As you develop as a saxophone player you will no doubt start to explore the seemingly never ending array of saxophone mouthpieces on offer. Choosing a mouthpiece can often seem like a dark art and can be very confusing. Here are a couple of quick pointers to hopefully help you on your quest for the perfect mouthpiece.
Why do I need to change my mouthpiece?
The saxophone mouthpiece is the first part in the chain of sound production in a saxophone. Of course the mouthpiece is where your air first enters the saxophone so the shape and qualities of the mouthpiece can have the greatest affect on the quality of the sound. As your playing develops and your embouchure get stronger you will start to have a clearer idea of how you would like your sax to sound. At this point it’s a good idea to start experimenting with different mouthpieces. Commonly a beginners saxophone will come with a standard non branded mouthpiece which is great for learning to play but may not have the refinement of a branded model.
Metal or Hard Rubber?
When choosing your “step up” mouthpiece the first choice you are faced with is what material it is made from. Fundamentally Metal mouthpieces make a more harsh, louder tone and are more suitable for louder playing. Often used for pop or funk / fusion playing, metal mouthpieces can be a great choice for a modern sound but may be unsuitable for classical playing. Hard rubber or plastic mouthpieces generally sound softer or “rounder” and are more suitable for classical or ensemble playing. Of course there are mouthpieces on both sides that break these rules. Some metal mouthpieces can be great “all rounder” mouthpieces that can be used for all settings, and equally some hard rubber mouthpieces can be great for playing louder, pop style gigs. Confused yet?
Come on, make it a bit easier for me to choose!
A great starting point when experimenting with mouthpieces is to try some of the time-proven popular mouthpiece models. A great match for a beginners saxophone is the Yamaha 4c mouthpiece (£25-£30). This is a great all-rounder mouthpiece that gives a solid clear tone and good projection. An alternative to this is the Selmer S80 C*(approx £100) which is favoured by more advanced classical players and has a more refined clear tone. For metal mouthpieces an Otto Link Tone Master size 6 (around £180) has been a favourite of many great players for 50 years or more. An alternative is the Yanagasawa metal mouthpiece (around £180) which are fantastic, and often more consistent in quality
Whoa, sounds expensive, do I really need to change?
The thing about finding the perfect mouthpiece is that it can be the one improvement you make to your saxophone that helps you to define your own individual sound. Remember that no two people on the same mouthpiece will sound exactly the same. Also, a quality mouthpiece properly looked after can last you a lifetime. Most important though when choosing a new mouthpiece is to TAKE YOUR TIME!. Don’t be afraid to have a proper play on a mouthpiece in the music store before making a decision. It always takes a few minutes of playing to get any idea of how a mouthpiece may suit you, and can take weeks for you to completely adjust to playing on it. So don’t rush, take your time.
If your beginners saxophone mouthpiece is reaching it’s limits then experimenting with new mouthpieces can be a frustrating, expensive and time consuming process but ultimately very rewarding. Finding your sound in a new mouthpiece is a major development for any saxophone player. Just be sure and learn to get the most out of your new favourite mouthpiece before rushing into upgrading it. Too often the search for a mouthpiece can get more attention that actually practicing. Good luck with your search and I hope you find the sound you are looking for!