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Hi there,

I heard and read several times about mouthpiece to be the last bit of the cone profile and the volume of mouthpiece is so critical that way.
Someone pointed at this criticality being so much that increasing or lowering baffle or refacing to the point of reducing the length hence volume of the mouthpiece could result in making the mouthpiece out of tune. I like to know how critical is that and since we all the time adjust the tuning by our embouchure anyway, how come this issue is still so critical that some people try to avoid the idea of refacing the mouthpiece.
I know this article in the web: https://ccrma.stanford.edu/marl/Benade/documents/Benade-Physics323-1977.pdf and another one that I can't find right now. I just like to learn how to evaluate that if the mouthpiece volume is not right for the sax body I'm using. If it is the tuning exercise for upper let's say C, B, A vs. lower D, C, B, Bb if I make one side (let's say lower) in tune and the other side (upper) is too sharp does it mean the mouthpiece volume is too low or too high? I should mention that prior to this test, I practice tuning my embouchure to keep the mouthpiece itself in tune prior to putting it on the sax body, then adjust the mouthpiece on the cork to get a tuned middle of the pipe to start with.

The idea of avoiding refacing because it messes up the volume of the mouthpiece may not be very practical since there are so many mouthpieces that one to the other they vary in the manufacturing tolerances. I got three Selmer C* and each one has different dimensions than the other one, and the same with recent Meyer alto mouthpieces. The parameters are too varied to count on original manufacturing to be cast on stone.

Lastly, I like to know if there are frequently coupled mouthpiece and sax bodies that work well together. I know there are varieties and it's hard to make principle out of this, but if I hear from a few that they made this particular mouthpiece match with this body but this other one didn't work for that sax body at all, then I can start collecting those instances and create a list for frequently / favorite coupled mpc/bodies or a list of potential mismatches. I know reed also adds other variable to this but I thought I take it out of the picture for now.

This issue is apparently brought up before in SOTW but I thought I also add to the enquiry for you guys spelling out what worked for you and what didn't (for all tenor, alto and soprano).

Thanks a lot.
 

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In theory refacing the mouthpiece could have some effect on how it tunes, but in reality the amount of material removed is so small it's unlikely anything could ever be measured. I suspect that most baffle work is the same way, unless it's really huge.

Basically, if you pick a single note for tuning, then in theory every MP, when placed on the neck so that note is in tune, will have the same interior volume (meaning the part that remains outside the neck; the part the neck's in is not included). However, the physical position will be different. In general, a mouthpiece with a larger interior volume will have to be pushed further on, and one with a smaller interior volume will have to be pushed less far.

Note that the amount of cork visible is affected by the mechanical length of the mouthpiece, so you can't use that as a guide. Mouthpiece bore length does vary, a lot. Instead, the measurement would be from the tip of the MP to some registration point on the horn.

Now if you pull a mouthpiece way out, the sounding length of the horn has been increased and the distance between tone holes is smaller than the correct proportion. Notes with a shorter tube than your tuning note will be flat, and notes with a longer tube than your tuning note will be sharp.

If you push a MP way in, the reverse will be true and notes with a shorter tube than your tuning note will tend sharp, and notes with a longer tube will tend flat.

Another note: if you tune to first octave G, for example, second octave D, though pitched higher, uses a longer tube.

In my experience the anomalies are most typically seen in the palm keys, because they have the very shortest tube, so an error of x mm in MP position compared to the sax design is a greater percentage of the tube length.

I personally have seen differences of an inch in the position of different MPs on my baritone sax, when a single tuning note is at the same pitch. This will obviously affect the accuracy of the scale. It will also affect the ability to play altissimo, and it can also lead to a tendency to squeak; in my case the well-known tendency of the Conn 12M to play sharp on E and F was dramatically improved when I went from a smaller to a large chamber mouthpiece. Other horns with "wonky" individual notes may find improvement by changing to a piece with internal volume better matched to the horn design.

In general, older instruments (designs that predate the Selmer Mark 6), tend to behave better with larger internal volume mouthpieces, UP TO A POINT, and recent instruments prefer a somewhat smaller internal MP volume.

It appears anecdotally that MP internal volume too small for the horn causes worse issues than MP volume too big, but I'm not sure whether that's really the case.

Finally, there exist high baffle MPs with (relatively) large chambers; the Dukoff D7 is a typical example. These play well in tune on (for example) the Conn 10M which is notorious for being sensitive to MP design.
 

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arya44: Good question(s). I know that some responders will go into the physics of it, and in theory, they may be right. But in practical application (meaning MY experience) I've found mouthpiece matching and varying intonation to be non-issue . . . or at least VERY subtle differences not amounting to much.

I have always owned and played vintage sopranos and altos, with occasional periods of modern sopranos and altos being my gigging horns. I have always played modern mouthpieces on them. And, I have tried vintage mouthpieces on them, as well. I could hardly get a sound out of most of the vintage pieces I tried. With my favorite mouthpieces, all of my saxophones played in tune - and sounded good.

Yes, there have been occasional saxophones that sounded a bit darker than others and on occasion, I have used brighter mouthpieces on the darker horns, but not always. And frankly, while I heard (or maybe FELT is a better word) the differences, I seriously doubt that anyone, musician or audience-members, heard the same things I heard, so it ended up being a non-issue as well.

As far as differences among similar mouthpieces, I too have experienced that - a three-set of Selmer S-80 E soprano pieces comes to mind. But at the same time, three Super Session J soprano pieces were VERY similar in sound and response. My several Morgan soprano pieces are slightly different among them, but not enough to amount to anything.

My experiences led me to debunk, at least in MY mind, the need to use large-chambered mouthpieces on vintage saxophones. And, I've concluded that the quality of the individual reed being used at the time can make a huge difference in how any good mouthpiece plays. DAVE
 

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arya44: Good question(s). I know that some responders will go into the physics of it, and in theory, they may be right. But in practical application (meaning MY experience) I've found mouthpiece matching and varying intonation to be non-issue . . . or at least VERY subtle differences not amounting to much.

I have always owned and played vintage sopranos and altos, with occasional periods of modern sopranos and altos being my gigging horns. I have always played modern mouthpieces on them. And, I have tried vintage mouthpieces on them, as well. I could hardly get a sound out of most of the vintage pieces I tried. With my favorite mouthpieces, all of my saxophones played in tune - and sounded good.

Yes, there have been occasional saxophones that sounded a bit darker than others and on occasion, I have used brighter mouthpieces on the darker horns, but not always. And frankly, while I heard (or maybe FELT is a better word) the differences, I seriously doubt that anyone, musician or audience-members, heard the same things I heard, so it ended up being a non-issue as well.

As far as differences among similar mouthpieces, I too have experienced that - a three-set of Selmer S-80 E soprano pieces comes to mind. But at the same time, three Super Session J soprano pieces were VERY similar in sound and response. My several Morgan soprano pieces are slightly different among them, but not enough to amount to anything.

My experiences led me to debunk, at least in MY mind, the need to use large-chambered mouthpieces on vintage saxophones. And, I've concluded that the quality of the individual reed being used at the time can make a huge difference in how any good mouthpiece plays. DAVE
A couple things: 1) I have this feeling that vintage sopranos are a bit different than vintage tenors or baritones. Not really based on much evidence, but as you I have used modern MPs and not encountered tuning issues. 2) If you are using an MP with a much smaller chamber than the horn was designed for, but you also tend to play at a lower pitch due to your own personal configuration, then you would shove it further on, closer to the design length, and the scale wouldn't be adversely affected.
 

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For a detailed discussion on this topic I can recommend, "Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics" by Arthur Benade Chapter 22 section 22.1 The Reed Cavity and Neck Proportions in Conical Instruments. While not practical to go into detail there are a few salient points that Benade makes in this chapter.

1. The "equivalent volume" of the mouthpiece under playing conditions is greater than the measured geometric volume, due to the movement of the reed and the effects of the player's oral cavity.
2. It is this "equivalent volume" that needs to match the volume of the "missing cone" to its apex in order for the saxophone to behave as if it is a perfect cone.
3. In addition to the equivalent volume of the mouthpiece matching the volume of the missing cone, the playing frequency of the mouthpiece on its neck needs to match the natural resonant frequency of the missing cone which in this instance is the length of the neck added to the calculated length of the missing cone to its apex.

Benade uses the term Frs which means the frequency of the oboe reed on its staple, the bassoon reed on its bocal, and the saxophone mouthpiece on its neck.

Benade writes that if the frequency of the mouthpiece on its neck in the case of the saxophone is in the neighborhood of the natural frequency of the cone apex itself the instrument will "see" an object at its upper end whose acoustical behavior is quite similar to that of the missing cone.

Information from "The Saxophone is my Voice" by Ernest Ferron shows a method to calculate the length and therefore the volume of the "missing cone" by using the taper of the neck of the saxophone. He also makes the point that increasing the conicity of the tube makes the octaves shorter, while decreasing its conicity causes the octaves to go wider. Decreasing the conicity to the point the cone becomes a cylinder like a clarinet widens the octaves to a twelth.

I have done the measurements and math to show that on my Selmer SBA alto that the played frequency of the mouthpiece and neck in the vicinity of Ab concert corresponds to the calculated natural resonant frequency of the missing cone including the neck removed from the body of the saxophone.

Mouthpiece chamber volume is only part of the picture. Where the player plays on the mouthpiece input pitch and how far the mouthpiece is moved onto the cork are also critical factors to consider.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
For a detailed discussion on this topic I can recommend, "Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics" by Arthur Benade Chapter 22 section 22.1 The Reed Cavity and Neck Proportions in Conical Instruments. While not practical to go into detail there are a few salient points that Benade makes in this chapter.

1. The "equivalent volume" of the mouthpiece under playing conditions is greater than the measured geometric volume, due to the movement of the reed and the effects of the player's oral cavity.
2. It is this "equivalent volume" that needs to match the volume of the "missing cone" to its apex in order for the saxophone to behave as if it is a perfect cone.
3. In addition to the equivalent volume of the mouthpiece matching the volume of the missing cone, the playing frequency of the mouthpiece on its neck needs to match the natural resonant frequency of the missing cone which in this instance is the length of the neck added to the calculated length of the missing cone to its apex.

Benade uses the term Frs which means the frequency of the oboe reed on its staple, the bassoon reed on its bocal, and the saxophone mouthpiece on its neck.

Benade writes that if the frequency of the mouthpiece on its neck in the case of the saxophone is in the neighborhood of the natural frequency of the cone apex itself the instrument will "see" an object at its upper end whose acoustical behavior is quite similar to that of the missing cone.

Information from "The Saxophone is my Voice" by Ernest Ferron shows a method to calculate the length and therefore the volume of the "missing cone" by using the taper of the neck of the saxophone. He also makes the point that increasing the conicity of the tube makes the octaves shorter, while decreasing its conicity causes the octaves to go wider. Decreasing the conicity to the point the cone becomes a cylinder like a clarinet widens the octaves to a twelth.

I have done the measurements and math to show that on my Selmer SBA alto that the played frequency of the mouthpiece and neck in the vicinity of Ab concert corresponds to the calculated natural resonant frequency of the missing cone including the neck removed from the body of the saxophone.

Mouthpiece chamber volume is only part of the picture. Where the player plays on the mouthpiece input pitch and how far the mouthpiece is moved onto the cork are also critical factors to consider.
Thanks for the detailed info. So if the calculation shows the Ab or perhaps somewhere in between two notes for other sax bodies, how does it work that instructors always make students to learn to adjust their embouchure to create standard pitch (e.g. Eb's tuning F# or concert A for alto) prior to putting the mouthpiece on the sax? I mean if it is a variable that needs to be calculated for the body/neck, it can't be a text book pitch regardless of the sax body / neck. So instead of learning to tune my mouthpiece exercise for F# for alto tuning, I may need to play it a bit more sharp or flat to match the natural resonance frequency that corresponds with my horn's missing cone. How do I get to the bottom of it to find out?
 

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Turf: You may have a point in that I end up (on soprano) shoving all of my mouthpieces on pretty far when it comes to vintage horns. On my MKVI's (and the other modern sopranos), I don't need to shove on as far.

For altos, I don't shove on nearly as far as I do on sopranos (and I realize it is all relative, the alto being the longer and bigger saxophone).

However, wherever my mouthpieces are sited on a neck (within reason, of course), the horns have good intonation within themselves, so the chamber-size doesn't affect intonation (talking about both alto and soprano). DAVE
 

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Its really simple; you try a mouthpiece on your sax. You tune it up after warming up and find that it tunes up at a good place on the cork, at least one inch on so it has stability (won't wiggle while playing). Then, also using the tuner, you go through some exercises intended to check out the relative tuning of the instrument. You find that the sax has good intonation with this piece. During this process you find that you like this mouthpiece very much, so you keep it.
Now wasn't that easy and fun?
There is no standard in mouthpiece design. Different makers go about the design in different ways to get what they sell as their signature 'sound'. Typically the prototypes are tweaked until good players are satisfied with them including the tuning, then they start making them to varying degrees of accuracy to the final prototypes.
Once you find a mouthpiece you like, its usually possible to have it refaced more than once without affecting tuning. Sometimes you can really dig in and change the basic design by modifying the baffle and chamber (throat) areas and they still play great and tune up at the same spot. I don't mess with tables/facings but I have worked on the insides of some mouthpieces. I've also had mouthpieces refaced. I've never had one react by playing out of tune.
You don't really match mouthpieces to saxes as much as you find mouthpieces that you like on your saxes. Most of us on here would like different mouthpieces on those same saxes - its about you more than it is the sax. There are anecdotal traditional matches that 'everybody' likes but then when you really dig into that you find there is no real consensus - guys are playing whatever floats their boat on Martins, Super 20s, Conns and of course, Selmers. When I had a Martin, I played the same mouthpiece on it I played on my MK VI. They still sounded different and it was a nice difference, but your mouthpiece is your mouthpiece.
I guess maybe I'm extreme on this but to give another example, if I go to try out a soprano, I take my soprano mouthpiece. If the horn doesn't blow with my mouthpiece, I have no interest in it. Life is too short to try to make a horn blow by risking getting lost in the mouthpiece forest. Now this is assuming that you have a good mouthpiece for each horn that you like and regularly use in performance. I'm not saying just buy a soprano piece and start trying out horns - you must have a known good piece before trying out horns. Otherwise there is no constant in the equation and no basis for comparison.
At no time do you ever have to worry about things like the 'water volume' of a mouthpiece, neck or sax. These are the concerns of manufacturers. As far as I know, there are no mouthpieces for sale by major sax makers or after-market mouthpiece makers/refinishers with good reputations that will not tune up on a good-quality sax in good condition in the hands of an experienced player.
 

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As far as I know, there are no mouthpieces for sale by major sax makers or after-market mouthpiece makers/refinishers with good reputations that will not tune up on a good-quality sax in good condition in the hands of an experienced player.
A Vandoren small chamber mouthpiece on a Conn 12M baritone will be hanging off the end of the neck, with poor altissimo response, a tendency to squeaks, 2nd octave E and F playing dramatically sharp, palm keys flat, and low Bb sharp.

Take that Vandoren off and put a Meyer on instead, and all of those problems will go away. The distance from the tip of the Meyer to the octave vent will be about 1" less than that of the Vandoren.

Put that Vandoren on a current production Yamaha YBS-62 and it will play perfectly in tune and with good response on all notes, and it'll go about an inch onto the neck.

There absolutely are mouthpiece/horn mismatches. The Vandoren mouthpiece is sitting in my desk drawer right now. The Meyer is in my baritone case right now (along with the 12M).

If you limit your horn selection to current production Selmer clones (which is pretty much everything manufactured today), and you also take out the super large chamber mouthpieces, then the chance of a mismatch is very much less (maybe essentially zero).

Today, when I evaluate a sax/mouthpiece combination, I get everything warmed up, then I tune to lower octave G (a note of medium tube length), then I check the tuning in the palm keys and bell keys, plus I check octave matching. If the combo won't play well enough in tune, it's not suitable for me.
 

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Thanks for the detailed info. So if the calculation shows the Ab or perhaps somewhere in between two notes for other sax bodies, how does it work that instructors always make students to learn to adjust their embouchure to create standard pitch (e.g. Eb's tuning F# or concert A for alto) prior to putting the mouthpiece on the sax? I mean if it is a variable that needs to be calculated for the body/neck, it can't be a text book pitch regardless of the sax body / neck. So instead of learning to tune my mouthpiece exercise for F# for alto tuning, I may need to play it a bit more sharp or flat to match the natural resonance frequency that corresponds with my horn's missing cone. How do I get to the bottom of it to find out?
An excellent question. My take on the A=880 pitch on the alto mouthpiece alone that seems to have started with Santy Runyon has to do with the number of clarinet players who were switching to saxophone at that time. As most people know the clarinet is played at or near the top of its mouthpiece pitch. When the saxophone is played with this type of embouchure the tone is pinched sounding and excessively sharp in the upper register. Santy's suggestion to play at the A=880 pitch helped to bring those players closer to the centered pitch that sounds better and is more in tune on the saxophone.

A more logical and practical suggestion would be not to play higher than that recommended pitch on the mouthpiece. Many jazz players play lower on the mouthpiece pitch, many around G, and some as much as a tritone lower down to Eb. How then can they possibly play their instrument in tune? It is simple. The push the mouthpiece farther onto the cork to compensate for the lower mouthpiece input pitch. How then does that meet the "missing cone" requirements specified by Benade? Here is the cool part IMO. Playing lower on the mouthpiece pitch and pushing the mouthpiece further onto the cork still produces an Ab concert on the mouthpiece and neck. The result of this lower input pitch is more volume, and an increase in the upper overtones giving the tone more of an edge or "buzz" that jazz players like as opposed to a classical sound.
 

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Here's the "B-flat way" to tune - after the horn is warmed up, check the pitch of B2 (I use this instead of concert pitch because it works on soprano, alto and tenor... for me... I don't own a bari.) Play B2 (LH index finger), then slur to B2 fingered as B1. That is, finger low B but keep your embouchure, throat etc. the same, so that your horn plays B2 instead of B1. If your mouthpiece is in the "correct" place (i.e., replacing the missing cone volume more or less), then these 2 fingerings will produce the same pitch. Often, the low B fingering is higher in pitch than the standard fingering, which means you have to push the mouthpiece on more. If the pitch is the same, then your horn is in tune with itself.

Once you have that, your job is to be able to play your horn in tune with other people (and pianos and guitars!) Often, this means your embouchure is too tight and you have to relax more.

<<Insert tongue in cheek>> If you are having trouble understanding the above procedure, the "C way" to tune is just push your mouthpiece on further, and loosen your chops. Chances are you need to do that anyway... (Go listen to Phil Woods for a great example of a great player that pushes his mouthpiece on pretty far. Or Cannonball... )<<Tongue out>>

Seriously, don't worry about the missing cone volume. Tune your horn to itself, and learn to play in tune easily with the mouthpiece at that point.
 

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In theory refacing the mouthpiece could have some effect on how it tunes, but in reality the amount of material removed is so small it's unlikely anything could ever be measured. I suspect that most baffle work is the same way, unless it's really huge.

Basically, if you pick a single note for tuning, then in theory every MP, when placed on the neck so that note is in tune, will have the same interior volume (meaning the part that remains outside the neck; the part the neck's in is not included). However, the physical position will be different. In general, a mouthpiece with a larger interior volume will have to be pushed further on, and one with a smaller interior volume will have to be pushed less far.

Note that the amount of cork visible is affected by the mechanical length of the mouthpiece, so you can't use that as a guide. Mouthpiece bore length does vary, a lot. Instead, the measurement would be from the tip of the MP to some registration point on the horn.

Now if you pull a mouthpiece way out, the sounding length of the horn has been increased and the distance between tone holes is smaller than the correct proportion. Notes with a shorter tube than your tuning note will be flat, and notes with a longer tube than your tuning note will be sharp.

If you push a MP way in, the reverse will be true and notes with a shorter tube than your tuning note will tend sharp, and notes with a longer tube will tend flat.

Another note: if you tune to first octave G, for example, second octave D, though pitched higher, uses a longer tube.

In my experience the anomalies are most typically seen in the palm keys, because they have the very shortest tube, so an error of x mm in MP position compared to the sax design is a greater percentage of the tube length.

I personally have seen differences of an inch in the position of different MPs on my baritone sax, when a single tuning note is at the same pitch. This will obviously affect the accuracy of the scale. It will also affect the ability to play altissimo, and it can also lead to a tendency to squeak; in my case the well-known tendency of the Conn 12M to play sharp on E and F was dramatically improved when I went from a smaller to a large chamber mouthpiece. Other horns with "wonky" individual notes may find improvement by changing to a piece with internal volume better matched to the horn design.

In general, older instruments (designs that predate the Selmer Mark 6), tend to behave better with larger internal volume mouthpieces, UP TO A POINT, and recent instruments prefer a somewhat smaller internal MP volume.

It appears anecdotally that MP internal volume too small for the horn causes worse issues than MP volume too big, but I'm not sure whether that's really the case.

Finally, there exist high baffle MPs with (relatively) large chambers; the Dukoff D7 is a typical example. These play well in tune on (for example) the Conn 10M which is notorious for being sensitive to MP design.
The above agrees with my experience and is the most practical way to apply the mouthpiece volume theory. I have tried to measure mouthpiece volumes and compare them to missing cones calculations. I get a ballpark agreement but errors larger and smaller on different sax and MP combos.

Removing baffle material is easily compensated for by most players by pushing the mouthpiece in a hair. Unless you hog it out a lot, it will tune in virtually the same spot.

A Meyer tunes to have sharp palm keys on my Yamaha 62 alto when I tune so the mid range is in tune. I can lip the palm keys in tune but that is a bad practice. A Vandoren V5 with a squeeze throat allows me to pull out enough to get the palm keys in tune while using a nuetral embouchure. I put some putty in the throat of my Meyer until I could pull it out some (like 1/16”) and the tuning with the Meyer was better for me. This is the type of application of theory I find is the most useful.
 

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Mouthpiece volume and mouthpiece pitch both matter, as does the pitch of the 'upstream' resonator (your vocal tract). In practice, just refacing a mouthpiece won't change anything enough to matter. Huge differences in tip opening matter a bit.
In practice you can get away with a lot of imprecision here. Yes, your sound and the response of the instrument will be better when the mouthpiece is the perfect acoustic match to you and your horn, but some degree of imperfection is acceptable to most players.
When you know you have an acoustic problem with a mouthpiece is this: when a horn (that is set up properly and is a well designed instrument) is pretty much in tune except at the top end. Tune to a middle B on the horn (in tune or even a hair low). Palm keys way sharp, chamber is too big, palm keys way flat, chamber is too small.
But look, the Boehm system is imperfect, the saxophone is a series of compromises all the way up and down. If it's close enough you can play it in tune all the time and you're happy with the tone and response then don't sweat it.

Also, if you're still developing as a player, don't assume your pitch problems are the fault of your setup. If you can't play over an octave on just the mouthpiece then you don't have control of your sound. Fix that first.

Most common good enough combination is Otto Link STM with Selmer tenor and Meyer with Selmer Alto. They're not perfect but close enough for thousands of professionals. If you're on a setup in this neighborhood of size, it isn't the problem.
 
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