They are not as popular as plastic or ebonite because they are harder to maintain as they are subject to weather and temperature differences.
Almost all metal-plated mouthpieces are made from brass. These almost always are plated with silver or gold, all though you will find exceptions to this. They offer a bright tone with and edge that is well suited to jazz and rock.
A Stainless Steel mouthpiece is very similar to a plated brass mouthpiece. These mouthpieces tend to have the brightest tone of all the available mouthpieces.
- Tip Opening
Facing and Tip Opening
Mouthpiece facings and tip opening need not be a confusing thing. Facing is the length of the rail curve that goes from the tip opening to where it meets the reed. Tip opening is measure of the opening where the edge of the reed up to the tip of the mouthpiece. Facings will usually be given as a number such as 7*, in reality these numbers are assigned by the manufacturer and it is better to look at the tip opening, usually given as a 3 digit decimal in inches such as .105”. Tip opening and facing are directly related as the tip opening gets larger the facing gets smaller. As the facing gets larger the tip opening gets smaller. Tip openings that are larger (open tip) have high resistance and require softer reeds. Larger tip openings require more control, but give the player more flexibility. This can also lead to some endurance issues. Tip openings that are smaller (close tip) have low resistance and require harder reeds. Small tip openings provide for a focused tone, but do not give the player much flexibility to alter their tone.
The baffle of a mouthpiece determines how much projection edge a mouthpiece will have. This area of the mouthpiece is located right behind the “window”. Lower baffles tend to produce a warm and mellow tone. High baffles tend to produce a more projecting and brighter tone.
Summary and suggestions:
When choosing a mouthpiece for concert band playing choose a more closed tip opening and use a harder reed. This will allow for a focused tone that is well suited for the classical style. Ebonite is the preferred material for this style, all though there are exceptions to this. For a classical style saxophone mouthpiece we suggest these mouthpieces, Vandoren Optimum Series, Selmer Paris, and Eugene Rousseau Classic and New Classic.
The jazz and rock saxophonist will want to try a mouthpiece that gives them flexibility and volume. These mouthpieces will have a larger tip opening, large chamber, and a high baffle. This will typically take some development, so it might be in a beginner’s best interest to stay conservative and build up to the more extreme of these mouthpieces. There are always ongoing experiments with different materials for these mouthpieces, but typically they will be made of ebonite or metal. For jazz and rock saxophone we suggest these mouthpieces, Jody Jazz, Otto Link, Berg Larson, Vandoren Java, Eugene Rousseau Jazz, Lebayle.
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