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Discussion Starter #1
I am an electrical engineer who has specialized in audio signal processing for more than 30 years, as well as an avid sax player. One thing that strikes me as I attempt to upgrade my mouthpiece is how the field resorts to very vague and inprecise terms like "dark", "open", "edgy", etc. In a lot of ways it is similar to how people describe wine.
Of course it is not possible to be completely analytic about the sound of a mouthpiece, but it strikes me that manufacturers could offer up a standard set of measurements including (warning; techie nerd alert!);

1) The spectrum of a few selected steady notes at few different volume levels (low C, mid-C, mid-D, high-D, for example). This would show the harmonic series exactly. You might want to pick 3 representitive horns to show the interaction (Mark 6, Yamaha ...???).

2) The "attack" characteristic. This could be done using a so-called "energy-time-curve" that shows how quickly different frequencies appear after a note is tongued.

3) Some method of measuring the amount of air pressure required to achieve a certain sound-pressure level (again, with a few standardized horns).

There are many other factors that are necessarily subjective, for example how the shape of the mouthpiece fits in your mouth, but it would be great to at least start off with a set of standard measurments, so you could predict based on your current mouthpiece how a new mouthpiece would sound. This is especially important in an era where most of us try mouthpieces by mail-order; I'm getting tired of running to the post-office!
Maybe when I semi-retire in 10 years or so I'll take this on as a project. Naturally, I will have to ask all of you to send me your vintage moutpieces so they can be characterized. I"ll send them right back .... promise:)

Bob
 

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This is an intriguing question, and I am all for standardization. However I think it's a long shot that something that will come about soon. From my perspective it requires at least three areas of expertise before it would be something that I would rely upon. The first is yours (electrical engineering) to deal with the spectral analysis and other various considerations. The second is mine, (experimental psychology and auditory perception) to deal with the experimental design and capabilities of auditory perception given the varying degrees of expertise of listeners. I would also want a pro player on board. A good player can make any mouthpiece sound like any other. Might also be good to have a physical acoustician on board as well as a mouthpiece manufacturer or two. There are ISO standards for things more nebulous. I don't see why this couldn't be done.
 

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I have to agree..It would be nice if there was a starndard way to evaluate pieces, but it would really kill the business as well. Lets say otto link had all the most liked "Standard Attributes" there would be no need for another piece in most cases. I really get annoyed when people say a piece is warmer than another piece. Or more complex sound and amazing response.......those are all individual mouthpiece specific as well which doesnt help.
 

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I think it is a good idea, but I honestly don't see it happening anytime soon or being implemented in the proper way. Why? Because no matter how scientific you are with categorizing something, everyone perceives the world differently. In this case, we are discussing tone qualities and response in mouthpieces. Of course there is the generalization among players (I mean most people call the Otto Link NY a DARK mpc). But individually we each have our own ideas on what dark and bright is. This will never change and is probably a good thing in the long run because it adds some individuality to each sound, yet at the same time makes finding the right mouthpiece a little more difficult. But that's the price we pay. And then there are even more factors such as handmade pieces being a variables with their own character, etc...

If you're still wanting to do it later on, more power to you. I just don't see this going anywhere for the general populous of the saxophone community.
 

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I can tell you why it can't be done. It's a completely subjective subject. Player 'A' will hate my mouthpiece and I will hate his, but we both will still be recognized by others familiar with our sound/style when we play each others' mouthpiece. You will sound different on any mouthpiece new to you, generally thinner/brighter, but if you keep playing it your sound will more or less return within about a month. This happens because playing is a feedback system where we constantly compare the sounds we're making to the sounds 'in our head'. When the actual sound doesn't match the ideal, we subconciously make adjustments. This is compounded by the fact that the sound in our head also is in a constant state of flux, which explains the constant and perpetual mouthpiece hunt.
Sooner or later we'll be playing great and swearing by this great new 'piece'.

A mouthpiece would have to be catastrophically different for a player not to be able to use it at all, assuming good mechanical condition. A dramatic difference in tip opening and/or facing curve and length are the most apparent major differences. The so-called 'baffle' and 'throat' designs are secondary.

My point is if you analyze me playing a new mouthpiece, then repeat the anaysis a month later, you will get very different results because I will have adapted to the mouthpiece.

Stan Getz once said that he tried to completely remove the reed from his sound. I actually understand this along with many others, notwithstanding the fact that the reed is the only thing making a sound when you play the sax (not counting growls, etc.). How did he manage to get close to his 'head sound'? He did it with reeds, as in combining what I would term 'hard and stuffy' reeds with 'dark' mouthpieces. If I were to play his set-up, I could make it work for me with a reed change to a softer, 'buzzier' reed. These facts I believe make a proposed study of the aural characteristics of different sax mouthpices invalid, because any number of different players using different reeds on the same mouthpiece will produce basically infinite variations of playing characteristics.
 

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The fact that you can identify some of the variables (e.g., reed stiffness, player accommodation) means that the problem is tractable. As I mentioned, there are ISO standards for things much more nebulous that mouthpiece sound. There are standards for the attenuation provided by foam insert earplugs, even though we all have radically different shaped ear canals. There are standards for measuring the characteristics of various headphones. The key to standard measurement techniques is not that you get your measure perfect, but that you get it consistent and describe it well.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Yes, that's exactly what I'm talking about!
I would argue that the particular resonances and harmonic spectra produced by a particular mouthpiece do have a big influence on the sound, and your ability to alter that basic tonal quality is somewhat limited (or maybe I'm just not a good enough player to do this!). On the other hand, reed selection is something that may be difficult to deal with, since normally when you live with a new mouthpiece for a while you end up altering the reed strength or reed manufacturer, which defintely will alter the spectrum significantly.
I wonder how much science is applied to the actual design of mouthpieces. For example, in the area of architectural acoustics, there are many programs that allow you to enter the details of a proposed concert hall that has yet to be built, and then simulate the sound of that hall with a virtual listener positioned in a particulat seat. It would be very cool if you could simulate the sound of a proposed mouthpiece before it is even built. Synthesizers that are built on the so-called "physical modelling" principle actually do model a reed with enough accuracy that such synthesizers can be made to "squeak" if overblown, just like a real instrument.

Some of this reminds me a bit of the French/American wine wars. The French insisted that wine-making was an art, and not in the domain of science. Then the Californians came along and decided to apply scientific analysis to the problem, and have done pretty well ....

The only difference is that the volume of mouthpieces sold is so tiny that it doesn't warrant a very big investment in sophisticated software analysis and design tools.
 

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There are some things that are just variable that affect our perception of how it sounds.

Like, as we all get older we tend to lose the top end of our hearing over 10khz, so age plays a part in how we hear things and then there is personal tone taste and then there is the player contributing to the harmonic content and also the mouthpiece design contributing to the harmonic content as well.

This link is about the different harmonic content produced by various mouthpiece designs.

The smaller chamber mouthpieces have higher harmonics that have more strength and so do the mouthpieces with a baffle, so the smaller chamber/baffle mouthpieces sound brighter and are easier to play Altissimo notes on because the higher harmonics or overtones exist in a stronger way so it's easier to slide up to one of these stronger overtones to then produce an Altissimo note from.

It's also easier to produce unwanted squeaks on a smaller chamber/baffle mouthpiece like a Dukoff because the squeaks are just higher harmonics and the higher harmonics exist in a stronger way with a mouthpiece like a Dukoff so it becomes easier for squeaks to be produced and the squeaks can be controlled to a large extent by technique and reed selection etc.

Different sized tip openings don't seem to produce that much change in the harmonic strength content and a Meyer 5M and a Meyer 6M mainly produce similar harmonic content and therefore timbre or tone.

http://www.goshen.edu/physics/2010/10/

















 

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...I wonder how much science is applied to the actual design of mouthpieces...
Little to none. I have never seen any evidence that anything besides trial and error is used. It appears to be the most efficient way to develop a mouthpiece.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Thanks for these links, looks like there has been some work done that is pretty interesting.
I was thinking yesterday it would be cool to have an Iphone or Android app where you play a few notes into the built-in microphone, it analyzes the spectrum, asks you some questions about your setup, and then mails this off to a database. Then it could check the database and come back with, "your sound most closely matches the following setups", whereupon you would get a list of the setups that had a sound closest to your own. It could even analyze the attack characteristic of the initial note onset.
Of course this is unlikely to occur since the word-wide audience of such an app is probably < 1000.
 

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That's another major contributing factor to the tone, the attack.

How the note is initially put into motion influences how the harmonics pan out in the tone.

I think the attack of a note is big factor in what makes players sound different on basically identical setups.

Players can vary their attack from note to note and use it for rhythmic effect.

It all gets pretty complex pretty quick but it also shows that players can find their own thing because of the complexity of it all, how all the harmonics line up from note to note with the player influencing the harmonics and the equipment influencing the harmonics as well.

A player can simulate a Dukoff baffle sound using a mouthpiece with no baffle by altering their technique, it won't be exact and it might not be that comfortable but it can be in the ballpark.
 

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Thanks for this fascinating thread. Now I'll throw another idea into the mix. According to Arthur Benade, those frequencies that are above "cutoff" (approximately F3- F#3 on the alto saxophone) do not participate in the "regime of osciallation" of the standing wave and go straight out the bell. As such, he refers to these frequencies as a "drain on the system". In other words they draw energy rather than add energy to the overall sound produced.

In my thinking this may be exactly the reason that some bright edgy mouthpieces, although producing a cutting sound up close, lack presence, intensity, and a core to the sound as one listens from farther back in the hall.
 

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Ed Pillinger has done some advanced research into mouthpiece acoustics which he did as part of a (PHD?) degree prior to going into mouthpiece production. I know he did some experiments where he set up some kind of artificial embouchure and then measured results from different m/p's under identical conditions, so he probably has done much of what the OP suggests.

But the problem with describing mouthpiece sounds is surely that the player plays such a big role. I'm quite sure that if I played my usual mouthpiece and then a player with a very different sound concept played it, the result would be so different that on a blind listening test nobody would believe that it was the same mouthpiece, making any description of the sound of the mouthpiece almost impossible.
 

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You are right about the tremendous variation between players. However, if you are the player on the great mouthpiece quest, the one thing that remains constant (more or less) in the quest is you. So, some kind of standard by which one could make broad generalizations that distinguish among pieces might in fact be useful.
 

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That's another major contributing factor to the tone, the attack.

How the note is initially put into motion influences how the harmonics pan out in the tone.

I think the attack of a note is big factor in what makes players sound different on basically identical setups.

Players can vary their attack from note to note and use it for rhythmic effect.

It all gets pretty complex pretty quick but it also shows that players can find their own thing because of the complexity of it all, how all the harmonics line up from note to note with the player influencing the harmonics and the equipment influencing the harmonics as well.

A player can simulate a Dukoff baffle sound using a mouthpiece with no baffle by altering their technique, it won't be exact and it might not be that comfortable but it can be in the ballpark.
The attack is probably 85% of what gives any note it's distinguishing characteristics, so how the mouthpiece responds when starting a note will be of utmost importance, for every basic articulation, at every dynamic level, and in every register. To make any sense out of what is going on we need to understand how the tone (the harmonic regime) is being formed - in what manner and in how many cycles it takes for each of the air column resonances and the reed to successfully negotiate a stable regime (a stable tone), e.g., What makes a great Link tenor piece is all the cool stuff you can do with the sound before the actual tone stabilizes. You can actually play the resonance negotiation, manipulating how it happens and how long it takes........and then the actual tone starts....
 

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It's not how it sounds, it's how it plays.
Huh?

Readers of this thread might be interested in the following links:

Hasbrook Thesis

Reverse Engineering
I agree with mp here. I pretty much sound the same on any piece I play--eventually. This is because I play towards a sound in my head. The easier the mouthpiece helps to produce that sound, the 'better' I perceive the mouthpiece to be.

After that, a the 'spectrum' from a mouthpiece and the description is moot.

I agree that the attack transient is the most important part of the sound. There have been experiments done where they cut off the attack transient, and listeners had trouble identifying the instrument. I tried it once, and could not tell the difference between an oboe and a piano.
 

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I get your point Hakukani, but the language used in that statement is still hopelessly vague to me. I have a very high baffle Northway jazz alto mouthpiece and my favorite Rousseau 4R in my drawer right now. They both play extremely well. They are freeblowing and responsive in all registers and are reed friendly for the most part, but the sound each mouthpiece produces is incredibly different. I would no more play lead alto in a big band on the Rousseau than perform the Galzounov on the Northway. This I know is an extreme example, but it is why vague generalizations like "Its not how it sounds, its how it plays" don't work for me.
 
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