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Mouthpieces Why is it so difficult to find the perfect mouthpiece/reed combo?

MarkSax

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This is specially a beginners' problem which lasts too long IMO.
Let's start with alto. I tried or bought S80s and S90s, Meyer 6M and 7J, Rousseau and Vandorens which all sounded good in the shop but never worked with my reeds or my The Martin Committee 3. The S80 C* sounded bland with my Rico or Vandoren 2 and I thought the low end didn't project. It was a real tin can and made me squeak a lot. The Meyers played in tune in the lower register but so way out sharp or flat in the upper register that I was always playing out of tune trying to correct my tone. After 5 years of trying to get an even sound I went back to my Yamaha 4C and would you believe, it played perfectly, in tune and in all registers! I wasted close to £800 on mouthpieces that now sleep in a cabinet when I had 'my' perfect mouthpiece all along, from my very first alto.
I was gifted an S90/180 because I told a friend I was looking for a dark jazzy mpc for my tenor ( A Comm2 and an SA80S2). I've never had worse. It made me squeal or sound really tinny or it just didn't want to play ball. The Meyer 8J I bought because it was on sale, tone wise Ok, but nowhere near the famed jazzy or dark tone that these Mpcs are reputed for. More time and I got a Link STM NY 7* which fit me perfectly and played like a dream on any reed I put on it. Another £800 or so spent on finding mpc and reed combination.
I would rather have spent the £1600 on lessons than on hardware.
So all this blah blah to ask one question: Is there a shortcut to finding that mpc/reed combo without spending a fortune on various Mpcs (at an average price of £150 each) and innumerable brands and varieties of reeds which retail between £3 to £5 each.
 
After 5 years of trying to get an even sound I went back to my Yamaha 4C and would you believe, it played perfectly, in tune and in all registers.
This very often happens, depending on the GAS of an individual and the hype of some mouthpiece sellers who go to great lengths to convince you its their piece you need, not all are like this but some are, and sometimes a mpc might not suit at a particular time only to find another few years practise and it comes into its own.
I have found that if you buy secondhand and it doesn't suit, you can the majority of time sell it for the same money.
Trying in the shop is not always the best way but is better than buying new without trying.
A few years ago I was in London for break away with Mrs Jazzdoh and I went to Howarths and tried a TW Kali metal alto, it sounded great but before I parted with the money I asked if I could have it on 7 days trial so came back home with 2 Kali's, once I played them for a couple of days at home and with my horns and reeds I realised they weren't for me, so sent them back special delivery, so didn't lose a great deal just the postage back.
 
You'll receive any kind of advice, but I can bring my (compulsive) experience

1) try to stick to one reed design or, even better, brand and model

Say that you felt comfortable on your first mouthpiece with Loureed Wildside Cut 2.5. Try other strengths, but do not to move to Velvet Cut, because it could change completely your approach to facings

2) if you feel that your current mouthpiece is unable to follow you you in the desired direction, start experimenting, narrowing your choice. For example I cannot play Soloist-like pieces or small tips on tenor, so I usually save time. All of them with some new Loureed Wildside Cut 2.5

3) when you find a mouthpiece that makes you fall in love, you can try different reeds, but I spent far more in reeds than in mouthpiece

4) once you have a satisfying combination, go back to point 2)
 
You need to first pinpoint the sound and color palate you are after. All those selmer pieces are geared for classical. Personally I think the s80 and 90 are the most boring mouthpieces on the planet. They were designed to make sax blend with an orchestra.
You also have to invest in well made gear with good tables and facings. Even if you like the sound of a piece but its not well made...you will go crazy finding reeds that work. A good mpc will work with most reeds and you will get more good reeds with minimal adjustment
But mostly the first point. There are just too many choices to do a shotgun search. You need to know what you are chasing. Then research and only buy if you can return.
That is a start IMHO
 
Hi,
I often here from students who own more than one horn and dozens of mouthpieces that they could play this piece better on a particular horn or MPC and that better on the other.
If that was true, it would be the wrong horn or MPC for the player IMHO.
People overestimate what a horn or MPC is doing.
It's only true if the MPC or horn plays you and not the other way round.

Cheers, Guenne
 
Sorry if this comes across as blunt. Mouthpieces, reeds, and saxophones don't play out of tune or with a poor tone---people do. I read posts from lots of people here and especially on SOTW who try to correct some deficiency in their playing or tone production by getting a new mouthpiece, brand of reed, or make of saxophone rather than by taking lessons or through focused and consistent practice. After many years of playing and teaching I have come to the conclusion that there are no "short cuts" and looking for them is a waste of time and money.
 
While we are all the same species and share certain physical characteristics, we are all made slightly different and life has affected us all in different ways. Each physiignomy is unique.

Having said that, finding the right set up is difficult for beginners because they underestimate how much practice time is needed to develop and maintain good chops.

Four hours a day for a decade will make most set ups comply with the players wishes to a greater or lesser extent.

There is a misconception that gear makes the player. Tuners and reed adjusting tools and reeds with a magical new cut and fancy expensive mouthpieces are a distraction.
The bottom line is that the player makes the gear sound good.

Gear often sounds better in a shop because of the enviroment. Perhaps better acoustics and a critical audience to pump up the adrenalin.
Players play better for an audience.
Next time you hear a great player don't envy the talent or ask about their set up. Acknowledge the time, effort and committment that's gone into the performance and emmulate.

In brief...practice makes perfect. ;)
 
A mpc is a part of the saxophone. To play a modern mouthpiece on a older horn can be tricky. The factory set-up on A Martin from the 50's was done after the mouthpices that were availble back then. We play with wider openings today. The chambers are also bigger. And mpc are also longer. But All this can be fixed.You can open uop the keyheigts, You can add a piece on the neck.

I have just played 3 brands on tenor the last 40 years. Berg Larsen, Dukoff and Rovner. All metal and with an ordinary beak (high, with a more open mouth I get a bigger and more mellow tone). But I change chambers (size, design,) facings, tip opening ... . Smaller openings and somtimes diffent chamber if I play with other in a hornsection.

I very open Dukoff with LD chamber was not good on a Martin because Martin saxes have smaller bore/taper and low key heights. But it was ok on a Keilwerth or a Conn Artist 10M.
 
It's hard to find the perfect MP and reed because it doesn't exist.

Learn how to play the equipment, not the other way round. You will find some equipment works better for you and what you want to do; use that stuff and not some other stuff. But it's all going to be better at some things in some ways and worse in others.

Learn how to play on an imperfect reed, too. Don't insist on the reed always being as perfect as possible. You can't make that happen anyway. If you save that "best" reed for the big gig, you're probably going to find when you get on the stand and slap it on, that the particular day's combination of humidity, temperature, and your own condition will make it not so perfect anyway. Usually when I do that, I end up changing away from that "great" reed I saved up, anyway.
 
Sorry if this comes across as blunt. Mouthpieces, reeds, and saxophones don't play out of tune or with a poor tone---people do.
I have a rather expensive Aizen tenor mouthpiece which was fine with my Yanagisawa saxophone, but which plays nastily out of tune for the top notes on my current saxophone (Yamaha YTS-62). I have other mouthpieces which play in tune on my current one (insofar as anything plays in tune). So I don't think this is just me - I believe that some mouthpieces suit some saxophones and others don't.

Similarly, my favourite mouthpiece for my Yamaha alto saxophone felt and sounded wrong when I switched to a Buffet-Crampon S1 alto.

It's the same with reed-mouthpiece combinations. My Lawton baritone mouthpiece plays well with La Voz reeds, whereas my Brilhart tenor mouthpiece seems to be better with Vandoren Red. The difference is subtle, but it exists. Of course I could use La Voz reeds on tenor, but why should I do so if I am happier playing Vandoren?

I think that buying a mouthpiece in a shop is hard - they always sound different back home.
So my method has been to buy second-hand mouthpieces to try, with the assumption that I can sell them without losing much money if I don't like them.
(The serious flaw in this plan is that I don't like selling them, so I tend to keep them.)
 
I have a rather expensive Aizen tenor mouthpiece which was fine with my Yanagisawa saxophone, but which plays nastily out of tune for the top notes on my current saxophone (Yamaha YTS-62). I have other mouthpieces which play in tune on my current one (insofar as anything plays in tune). So I don't think this is just me - I believe that some mouthpieces suit some saxophones and others don't.
Benade in "Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics" writes that for a saxophone to play its best, its "effective volume"* must be a close match to the "geometric" volume of the "missing cone". There is a relationship between the length of the instrument (mouthpiece placement) and the effective volume of the mouthpiece as it is being played that I don't yet fully understand. However I believe that when some mouthpieces are set in the best location for tuning that the effective volume is either smaller or larger than that of the missing cone. This, in turn, affects the conicity of the saxophone and we know that when the taper is too small, the octaves (and other harmonics) are going to be too wide, and when the taper is too great, the octaves are going to be too narrow.

Of course this is a great oversimplification, because the player's embouchure and voicing, the amount of mouthpiece in the mouth, the tip opening and lay of the mouthpiece, and the strength of the reed all play a role.

* The "effective volume" is the geometric volume past the neck in addition to the added volume of the reed travel and the player's oral cavity. Benade discovered a way to measure the "effective volume" and found it to be approximately 33% greater than the geometric volume of the mouthpiece. When I recreated Benade's method with a Rousseau 4R alto mouthpiece, I got a similar finding.
 
I have a rather expensive Aizen tenor mouthpiece which was fine with my Yanagisawa saxophone, but which plays nastily out of tune for the top notes on my current saxophone (Yamaha YTS-62). I have other mouthpieces which play in tune on my current one (insofar as anything plays in tune). So I don't think this is just me - I believe that some mouthpieces suit some saxophones and others don't.

Similarly, my favourite mouthpiece for my Yamaha alto saxophone felt and sounded wrong when I switched to a Buffet-Crampon S1 alto.

It's the same with reed-mouthpiece combinations. My Lawton baritone mouthpiece plays well with La Voz reeds, whereas my Brilhart tenor mouthpiece seems to be better with Vandoren Red. The difference is subtle, but it exists. Of course I could use La Voz reeds on tenor, but why should I do so if I am happier playing Vandoren?

I think that buying a mouthpiece in a shop is hard - they always sound different back home.
So my method has been to buy second-hand mouthpieces to try, with the assumption that I can sell them without losing much money if I don't like them.
(The serious flaw in this plan is that I don't like selling them, so I tend to keep them.)
The answer to your inconsistencies is in your above post, when any player has a new mouthpiece or horn it takes quite a few months to get the best out of it, yes we might know soon after buying the gear whether the mpc or horn is a keeper but it takes months of practise to feel with one with the setup, if you are consistently changing the setup you never get the best out of it, find something that works and grow old with it, know it inside and out, that for me is the way to go.
Many of the top pros play the same setup year after year.
Searching for holy grail gear is a fruitless task, it doesn't exist, its just sellers hype.
 
Hello,

Some additional thoughts (besides I tend to write how I'm hearing English - it should read "hear" not "here" in my previous post):
Some players are more, some less dependant on equipment. I'm frequently playing different horns and MPCs, and it doesn't take too much time for me to get used to gear (up to a certain level).
Some of my friends run into trouble if you change their Mark VIes to one with a different serial.

Horns and moutphieces can "invite" you to play in a certain way which can make a player think it's the way this or that gear plays. But in the end it's always the human's reaction to it.

Of course there are MPCs on the market which are simply bad. Take 5 new Links or Meyers and compare, maybe 2 or 3 of each brand are playable.

I can think of one thing I haven't changed the last 10 years, and that is the reed brand I'm playing :)

Cheers, Guenne
 
You will find some equipment works better for you and what you want to do; use that stuff and not some other stuff
That’s what I’m saying but it takes a lot of trial and error to get to the equipment that works for me and a lot of dough too. I’m with @nigeld on this, some work with you and some just don’t. It’s not always the player. I get great tone and sound with the 4C and the STM on my saxes, try as much as I may, never as good on the others. IMO the new Meyers are just badly made, especially the metal ones. Which is why I wish there was a simpler/ less expensive way of matching rig and player.
 
At one time I was on the search for the perfect set up too. I tried different mouthpieces, a couple of different horns. For the past two plus years, I have stuck with the exact same set up, while practicing with consistency and focus. I have made solid progress and I like my tone quite a bit. My intonation has improved dramatically, and I feel that I may actually become a pretty good player. It started when I left my gear alone and focused on fixing me. That's been my experience, just thought I would share.
 
When I have not been able to play the saxophone for some months I don't start over again with a # 10 tip opening and hard reeds. I play a mouthpiece (same brand and chamber) with smaller tip opening and softer reeds. If I start over again at the gym I can't do the same things, and use the same weights, as I used to do for a year ago.

I talked to a guy ( prof player and session player ) and he used to play once a week at a restaurant. He told he didn't play his ordinay live mpc (Dukoff 8* D chamber) when he played for people that are eating and having a good time talking to each other. He thought it would be rude to play loud and piercing. He used a smaller studio jazz mouthpiece same as he used in the the studio when he was hornlines.

I can change mouthpiece and reeds if I have a bad day. Between songs at a jam, between two sets.....

Why do saxophonists in general play the same set-ups over the years? Comfort? Money? ....
 
When I have not been able to play the saxophone for some months I don't start over again with a # 10 tip opening and hard reeds. I play a mouthpiece (same brand and chamber) with smaller tip opening and softer reeds. If I start over again at the gym I can't do the same things, and use the same weights, as I used to do for a year ago.

I talked to a guy ( prof player and session player ) and he used to play once a week at a restaurant. He told he didn't play his ordinay live mpc (Dukoff 8* D chamber) when he played for people that are eating and having a good time talking to each other. He thought it would be rude to play loud and piercing. He used a smaller studio jazz mouthpiece same as he used in the the studio when he was hornlines.

I can change mouthpiece and reeds if I have a bad day. Between songs at a jam, between two sets.....

Why do saxophonists in general play the same set-ups over the years? Comfort? Money? ....
I don't think its difficult for experienced players to change setups, I do it myself but I still come back to my trusted setup in the end, I do think for beginners and improving players its counter productive, my first 10 years of playing I spent on one mouthpiece, I think that most sax players will focus on what works for them and why change if its working.
I spoke to one pro player a number of years ago who played a Dukoff and he was wearing this mpc out, he had almost bitten through the bite plate and it filled him with dread that he had to find another piece.
I have after nearly 40 years of playing only found on couple of occasions where mouthpieces haven't worked on certain horns and on those occasions it has always been modern mouthpieces on vintage horns.
I think today we have a fantastic choice of gear but that is also the problem, so much hype, and if you insist on buying new then you can get through an awful amount of money very quickly.
 
I don't really have much to add to my previous recent post (opinion) on this topic.

One thing I may be able to add is;
  • if you're less than fully satisfied, first try changing/improving in low-tech things before investing in high- tech things
  • the lowest 'tech level is yourself; don't expect different/better 'tech' to shortcut any limitations that your playing development,kills might have
  • reeds are pretty low-level tech; so evaluating different brands/strengths for your current mpc and learning how to select and adjust reeds is a relatively 'low investment' approach to improvement.
  • as I stated in my previous recent post, my personal view is that unless you have a clear idea of how your current setup (given your current abilities) limits your development or current performances, you IMHO run into three (or more) challenges; 1) you don't (yet) know what you (specifically) want to improve ,2) you don't (yet) know how different/better 'tech' might help you improve, and 3) you don't yet know to select and evaluate alternative 'tech' solutions.
 
I went back to my Yamaha 4C and would you believe, it played perfectly, in tune and in all registers!
The 4C is a good mouthpiece, much better than the price would suggest. It should allow a player to play all over the horn - including harmonics - quite easily, as you have found yourself.

It won't suit all situations though, no mouthpiece will, but some are better at dipping a toe in more than one style or situation. Not many people are going to use a 4C or a SA80 C* for big band lead alto for instance or anything like that.

Similarly, as has been said a Dukoff D8 isn't going to make a small restaurant gig that easy. You might risk being punched by a few diners trying to enjoy the candlelit ambience only to find that a perforated eardrum isn't that romantic. If you can control the mouthpiece in that situation though, you are still working harder than needed.

Clarinettist Eddie Daniels said of his recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons that he realised that he wouldn't be able to play adequately more than 15 mins with his usual tip opening and why didn't he just play on a tip opening that he was having to bite to in order to be able to play with enough control.

It's probable that you'll find yourself wanting to go in the opposite direction than the above scenario but SA80 C* pieces and the like really do play easily. Still a terrific mouthpiece if you want to play West Coast like Desmond, but for much more it won't be the obvious choice.

Wider tips, stepped baffle, narrower rails, narrower mouthpiece all conspire to demand more from the embouchure, oral cavity etc

Here's my analogy: you pass your motorbike test and you get a 50cc moped or similar. Nice and easy to ride. You won't ever go that fast on it though and you'll not be getting your knee down in the corners so much. So you buy a 600cc sports bike. This will corner. Problem is, it will corner better the greater the speed and lean angle - until you go beyond the limit, or your own limit. The more skilled you become the better.

One of the hardest lessons for most of us players to learn is that whilst a certain mouthpiece sounds great on X and Y, it's not much good to you if it doesn't allow you to play well on pretty much A to Z.

So, my advice is: to make a great sound all over the horn the mouthpiece must allow you to first make the sound all over the horn.
 

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