Paul R. Coats
young saxophonist usually purchases a new mouthpiece during his junior high
or high school years, either because of damage to his "stock" mouthpiece or
the desire for an improved tone. He will usually be advised to buy a
particular brand and size (Selmer C*, etc.) or, more vaguely, a "medium
size" facing. Even worse, he may be told to buy a size number without being
aware there are no standard size numbers. Facing sizes are numbered, or
lettered, differently by each manufacturer, a #4 in one brand may be the
same size as a #3 or letter size in another brand. Also, a facing that is
considered "medium" for jazz or rock is "open" for concert band or
general, classical and concert band mouthpieces have large, round chambers
which produce a tone quality rich in fundamental and low overtones. These
mouthpieces are usually played with moderate tip openings (the gap between
the tip of the reed and tip of the mouthpiece) and reeds in the #3 to #3 1/2
type mouthpieces generally have smaller, more square chambers, which
encourage production of higher overtones. 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
softer reeds (#2 to #2 1/2).
tip openings require hard reeds to keep from choking up at loud volumes,
have less flexibility in pitch, and have a cold, hard tone. Larger tip
openings allow more flexibility in pitch, which is great for jazz, but may
cause problems for young players. Large tip openings require softer reeds,
and may cause embouchure fatigue.
chamber and material of the mouthpiece have a greater effect on tone quality
than the tip opening. Changing only the tip opening will cause a subtle
change in tone quality in that softer reeds are used, which vibrate with
more rich overtones.
a common misconception that metal mouthpieces are only for jazz, and that
hard rubber (or plastic) mouthpieces are for concert playing. This idea has
probably come about from the number of jazz saxophonists, usually tenor
players, who use metal mouthpieces. Hard rubber or plastic mouthpieces
vibrate and add overtones to the sound. Metal mouthpieces damp vibration.
The old big band tenor men wanted a smooth, warm tone, not a bright edgy
rock and roll tone as is common now. The most common metal mouthpiece used
by them was the Otto Link metal, which has a large round chamber, and
produces a dark, "hollow" tone. The Selmer (Paris) metal mouthpiece is a
very fine classical type mouthpiece and is used by Dr. Frederick Hemke and
many other fine artists.
Another quality of metal (and plastic/synthetic) mouthpieces is durability.
Hard rubber is a poor material for mouthpieces even though it is easy to
tool and to set into vibration when played. Hard rubber breaks easily when
bumped, warps over time or from heat (even from sunlight), and wears on the
tip and side rails from reed vibration. Crystal holds the facing well, but
is easily chipped if bumped. Wood cracks easily and warps from the effects
of moisture and temperature. For these reasons wood and crystal are not
suitable materials for saxophone mouthpieces.