You know, we get so many questions about mouthpieces, both from my members inside Sax School and from our YouTube Channel too.
So I invited Jody Espina from Jody Jazz to come over to the studio and film a session with me to answer some of your sax mouthpiece questions.
Now we’ve done this before and it’s been really popular. So today is the second instalment of sax mouthpiece questions and answers.
So sit back and relax. I think there’ll be something to help you in this session.
Q#1: Is there one versatile mouthpiece recommended for intermediate players?
Nigel: The first of our sax mouthpiece questions comes from Bill. This is a tricky question. I guess they’re asking like you do a general upgrade mouthpiece you would recommend?
Jody says: If you’re looking to upgrade from a student mouthpiece, I would recommend a hard rubber mouthpiece first of all. The shape of a hard rubber mouthpiece is a little bigger in your mouth, and that’s better probably than a thinner metal mouthpiece.It opens your mouth more and that makes your chamber bigger. It’s easier to get a good sound. When your mouth shape is smaller, it’s a little different.
Nigel: So there are more things to think about all. So are you saying that if you did go for a metal mouthpiece, you’ve just got to be more aware of what else you’re doing inside your mouth. A hard rubber is an easier default option.
Jody: A little bit. That’s not to scare people away from metal. Because if it’s a good metal mouthpiece, then it can be dark, it can be any sound you want, in different styles. And if they’re really good, they play easily.
Nigel: So out of your hard rubber mouthpieces, then for an intermediate player like Bill, what would you say is a good, safe choice? We’ve got a selection here. We’ve got the HR*. And we’ve got the Jet. We’ve got the Custom Dark. Is there one of these that you’d say is an easy choice?
Jody: The HR*. It’s our number one seller. People have an easy transition from a classical mouthpiece or student mouthpiece, and pretty much everybody can put that on and sound good right away. Some people do great on the Jet, but other people sound too bright because of the way they bite on the mouthpiece.
Nigel: So do you think maybe it’s about if you’re making that first step up, then go for the HR*? And then if you’ve got a clear idea of the sort of sound that you’re looking for, you could explore the rest of the range?
Jody: Sure. And whenever possible, explore the range anyway, if you can.
Q#2: How should you choose between tip openings?
Nigel: The second of our sax mouthpiece questions is from Brij – and it’s another really big question that we need a small answer for!
- If you practice for 4 hours or less a week, pick a mouthpiece in the pink section
- If you practice over between 4 and 8 hours, pick a mouthpiece in the green section. Those are the most common tip openings. Everybody can play them, if they practice enough.
- Only pick a mouthpiece in the orange section if you already have a big open mouthpiece, and you just know you need that. Nobody needs that unless they play a certain way. So if you don’t have them, don’t even think about it. You don’t have to have a big open mouthpiece to have a big sound.
Nigel: I love that you’ve got that system actually. And loads of our members play your mouthpieces, which is why I like getting you in for these sessions to answer their sax mouthpiece questions. It’s because you’ve got great mouthpieces, but it’s also because you’ve got lots of great information and you support the members. And stuff like that makes a massive difference. Because I wish I knew about that simple system for tip openings when I was choosing mouthpieces when I was younger.
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Q#3: What is the best way to adjust to a new mouthpiece?
Nigel: The next one of our sax mouthpiece questions is from Dave. Dave’s looking for some help with adjusting to a new mouthpiece. He’s just bought a Custom Dark size 6. And he likes the sound of it, but he found it a bit hard to blow. So he ended up going back to his old Theo Wanne mouthpiece and putting his new mouthpiece to one side. So have you got some advice for how we can adjust to the new mouthpiece when we do buy something new?
Jody: The Custom Dark has got a big open chamber. And the Theo Wanne is a much brighter mouthpiece. The first thing to do when a mouthpiece is hard to blow, is try a softer reed and see if that helps. If you like the sound of the Custom Dark, get in there and blow more, because you were going to be rewarded with that darker sound. You can do some breathing exercises too. A bigger chamber mouthpiece will require more air.
Nigel: That’s interesting. So, you’re saying adjust your reed or try different reeds. And also spend time adjusting to a new mouthpiece.
Jody: Step up to the plate. It’s like you’re playing with a heavier bat. You’re not going to know hit the first time! You’re going to have to get used to that heavier bat. You can do it!
Nigel: It does take time. Also I don’t know if Dave went to a music shop to try out this mouthpiece before he bought it? But there’s a funny thing that happens when you go to a music shop and you try different mouthpieces out.
Since I’ve been doing Sax School, I’m trying mouthpieces all the time. But when I was playing different mouthpieces less, I’d go to the shop, and spend some time trying mouthpieces. And you get an idea in my head of how a mouthpiece sounds and plays.
But I always felt differently about that mouthpiece a month later. Because my body was adjusting to it and my ears were adjusting. And I was also doing what you’re suggesting, I suppose, where you’re changing your air, and you’re changing your reed. You’re experimenting. So you’ve got to get to know a new sax mouthpiece. It’s like a relationship.
Jody: Definitely. If at first play you like it and you’d think it may be worth [making the change], it’s going be a progression towards getting used to the new mouthpiece. If you like the sound, and you like the basic feel, then it’s worth going through a hundred reeds to find the reed that works the best. And then just stay with the new mouthpiece for a month. Don’t go back to the old mouthpiece in that month, if you can.
Nigel: I love that. That’s a good piece of advice. Stick with it!
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Q #4: Why is the shank diameter different on 2 of my mouthpieces?
The 4th of our sax mouthpiece questions is a good one from Martin, one of our Sax School members. Martin says he’s got the Custom Dark 7* and he’s also got Jay Metcalf’s Bettersax Burnin‘ 7* on tenor. He likes the two, but he’s noticed that the shank diameter is different between them. And he’s wondering why this is?
I’ve been experimenting with your mouthpiece range a lot these last few weeks and they all feel pretty similar on the neck of my sax.
Jody: Yeah. I’m not aware that we were trying to make that shape different to tell you the truth. I think the bore on that Bettersax mouthpiece is a little different. But I was probably going for the same shape.
Nigel: So here’s a copy of a 4C, but it’s much bigger.
Jody: Well, here’s the reason that’s so big. This is for a beginner mouthpiece. And the saxophone manufacturers make this giant neck cork, and these poor kids can’t get a mouthpiece like a Selmer C* onto the cork. So the mouthpiece manufacturers made these bigger bores for those giant corks. This is probably a Chinese mouthpiece.
Nigel: What about between different brands, like what you’re doing, and what Theo Wanne is doing?
Jody: There’s just no standard because the corks are all so different. I wished we had a standard but it’s just something we have to deal with it. You can put to paper or tape on and you’re cool. It’s just the way it is!
Q #5: Is there a mouthpiece that’s better for flutter tongue or for growling?
Nigel: So next I’ve got two different sax mouthpiece questions from two different people, but asking kind of the same thing. So Zabelle is asking if there is a mouthpiece that’s better for the flutter tongue. And Jeff has been struggling to get a growling sound. Is there a mouthpiece that makes those sorts of effects easier?
Jody: No. Sorry, Zabelle. Sorry, Jeff!
Nigel: What about a smaller-sized mouthpiece – like a smaller tip opening? Does that make it easier?
Jody: I don’t think so. You know, you’ve got to just growl, right? I think you could do it on any mouthpiece.
Nigel: Okay. So there you go. So it’s not the kind of mouthpiece, Zabelle. It’s not the mouthpiece, Jeff. It’s all about what you’re doing inside your mouth. And there are some things in Sax School they’ll help you with that too. Because we do have lessons on growling and on flutter tongue.
Jody: Let me change my answer! Any Jody Jazz mouthpiece is the best mouthpiece for flutter tongue and growl.
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Q#6: What is the DV Chicago designed for and why is it not featured as much?
Nigel: So for the next of our sax mouthpiece questions, Johnelle is asking you about the DV Chicago. What’s it designed for and why is it not featured as much as the others in the line-up? And is there an Alto version of the DV Chicago?
Jody: I made the DV for people who play live, and need a bright sound but want a fuller sound. This has been a huge success for us. Some of my friends in Boston, and in New York, said, ‘I like it a lot, but it’s too bright’. So I made the DV New York, which is a very dark beautiful mouthpiece.
And then some people said ‘this is too bright but this is too dark’. So the DV Chicago is in between; it’s still a husky, big Dexter Gordon sound, but with a pretty strong brightness. Just not as bright as the DV.
So the DV Chicago is kind of in the middle, but closer to the DV. Why don’t we feature as much? It’s hard to feature everything. And it’s more expensive to make – it’s $650. But we probably should feature it more.
Why is there a no Alto? Well, most Alto players don’t want to play metal, because they’ve only tried nasty, bright metal mouthpieces. But when I force the DV into their hands, they are blown away.
And the DV is very popular. It sells almost as much as the HR*. But I didn’t think there was a need for another metal mouthpiece because we have a DV NY, and we have the Superjet. And I have a runway of stuff to make. I would make it if I had the time, but it’s just to have all this other new stuff to do.
NM: So the Sax School headquarters is in Denby Dale – I think you’re missing the DV Denby Dale in your lineup! My version of the DV! That’s what you need.
Q #7: Is there a difference in the loudness of different mouthpieces?
Nigel: The next of our sax mouthpiece questions is from Sampsa and she’s asking about volume. As a total newbie, living in an apartment building, she’s wondering, is there any difference in the loudness of different mouthpieces? So a lot of mouthpieces are advertised as loud, but none as quiet.
Jody: This Custom Dark mouthpiece is advertised as quiet. The bigger inside, and the more open the chamber, the quieter it’s going to be.
So during the pandemic, everybody wanted a darker mouthpiece, because they were playing in their apartment or their house and they were driving their family nuts. So a big open chamber feels comfortable playing softly. In a small chamber, it doesn’t feel as comfortable when you’re playing softly.
Nigel: So the Jody Jazz Custom Dark might be a good choice for you if you’re looking for a mouthpiece that’s not too loud.
Jody: It still gets a good sound and we can still get loud when we want to.
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Q #8: I’m not getting the sound I want – do I need to switch to a metal mouthpiece?
Nigel: The last of our sax mouthpiece questions is from Dave. He’s a Sax School member. He’s a really good player. So Dave is pretty sure his tone is solid but he’s not sure that he’s getting the sound he wants. Does he need to switch to a metal mouthpiece? Is it the instrument itself or is there something more I need to do with my tone?
I bet this is a common question. Will a metal mouthpiece make all the difference to me! What do you say to people?
Jody: That term “metal mouthpiece” is just too broad. A metal mouthpiece can be anything. They can be bright, or dark. So it isn’t the material.
It would be good if I could hear you or Nigel could hear you, and then ask you, who do they want to sound like? Let us know what your tone goal is. And it would be good to know what mouthpiece you’re playing and what reed.
So, Dave, make sure you’re experimenting with reeds a lot and getting closer to the tone you want. And then reach out to us at Jody Jazz, or Nigel, to figure out where you want to go.
And then, mouthpiece-wise, maybe the, it could be a metal mouthpiece that you need. If you want to sound like Michael Brecker and you’re playing on a real hard rubber mouthpiece you probably don’t have the right piece. We can get you much closer.
Nigel: So one of the things that you offer, Jody, that loads of our members have used is your six questions. So if you don’t know about this, these are 6 really clever questions to help you to get to the bottom of the sound you’re going for, you’re playing style, and where you’re up to.
And our Sax School members have found this has really helped them with making good mouthpiece choices. You can check out the six questions here.
Jody: Can I give Dave one more suggestion? When you’re going for a sound and you don’t sound like that – and you’re thinking ‘Why don’t I sound like Coltrane… Cannonball, or David Sanborn or whoever. I like to do my long tones warmup with that person. So I get a ballad, and I listen, and pause it a long note. And then I play that long note and trying to get close and closer to that sound.
I have it an E flat and B flat, and the idea is to use it as a long tone thing. You’re comparing your long tones to Coltrane’s, and you’re trying to get there. So it’s intention. If you don’t like what you sound like, you have to have a goal. You can’t just play long tones in a void because you may never get to where you want to go.
Nigel: So it’s about imagining the sound you want to go for.
Jody: It may not happen right away. And there are things you can do equipment-wise, maybe your reed too hard or too soft or your mouthpiece is way in the wrong direction. And remember those Otto link mouthpieces that Coltrane was playing? Not one of them was off the shelf. They had all been re-faced. They had mostly been filed down on the table, so the chamber’s smaller. And then they made a high baffle. So some of them have wedges. And so they were mostly brighter than your standard Otto Link mouthpiece.
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Did you enjoy that? Thanks for sticking around to the end. I thought there was so much great information in this session. Jody Espina really knows his stuff, and I always love talking to him. As I said, in the session, actually, he genuinely does help our members a lot. So if you want to get some more help or explore any of the resources that Jody mentioned in the session today, Go check out his website at Jodyjazz.com.
There’s lots of great stuff one there, like that facing chart. I like those tone exercises that he mentioned as well. And also his six questions service. I don’t make any money from promoting that. I am just telling you about it because I know that six questions service helps our members. So if you need some help choosing your mouthpiece, I’d find that on his website and do that too. It’s free. And I think it’s good.
It’s a brilliant way to try out the thousands of lessons, courses, and masterclass replays. But apart from all the lessons, as a Sax School Pro member you can connect with our tutor team and get help. And you can connect with our Community and get involved with all the amazing things that are happening. We’ve got a worldwide community of students and it’s an incredible place.
So if you’re curious, go check out the 14-day trial. I’d love to see you inside Sax School. Most importantly though, keep practicing hard and having lots of fun on your saxophone.