When you’re choosing a saxophone mouthpiece, there’s plastic or hard rubber or metal. Which one do you go for?
I’m going to show you the mouthpieces that I’ve gone through in my career so far, and compare some. I’ll give you some ideas on which one is best and how you go about choosing a saxophone mouthpiece that is right for you.
There all sorts of mouthpieces in my collection. There’s the Vandoren Jumbo Java, Dave Guardala, Vandoren T8 , the good old classic Otto Link and some Theo Wanne pieces. And a whole bunch of ligatures. It’s like my tenor saxophone history over the last 25 years!
Choosing your sound
I actually started as an alto player, and then I changed onto tenor when I was in my twenties. I was really happy with my alto sound, but I wanted to find a good sound on tenor, and I didn’t know how to go about choosing a saxophone mouthpiece.
Back then, I wanted a sound that was going to give me plenty of projection. The first thing I tried was actually this mouthpiece, which is a Vandoren T95 or Jumbo Java. It’s actually blue and I thought that was cool back then.
A student question
I got a question from one of my Sax school students. He had switched from a hard rubber mouthpiece to a metal mouthpiece. And he was asking, “why isn’t my sound brighter? I was expecting a much brighter sound on my metal mouthpiece than I got on my hard rubber mouthpiece, but it wasn’t really that much brighter.”
The thing is, it’s not really about what the mouthpiece is made out of. It’s about the internal shape. That’s the real trick.
All about Mouthpiece Shape
For example, this is the first metal mouthpiece that I bought, and this is a classic Otto Link size eight “Super” Tone Master. If you have a look inside, this mouthpiece is really open. There’s no baffle or anything, so you don’t get a big projection with your sound.
So, it’s all to do with the internal size. It you have a look at my classic Dave Guardala mouthpiece, it has got a massive baffle inside that makes the air goes super-fast through the mouthpiece. This makes the sound much brighter with more projection.
So, it’s not necessarily what the mouthpiece is made from – it’s about the internal shape. That’s what’s important. When you are choosing a saxophone mouthpiece you need to think about what you want out of your sound.
My Mouthpiece Journey
My journey has changed a lot through my mouthpieces as I’ve gone through different periods of my playing.
At times in my career I was doing a real cross-section of playing. On one gig, (on even within the same gig) I might need a mellow section sound, and then a really bright commercial sound. That’s because I was band-leading, we were doing shows with different singers all the time, and I had to do a real cross-section of playing. And so I needed something really versatile.
Whereas now, I’m playing in the studio all the time. And so I use something much darker and I’m not interested in projection. I’m just really interested in getting a lovely, warm sound and that’s influenced me when I’ve been choosing a saxophone mouthpiece.
I’m going to start playing some of these mouthpieces and let’s see if I can show you what they sound like.
Theo Wanne- size 8 – Slant Sig 2
At the moment I’m playing a Theo Wanne Slant Sig 2 (size 8). I really like this because there’s a good compromise between the sort of brightness that you can get from a metal mouthpiece, and the darkness that you get from a really nice open mouthpiece. I’ve got a little bit of edge, but I haven’t got loads of projection.
I can get a nice dark sound but I can also get good control of the altissimo and a little bit more bite. I love it. It’s perfect for me in the studio. And I think if you’re playing intimate gigs or big band, then this is a great mouthpiece.
I thought this Vandoren T95 was such a cool mouthpiece when I first got it, but it was always a bit too bright for me If I’m honest. I know lots of people love this mouthpiece.
And I haven’t played this mouthpiece for years, and so it takes a bit of getting used to. This is a hard rubber mouthpiece that’s got the kind of projection and bite to the sound that you’d get from a metal mouthpiece. This just goes to show it doesn’t need to be a dark sound from a hard rubber mouthpiece.
This is a good comparison. This is a classic Selmer D hard rubber mouthpiece. Now, this is a standard classical mouthpiece, and as it’s a hard rubber mouthpiece it does give you that dark sound.
It’s a really big open mouthpiece. There’s no baffle in there, and it should have a lovely, big warm sound. If you’ve got this as a hard rubber mouthpiece, you’re going to get your classic hard rubber sound.
By the way, I’m using the Silverstein Works Ligature here – I love it.
You can hear how dark that sound is. It is beautiful. But, you wouldn’t want to go into a funk gig with this because it’s just not going to work. It’s not really designed for that. It’s designed for a dark classical sound. It’s got an open chamber – that’s the secret.
Dave Guardala Laser Trimmed Crescent
By comparison, if you want a metal mouthpiece that has actually got a lot of bite and edge to it, try something like this Dave Guardala Laser Trimmed Crescent.
I love this mouthpiece. I’ll tell you a little story about Dave Guardala’s mouthpieces. I’ve played them for more than 10 years. I used to have the original handmade Dave Guardala studio mouthpiece, played thousands of shows on it, and I broke it eventually.
And when it was time to replace it, I couldn’t get another one the same. So I got this Laser Trimmed Crescent, which is just a little bit darker but brilliant. And I’ve done thousands of shows on this. It’s a really great mouthpiece, it’s got loads of projection. You can see the big table and the shaping it has around the inside. It really makes the air go fast.
I’ve got the original Dave Guardala ligature, but for a long time, I used a Winslow ligature, which I love. I don’t know if you can still get them, but I thought it was a great combination with the Dave Guardala mouthpiece, just because it gives you that little bit of extra resonance. It made a big difference in my opinion.
Playing a new mouthpiece
Now, if you change your mouthpiece, it is really important that you spend a lot of time getting used to the new mouthpiece. It can take one or two months to really get used to the way a new mouthpiece plays. And in that time, you’ve got to spend a lot of your practice time working on long tones, and chromatic exercises, and things like that to really build up your embouchure and get used to the pitch and the intonation of the new mouthpiece.
Check out my video, 7 Chromatic Scale Workouts, because I think that’s a really useful tool when you’re moving on to a new mouthpiece, just to help you get used to it.
Let’s see what this Dave Guardala Laser Trimmed Crescent mouthpiece sounds like.
If you’re doing a pop gig, or if you’re playing in a band and you need lots of projection, then this Dave Guardala mouthpiece is a great option. It’s got a lot of projection and a real buzziness to the sound.
But there are things about this mouthpiece that I didn’t like, and that’s why I changed. The first thing is that it’s kind of unforgiving. So for example, if you’re playing in a big band setting where you sometimes need to play really soft and blend in with a section, and then at other times play really loud, it can be difficult to control.
And I found I had to adjust my reeds a lot. I struggled to find reeds that would really fit with it and be consistent with it as well. But it’s a great mouthpiece.
Theo Wanne Durga
After the Dave Guardala, I l moved onto the Theo Wanne Durga.
And I think this is a good compromise. Look at the similarity to the Otto Link, in the shape and the outside size. It feels similar in your mouth.
It’s a good crossover mouthpiece. You get some projection, but you also get that warmth and a bit more “controllability” than the Guardala. It’s a bit more forgiving.
Nowadays you need a bit more of a variety of sounds, and this is what this Theo Wanne Durga 2 mouthpiece gives you. Listen to what this sounds like. I’m using Légère reeds, this is a 2.5. I love these Légère reeds because have to think about adjusting them all the time. They always work.
This is a great compromise mouthpiece. I’ve got some of that projection that I had with a Guardala, but I’ve got more body.
If you go from a hard rubber mouthpiece to a metal mouthpiece, you’re going to get qualities of the metal mouthpiece in this one, without being too crazy. For me, I moved on from here onto hard rubber mouthpieces, because I started to do more playing in the studio.
It’s not about the gear
I made a video about five practice mistakes about mistakes that saxophone players make. And in there, I talk about how it’s not about the gear. It’s not really about the mouthpieces or the ligatures or even about the saxophone. It’s about what you do with the mouthpiece.
And I really believe that. I’ve gone through this journey with my mouthpieces because you’re looking at 25 years of playing there. And the sort of playing I’ve been doing has changed. My concept of sound has changed. What I’m looking for out of my saxophone has changed. And each of these has been a long period where I’ll play that mouthpiece for a long, long time.
And I think I’ll play this mouthpiece for a really long time now because it does exactly what I like, but who’s to say in 10 years’ time, whether I’ll change my mind again.
When it comes to choosing a saxophone mouthpiece, the secret is to choose one and to stick with it, and really build up your skills with that mouthpiece. Think about your sound concept, and building up your embouchure, and getting the best sound that you can from that mouthpiece. Then you’re going to get the most out of your gear.
Choosing a saxophone mouthpiece
But if you are making the change from a hard rubber mouthpiece to a metal mouthpiece, think about what you’re trying to get out of the sound.
If you want something bright, look for a mouthpiece that has got more of a baffle in it.
If you want some as a bit more of a crossover mouthpiece, which I think is a good idea, you want to go for something that’s a bit more utilitarian like this Durga.
Most people make the mistake of buying a metal mouthpiece and they get something super-bright, and most people regret buying a mouthpiece like that. Trust me, it’s a bit like thinking you want a Ferrari and then realizing that you can’t drive it in the supermarket. For most people, you want something that can do more jobs than just go super fast or just play super loud.
When you’re choosing a saxophone mouthpiece, choose one that gives you more options. And I think something like this Durga is a great solution. But don’t forget, you can also go for something that’s a hard rubber mouthpiece that gives you a little bit of both, like my Slant Sig. With this one I’ve got some warmth, I’ve got some projection, I’ve got loads of control – and it does a bit of everything for me.
Let me know what mouthpiece you’re using and whether that transition from hard rubber to metal was something that helped you out.
We’ve got loads of great lessons and resources inside Sax School to help you build up your technique, get a great sound, and make amazing progress on saxophone. If you’re ready to take the next step, get started with Sax School.