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Saxophone Mouthpiece

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Mouthpiece Sizes

Paul R. Coats

High SchoolCollege/Pro
Alto Sax.065"-.070".065"-.080"
Tenor Sax.070"-.085".070"-.090"
Baritone Sax.080"-.090".080"-.090"
Soprano Sax.048"-.055".050"-.060"
Jazz, Rock,Theater
Alto Sax.070"-.080".075"-.090"
Tenor Sax.080"-.090".085"-.105"
Baritone Sax.085"-.095".090"-.110"
Soprano Sax.050"-.055".055"-.070"
in inches


A high school alto saxophonist, for concertband, would choose a Selmer C*, C**; Runyon #4, #5; Vandoren V-5A20, A25; etc.

A high school tenor saxophonist, forjazz/rock would choose a Runyon #5-#7; Otto Link #5-#6; BergLarsen 80-90.

Try jazz mouthpieces with a #2--#2 1/2 reed.With these larger tip openings for jazz type mouthpieces a softerreed is usually required. Even two different designs ofmouthpieces with the same tip opening (Runyon 88 #5 and SelmerC**) will blow with different resistances and may require aharder or softer reed for best results.

Refer to the charts in the Woodwind &Brasswind catalog.

Concert/symphonic mouthpieces include: SelmerS-80 and S-90 (in both rubber and metal); Runyon 88,Classic, Symphonic, and Finesse; Bamber Concert; Vandoren V-5;Rousseau; Bilger; Morgan; Hite; Ridenour; Larry Teal Alto Sax(Selmer).

Popular jazz type mouthpieces include: RunyonCustom Spoiler, Metal Spoiler, Quantum; Meyer; Otto Link;Beechler; Berg Larsen; Brilhart; Vandoren Java; Selmer MetalJazz; R.I.A; Claude Lakey; Guy Hawkins; Dukoff.

Mouthpiece Facings, Chambers, andMaterials

PaulR. Coats

A young saxophonist usually purchases a newmouthpiece during his junior high or high school years, eitherbecause of damage to his "stock" mouthpiece or the desire for animproved tone. He will usually be advised to buy a particularbrand and size (Selmer C*, etc.) or, more vaguely, a "mediumsize" facing. Even worse, he may be told to buy a size numberwithout being aware there are no standard size numbers.Facing sizes are numbered, or lettered, differently by eachmanufacturer, a #4 in one brand may be the same size as a #3 orletter size in another brand. Also, a facing that is considered"medium" for jazz or rock is "open" for concert band or"classical" playing.

In general, classical and concert bandmouthpieces have large, round chambers which produce a tonequality rich in fundamental and low overtones. These mouthpiecesare usually played with moderate tip openings (the gap betweenthe tip of the reed and tip of the mouthpiece) and reeds in the#3 to #3 1/2 range.

Jazz type mouthpieces generally have smaller,more square chambers, which encourage production of higherovertones. This gives more "edge", or brilliance to the tone.These mouthpieces are usually played with tip openings about.010" to .015" larger than classical mouthpieces, and with softerreeds (#2 to #2 1/2).

Small tip openings require hard reeds to keepfrom choking up at loud volumes, have less flexibility in pitch,and have a cold, hard tone. Larger tip openings allow moreflexibility in pitch, which is great for jazz, but may causeproblems for young players. Large tip openings require softerreeds, and may cause embouchure fatigue.

The chamber and material of the mouthpiecehave a greater effect on tone quality than the tip opening.Changing only the tip opening will cause a subtle change in tonequality in that softer reeds are used, which vibrate with morerich overtones.

It is a common misconception that metalmouthpieces are only for jazz, and that hard rubber (or plastic)mouthpieces are for concert playing. This idea has probably comeabout from the number of jazz saxophonists, usually tenorplayers, who use metal mouthpieces. Hard rubber or plasticmouthpieces vibrate and add overtones to the sound. Metalmouthpieces damp vibration. The old big band tenor men wanted asmooth, warm tone, not a bright edgy rock and roll tone as iscommon now. The most common metal mouthpiece used by them was theOtto Link metal, which has a large round chamber, and produces adark, "hollow" tone. The Selmer (Paris) metal mouthpiece is avery fine classical type mouthpiece and is used by Dr. FrederickHemke and many other fine artists.

Another quality of metal (andplastic/synthetic) mouthpieces is durability. Hard rubber is apoor material for mouthpieces even though it is easy to tool andto set into vibration when played. Hard rubber breaks easily whenbumped, warps over time or from heat (even from sunlight), andwears on the tip and side rails from reed vibration. Crystalholds the facing well, but is easily chipped if bumped. Woodcracks easily and warps from the effects of moisture andtemperature. For these reasons wood and crystal are not suitablematerials for saxophone mouthpieces.

The Classical Tenor Sax Mouthpiece

PaulR. Coats

Throughout high school and college I hadalways been uncomfortable with the Selmer C* on the tenor sax.Most woodwind teachers automatically recommend the C* because itworks well on alto sax (without trying it out on tenor). Aftermuch experimentation and research I have come to the conclusionthat the classical tenor saxophonist needs a mouthpiece somewhatlarger.

The Selmer C* alto mouthpiece isapproximately .066" tip opening. The tenor C* is about .070".This seems to be very close. Most manufacturers, except Selmer,size their comparable tenor models .010" to .015" larger thantheir alto models. For example:

Mfg. Alto Tenor Bamber .065" .080" Runyon .066" .078" Brilhart .070" .080" Rousseau .065" .080"

I experimented with the Selmer tenor saxmouthpiece in D and E facings (.078" and .083") and the Runyon #4through #7 facings (.078 through .090"). I came to the conclusionthat a high school player would be better off using at least.078" or .082" tip opening with reeds in the #2--#3 range. Iparticularly like the new Runyon Finesse with #5 facing (.082")with Hemke #2 or #2 1/2 reed. Many of my students have gottengood results with this combination. The Finesse seems to workwell with a wide variety of reeds. I had good results with Rico,Rico Royal, Charpen, Vandoren, Lavoz, and Hemke reeds.

Find a model that has the tone and playingcharacteristics you like, and then zero in on the tip openingthat plays best for you. Try a softer reed with larger tipopenings. You may find that a different design and facing fromyour alto mouthpiece is better on tenor or bari sax.Experiment.

Jazz Mouthpieces Revisited

PaulR. Coats

In a recent discussion with a local highschool band director the selection of mouthpieces for jazz andmarching band came up. In an earlier handout, "First JazzMouthpiece", I gave specific recommendations but feel the need togo a little further.

First off--metal vs. rubber (or synthetic):Jazz and classical mouthpieces are available in both metaland non-metallic materials. Dr. Frederick Hemke is noted forusing the Selmer Metal mouthpieces for his classical performanceson alto and tenor. A few years ago I saw a Boston Popsperformance on PBS in which I noticed the tenor and bari playersusing metal mouthpieces, the altos, hard rubber. The tone qualityof a mouthpiece is influenced more by the shape of the baffle andchamber than by the material from which it is made--though thematerial does contribute to the tone since the mouthpiece alsovibrates. The problem with recommending a metal mouthpiece to ahigh school student (or many college students) is that they havenot fully developed their embouchure or playing style. Sincemetal mouthpieces start at well over a hundred dollars, and mayrun to several hundred, it would be unwise to advise a youngplayer to buy metal. There are many good rubber and syntheticmouthpieces to choose from at a much more affordable price.

High school and college students may have tochange mouthpieces several times before finding models suited totheir needs. Metal mouthpieces are difficult to reface andshould not be refaced as this will break through thesilver, gold, or chrome plating, exposing the user to possiblebrass poisoning. A hard rubber or synthetic mouthpiece may beeasily refaced to the player's changing needs. When a player isexperiencing choking up at high volume he may need a strongerreed (no more than a #3) or a larger tip opening. If the studenthas to use a reed stronger than a #3 then his mouthpiece's tipopening is too close. If there are problems controlling the tone,difficulty playing softly, playing the low register, orembouchure fatigue, a smaller tip opening may be needed. This isusually overcome in a week or two as the player becomesaccustomed to the new mouthpiece, unless an extremely large tipopening was selected. The Runyon #6's should suffice, thoughstrong students may do better with #7's. These sizes translate to.074"-.078" (#6-#7) for alto, .086"-.090" for tenor, and.089"-.093" for bari. Most pros play #7's and #8's in the Runyonfacings.

Note that each manufacturer has its ownunique numbering system. A #5 in one brand may be a #7 or aletter size in another. This strange setup causes confusion whichis only solved by referring to the charts.

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