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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Some may think this is flogging the same old dead horse, but I think this sheds some new light on the debate and I believe is useful info. This carries on from points raised in a thread about Meyer copies and is covered in more depth in this article here along with the sound comparisons I made a few years ago.

All of the observations below are based on a great deal of experimentation and discussion with Dr Edward Pillinger. I mention here his doctorate (The Effects of Design on the Tone and Response of Clarinet Mouthpieces) as his previous PhD research gives some authority to these new theories, albeit they are not so rigorously tested . Note that in his doctorate he went the extra mile toward what is often suggested for this type of test, and built an artificial embouchure, something that the following theories may benefit from at some stage. The theories here are based on based on trial, observation and customer feedback.

Unlike with the instrument body itself, the mouthpiece material can make a difference to the sound.

However it’s not that simple. It does and it doesn’t.


  1. Different materials can sound the same.
  2. Any difference may pertain primarily to the area of the mouthpiece around the beak.
  3. Depending on the design, there may or may not be a noticeable difference

Point 1
is because this theory proposes that the material per se is not what can cause a difference, but certain characteristics of the material (that could pertain to one material or be shared amongst several). So we don't say "metal has this sound" or "HR has that sound"

Point 2. So why only at the beak?

If the material at the beak is thin enough, and the material has certain properties, then there can by sympathetic vibrations there that act in like the second reed in a double reed instrument such as an oboe, but in a less obvious way of course. A pseudo double reed.

Looking at these two points together:

What Dr. Pillinger has discovered, is that the big factors are the density and hardness, not the material per se, that affects sound. So if he makes a other composite with the same density as grenadilla, then it will have the sound characteristics of grenadilla, if not exactly the same then extremely close.

The theory is that although the material can make a difference, it doesn’t always. (ie I don't attribute any sound differences on metal, rubber, wood, plastic) but what can make a difference is the density of the material and the stiffness (ie flexibility or lack thereof)

Well, you might think, that is more or less the same as pinning it down to the actual material isn't it? Well we can say that, for example, HR sounds like HR (if it’s the same formula of HR) and that bronze sounds like bronze. But we can also find another material with the same density and hardness that will also sound the same. And bear in mind when I say “sound the same” there has not yet been any scientific tests done, so we have to think sound significantly similar rather than exactly the same.

Point 3. But this difference doesn’t always happen does it? Many people swear blind the are differences they can hear, and many swear blind there are no differences

This is because for the difference to manifest, the beak itself must be thin enough to allow the sympathetic vibrations.

So if the beak is quite thick, as it is with high baffle mouthpieces for example, then you probably won’t hear a difference between two mouthpieces of different material (with different density etc.) because the beak is too think for it to act like that double reed.

Beyond the tip of the mouthpiece, the density and hardness of the material has much less (more likely absolutely no) effect - just as scientific studies and accepted acoustic knowledge is that the material of the instrument itself has no significant effect on the sound of a woodwind instrument, as the only vibrations associated with sound are those of the air column not the walls of the instrument, unlike many stringed or percussion instruments which rely on the resonance of the body of the instrument for the sound quality.

Other properties

We also need to consider other factors, such as the cellular structure and its impact on vibrations. We can make a composite that has the same density and hardness as grenadilla, but it will have a different stucture to wood. Because we know how vibrations vary with different woods or other materials in the consctruction of resonant instruments such as guitars, we still can't assume that this applies to our theory of the pseudo double reed. We know for example, that hugely different reed materials can still sound very simar (see the cane vs synthetic reeds comparisons that many people find indistinguishable)

Flexibility.

More research to be done on this, but here is another possible factor that we need to think about. The degree of flexibility of the mouthpiece material, its flexural strength and elasticity along with its density and hardness, will have an effect on the reed excitation and the establishment of the primary wave. But then we have to think at what point would you decide the flexibility of a material is so much that it cannot retain it’s geometrical integrity, for example if you made a mouthpiece from something too bendy or soft that it just distorts or collapses. (BTW, I still want to make a mouthpiece from cheese)

Meanwhile along with Dr. Pillinger I am experimenting now with composites of different hardness and density, using such materials as stone powder, metal powder (including bronze and silver), ebonite (HR) powder and various other that I won’t be mentioning.
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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Discussion Starter #3
Has anyone every tried adding a hard sympathetic reed inside the mouthpiece?
I'm sure that is the concept behind a Runyon Spoiler. You could take it a step further and designa double reed saxophone mouthpiece.
 

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It would seem that a chamber of sorts in the beak/baffle area would then have a significant effect. One could keep the thickness of the baffle wall (ceiling) thin and then an air space or very low density material above the baffle ceiling, followed by a firmer bite plate above that. And the thinner baffle ceiling could be made of various flexabilities...I have no idea if the result would be advantageous or produce a pleasant sound, but it would allow for a high baffle piece to resonate, acting as a sympathetic reed..

edit- I see Pete's Spoiler comment that was posted while I was writing this- there you go
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
I have no idea if the result would be advantageous or produce a pleasant sound, but it would allow for a high baffle piece to resonate, acting as a sympathetic reed..
In fact it was well known for clarinetists to file down the beaks of new mouthpieces. However I would argue that whether thinning of the beak to create more of the pseudo double reed effect will improve the sound is purely subjective.
 

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I applaud your work and interest in this area Pete, and respect your vast experience making mouthpieces, however I question your "double reed" analogy.

1. When a saxophone is being played the resonance of the body tube couples with the reed's vibrations and controls its frequency. This does not and cannot happen with the rigid beak of the mouthpiece regardless of how thin it is since it does not share the reed's elastic properties that allow its free end to rapidly oscillate up and down.

2. The mouthpiece beak does vibrate. We can feel the vibration through our top teeth. However the sound of that vibration is far too weak to be heard by itself.

3. Sympathetic vibration happen when a vibrating source has the same frequency as the natural resonant frequency of an object nearby. The vibrations of the beak of a mouthpiece generated by the sound energy inside the mouthpiece
vibrate at the natural resonant frequency of that section of plastic, metal, hard rubber, etc.---not at the frequency of the reed's vibrations so sympathetic vibration is a bit of a misnomer in this situation

4. Research has shown that in order for coupling between the "wall material" and the sound wave inside to take place, the wall must be extremely thin .2mm and the tube slightly oval shaped.

That said, I hope you and Dr. Pillinger can shed some light on this fascinating topic. Good luck with your research.
 

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Re: 2

Mouthpiece material probably doesn't vibrate in any way to make a sound. It's likely to dampen rather than reinforce like a resonator. Teeth and bones would do the same, transfer some of the frequencies to the inner ear.

Some say they can feel the vibrations of a sax in their hands, too.
 

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Making mouthpieces of resin is already being done. Drake makes a line of them and Barkley in Brazil does too. The advantage of this material is its extreme toughness, allowing the mouthpiece to be externally small like a metal piece while having more than adequate rigidity and resistance to breakage while also being light in weight. Like Drake, Barkley uses a metal 'shank bore insert' which is necessary because of the design (I'm not sure if Drake started this before Barkley or vice versa). This tube is permanently mounted in the mouthpiece with adhesive and removes any chance of cracking the shank bore such as on a hard rubber piece. Having done some work inside several Barkley pieces, I can tell you that the resin works like bronze as far as number of file strokes and amount of material removed. It seems to be ideal for mouthpieces to me, and the ones I've tried have played fine.
Otherwise, 'what acoustic science has confirmed' regarding the subject of sax/mouthpiece material vis-à-vis sound does not interest me. I submit that the 'sound' perceived by an audience or recorded cannot be a clue as to what materials may or may not be involved with the instrument. Rather, the debate should about whether there is a tangible difference to the PLAYER with mouthpieces, sax body tubes and necks of different materials. Since this is completely subjective (a matter of personal choice, the benefits of which cannot be proven or disproven), we are therefore forced to bow to the artists' decisions and acknowledge that these matters are beyond science, at least for now.
 

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Re: 2

Mouthpiece material probably doesn't vibrate in any way to make a sound. It's likely to dampen rather than reinforce like a resonator. Teeth and bones would do the same, transfer some of the frequencies to the inner ear.

Some say they can feel the vibrations of a sax in their hands, too.
Are you saying as a player you have not experienced this? I don't understand how you could not feel the horn vibrating. Maybe it has something to do with mouthpieces/reeds/forcefulness of playing. At least you should be able to feel the first node in the neck; finger G1 and play it while touching the underside of the neck right behind the cork. This is a very resonant location.
 

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The reed deflection (dynamic motion) that sets up the air column, is moving a good amount. Yes, there is some dynamic motion in the beak, table, rails, cork, neck, thumb screw, pad rivet, etc. The magnitude of motion of any and all of those elements is tiny, infinitesimal compared to the reed. That tells me they are statistically insignificant as a contributor or factor. The reed motion might be damped by the contact force and transmissability with the mouthpiece table, and maybe even the rails. But, the stiffness of the reed is much lower than that of plastic, rubber or any metals. That tells me the damping is not a function of the mouthpiece material, and that interface isn't damping or shifting the reed response. The contact of the reed, and impact force against the rails look a good candidate to change its response, so I'd look at the shape and width of rails and the window, the lay, etc. Also, the reed hardness, as in material hardness looks like a contributor, as well as its material stiffness. The clamping force of the ligature does change the stiffness and contact force between the reed and table, but not the rails. Its very easy to demonstrate the influence of ligature clamping force and its affect on the reed response. That tells me the clamping force is important and a contributor to the reed response. I can't think of any other factors or mechanical behavior to assess. Beyond that, I'd start looking at the acoustic response of the interior, which we know has great influence and manipulated with baffles, chambers and other interior shape.

So, in my opinion, the important contributors to mouthpiece[plus reed and ligature] performance and function, in no order is:

the ligature clamping force (damping and transmission)
the reed contact surfaces and shape of the rails table and window (shock and reed motion)
the reed material hardness and stiffness (shock)
the interior shape and volume (acoustics)

These are things that makers have focused on for a long time. I wouldn't think the stiffness and thickness of the beak or other cross section would matter, or the material, but would certainly be interested in studies or data.

PS - I could hear some difference in the article samples, two being most different, and the others virtually indistinguishable. I'm using a laptop speaker, not the best way to compare.
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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Discussion Starter #13
I applaud your work and interest in this area Pete, and respect your vast experience making mouthpieces, however I question your "double reed" analogy.
Note that this is not originally "my analogy" it is that of Dr. Edward Pillinger whoch as been doing the (informal) research. He is not saying is exactlly analogous of a second reed, just that it behaves slightly in that manner, depending on the material. Some matrials will more than others, some thicknesses will more than others.

Making mouthpieces of resin is already being done. Drake makes a line of them and Barkley in Brazil does too.
Well, yes, I think this goes without saying. For decades now mouthpieces have been made from resin and different composites by many manufacturers, not least of which is Pillinger mouthpieces of course - this is not new, all that's new (I think) is Dr. Pillinger's theory.

Yes, there is some dynamic motion in the beak, table, rails, cork, neck, thumb screw, pad rivet, etc. The magnitude of motion of any and all of those elements is tiny, infinitesimal compared to the reed. That tells me they are statistically insignificant as a contributor or factor.
I'm not sure there is any relevance with table, rails, cork, neck, thumb screw, pad rivet, etc. for this particular subject, as it is only the beak that is in direct proximity to the reed.
 

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My anecdotal contribution: For years I played Runyon Quantums on Bari sax. I own a metal one and a Delrin one that I reworked both to the exact same rail thickness and facing. The metal one had a plastic tooth deck and the Delrin one had two layers of thick rubber patches to take away some of the duckbill feel and make it more similar to the metal one to me.

I was convinced that the Delrin one sounded brighter and bratty-er due to the thin tip and flexible material participating in generating sound like a bassoon reed. Maybe only 3% but it was obvious enough to me that I used the Delrin mouthpiece on louder bar gigs. The metal for big band and a warmer sound.

I decided to make some recordings to prove this to others. When I listened to the recordings, much to my surprise, I did not hear a difference in sound. So I think I personally hear a difference, as a player, due to the transmission of sound through my teeth into my skull. But this does not translate to what a listener can hear on recordings.
 

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Note that this is not originally "my analogy" it is that of Dr. Edward Pillinger who has been doing the (informal) research. He is not saying is exactly analogous of a second reed, just that it behaves slightly in that manner, depending on the material. Some materials will more than others, some thicknesses will more than others. . . . . . it is only the beak that is in direct proximity to the reed.
If the vibrations of the beak have any influence on the sound produced, it would either have to affect the sound waves inside the mouthpiece or the vibration of the reed. I would think that any experiments or comparisons involving making the beak thinner would be accomplished by removing material from the outside of the mouthpiece so as not to change the geometry inside which would certainly affect how the mouthpiece sounds. I suspect the change in the sensation felt by the player on a thinner beak mouthpiece will be far more pronounced than any perceived change in the sound waves emitted into the room and/or measured using a spectrograph.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
I suspect the change in the sensation felt by the player on a thinner beak mouthpiece will be far more pronounced than any perceived change in the sound waves emitted into the room and/or measured using a spectrograph.
My own tests on beak thickness has shown me that it makes no difference. e.g hugely thick bits of cork stuck on top (up to 1/2") do not affect my sound at all. This is often suggested as a reason for mouthp;ieces sounding different, ie the thickness forcing your embouchure to cause a difference. maybe for some people but not in my experience.
 

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I submit that the 'sound' perceived by an audience or recorded cannot be a clue as to what materials may or may not be involved with the instrument. Rather, the debate should about whether there is a tangible difference to the PLAYER with mouthpieces, sax body tubes and necks of different materials.
I don't understand what you are arguing here. It sounds like, "There may be a pretty objective explanation here, but I prefer to ignore it and just focus on my subjective impressions." Is that it?


I was convinced that the Delrin one sounded brighter and bratty-er due to the thin tip and flexible material participating in generating sound like a bassoon reed. Maybe only 3% but it was obvious enough to me that I used the Delrin mouthpiece on louder bar gigs. The metal for big band and a warmer sound.

I decided to make some recordings to prove this to others. When I listened to the recordings, much to my surprise, I did not hear a difference in sound. So I think I personally hear a difference, as a player, due to the transmission of sound through my teeth into my skull. But this does not translate to what a listener can hear on recordings.
My impression is that most careful discussions of the impact on sound of mouthpiece material -- or of saxophone body material, for that matter -- that are based on at least some informal empirical testing eventually converge on the conclusion you have reached.
 

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My impression is that most careful discussions of the impact on sound of mouthpiece material -- or of saxophone body material, for that matter -- that are based on at least some informal empirical testing eventually converge on the conclusion you have reached.
You are referring to the conclusion MojoBari reached: "So I think I personally hear a difference, as a player, due to the transmission of sound through my teeth into my skull. But this does not translate to what a listener can hear on recordings."


I pretty much agree this is more often than not the case with things like mpc material. This also sounds a lot like what 1saxman was saying, so I'm not sure why you are disputing his (1saxman's) statement. He may have been looking at it more in terms of the importance to the player in what he perceives and I agree that is important also, as it can affect how you play.
 

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Couple of things, Pete:
Yeah, something like this is clearly implied by Pillinger's thesis. And it's close to how I think it works.

I don't think sympathetic vibrations are what you're looking for here. The beak doesn't resonate strongly at any particular note. I think what happens is the impedance is weak enough to couple with the resonance column on every note. If you did get sympathetic vibrations, the tone of the instrument would be uneven, with one note stocking out a bit where the sympathetic vibration exists.
This doesn't seem to be what we usually find and isn't desirable.

The other way it matters (maybe the only way it matters enough) is functional chamber size. If part of the reed travel comprises the mouthpiece chamber size, then the corresponding part of the beak travel also does.

What determines how much it matters is mostly the inertia of the beak -- it's resistance to the pressure wave pushing on it. Mass, density, flexibility, hardness are varying degrees of useful as proxies for inertia. If I were trying to quantify this effect, I would look at maybe density and flexibility. Actually, what you might want to do is run some FEA on a CAD model using materials with known physical properties to look at flexibility and inertia of the different shape/material combinations then make and test those to look for any correlation between physical properties and sound.
 

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Couple of things, Pete:
Yeah, something like this is clearly implied by Pillinger's thesis. And it's close to how I think it works.

I don't think sympathetic vibrations are what you're looking for here. The beak doesn't resonate strongly at any particular note. I think what happens is the impedance is weak enough to couple with the resonance column on every note. If you did get sympathetic vibrations, the tone of the instrument would be uneven, with one note stocking out a bit where the sympathetic vibration exists.
This doesn't seem to be what we usually find and isn't desirable.

The other way it matters (maybe the only way it matters enough) is functional chamber size. If part of the reed travel comprises the mouthpiece chamber size, then the corresponding part of the beak travel also does.

What determines how much it matters is mostly the inertia of the beak -- it's resistance to the pressure wave pushing on it. Mass, density, flexibility, hardness are varying degrees of useful as proxies for inertia. If I were trying to quantify this effect, I would look at maybe density and flexibility. Actually, what you might want to do is run some FEA on a CAD model using materials with known physical properties to look at flexibility and inertia of the different shape/material combinations then make and test those to look for any correlation between physical properties and sound.
Interesting. We know that the "effective volume" of the mouthpiece in terms of matching the volume of the missing cone is roughly 25% greater than the measured "geometric volume" of the mouthpiece due to the elasticity and travel of the reed. In my thinking it would be quite a stretch to think that the vibrations in the mouthpiece material would cause "travel" to a degree that would have any impact on this mouthpiece/reed relationship.
 
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