Are 3D printed mouthpieces a good option and how do they compare with traditional mouthpieces?
In my Sax School community there’s a lot of talk about mouthpieces, including the new 3D printed mouthpiece which have been around for a year or so.
I’m testing the SYOS Tivon Pennicott and Chad LB mouthpieces. These are both popular models – and they are both awesome sax players so why wouldn’t you want to sound like them! I’ve got them both in a size 8 tip opening.
Why 3D printed mouthpieces?
Mouthpieces can be really expensive. I’m a Theo Wanne artist and these mouthpieces are wonderful, but they are an investment. My Theo Wanne metal Durga is around £600 or $800 US.
However a 3D printed mouthpiece is less than £200 or $250 US. But are they as good?
What is 3D printing?
With a metal or hard rubber mouthpiece, the is made from a block of material and machined down to the right shape.
However a 3D printed mouthpiece is built up in layers from plastic filament or ABS. Because they can be printed on demand you can customise them. So with SYOS you can choose the colour and finish of your mouthpiece, pick what features you want.
With Gary Sugal mouthpieces you can’t customise in the same way but you can choose the colours.
The most important aspect of the mouthpiece is its internal shape because that is what gives the mouthpiece its sound.
My mouthpieces each came with two different ligatures and a mouthpiece cap. The ligature just slides on and works really well as well as looking cool.
However, one issue for me when I first started playing with these is that your reed doesn’t form a seal with the mouthpiece. This is because of fine ridges along the face of the mouthpiece, created when the mouthpiece is formed in layers.
However, this is not actually a problem in the way the mouthpiece performs. The overall finish on the SYOS mouthpieces is great.It’s very smooth and clean and well presented.
Gary Sugal Mouthpieces
Gary has been making mouthpieces since the eighties – in fact he’s made over 19,000 mouthpieces! He’s made mouthpieces for people like Kirk Whalum, Michael Brecker and Gerald Albright. I’ve come across his mouthpieces in the past, but these have been CNC (computer numerical control) machined mouthpieces.
Gary has reproduced the shape of his tried and tested CNC mouthpieces in a 3D printed format. This means that these 3D printed mouthpieces look more like a metal mouthpiece than a traditional hard rubber shape. This felt strange to begin with.
The curvature of the mouthpiece also felt quite flat, like a Dukoff or Berg Larsen mouthpiece. Again, this felt unfamiliar, but that’s because I’m not used to playing Gary’s mouthpieces.
After a few minutes of playing it started to feel comfortable.
Like the SYOS mouthpieces, it’s not possible to get a seal with the reed. Again, this didn’t affect the performance, in fact these mouthpieces played really well.
Gary’s mouthpieces use a rail system for the ligature which just slides on. You might need to buy the ligature separately. Personally I found this a bit fiddly to use.
Gary is a saxophonist and has a background in jewellery making so he’s an expert on fine detail. The mouthpieces he sent to me are prototypes but he tells me that the models on the website are all finished really well. Gary sent me a few different examples including one in super-durable carbon fibre.
Even though I couldn’t get a seal with the reed from these mouthpieces, I’ve actually been really surprise by the sound.
They all sound very different, but they all sound great and they are really responsive.
The Gary Sugal MB1 Turbo has a bright, full sound, and the altissimo and overtones are great. The confidence this gives you with altissimo would be a real bonus for less experienced players. Overall the response is not quite the same as with a traditional metal or hard rubber mouthpiece, so I need to put a little more air through but the sound is great.
The SYOS mouthpieces are great for altissimo too. This Chad LB mouthpiece is a bit brighter than I would usually play, but it might be perfect if you’ve got a funk gig coming up.
The Gary Sugal KW1 Turbo is the darkest of the mouthpieces I’ve tested. It has a lovely warm sound and the altissimo really pops out.
In this arrangement I’m using 3D printed mouthpieces on all the parts except for the baritone where I’m using my usual metal mouthpiece.
I’m using all 4 mouthpieces for both melody and for solos so you can hear how they all perform individually.
What did you think? Which mouthpiece sounded best to you?
I think 3D printed mouthpieces are here to stay, and you should definitely consider them if you’re looking for a mouthpiece upgrade, especially if you’re on a budget. It gives you the chance to try something different that sounds great without spending big money.