SAXOPHONE MOUTHPIECE EVALUATION V7N2
By John Alexander
JAZZ IMPROV’S SAX MOUTHPIECE EVALUATION
So You Go To The Music Store And… By John Alexander Whether you have a steamer trunk full of mouthpieces or you have played the same piece since fifth grade band, at some point in your playing career you will arrive at this juncture: You don’t like the sound you are getting and it’s time to change mouthpieces. So you go to the music store intending to try out mouthpieces. That is the premise on which I approached the evaluation of the many mouthpieces that several manufacturers were kind enough to send to me and my colleagues. My thanks to Seth Carper, Greg Jarrell and Carl Ratliffe, all fine saxophone players in the Charlotte, NC area, who were of great assistance in this project, and to the companies that sent us their fine products for us to check out. Brancher, Vandoren, Jody Jazz, and Guardala in Germany provided us with a variety of soprano, alto, and tenor pieces. In all we have played and critiqued thirty-six mouthpieces since September, 2006. In the middle of the page is a sample of the evaluation sheet that we used for each piece. We assigned numeric values to all of the categories except for “Best Suited for What Type of Gig.” But don’t look on this sheet as some kind of score card. It should serve as a guide for what you might expect when you try out one of these pieces in the store. We also recorded brief sound bites of each mouthpiece which I encourage you to check out. Pretend that you are listening to someone trying out an unfamiliar mouthpiece for the first time. You can find both the sound bites and the Mouthpiece Evaluation Sheets on the Enhanced Companion CD. Just next to the mouthpiece model is a button. Click the button and the music file will start to download.
JAZZ IMPROVâ€™S SAX MOUTHPIECE EVALUATION Brancher Letâ€™s talk about the Brancher pieces. Brancher makes three types of mouthpieces for soprano, alto, tenor and bari: a hard rubber piece (the L chamber), a brass colored metal with a medium baffle (the J chamber), and gray metal piece with a higher baffle (the B chamber). Machining is done by computer and final polishing is done by hand. Check out the Brancher website at www.brancher-france.com/index.htm for more details. Pascal Brancher was kind enough to send us three alto and three tenor pieces. Brancher pieces all have a rich, warm sound but for me they were a little stuffy in the upper register. However, I think that after playing the piece for a week or so the upper register should open up. Of course, the higher baffle B chamber piece will be brightest piece and the hard rubber L chamber will be the darkest. I particularly liked the sound of the hard rubber tenor piece. It would be a nice piece for a straight ahead jazz gig. Each of the pieces came with a Brancher ligature and cap. There are two versions of the ligature, a gold plated metal one and another made of a composite material. By the way, Brancher makes a great yoke-style saxophone strap. I happened to buy one several months before we began evaluating mouthpieces, and I am very pleased with it. If you are interested, look for the Brancher Crescent strap. Check out the Brancher website address above for the names of distributors in the US.
JAZZ IMPROV’S SAX MOUTHPIECE EVALUATION Vandoren Our thanks to Jim Metz at Dansr in Chicago for sending us an array of Vandoren pieces for alto, tenor and soprano. For me these pieces played all over the horn immediately. Perhaps the Vandoren design is more favorable to my throat and embouchure. The two V16 metal tenor pieces were balanced and flexible, suitable for almost any type of gig situation. The two V16 hard rubber alto pieces are both low baffle pieces on the dark side that would sound great in a straight ahead situation. On the other hand, the two Jumbo Java pieces both have a higher baffle and a brighter sound, making them more suitable for lead alto and any situation that would require more projection. The two soprano pieces that we played were both V16 hard rubber pieces with a low baffle and a dark sound. They both played very well and would sound great in a straight ahead situation. As I’m sure you know Vandoren is an historic name in the saxophone and clarinet world and their fine products are available almost everywhere. Not only do they make fine mouthpieces but very high quality reeds and, in the last few years, an excellent ligature under the product name Optimum. I have used a couple of them for four or five years and have been very pleased. I have a couple of suggestions for Vandoren, though. I wish the company would make a metal V16 alto piece to complement the tenor piece. The tenor piece is such a good mouthpiece, but it has no counterpart on alto, or soprano for that matter. The hard rubber V16 pieces are excellent pieces but, just because they are hard rubber, they don’t match up as well with the tenor as a comparable metal piece would. Likewise for a hard rubber V16 tenor piece; there is no hard rubber tenor counterpart for the V16 alto and soprano pieces.
JAZZ IMPROV’S SAX MOUTHPIECE EVALUATION Jody Jazz Jody Espina at Jody Jazz in New York sent us five tenor, four alto, and three soprano pieces – what a great way to while away many hours playing all of these mouthpieces. Included were his samples of his ESP series, his Classic series, his HR* series, and his new DV series. All Jody Jazz pieces except the HR* series come with a Deluxe Rovner Dark ligature and cap. Please check the Jody Jazz website at www.jodyjazz.com/index.html for more information and availability in your area. First, a word about the DV series: DV stands for Da Vinci, as in The Da Vinci Code, the best-selling book by Dan Brown. After reading the book, Mr. Espina was inspired to experiment with the mathematical relationship known as Phi (pronounced fi, as in the fly). From the GoldenNumber.net website “Phi (Φ = 1.618033988749895...) is simply an irrational number…but one with many unusual mathematical properties”. This number is also known as The Golden Mean, The Golden Ratio, and The Golden Section. It is found in nature (e.g., in the proportions of the human body); in art and architecture (e.g., Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper and The Parthenon) and in music (e.g. musical scales as examples of the Fibonacci number series). Jody found a way to incorporate the Golden Mean in the construction of the DV mouthpiece. One of the first things you will notice in this radical new mouthpiece design the deep cut-out or U shape in the table. The first thing I noticed when I put a reed on it and played it was the huge sound especially in the lower register. The sound really does jump out of this piece, possibly due to the cut-out allowing for a quicker reed response and fuller reed vibration. The DV has a high baffle with a bright sound, but has enough overtones so that the sound is not harsh or brittle. The DV NY, for tenor only, has a lower baffle, a darker sound, and is comparable to a metal Otto Link. Jody Espina has created a revolutionary new mouthpiece design with the DV, and has several patent applications in the work for it. It could be
JAZZ IMPROV’S SAX MOUTHPIECE EVALUATION considered the “Cadillac” of saxophone mouthpieces. The workmanship is flawless, from the CNC (computerized numerical control) machined blanks to the gold plating and hand finishing. It is an expensive piece, at $495.00 for the tenor and $450.00 for the alto, so you are making a real commitment when you purchase one of these pieces. For that kind of money, I would give these pieces very careful consideration. If possible go to a bricks-and-mortar retailer, or order from an online source, that will allow you to try out the piece for a good length of time, perhaps a couple of weeks. If you do, then I think you will be able to make an informed choice and you will be most pleased with the DV mouthpiece. As the other Jody Jazz pieces, the ESP is a metal piece with a removable baffle or spoiler which, when inserted, brightens the sound and increases the volume and projection; it’s almost like having two mouthpieces in one. The tenor and alto pieces play very well and are suitable for almost any gig situation. However, due to the small chamber size in the soprano piece the spoiler has to be placed in exactly the right place or the air flow will be restricted. The Jody Jazz Classic is made from a polycarbonate alloy with a synthetic and also includes the removable spoiler or baffle. The Classic is great for a hard-blowing rock or blues gig where you really need to get above the rhythm section. I suppose that it’s due to the composition material, but these pieces sound a little higher or lighter than a metal or hard rubber piece. Not that that would be a bad thing; on the contrary, it might be just what you need to project over a loud stage volume. The HR* is Jody Jazz’s line of hard rubber pieces, and in our collective opinion they do about everything right. The sound is warm with projection, the resistance is just enough, and the response is very good. If you are a hard rubber enthusiast you will love these pieces. If you are a young player who is just developing his sound these pieces, whether alto, tenor, or soprano, would be great pieces to “grow into”. I think that they would be forgiving enough so that you could sound pretty good where you are right now, and very good once you develop your sound a little more. I have seen a lot of young players who think that a metal mouthpiece is going to cure all of their ills and make them sound
JAZZ IMPROV’S SAX MOUTHPIECE EVALUATION like their metal mouthpiece heroes. They usually end up sounding very bright, nasal, loud and out of tune because they haven’t opened up enough and aren’t supporting the air properly. Check out the HR* when you go mouthpiece-shopping. I think you will be very pleased.
JAZZ IMPROVâ€™S SAX MOUTHPIECE EVALUATION Guardala (Germany) To those saxophone players who have been around for a while the name of Dave Guardala is the stuff of legend. Besides being gifted with a phenomenal ear and the hands of a surgeon, he was one of the first to use CNC machining techniques in manufacturing mouthpieces. His pieces became popular with New Yorkâ€™s finest players, most notably the late saxophone giant Michael Brecker. Soon the word spread and his pieces were in high demand. His professional career is the stuff of legend as well, what with court cases against other manufacturers who attempted to copy and sell his designs. Then, for some reason, he stopped making mouthpieces. But we will save the subject of Mr. Guardala for another effort. According to Mr. Nadir Ibrahimoglu of the Professional Music Shop (PMS) in Hamburg, Germany, as of January 1, 2005 PMS is the licensed manufacturer and distributor of mouthpieces using the Dave Guardala name and trademark (see www.pmsmusic.de/Mundstucke/Tenormundstucke/Dave_Guardala_Mouthpieces/d ave_guardala_mouthpieces.html) for more information. At present Guardala pieces are only available for tenor saxophone. Each piece came to us with a GF System GF-11 Small ligature and cap. Mr. Ibrahimoglu was kind enough to send us a New Crescent, an MB II (named for Michael Brecker), a King (for King Curtis) and a Super King. I must say that I was pretty blown away by all of the models. They all played exceptionally well for me. The differences between each piece are a matter of tip opening, baffle and chamber size. The New Crescent has the smallest tip opening, lowest baffle and a large chamber, resulting in a sound on the darker side of the spectrum. The Super King has the widest tip opening, the highest baffle, and a small chamber, and is at the other end of the spectrum with a brighter more powerful sound. Playing each one of these pieces one after the other is like driving four perfectly engineered cars, each a brighter color than the other. They all respond equally well in all of the registers, they all feel great, and they all sound great. It comes down to the personal taste of the player as to which to
JAZZ IMPROV’S SAX MOUTHPIECE EVALUATION choose. If you are interested in trying one or more Guardalas you should email PMS at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on availability. Again, please check out all of our evaluation sheets and the sound recordings of each mouthpiece. It is our hope that the information provided will help you in making the right mouthpiece choice and help to make you a better player. All the best… — John Alexander Woodwind artist John Alexander, received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from Erskine College, and his Master of Music degree in Jazz Pedagogy from the University of Miami (FL). His military service includes tours of duty with the 282nd Army Band at Fort Jackson, SC, and the 8th Army Band in Seoul, South Korea. John has performed with Louis Bellson, Curtis Fuller, Gap Mangione, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Jack Jones, Woody Herman, Eddie Higgins, Astrud Gilberto and Lou Rawls. His latest release, Big Octave with Ron Brendle and drummer Chris Garges. Visit John Alexander at www.jajazz.net.