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About Sax on the Web

Sax on the Web (SOTW) is a comprehensive saxophone site founded by Harri Rautiainen.
It covers many aspects of saxophone and saxophone playing in articles written by several experts. An integral part is the SOTW Forum with 20,000 registered members from beginners to prominent players and trade specialists.
Created:December 8, 2008
Update: December 18, 2008
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In Sax on the Web Review series:

Phil-Tone mouthpieces

by William Sadler


After spending a LONG time with these mouthpieces (much longer than I SHOULD have), I finally have the pleasure of presenting my official review of Phil-Tone mouthpieces. I reviewed the Phil-Tone alto, as well as his Phil-Tone tenor and the Phil-tone Otto Link HR tenor mouthpiece.

Initial Impressions

Phil-Tone alto: Wasn't sure what to expect with this mouthpiece. I had remembered seeing these mouthpieces on Junkdude for a while, and thinking they were some kind of expensive plastic student mouthpiece. I was very, very wrong. The first few notes really surprised me...you'll see how in a bit.

Phil-Tone tenor: I had heard a few good things before I got this one in my hands, so I was expecting good things. The initial play test was very promising.

Phil-Tone Custom HR Link: Immediately I thought back to Tenney's custom links, and wondered how they would compare. I can say they are very different mouthpieces. Read on to understand...

Appearance:

Phil-Tone alto: This piece was finished beautifully and had a very "under-stated" look to it. Simple, elegant and polished.

Phil-Tone tenor: Can't truly say if these blanks are used by someone else, but the rubber is good and has that very "rubber smell" to it. I always like that in a custom piece. The finish work was very good, with an interesting thing going on in the baffle. I can't nail it down or describe it perfectly, but it looked interesting the way it was shaped.

Phil-Tone Custom HR Link: These HR Links are damn ugly straight from the factory. That terrible and infamous "bump" inside and shoddy finish work. But, Phil has fixed this. Much more attractive and good finish work. No major alterations, so I guess this is how Otto Link INTENDED this piece to look/play.

Response:

I consider "response" to mean how quickly a mouthpiece responds to your air stream; how easily the extreme ranges of the horn speak; and how fast the articulation can be on that particular mouthpiece.

Phil-Tone alto: This was a great mouthpiece to just put on and blow. Response was not INSTANT but did give you a little to push up against, which I liked. It was still easy blowing for your "average" player and session. I personally put a ton of air through my horns, so I tame it back a bit and see how your hobbyist might handle the piece. The low end was very buttery and responsive on this piece, without sacrificing an easy, singing high register. Altissimo wasn't bad; it didn't jump out but was clear and in tune. Articulation was easy and swift, with many different types of reeds.

Phil-Tone tenor: Didn't expect this one to respond as well as it did. Didn't feel much like the alto when blowing, definitely had a crisper, faster response to it. As such there wasn't a whole lot to push up against, but it didn't seem to bother this piece as there wasn't much thinning throughout the ranges. Seemed to excel in the extreme ranges, with the low end and palm keys especially fat and fast response. Articulation was VERY fast on this mouthpiece. Triple-tonguing was possible (with a good reed). Extremely harsh attacks made this piece squeak a little.

Phil-Tone Custom HR Link: Much different than his Phil-Tone tenor piece. This one had some resistance and some "cushion for the pushin" as they would say. An overall very even response up and down the horn, didn't stray much at all. Upper register and altissimo was a little more resistant, but much thicker as well. Comfortable to play for someone who likes to put a little more air into the piece. Articulation was solid, not as fast as the piece above. Playing through any bop head would be fine, but don't expect to double tongue through your Ferling etudes.

Dynamics/Projection:

Not the same thing, I know, but included in the same category. Projection, in my mind, is the ability to fill up a room with your sound; the ability to make your sound carry to the far corners of the room, no matter what volume. To me, volume is simply how loud you can play...a higher amount of decibels.

Phil-Tone alto: Easily comparable with a Morgan Excalibur in regards to overall volume. The projection was definitely a broader type, and was great for blending in a section, while still topping off for lead playing. I could get a huge sound on this mouthpiece. I found the piece to absolutely sing at high volume in the upper register.

Phil-Tone tenor: Definitely a powerful piece. Not the loudest I've played, but it had a very clear and medium-focussed projection. Think of what you would consider "laser-beam projection", then take that laser beam and surround it with marshmellow fluff. That's how this one projects. Upper register got a bit brighter as I pushed. Lower register could bark when called for; very appealing for those types of situations.

Phil-Tone Custom Link HR: A very spread type of projection, like the piece is enveloping around someone instead of being directly focused at them. This piece could get loud, but still had a fat presence and a lot of depth. Blows freely, no stuffy sound or response.

Tone:

I consider "tone" to be descriptive of the sound the mouthpiece gives to the player. Terms such as: bright, dark, full, thin, big, small, etc etc can be used to describe tone. Since it is such a controversial and individual topic, I will focus on things that other players will most likely encounter when comparing these pieces.

Phil-Tone alto: This piece really reminded me of a Morgan 6M. It had that medium bright, rich and clear sonority. However, I felt this piece definitely had more roundness to the tone than a Morgan does. It's not "more spread" or "darker", just has a more round sound and as such I think it offers a little more richness. It sounded fantastic on every horn I used. I really got into a great Phil Woods vibe with this piece, with maybe a little less edge. Overall, the piece sounds great and would compliment anyone looking for a richer tone, while still having that medium bright alto jazz sound.

Phil-Tone tenor: This is great for the tenor playing I do; some big band, combo, and occasional cover band stuff. This piece performs well on all those venues. It has a clear and neutral tone, with a bit of edge, allowing you to shape the sound to your liking. I truly love this in a tenor piece, as we're usually called on to play a large number of styles. This piece can go bright or dark, always retaining some edge to the sound, and still allowing for good comfort and response. I played this piece at a number of gigs just to keep testing it, and it performed flawlessly. My favorite out of the bunch.

Phil-Tone Custom HR Link: Definitely a darker, rounder sound. Not a whole bunch of edge on this piece, but a fat, round, dark tone. This was great for combo gigs and blending in a section. If you're mic'd up, this piece sound can sound fantastic playing a lush ballad or a fat, beefy blues. Not ideal for my type of playing, but I can see the use for this in a variety of of situations. My best description of this piece at its best is "sexy." Finally, a HR Link that is clear and blows freely, while sounding great!! I've tried Tenney's HR links, including his "slants"....this one blows it away, IMO. No offense to Tenney's stuff...it just doesn't have the projection and clear presence of the Phil-Tone.

Intangibles:

All these pieces share the name of someone who has proven himself worthy in the mouthpiece world: Phil Engleman. Phil sent these to me to play and put a review, and this was MANY months ago. I had planned on a few week trial, review, and that was that. However, a select few here know of the personal real life turmoil I've been through over the course of many months now. While things are very slowly improving, it's still not a good situation. That being said, I want to profusely thank Phil for his patience with me and this review. While it doesn't affect my findings in this review, it means a lot to me personally. Thanks a bunch, Phil.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any of these mouthpieces to any serious player. I actually will be purchasing his Phil-Tone tenor mouthpiece to use on my gigs. I had a ton of fun playing these pieces, and if you try one out, I think you'll agree. I tried to find the negative stuff, but honestly there wasn't much to gripe about. Best of all, these are affordable and Phil is a great guy to work with.

Thanks once again for reading! Feel free to add any positive feedback.

~William Sadler

Previously reviewed: Selmer Reference 54 alto vs. Yanagisawa A992
Buffet 400 Series Professional alto saxophones
King Zephyr vs. Martin Committee II alto saxophones
The Gladiator Battle of JodyJazz Saxophone Mouthpieces

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