I have always struggled on the saxophone. Don't have the "sax face"; square jaw, wide mouth and/or large lips, large face in general. My difficulties compelled me to look at alternative embouchures, if thre is such a thing.
Perhaps nine months ago, I discovered the "reed above embouchure" utilized by many of the preeminent clarinet players in Italy and Spain (I believe) in the 19th century. The mouthpiece is upside down with this method, and the upper lip is tucked between the reed and upper teeth. I quickly became very enthusiastic about applying this concept to the saxophone. It seemed that it might just fit my face better. I tried it on my alto. Ouch! I'm definitely a biter. It was at this moment that I thought, if I had a synthetic lip up there, with my real lip outside of the upper teeth and resting on the reed, the muscles of my face would be in a more efficient, less awkward position, and playing would be much easier.
I cut a small square from a bicycle tire innertube approximating the amount of lip that touches the reed ( a little wider than the reed itself, and a little less than one-half inch long). It didn't work, of course, as the innertube is nothing close in denisty, mass etc. to the human lip. I could say that I was undeterred, but the truth is, my idea went dormant then.
Months later, I happened upon a discussion on this forum of the double lip embouchure, and I quickly became enthused about attempting this myself. Ouch! I'm definitely a biter! And of course, my idea rose from its dormant state and surfaced once more. Searching the house for a synthetic lip, I happened upon a bag of dried apricots. I cut one in half. I cut the corner from a sandwich bag, and wrapped the apricot half in it. I clamped the synthetic lip-fruit between my teeth and the reed and my embouchure felt pretty comfortable and relaxed. I blew and, remarkably, got a decent tone and response in all registers. This lasted for about thirty seconds, until the apricot squished.
Encouraged, I began thinking along the lines of a laytex rubber type material once again. Or even better, something that could simulate the liquid-wrapped in-tissue composition of a human lip. A gel shoe inner sole popped into mind...
I have been pleased so far with results from my Dr. Scholl's gel inner sole/synthetic lip. Cut a piece about the width of a reed and a little less than one-half inch long from the heel section of the gel innersole. This is the part that has the corrugated ridges in it. With a small amount of super glue, affix the synthetic lip to your synthetic reed (as soaking is required, I have not attempted this experiment with cane). The synthetic lip goes on the vamp side of the reed, about five-sixteenths of an inch from the tip. Before gluing the synthetic lip to the reed, it is best to test for the ideal location and the viability of the particular lip you have created by simply clamping the synth lip in place with your teeth and playing.
I make no representations regarding the relative safety or lack thereof in having a super-glued piece of gel innersole in the oral cavity for extended periods of time.
The synthetic lip embouchure looks similar to that favored by many fine jazz sax players, with the lower lip "out" beyond the teeth, supporting the reed. In the case of the synthetic lip embouchure, there is no lower lip between the reed and teeth whatsoever. The teeth rest directly on the synthetic lip.
I have found this bit of technology/innovation to be very promising, although I have just begun this journey. I hope to try a product by Smooth-on called Dragon Skin, which will more closely approximate the physical characteristics of the human lip. I encourage anyone who is interested/curious to experiment with this concept, and share your discoveries and results here on the forum.
I have had significant improvement using a product by Smooth-on called Ecoflex 0030. I have been cutting slices from samples of cured product that I requested and received in short order from the company (they seem to have their tech support and customer service in great working order). I also ordered a sample pack of dragon skin and Ecoflex 0030 from them. I cast the dragon skin into sheets, and predictably, the rubber was full of air bubbles that render the material useless. So I requested and received more samples for my experimentation. Casting your own material requires a de-gassing vacume machine, running from the hundreds to thousands of dollars, so that's not an option for now. Mold makers charge more than I can comfortably afford right now, too.
Interestingly, the disc-shaped samples Smooth-on provided have a thicker ridge running around the outside perimiter, and cutting a synthetic lip which incorporates this part of the sample material provides a more effective shape. I hope to post photos at some point...
I have tabled the synthetic lip project for now. My hopes for improved control with this device have not materialized. More specifically, I have found the synthetic lip to aid in more controlled attacks; however, there seems to be more muscle fatigue with the synthetic lip, which cancels out the initial benefit. Consistency of tone quality and projection have also been an issue. I havn't completely abandoned the concept, but it's time to get back to basics.
It has been fascinating to see how the reed and mouthpiece respond to a synthetic lip - lots of surprises (many of them good) along the way. For example, my embouchure difficulties/playing position etc. have always caused a stuffiness in the response of the reed/mouthpiece. With the proper synthetic lip configuration, the response has been quite open and free blowing. This was initially very encouraging to me. But the overall performance of the synthetic lip in conjunction with my particular embouchure has not justified my continuing with this experiment.
It's been a great learning experience...
It would be very interesting and informative to be able to measure the amount of pressure saxophone players exert on the mouthpiece with their lower lip/jaw. A survery/study of a wide cross section of players, from amateur to professional would provide the basis of a great doctoral thesis, considering how contentious this particular bit of pedagogical theory is.
Perhaps a scientific instrument could be devised/fabricated in the shape of a saxophone mouthpiece, that would allow players to simulate their embouchure to a degree sufficient to capture a reasonably accurate measurement.