Sax on the Web Forum banner

An Important Message From Mouthpiece Maker Phil Barone

29382 Views 181 Replies 76 Participants Last post by  Pete Thomas
An Open Letter to Saxophonists, Aspiring Saxophonists and all Musicians from Phil Barone

This text is not meant to be controversial nor condescending in any way nor was it written to denigrate, or discourage anyone or disregard their personal experiences but rather to help enlighten players, especially younger players to myths, false beliefs, and cognitive distortions* that are prevalent in the world of musicians based on my experience having worked for many saxophone players. I have nothing to gain by writing it and in fact it will probably do more harm to me than good but it may help chip away at what I believe to be an illusion perpetrated by many of the younger generation of saxophone players and musicians and the music accessory industry. It may not apply to you.

After thirty-seven years customizing and making mouthpieces and selling saxophones for great and not so great musicians and playing the sax for longer, I have decided to speak out against the folklore that’s prevalent these days since I’ve come to believe these myths are destructive to artists creativity and aspiring musicians which are frequently spurred on by a very few great players and novices on the internet. As a result, I’ve seen many saxophonists pursue and obsess with a vengeance what is actually a minuscule difference in sound between two pieces of gear that’s cancelled out, eclipsed or transcended by a different reed, a different room or mic that they miss the significance of the music itself.

My experience playing the sax and making mouthpieces for almost forty years has led me to come to the conclusion that switching and searching for your sound is largely not a function of the mouthpiece or gear and that it’s been blown out of proportion by young and inexperienced players touting their “great” new mouthpiece on forums and businesses that just want to promote sales and stories of a very few great artists obsessing on their equipment. I’ve come to believe that pursuing equipment beyond a certain point is largely counter-productive to one’s creativity and is fueled by an obsession for a perfect tone or ideology that doesn’t exist and is fruitless. John Coltrane who is known to have aggressively pursued the holy grail of mouthpieces had already arrived and attained a very high level of artistry so the vast majority of players should not let his pursuit of the ultimate mouthpiece influence them and Trane didn’t do this until he reached a very high level. That is what I believe artists should be striving for, not reaching outside of themselves for instant gratification.

I feel that in recent years with the advent and proliferation of so many brands of mouthpieces and equipment in general, the obsession with them and equipment in general has grown out of proportion to the number of great music happening and musicians, not just saxophone players.

I’ve worked for many great and not so great players. For instance, Sonny Rollins, Jackie Mclean, Steve Grossman, Bob Sheppard, Ernie Watts, Stanley Turrentine, Mike Brecker, “Blue” Lou Marini, Eric Alexander, Dave Tofani, Lawrence Feldman, Ronnie Cuber, Nick Brignola, Roger Rosenberg, Ravi Coltrane, Lee Konitz and Frank Vicari to mention just a few and have noticed that the essential artists don’t switch gear often but was rather an afterthought to practicing, studying and studying. Sonny Rollins only had seven mouthpieces his whole career and has been playing the same mouthpiece and sax since the 60’s. Jackie Mclean only had about five or six, Steve Grossman only had several, Ernie Watts only had a few but has played the same one for many years. Stanley Turrentine only had several mouthpieces his whole career and when his vintage Link gave out, he bought a new Otto Link considered inferior by many players and he sounded fantastic on it. Joe Henderson played a Selmer D, considered by many to be a poor choice for a jazz mouthpiece but he was one of the greatest players that ever lived and to the best of my knowledge never switched in many years. Wayne Shorter played one mouthpiece for decades. Dexter Gordon was known to have only two mouthpieces during his entire professional career. In photos of Bird he is only seen with a three, maybe four mouthpieces, Cannonball was only known to play one mouthpiece his whole career and his sound became the standard by which to emulate on the alto sax. Ronnie Cuber, probably the greatest bari player that’s ever lived has only owned a few mouthpieces his whole professional career, two Bergs, two Links and a Francois Louie. Pepper Adams is known to have only two and he didn’t switch until his Berg Larson became unplayable. But these facts are overshadowed by the industry and propaganda spread by businesses and the ignorant.
There are exceptions such as John Coltrane but when you reach that level then maybe you can explore other options but until you reach that level it’s best, in my opinion to stick to one and develop a sound on it and learn to play it and learn to be happy with what you have. But for many, the mindset has changed and the emphasis on equipment and the need for instant gratification has grown out of proportion to the dedication it takes to be a truly great artist.

Mike Brecker sounded fantastic and modern and dynamic on a closed tip-opening mouthpiece, an old four star model Link. He sounded fantastic on any mouthpiece because he transcended his gear. That’s what great players do and certainly nobody is going to know which neck you’re using one night on the gig but people will take notice if you play original and dynamic lines. I know a player from NYC now residing in CA who doesn’t have a pleasing tone to my personal ear but his ideas are so exciting I don’t want to stop listening to him! His playing is dynamic and his ideas are always fresh. I’ve heard players of debatable quality complain about Jackie Mclean’s intonation but few players ever reach the soulfulness, originality and excitement as he did not to mention his humanistic qualities.

However, a contributing factor to this equipment frenzy may be due to the fact that there is so much sub-standard gear on the market causing players to be missing something in their sound which perpetuates a craving causing a player to be in a constant search and it could also be that the internet has popularized players who are quick to delve out advice who lack a discerning ear and taste which has eroded the quality of music. As with most people, many musicians lack taste and finesse. Furthermore, the newer brands of musical equipment, while may be more in tune, louder and responsive has been manufactured to be easier to play therefore causing an instantaneous attraction to it which doesn’t enable the player to phrase like something that requires more effort and requires less use of one’s body causing a lack of individual tone among many musicians. Our individuality is being lost due to laziness and a lust for volume and quick response.
Tone, while important, is not as important as playing creative and exciting ideas but it’s a lot more work to do that than to switch gear. For most it requires introspection and nurturing one’s talent away from their instrument.

There are other things you can do such as psychoanalysis, meditation, chanting, yoga, reading inspiring things, pray, FOCUS. I know a group of pianists that do Qi-Gong and Tai Chi. Learn to get in the zone and not reach outside of yourself. Herbie Hancock chants, Sonny Rollins has meditated since the sixties. I studied for many years with jazz piano great Sal Mosca, a Lennie Tristano student, and he recommended to his students that they all pursue psychoanalysis. My advice after seeing so many saxophone players search for that “special” mouthpiece is to find one good mouthpiece then stick to it. It takes a long time to learn how to play a mouthpiece since every time you switch reeds it’s like switching mouthpieces. A piece of equipment should be a vehicle to the sound you hear in your head, it’s not there to alter your personal sound per se and volume should be a secondary consideration but I’ve seen thousands of saxophone players get so hung up on very small differences between two or more mouthpieces, differences that are eclipsed by different reeds that they miss the point of the music itself. Musicians frequently get so obsessed on miniscule difference between two pieces of gear they miss the point of creating beautiful music. Piano players rarely switch pianos and know that playing an instrument like a Steinway as opposed to a Yamaha takes time to cultivate the tone, to draw the sound out of the instrument thereby creating a unique and beautiful sound.

While I believe that there’s a lot of sub-par mouthpieces available, that special mouthpiece is a myth and while you may experience a dramatic result in two mouthpieces of very different designs, nobody will know if you’re playing gear of similar design and nobody is going to know it if you’re playing your 82XXX Mark VI or your 125XXX VI, nobody. Sonny has been playing his re-lacquered 132XXX VI for fifty years and equipment doesn’t interest him because he’s dedicated to the music in a profound way. Vladimir Horowitz played the same piano from the early 40’s up until his death in 89. Mike Brecker, played his 86XXX VI for decades and when that got out everyone searched and paid a premium for them but when Mike flew out to Tenor Madness to find a second horn since his was failing from the beating he gave it, he found that Randy Jones had covered the serial numbers with black tape. After several days of trying horns Mike settled on one and when he pulled the tape off found that it was a 125XXX. Myths such as certain serial number horns being superior permeate musician’s worlds and distracts them from their primary purpose and to give you an idea of the dedication it takes to be great, Mike told me that he listened to Coltrane records so much that they turned red. Sonny practiced endlessly on a bridge and went to India to find himself. I could go on.

*A cognitive distortion is a term used in psychology for a belief that one has that isn’t true. Hope all are well. Phil
See less See more
  • Like
Reactions: 1
Status
Not open for further replies.
81 - 100 of 182 Posts
Lens from disposable camera on 120 size film — make camera body out of plywood and cardboard— great wide angle with distortion and vignetting
Very cool!

Batteries?!?! We don’t need no stinking batteries!......on the sunny 16 side of the street
Well said. I don't think we should pretend gear doesn't matter. It does, in photography and in music. You can take great pics with a K1000, but I don't know any pro photographers who would use one on the job. Michael Brecker could sound great on anything, but he played a Mark VI and a Guardala for a reason.

I suppose the key is to somehow realize when the gear is holding you back and you really do need an upgrade of some kind vs all those times when we're just indulging in the "American way" and buying stuff because it's fun to buy stuff.
Agree, needs to be good gear...just have to figure out what works for you and then settle on it. My chops do much better with a Link-style mouthpiece than a Berg-style, but I had to find that out. My youngest son is an advancing cellist and I wouldn't have thought the next level of instrument would make a difference until I heard it for myself in a comparison test at a strings specialty shop, a luthier. BUT we waited for his teacher to tell us when his skill had advanced enough to take advantage of a better instrument.

One more for photography, though....I'm a Nikon guy guy, a lot of investment there but I'm jealous of a friend who unloaded his Nikon gear for the more compact line of Fujifilm shutterless cameras. He is an accomplished photographer who can pull a good composition out of just about any shot and the camera is so much more compact and lighter. The digital quality of the photos is on par with quality from my full-frame Nikons. But I'm not unloading my Nikon glass investment anytime soon.
See less See more
Agree, needs to be good gear...just have to figure out what works for you and then settle on it. My chops do much better with a Link-style mouthpiece than a Berg-style, but I had to find that out. My youngest son is an advancing cellist and I wouldn't have thought the next level of instrument would make a difference until I heard it for myself in a comparison test at a strings specialty shop, a luthier. BUT we waited for his teacher to tell us when his skill had advanced enough to take advantage of a better instrument.

One more for photography, though....I'm a Nikon guy guy, a lot of investment there but I'm jealous of a friend who unloaded his Nikon gear for the more compact line of Fujifilm shutterless cameras. He is an accomplished photographer who can pull a good composition out of just about any shot and the camera is so much more compact and lighter. The digital quality of the photos is on par with quality from my full-frame Nikons. But I'm not unloading my Nikon glass investment anytime soon.
Get one of the new Nikon mirrorless cameras with the adapter for your lenses! I would if I didn't already have Pentax gear, probably will still switch at some point.
Any photographers out there? In photography there is always a new gadget you can buy that will enable you to do something easier and (supposedly) better. That hobby can really become a money pit if you let it. But at some point you realize that the gear doesn't help you unless you have your fundamentals down cold, and all the money in the world doesn't buy you a better eye.
Good analogy. Recently went with the new GFX medium format Fuji system. Better gear can give you the ability to get shots lesser gear cannot capture but the composition and control of the light are still up to the photographer.
I just ordered a new piece I want to try and sent another one out to be refaced. Messing around with gear can be a lot of fun even if you're happy with your setup.
Thank you, Phil!

I studied with a guy here, was really the top gigging player back in the day, sessions, clubs, radio/TV... and I told him that my uncle who played trumpet was asking me "How does Stan Getz get that sound? Is it the reed? The mouthpiece? What?"... and I didn't know what to tell him... and this great player told me "Well, your sound actually comes from your brain.
Amazing when you consider Getz played a combination of small tip/hard reed and a considerable period without teeth!

The analogy that your sound comes from your brain is absolutely evident in blind artists such as Art Tatum,
Ray Charles, Joaquin Rodrigo, George Shearing, Nobuyuki Tsujii, Ronie Milsap, Stevie Wonder,
Andrea Bocelli. However, not all of us, have a talented unique ability for the brain to memorise and recall music to the standards of even these great blind musicians!
Hi SOTW,

that's an interesting read, thanks for all opinions here. I agree with most of what Phil Barone wrote concerning gear.
Here's my story from the last years:

I've been a gear head for about ten years, heavily purchasing and trying mouthpieces. My issue was experiencing the benefits of different designs over a couple of months with every single piece, becoming more independent from gear in general and, finally, settling on something that I really liked and that fit my concept of playing.
I then spent a couple of years with changing every couple of months and spending a lot of money, eventually finding out that the perfect piece didn't exist for me when it came to detail soundwise and in terms of feel.
This was the time I started refacing for myself. After about five years of research (trial and error) I'm now at the point where I can modify a mouthpiece for my individual needs and make it a perfect match with my horn, my reeds and my mind.
The only pieces I've bought since then have been the cheap ones that I will use as blanks to adapt them again to my needs one day.
I couldn't be happier at the moment. I'm playing one mouthpiece per type of horn (soprano, alto, tenor, bari). The only changes I've made in the meantime were changing very little characteristics of my pieces when I felt that I needed a bit more ease at getting a certain sound here or there during the gig that I couldn't achieve with practicing.
With this way of adapting both the mouthpieces (by modifying) and myself (by practicing/getting used to the setup) I've come very close to the sound in my head.

Well, it could be that the sound in my head will change one day but until then I'm playing the perfect mouthpiece for me. Total costs for the tenor piece: 35 bucks for the used blank and a couple of weeks modifying and adapting to it. I've been playing it for two years now without changing anything.

I know this approach takes a lot of time but I can really recommend it to every player who wants to get rid of GAS and find an individual sound.
If you're more into trying a lot of stuff for the fun of it feel free to keep doing it - but be aware that it probably won't take you anywhere when you don't have your own sound in mind.

Best
Jo
See less See more
Hi SOTW,

that's an interesting read, thanks for all opinions here. I agree with most of what Phil Barone wrote concerning gear.
Here's my story from the last years:

I've been a gear head for about ten years, heavily purchasing and trying mouthpieces. My issue was experiencing the benefits of different designs over a couple of months with every single piece, becoming more independent from gear in general and, finally, settling on something that I really liked and that fit my concept of playing.
I then spent a couple of years with changing every couple of months and spending a lot of money, eventually finding out that the perfect piece didn't exist for me when it came to detail soundwise and in terms of feel.
This was the time I started refacing for myself. After about five years of research (trial and error) I'm now at the point where I can modify a mouthpiece for my individual needs and make it a perfect match with my horn, my reeds and my mind.
The only pieces I've bought since then have been the cheap ones that I will use as blanks to adapt them again to my needs one day.
I couldn't be happier at the moment. I'm playing one mouthpiece per type of horn (soprano, alto, tenor, bari). The only changes I've made in the meantime were changing very little characteristics of my pieces when I felt that I needed a bit more ease at getting a certain sound here or there during the gig that I couldn't achieve with practicing.
With this way of adapting both the mouthpieces (by modifying) and myself (by practicing/getting used to the setup) I've come very close to the sound in my head.

Well, it could be that the sound in my head will change one day but until then I'm playing the perfect mouthpiece for me. Total costs for the tenor piece: 35 bucks for the used blank and a couple of weeks modifying and adapting to it. I've been playing it for two years now without changing anything.

I know this approach takes a lot of time but I can really recommend it to every player who wants to get rid of GAS and find an individual sound.
If you're more into trying a lot of stuff for the fun of it feel free to keep doing it - but be aware that it probably won't take you anywhere when you don't have your own sound in mind.

Best
Jo
See less See more
It is wrong to assert that there are so many sub-standard mouthpieces on the market that players will be hampered in being able to play properly without also doing one of these things:

A. naming those sub standard mouthpieces

or

B. naming those mouthpieces which are good enough, or providing some means for the player to find one good enough.

Many developing players will look on this site to get some advice about how to improve.

They could easily see this bold, widespread 'faulty mouthpiece' assertion by the OP as a confirmation that they should change mouthpieces to solve their problem.

Consequently, this assertion by Phil [who makes many wise and useful statements] will have the opposite effect from the one intended. That is, "Got a problem? Do not like your sound or development? Well, there are a large proportion of mouthpieces out there that are so defective that they will hamper a player and prevent them from proper development. This could be your problem. Change mouthpieces and find out."

I would say that a person should get a tutor or a teacher to OK a mouthpiece. Make sure it is working properly and has the features needed to get the player where they need to be. Then it is nothing more or less than application.
See less See more


Maceo Parker is a top sax player in his genre and has always played a stock Brilhart Ebolin 3.

Application.
Well, well... For a mouthpiece junkie, I can say that Phil Barone is right on the money in his Thesis. It’s been quite interesting to read the replies. I even learned something about drills and cameras! However, the point made in many of the posts is that basically none of the players responding are at the level of those referenced by Phil. No doubt about it, the gear influences the sound. I also completely agree with the people who stress the reed effect. A very underestimated issue. When I read the drill and camera (even golf) analogies, I thought about a probably closer analogy, the electronic instruments (synthesizers etc.). They will have the sound(s) provided by the manufacturer. Who is playing a Yamaha and who is playing a Roland etc. Obviously the players experiment the sounds. Joe Zavinul comes to mind. What did you like more, the lines he played with Cannonball or the sounds he created with the Weather Report and on?

Coming back to our issue. I’d be interested to understand where the break point is between a pro-player and an amateur. Logically, I would think that a real pro mouthpiece would be difficult to play for an amateur?? So are the most expensive mouthpieces made for circumventing the lack of playing technique that the pro-players do not need? Whatever the answer is, the wast majority of the mouthpiece buying community must be others than the top cats out there. How much does the average buyer study baffles, chamber size, facing curves etc., beyond the conventional tip opening (that seems to be the only number of interest). The mouthpiece producers also seem very reluctant to provide these features. I mean, how much do you even know about what you should be looking for in your specific situation. Today you could actually get whatever you want with SYOS type of products. Why can your refacing technician do things to your mp that you couldn’t figure out with the SYOS? So the mouthpiece mania seems to be based more on emotions than hard science. I readily admit that my shopping is basically irrational, mostly because of the fun of it.

Lastly, how about the ligature frenzy that has entered the marketplace lately. Did you have a perfect mp, but you just could not figure out which ligature to use? Somebody showed that you can attach the read with duck tape and it plays just as well. It blows my mind that today you could actually buy a real saxophone with the price of a ligature!

I guess that my thoughts did not help anyone, but for those traveling in this wonderland - you are not alone.
See less See more


Maceo Parker is a top sax player in his genre and has always played a stock Brilhart Ebolin 3.

Application.
I just happened to be in a Maceo Parker concert a week ago. With all his finger slapping etc., he produces a very distinctive sound from that Brilhart. You can really identify that. But, man, that cat is FUNKY!

By the way, I identified several players that were playing with him already in the 90's.
Thank you for this very well-timed posting. I just joined the forum and just purchased my first tenor yesterday. I haven't played in forty-five years, but I needed to find a way to get to a peaceful "zen" type of place, so I decided to start playing again. I was completely overwhelmed when I started searching around for a horn thinking it was going to require several thousand dollars to sound even fairly decent, now I can relax and start a journey that I hope can bring some joy into my life. Thank you again Mr. Barone.
I just happened to be in a Maceo Parker concert a week ago. With all his finger slapping etc., he produces a very distinctive sound from that Brilhart. You can really identify that. But, man, that cat is FUNKY!

By the way, I identified several players that were playing with him already in the 90's.
https://forum.saxontheweb.net/showt...nded-Mouthpiece-for-Concert-band-and-Pep-Band
Re: Recommended Mouthpiece for Concert band and Pep Band
BarrySachs

"There are all kinds of mouthpieces out there. Metal, plastic, rubber, resin, wood... There are expensive mouthpieces, handmade models, vintage models...

Here's the deal. If your a high school student, get a Brilhart 3* and a Rico 2½ reed and learn how to play. Seriously, I'm not saying this to be glib. Go learn how to play on basic equipment. It's cheaper that way. A new Brilhart alto mouthpiece only costs $30 or so."

post number four
I think there's something else which needs to be considered here, however (and quite possibly others have mentioned this already - because honestly, no I did not real every reply in this 5-page thread):

Given the advent of internet commerce, the availability of such a wide array of musical gear, and the relative 'ease' of acquiring it, has to be taken into consideration.

So, I understand and agree with the OP's general feeling that a 'grail' hunt for that piece of equipment which will give you EXACTLY what you (think you may) want (at the current time) is sort of a waste of energy as well as funds....

...and also agree that many if not most dealers have grabbed this notion and come up with marketing hoopla to inflate and take advantage of these, um, 'themes'...

I find nothing wrong with folks experimenting with various gear which is available, various horns, all that...just for the sake of seeing what is out there. Because there's a WIDE range of stuff out there, really...differing in how they sound, perform, and respond, etc.

But this REQUIRES the buyer to formulate in their own mind, their own expectations...or else it indeed can turn into just a somewhat wild and neverending spend-fest
See less See more
AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM ME:

this seems much ado about very little - personally, as a technically challenged human being (poor motor skills, damaged hands) I need every advantage I can get when it comes to horn, mouthpiece, reeds, et al. The solution? Do what works best for you. Spend the money, don't spend the money. Trane was obsessed with mouthpieces, so was Stitt, Schildkraut, Bird (Schildkraut told me all about this; more if you want to hear); Rollins I am sure was always experimenting. Dolphy, always. McLean in pics has a lot of different pieces. What - me worry?

(and one of the very reasons my playing improved radically from my 30s into my 50s was my discovery of mouthpiece improvements. So what? Listen to the recordings, it's all there).
How much does the average buyer study baffles, chamber size, facing curves etc., beyond the conventional tip opening (that seems to be the only number of interest). The mouthpiece producers also seem very reluctant to provide these features. I mean, how much do you even know about what you should be looking for in your specific situation.
I think this is a very interesting point. I believe StefGrani is correct when he points out that there's relatively little discussion on this forum or in the marketing materials of various mouthpiece makers regarding actual features of mouthpiece design and how they impact sound. We all seem fairly committed to certain tip sizes, but there's little discussion of chamber size, facing curves, types of baffles, etc. There are some exceptions: Theo Wanne's website, for example, has some info about how various elements of design impact sound. But more often we're just told that a mouthpiece is intended to sound like this or that model once played by a famous player, or even that the mouthpiece is intended to sound like the player himself.

That may be part of the reason the hunt for mouthpiece can become an expensive, trial-and-error adventure. We don't know what we're looking for, until we find it! At which point, we may have no idea why a particular mouthpiece is right for us, other than it feels right. That would probably describe my journey to date. It took me years and not a few dollars to discover what works for me, and throughout that process, the search was guided not by any knowledge of how various design elements effect sound and feel, but mostly by written reviews and sound clips online. Which are very useful. But the problem is, those guys who do the sound clips tend to sound fantastic on everything they play!

So maybe we can encourage mouthpiece makers to talk/write more about facing curves, chamber shapes, etc, and how this impacts sound production? Maybe there are some existing sources people can direct us to? Maybe to some degree, the GAS epidemic can be alleviated by more specific knowledge about what we should be looking for?
See less See more
...Maybe to some degree, the GAS epidemic can be alleviated by more specific knowledge about what we should be looking for?
And who is it that wants to end the gas epidemic? The mouthpiece makers? I think not..
81 - 100 of 182 Posts
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top