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Why are mouthpieces so expensive?

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56
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Isle of Skye
After all, they are just a piece of plastic or metal or rubber or whatever whith a hole through. Fair enough they have to be machined and the profile worked out to get the sound. But at the end of the day there is nothing to them. I have worked machine tools and something like that would take a few minutes to make and could be churned out in their hundreds every day. A sax on the other hand takes far longer and has many more man hours to manufacture and uses more fuels in the manufacture. I have seen mouthpieces for hundreds of pounds on sale. Compare these to the pure mechanical marvel that a saxophone is and the workmanship and time spent making the sax and there is no comparison but at the lower end (i.e. bauhaus walstein etc) there isn't much difference in price, how can that be justified? I hear people talking about how the mouthpiece is the most important bit but there is no way I could ever spend money that took me days to earn on something that takes minutes to make. I think someone is seriously extracting the urine with these prices.:shocked::confused:
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
If you were closer, I'd invite you to drop in and examine and have a blow on my RPC. Literally only the external surfaces of that mouthpiece does not have handwork on it, the inside is all handwork.
Ron's blanks are partially machined and then left to rest. He then starts to work with hand tools in an attempt to provide his clients with the sound they want. Every slight change is play tested and in my case, six months later, it arrives. If it went wrong, the item is tossed aside but who compensates him for the capital and labour costs? We do when we purchase one of his mouthpieces, fair in my estimation to gain from all his experience.
The PPT in Onyxite goes through a similar process although Pete and Ed offer a range of mouthpieces, not individually tailored but the material polishes up so well that the hand work is not so obvious as on standard black vulcanised rubber.
Even if it means bread and water for a few weeks, considering the mental and physical input, well worth it. Remember we are not discussing standard plastic castings like the Yamaha recommended to beginners.
 
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jonf

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Betelgeuse
Morgan Fry, are you out there?>:)

Well, I've given this a bit of thought, as you might imagine for a bloke who's had over 30 tenor pieces over the last 27 years. Starting at the bottom:


  • Bog basic but functional such as Rico Graftonite. I reckon the manufacturing component in the eighteen quid or so cost is virtually nothing. Simple, precise injection moulding of plastic. Most of the cost goes in transportation, packagin, a bit of advertising and a small amount of dealer surplus. Oh, and a bit for profit for the manufacturer to repay the initial design investment. Oh, and from my rudimentary understanding of acoustices, the design is quite a bit more complex than just a block of plastic with a hole in it.
    Moving up to something like a standard Otto Link. A bit more design cost and a bit more advertising. As you get up the price scale, a bit more dealer profit too. It's a different material, ebonite, which does not mould well, so it's machined, probably pretty crudely. Then gets a rudimentary finish, which makes it playable, although in many cases probably not as good as the Rice. Still, you're buying into the jazz heritage, so that's OK;}

  • As you go up the quality ladder, you get more and more hand finishing, which takes time and therefore costs money. Really good manufacturers then actually play the things, making necessary adjustments. A tiny amount off can make a drastic difference. I once owned a wrecked Selmer Soloist which I think someone had skimmed with a power plane (it's OK, it only cost me a quid), and it is unbelievable what the removal of half a mill of ebonite can do to the sound.

  • Metal, plated, stainless steel and other fancy materials. Working all these takes time. I think the materials cost will be pretty negligible, it's time that's money. That's why they cost more.

  • Ultra expensive? Well, you certainly get into the problem of the law of diminishing marginal returns, and I don't know that I'd ever want to spend £500+ on a mouthpiece. I suspect at that level there's a bit of marketing hokum going on. Just my opinion.

  • Ultra-expensive vintage 'classics'? Slant sig Otto for £500 anyone? That's just market forces for you. The price of these things is the price some sucker, sorry, discerning expert, is willing to pay.

On top of the costs of all these are the overheads affecting everyone. Employer's liability insurance, various taxes, rent and rates on premises, loans for capital kit, staff salaries, etc etc. It all adds up. I think some mouthpieces are better value than others, and paradoxically, I reckon the pricier ones are often better value than the mid cost ones. I have an RPC handmade tenor, which new would be about $275, which I think is fair enough for the level of hand finishing. Personally I've never minded paying a premium for the handiwork of a true craftsman. I'd say the same about my Lawton. I also think modern cheap plastic mouthpieces can be ace. Mid cost mass manufactured stuff like Otto Links and Berg Larsens can be very fine if you get a good one, but they're a bit variable and can be the worst value of all.

All just my opinion, of course.

Jon
 

AdamBradley

Member
Messages
134
Not sure you've thought it through fully. The inside dimensions have to be extremely precise, many are exquisitely made and the entire design is 'instrumental' in how your sax sounds.

I had a go on a handmade Morgan, it did not take 2 min to make. The ones churned out by the thousands are priced accordingly.

Out of interest, with your experience using tools et al, why not have a go at making one? I'd be very insterested to know how you get on :)
 

Moz

Senior Member
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841
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North of Liskeard, Cornwall
I hear people talking about how the mouthpiece is the most important bit but there is no way I could ever spend money that took me days to earn on something that takes minutes to make. I think someone is seriously extracting the urine with these prices.:shocked::confused:
I'm with you. Car engines are churned out in their thousands after the initial development. There is no tweaking, no scraping off of micrometers of metal, no polishing that hasn't already been done by machine. You supply it with oil and petrol and it goes, usually for tens of thousands of miles and in diesel engines, hundreds of thousands. The sax mouthpiece is a thousandth of the amount of metal that goes in to an engine so we are not looking at material price here. OK, there is going to be some faffing about getting the design right so it sounds like a saxophone (the mouth piece not the engine, that would be silly), but once you've done it once everything else is just clear profit. Let's say I have the first Otto Link Super Orgasm Mistress Borrocks Whatever mouthpiece, it cost £100-odd quid and is very nice but no-one can tell me that every subsequent OLSOMBW mouthpiece comes anywhere near £100 to make. As Copstole..etc says, it's a bit of metal and really, not much much metal at all. There's definitely dodgy money being made here. I have my mpc, it is made of metal. Theft or loss aside, I will never, ever need another mpc for my tenor as any miniscule changes to tone that occur with a change of sax can easily be compensated for by an equally miniscule change in embouchure. Mouthpiece (and crook) sales are based on reputation alone -- look at Harley Davison motorcycles, pieces of crap the lot of them based on 1920's technology but people pay small fortunes for them because they are what they are -- it's a Harley.

I have to stop now as I have more analogies than I can shake a stick at.

Buy a mouthpiece, buy a metal one (can't cause them damage so never need replacing) and never, ever buy another one. If everyone did this prices would fall big time. Manufacturers of anything aim their products at the 'All the Gear, No Idea' folk in this world. Don't get caught by the bug!

Martin
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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Just north of Munich
I also tend to the view that mouthpieces are overpriced. I can understand big names charging a lot for one-off's, but does every mouthpiece need to be hand made? I don't (intellectually) have a problem paying the price of a PT or similar good quality hand finished mouthpiece. Look at the reputation RPCs have, for instance. I don't object to makers charging a fair price, especially for customised or one offs.

But there's no way I personally am in the market for $500+ items. Especially if it's just another piece of make jewelry, along with the expensive camera, gold chain.... Bragging rights.

We have a couple of mouthpiece makers posting here. Would be great to get their views.

Perhaps we don't have the volumes for mass production, and if we did a lot of guys would be complaining about the lack of choice. But I'm a strong believer in let the market decide. But don't expect me to follow fashion.
 

Chris98

Senior Member
Messages
1,076
I was talking to a friend of mine over coffee who's a photography lecturer. He was telling me about a student of his who had dismissed some of her final project photographic work because she'd 'quickly' taken it. He had to point out that it had in fact taken her three years of study and whatever she'd done before to enable her to 'quickly' take those high quality photo's! They had a value that was beyond the time it took her to take them.

I think the value of things is skewed these days and that the price is often not a true representation of the work, skill and dedication that goes into some of the things we choose to buy and vice-versa sometimes.

Best wishes,

Chris
 

jonf

Well-Known Member
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3,612
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Betelgeuse
I still don't think that there is huge excess profits in sax mouthpieces. If there were, everyone would make them, there would then be a huge oversupply and the excess of supply over demand would drive down prices. Simple economics. If it was so simple, every machine shop in China would be churning out beautiful mouthpieces for a tenner and they'd win the market. If there was such an opportunity I don't see Chinese entrepreneurs passing it up in favour of toiling away to make complex instruments like saxes.

I also don't really think it's right to say that changing mouthpieces makes a miniscule difference to tone. The difference in tone between me playing an RPC and an Otto Link Tone Edge is vast, far greater than the difference in me swapping saxes.

I am 100% in agreement with Moz's point about Harleys, though.

Jon
 

Pete Thomas

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If it was so simple, every machine shop in China would be churning out beautiful mouthpieces for a tenner and
Well, you can get some very good Chinese mouthpieces for that sort of price. Well, it's more than that once there is a distributer/retailer markup. You can also get very good yamaha mouthpieces very cheaply.

I think the words "churning out" are the important factor here. Everyone has the right to choose what mouthpiece to buy, and if you are happy with one of those then you don't need to spend any more on something that is either hand made or machine made but in smaller quantities, which inevitably cost more.

I agree that it's very unlikely that one of the $500+ mouthpieces is worth the money apart from the status or bling value, but that is just an opinion that might change if I was to find one that was better than anything cheaper. So far I haven't. In fact the most expensive mouthpiece I've tried was a wooden one, which had a dirty great crack down the middle.

But I also say something similar about ligatures - I would change my mind once I found a really expensive one that had something to trump a cheaper one.



I do know that the mouthpieces that really are the best for me are RPC and of course the ones I developed PPT. I don't think either of these could be churned out in large numbers.

I can tell you how it works for my mouthpieces:

PPTs are moulded resin. When they come out of the mould they do not have accurate facings, they are basically blanks that then need hand finishing and play testing. I don't know the exact figures regarding the time each one takes, but I can tell from the cost to me that Ed cannot be earning as much from his work on these as a plumber or accountant!

I then obviously need to sell them at a profit (all of which goes to charity), so I add a markup which I believe is typically a bit less than many retail markups.
 

half diminished

Senior Member
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1,361
Location
Buckinghamshire
Firstly I think you shouldn't confuse value with cost and certainly not where 'brands' or especially 'luxury brands' are concerned and that applies to saxophones, sax kit and the like just as much as in other areas of retail. Ducati, Leica, Rolex, Selmer Paris, Dom Pérignon, Ray-Ban - I could go on. Perceived value is difficult to quantify unless it's your own.

So if people aspire to a product be it a Ducati 1098R or a Theo Wane mouthpiece or a Selmer MK VI then it will command a premium irrespective of workmanship, cost manufacture etc and even though there may be better lower cost alternatives. I am confident however that specialist mouthpiece makers do so at a profit or they wouldn't bother. Is hand finished always best?

I don't know the answer to that. With modern CAD/CAM computer guided design/manufacture it should be possible to build a perfect (or an near perfect) mouthpiece time after time after time. This kit though is very expensive. Where I can see hand finishing is ideal is if a player wants a special sound/characteristic from a mouthpiece which could be achieved by a skilled technician.

Don't forget that shops like sax.co.uk need to stock a large number of items just so you'll buy one which is why the mark-up on saxes and mouthpieces can be 100s of %. Jewellery is the same. How many rings, necklaces, earrings etc are in a shop just so you can buy one? A mate who was a buyer for a jewellery chain had a Rolex he had bought at trade for less than £500 - retail was over £5k!

And then of course there's the law of diminishing returns so you pay a lot more for very little extra. Then there's the need to be different, or the need to buy something endorsed by someone famous…… it all adds to the cost.

These days I look at cost in terms of value. So are saxes and mouthpieces overpriced, maybe but we still buy em!
 
OP
C
Messages
56
Location
Isle of Skye
I get the impression that most or many sax players are hobby players rather than gigging working musicians but I could be wrong. From past experience I find that anything regarded as a hobby usually attracts huge prices, ie photography, fishing, etc. For some reason the manufacturers of these "hobby" articles feel the need to inflate their prices. The argument that there is a lot of work going into a mouthpiece doesn't really work for me. There are far more man hours in a Sax than a mouthpiece. I would agree however that everyone is entitled to buy the mouthpiece of their choice and be happy with the price and quality, but for us less well off "hobbyists" the thought that we are missing out on a really good mouthpiece and consequently great tone because of the price, is annoying. Personally I think £25 is too much for a mouthpiece because I am on a low wage and £25 is a lot to me. I am just very happy that someone produced the excellent Bauhaus Walstein tennor for such a good price compared to a Yamaha or Yanigasawa or I would never have afforded one. I think I WILL have a go at making my own, you never know, it might be great.
 

half diminished

Senior Member
Messages
1,361
Location
Buckinghamshire
I get the impression that most or many sax players are hobby players rather than gigging working musicians but I could be wrong. From past experience I find that anything regarded as a hobby usually attracts huge prices, ie photography, fishing, etc. For some reason the manufacturers of these "hobby" articles feel the need to inflate their prices. The argument that there is a lot of work going into a mouthpiece doesn't really work for me. There are far more man hours in a Sax than a mouthpiece. I would agree however that everyone is entitled to buy the mouthpiece of their choice and be happy with the price and quality, but for us less well off "hobbyists" the thought that we are missing out on a really good mouthpiece and consequently great tone because of the price, is annoying. Personally I think £25 is too much for a mouthpiece because I am on a low wage and £25 is a lot to me. I am just very happy that someone produced the excellent Bauhaus Walstein tennor for such a good price compared to a Yamaha or Yanigasawa or I would never have afforded one. I think I WILL have a go at making my own, you never know, it might be great.
Not sure I fully agree with you here. For example, I play the same sax that my hero Andy Sheppard plays, the main difference being he probably got his for a small cost or even free where as I paid full price. There are some very good low cost horns out there that play just as well as mine does.

Again with photography, a Nikon D3S or D3X (or Canon EOS I DS IV) are pro cameras and very highly priced compared to the D700, D300s or EOS 5D. So amateurs can spend 10 to 20% or what a pro might spend to achieve pretty much the same. Then there's Hasselblad, Mamiya and Leica (S2) - all of whom sell even higher priced gear again to professional. So pros make the market but a few amateurs will also buy this kit.

Where the 'hobby' price hike kicks in is with accessories - where a breathable waterproof jacket might cost £50 but call it a Mountain Biking All Terrain Jacket and its £100 or a bottle brush at £1.50 become a £5 sax mouthpiece cleaner or a sleeveless 'vest' with a few pockets at £35 become a photographer's vest at £125.

I don't know who has inflated Selmer Mk VI prices, pros, amateurs, collectors - probably all 3. And then there's luxury brands like Leica or rare items that command a premium and here I think it is mostly amateurs who hike the price. Not many wedding photographers will shell out £5k for a Leica M9 and £2k plus per lens in favour of a Nikon or Canon kit which offers much more for the same or most likely even less. Amateurs will though.
 

TomMapfumo

Well-Known Member
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5,232
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Skabertawe, South Wales
Its just such a contrast to Trombone mouthpieces - silver plated custom built, using very high precision tools costing thousands of pounds you still rarely need to pay more than £60, and many pros play ones which cost around £35. Simples :w00t:!

I am sure lots of work can go into sax mouthpieces but how you tell the difference in a gig is beyond me - though Charles Lloyd with his Phil Barone Jazz is recognisable, but does require prior knowledge.

I can tell between bright and dark, smooth and rough and those sought of contrasts when listening to a sax being played, though do enjoy the personal satisfaction of choosing my own specific pieces.

Kind regards
Tom:cool:
 

jonf

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3,612
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Betelgeuse
. I think I WILL have a go at making my own, you never know, it might be great.
I did once meet a guy at a party who was a sax player by interest and a precision engineer by profession. He decided to try to make his own mouthpiece out of a billet of solid stainless. Designed and made it on the CAD/CAM kit at his work during his lunchtimes, having spent ages and ages researching existing mouthpieces. After all this effort, guess what? It was absolutely........................


brilliant. Or so he claimed. Obviously if he'd costed his time, it would have cost a fortune, and if he's factored in the cost of a CNC lathe/mill for a production run of one the cost would have been hundreds of thousands, but he had access to the kit and the steel, so it cost him nothing.
 
OP
C
Messages
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Location
Isle of Skye
QUOTE=jonf;20621] Obviously if he'd costed his time, it would have cost a fortune, and if he's factored in the cost of a CNC lathe/mill for a production run of one the cost would have been hundreds of thousands, but he had access to the kit and the steel, so it cost him nothing.[/QUOTE]

This would obviously come under the "Bespoke" heading and I agree would cost a lot but then you would expect it for a one off. Looking at this I have got the "quote" system wrong. First time I've tried it. Bah!
 
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kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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Obviously if he'd costed his time, it would have cost a fortune, and if he's factored in the cost of a CNC lathe/mill for a production run of one the cost would have been hundreds of thousands, but he had access to the kit and the steel, so it cost him nothing.
This would obviously come under the "Bespoke" heading and I agree would cost a lot but then you would expect it for a one off. Looking at this I have got the "quote" system wrong. First time I've tried it. Bah!
Just watch the square brackets, they often get caught in the select and deleted when you didn't want it to happen.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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With care, you can pick up mouthpiece bargains on ebay, but don't be in a rush.

If the yamaha's aren't working for you, try a rico royal graftonite. Three tip openings to choose from (3, 5, 7) 7 being the biggest. And three chamber sizes, A, B, C, where A is the biggest. I think you'll find a B7 is a pretty good blow, and far better than the price would lead you to believe. Or ask Jonf about one of his metallites...
 

Moz

Senior Member
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841
Location
North of Liskeard, Cornwall
Since we're on mouthpieces in this thread and we've got everyone's attention...

My teacher also plays clarinet (amongst a myriad of other instruments) that has a glass mouthpiece. Anyone heard of glass mouthpieces for saxophone?

My summary on the mpc debate: Mass-produced mouthpieces from reputable manufacturers are over-priced, custom/bespoke ones are probably not.

Regards

Martin
 

Andante cantabile

Senior Member
Messages
695
I don’t know enough about the production and sale of mouthpieces to be able to give a valid opinion on whether they are expensive or not. But I have some thoughts on why they might be at their current price levels.

Expensiveness is a relative concept. Someone buying a $10,000 instrument might consider it essential to expend a sizeable sum to realize the potential of the instrument and not consider it unusual. OTOH, on a $600 instrument a Yamaha 4C at about $45 may well be adequate. We are clearly talking about different players, but all of them demand a high-quality product within their price range. I have no doubt that some beginners and improvers spend more on their mouthpieces than their playing level warrants, but if it motivates them to do their daily practice, it is money well spent.

Where I live mouthpieces tend to cost between about $170 and $450. Yamaha Cs are much cheaper, and some are more expensive. (By the way, few of them are in stock). Lots of brands are available, some of them no doubt owned by the same firm. That still leaves room for competition .I think we can immediately eliminate collusion between producers or sellers as a factor in the pricing. In a market of many buyers and many sellers excessive profits tend to be competed away.

I have no real feel for the size of the market for mouthpieces. After all, they last a long time with good care. A fair part of the market would be dominated by Yamaha, Van Doren and one or two others. All of these are able to achieve productivity gains based on throughput. I suspect this is not the case for many small producers. Their prices may well reflect real production and distribution costs. The variety of their production, however small, finds an appreciative market. One might even postulate that some of the larger producers are able to benefit from the floor price required to maintain the viability of the smaller ones. In other words, choice sometimes entails a cost.

IMO one should also look at what the barriers to entry might be. I don’t think availability of investment funds would be hugely limiting factor. Rather, in some cases it is that musicians are on the whole a conservative lot when it comes to gear. Just look at the discussions on SOTW concerning the relative merits of long-in-the-tooth Selmers and modern instruments from Japan, Taiwan and China. It must be hard in the field of music to make a success of new ideas, and that will ultimately also be reflected in the cost.

So, I don’t rejoice in the cost of mouthpieces, but I see good reasons for their price levels. What I am less sure about is the pricing for ligatures and mouthpiece caps.
 
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