Saturday, August 20, 2011

Tale of Four Mouthpieces

Disclaimer: I have been learning the saxophone about November 2010, and this post is in August 2011. As such, I'm reaally new to it.
Watermarks?! Yes, these are to deter any idiot scammers trying to list bogus auctions of mouthpieces with my photographs.

This beautiful classical piece above from Vandoren is the Optimum AL4. This is the mouthpiece that came with my saxophone, and is probably the reason why I took on so well with the sax - it's very well made, and possesses a good intonation and all. As it's a classical piece, the tone is geared more towards well... classical. And it's not exactly the kind of sound I am looking for. It actually works very well for mellow ballads.

Now this mouthpiece above is the E.Rousseu JDX 6. I'd watched a youtube video - that I can't seem to locate - and thought "Hey! I want to sound like that!!". As luck would have it, I found a used mouthpiece on ebay for half price. Initially, I loved it and thought that this would be *the* piece for me (go ahead, snicker ;-)). After about two weeks on this and many A-B sessions with the AL4, I found that I actually disliked the tone.

It is bright, and to my ears, somewhat "spread". What's more, I felt somewhat "restricted" in terms of the tone produced. After much back and forth, I went back to the AL4 and that was definitely the correct choice. Whilst the AL4 was  not as bright as the JDX6, I felt the tone produced has the colors I'd expect to hear.

This really sounds somewhat abstract, but I think you'd really need hear it to appreciate it.

The above is a Lebayle Studio 7 Metal. This, I bought at a whim off ebay at the same time I got the JDX - mainly as it was a good deal, and that some of my favourite players, Candy Dulfer and Kaori Kobayashi, to name two, use this mouthpiece. It is a 7 tip opening, and just takes too much air to blow at this time of my embouchure development.
The Studio 7 has a so-callled bullet chamber, and produces a very modern contemporary sound. This brings us to the next mouthpiece...

This is the baby I got just today - a Vandoren V16 A6S. These mouthpieces come in two chambers, the Small and Medium - Vandoren's website has small diagrams indicating the difference between the two, seems like the S chamber is a squeeze throat. I'd actually spent a fair bit of time trialing the following mouthpieces today:

  • Vandoren Optimum AL4 (my own)
  • E. Rousseau JDX 6 (my own)
  • Berg Larsen 80/2
  • Beechler "Diamond Inlay" 6
  • Vandoren V16 A5S, A6S and A5M
There were many other mouthpieces I'd like to try, e.g. Ponzol Vintage HR - but the sizes available were bigger than what I'd like to attempt at this moment.

First mouthpiece was the Beechler - my favourite final fantasy saxophone player, Muta1206 on youtube uses a metal beechler to great effect. My own experience with the Beechler 6 was, wow, nice bright tone. However, it felt like it had a lot of resistance and I went on to the Berg next.

I've read alot about Berg Larsen mouthpieces, and I was really hoping to test out the smaller tip e.g. 70 or 75 sizes, but the dude at the shop said to give it a go :) The /2 indicates the kind of baffle it has, and 2 is the baffle designed to give a more rounded kind of sound. In play, I loved it. Not too mellow, not too bright, and with enough edge. I had a hard time putting it down, but I did for two reasons. First, it a baffle. Like the JDX above, I was told this kind of pieces tended to produce a certain kind of tone, versus the pieces that lacked a baffle and allowed more of one's own "sound" to come through. Secondly, I had difficulty articulating certain notes. This seal it. Maybe I'd come back a year or two down the road and look at these pieces again. Although an 80 piece, it was actually quite an enjoyable blow.

Now the Vandorens were the pieces I spent the bulk of the time on; after spending two weeks on the JDX, I knew so much better about the kind of sound concepts I'd be working towards, which is more of the older school jazz type sound. The A5S certainly was very promising, it just felt like a brighter version of my AL4. The A5M OTOH I felt not as solid as the A5S, so I decided to go for the S chamber. I then decided to try out the A6S ;-)

The A6S was just right, not as bright as the A5S, more mellow, yet could get the edge when pushed. On the plus side, high F# seemed easier to produce. The A6S has two issues on it's side: it's a size 6 piece* which mean keeping correct intonation would be more challenging. Overtones were much more difficult, if not impossible to produce - went back to the AL4 and immediately got my overtone range back.

The tough choice between the two pieces, the A5S which did well for overtones, vs the A6S that sounded the way I'd prefer, but I'd need to work on intonation and overtones. Short while later, I walked away with the A6S.

I knew, with experience from the JDX6 that intonation issues can be worked and conquered. Overtones? Again, can be worked on ;-)

Well I can't wait to get into this new mouthpiece. The AL4 will probably stay on as a classical piece if I need to blend in with a band - not sure about the other two though. I've been told that mouthpieces that don't work now, could very well work years down the road. Let's see :)

Many forum threads go on about sticking with one mouthpiece for a year and not changing - and initially that was my plan - till I encountered that youtube vid ;-) In my experience, yes, perhaps about 8-9 months in, may be a good time to experiment with mouthpieces. That to this experience, I've noticed that I am much more critical of how saxophones sound in music - and much more appreciative of the old school professionals. Spending two weeks on the JDX was also like weight training - when I switched back to the AL4, my tone sounded much bigger, and I figured out how to change my embouchure so that I could sound more mellow or more edgy. Intonation also improved massively after the two week stint with the JDX6. I attribute it getting used to intonation with a larger tip opening, and going back to a smaller one felt easier.  I used to spend about 10 hours+ a week, but I'm trying to cut down now - maybe 5-8 hours a week.

*NB: sizes between manufacturers rarely match - a size 9 with one manufacturer could be 6 on another.

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