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Paul R. Coats
Sax on the Web is pleased to announce Paul R. Coats as a regular columnist. This page contains four Paul's mouthpiece articles.
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A high school alto saxophonist, for concert band, would choose a Selmer C*, C**; Runyon #4, #5; Vandoren V-5 A20, A25; etc.
A high school tenor saxophonist, for jazz/rock would choose a Runyon #5-#7; Otto Link #5-#6; Berg Larsen 80-90.
Try jazz mouthpieces with a #2--#2 1/2 reed. With these larger tip openings for jazz type mouthpieces a softer reed is usually required. Even two different designs of mouthpieces with the same tip opening (Runyon 88 #5 and Selmer C**) will blow with different resistances and may require a harder or softer reed for best results.
Refer to the charts in the Woodwind & Brasswind catalog.
Concert/symphonic mouthpieces include: Selmer S-80 and S-90 (in both rubber and metal); Runyon 88, Classic, Symphonic, and Finesse; Bamber Concert; Vandoren V-5; Rousseau; Bilger; Morgan; Hite; Ridenour; Larry Teal Alto Sax (Selmer).
Popular jazz type mouthpieces include: Runyon Custom Spoiler, Metal Spoiler, Quantum; Meyer; Otto Link; Beechler; Berg Larsen; Brilhart; Vandoren Java; Selmer Metal Jazz; R.I.A; Claude Lakey; Guy Hawkins; Dukoff.
Mouthpiece Facings, Chambers, and Materials
A young saxophonist usually purchases a new mouthpiece during his junior high or high school years, either because of damage to his "stock" mouthpiece or the desire for an improved tone. He will usually be advised to buy a particular brand and size (Selmer C*, etc.) or, more vaguely, a "medium size" facing. Even worse, he may be told to buy a size number without being aware there are no standard size numbers. Facing sizes are numbered, or lettered, differently by each manufacturer, a #4 in one brand may be the same size as a #3 or letter size in another brand. Also, a facing that is considered "medium" for jazz or rock is "open" for concert band or "classical" playing.
In general, classical and concert band mouthpieces have large, round chambers which produce a tone quality rich in fundamental and low overtones. These mouthpieces are usually played with moderate tip openings (the gap between the tip of the reed and tip of the mouthpiece) and reeds in the #3 to #3 1/2 range.
Jazz type mouthpieces generally have smaller, more square chambers, which encourage production of higher overtones. This gives more "edge", or brilliance to the tone. These mouthpieces are usually played with tip openings about .010" to .015" larger than classical mouthpieces, and with softer reeds (#2 to #2 1/2).
Small tip openings require hard reeds to keep from choking up at loud volumes, have less flexibility in pitch, and have a cold, hard tone. Larger tip openings allow more flexibility in pitch, which is great for jazz, but may cause problems for young players. Large tip openings require softer reeds, and may cause embouchure fatigue.
The chamber and material of the mouthpiece have a greater effect on tone quality than the tip opening. Changing only the tip opening will cause a subtle change in tone quality in that softer reeds are used, which vibrate with more rich overtones.
It is a common misconception that metal mouthpieces are only for jazz, and that hard rubber (or plastic) mouthpieces are for concert playing. This idea has probably come about from the number of jazz saxophonists, usually tenor players, who use metal mouthpieces. Hard rubber or plastic mouthpieces vibrate and add overtones to the sound. Metal mouthpieces damp vibration. The old big band tenor men wanted a smooth, warm tone, not a bright edgy rock and roll tone as is common now. The most common metal mouthpiece used by them was the Otto Link metal, which has a large round chamber, and produces a dark, "hollow" tone. The Selmer (Paris) metal mouthpiece is a very fine classical type mouthpiece and is used by Dr. Frederick Hemke and many other fine artists.
Another quality of metal (and plastic/synthetic) mouthpieces is durability. Hard rubber is a poor material for mouthpieces even though it is easy to tool and to set into vibration when played. Hard rubber breaks easily when bumped, warps over time or from heat (even from sunlight), and wears on the tip and side rails from reed vibration. Crystal holds the facing well, but is easily chipped if bumped. Wood cracks easily and warps from the effects of moisture and temperature. For these reasons wood and crystal are not suitable materials for saxophone mouthpieces.
The Classical Tenor Sax Mouthpiece
Throughout high school and college I had always been uncomfortable with the Selmer C* on the tenor sax. Most woodwind teachers automatically recommend the C* because it works well on alto sax (without trying it out on tenor). After much experimentation and research I have come to the conclusion that the classical tenor saxophonist needs a mouthpiece somewhat larger.
The Selmer C* alto mouthpiece is approximately .066" tip opening. The tenor C* is about .070". This seems to be very close. Most manufacturers, except Selmer, size their comparable tenor models .010" to .015" larger than their alto models. For example:
Mfg. Alto Tenor Bamber .065" .080" Runyon .066" .078" Brilhart .070" .080" Rousseau .065" .080"
I experimented with the Selmer tenor sax mouthpiece in D and E facings (.078" and .083") and the Runyon #4 through #7 facings (.078 through .090"). I came to the conclusion that a high school player would be better off using at least .078" or .082" tip opening with reeds in the #2--#3 range. I particularly like the new Runyon Finesse with #5 facing (.082") with Hemke #2 or #2 1/2 reed. Many of my students have gotten good results with this combination. The Finesse seems to work well with a wide variety of reeds. I had good results with Rico, Rico Royal, Charpen, Vandoren, Lavoz, and Hemke reeds.
Find a model that has the tone and playing characteristics you like, and then zero in on the tip opening that plays best for you. Try a softer reed with larger tip openings. You may find that a different design and facing from your alto mouthpiece is better on tenor or bari sax. Experiment.
Jazz Mouthpieces Revisited
In a recent discussion with a local high school band director the selection of mouthpieces for jazz and marching band came up. In an earlier handout, "First Jazz Mouthpiece", I gave specific recommendations but feel the need to go a little further.
First off--metal vs. rubber (or synthetic): Jazz and classical mouthpieces are available in both metal and non-metallic materials. Dr. Frederick Hemke is noted for using the Selmer Metal mouthpieces for his classical performances on alto and tenor. A few years ago I saw a Boston Pops performance on PBS in which I noticed the tenor and bari players using metal mouthpieces, the altos, hard rubber. The tone quality of a mouthpiece is influenced more by the shape of the baffle and chamber than by the material from which it is made--though the material does contribute to the tone since the mouthpiece also vibrates. The problem with recommending a metal mouthpiece to a high school student (or many college students) is that they have not fully developed their embouchure or playing style. Since metal mouthpieces start at well over a hundred dollars, and may run to several hundred, it would be unwise to advise a young player to buy metal. There are many good rubber and synthetic mouthpieces to choose from at a much more affordable price.
High school and college students may have to change mouthpieces several times before finding models suited to their needs. Metal mouthpieces are difficult to reface and should not be refaced as this will break through the silver, gold, or chrome plating, exposing the user to possible brass poisoning. A hard rubber or synthetic mouthpiece may be easily refaced to the player's changing needs. When a player is experiencing choking up at high volume he may need a stronger reed (no more than a #3) or a larger tip opening. If the student has to use a reed stronger than a #3 then his mouthpiece's tip opening is too close. If there are problems controlling the tone, difficulty playing softly, playing the low register, or embouchure fatigue, a smaller tip opening may be needed. This is usually overcome in a week or two as the player becomes accustomed to the new mouthpiece, unless an extremely large tip opening was selected. The Runyon #6's should suffice, though strong students may do better with #7's. These sizes translate to .074"-.078" (#6-#7) for alto, .086"-.090" for tenor, and .089"-.093" for bari. Most pros play #7's and #8's in the Runyon facings.
Note that each manufacturer has its own unique numbering system. A #5 in one brand may be a #7 or a letter size in another. This strange setup causes confusion which is only solved by referring to the charts.
<end of articles>
Tone Production was published in Sax on the Web on August 9,1999 and two Soprano sax articles in October'99.
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