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Vintage Saxophone Mouthpiece Issues
Q.  I probably asked you this question already, but it was most likely nested among several other questions, so I am not sure you noticed it.  Here goes: Is there any truth to the idea that a vintage horn won’t play well with a modern mouthpiece, and that in reality a vintage horn needs a vintage
mouthpiece to achieve optimum performance?  I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject -  I have (mainly for fun) been looking at mouthpieces on Ebay, and have become curious about them and how they work and are put together, and I am looking to learn more about the better vintage ones.  Any advice here is greatly appreciated. Rob …


A. You’re right, Rob. I missed that one. Borrowing from the way reporters craft a news story: There is no truth to the rumor that vintage saxophones won’t play well with modern mouthpieces. It all depends on the pads & setup on your sax – and most importantly, how you want to sound. BTW, the best way to tell that is by recording yourself.

We have some info in our Q&A section on mpcs, plus there are sites like Theo Wanne’s (theowanne.com) that have a wealth of info on the subject. Learn the parts of a mouthpiece and how manipulating each influences the sound you can expect it to achieve. Once you understand that you can tell by visual examination generally what to expect from a given ‘piece. It’s a lot like looking at racehorses, I admit – some will surprise you both ways … but your misjudgments can almost always be traced back to something you did not consider in your initial analysis. Here’s a link to a good mouthpiece diagram.

As you explore the subject of mouthpieces keep in mind that the trend over time has been to make both saxophones & their mouthpieces generate brighter sounds. Sometimes this is intentional (bores & tapers in the instrument body) and sometimes unintentional (use of lighter & thinner metals, usually to cut cost). We can get into a lot of theory here & chew up pages without actually telling you anything you’ll be able to practically apply, but the knack of matching a mouthpiece to a sax is like mixing hot & cold water for your shower. There is one result that you like at any given time, but sometimes you like a really hot shower – and on other occasions you need a cold shower … whether you like it or not.

Now take the shower example & think of it this way with saxophones & mouthpieces. Long ago, saxophones were built that had characteristically darker sounds with lots of tonal nuances that show through, and mouthpieces were made with large, rounded chambers that gave a diffuse, dark sound. Let’s call that the cold tap, so that if you put a vintage mpc on a vintage sax you are using a cold/cold mix. Modern saxophones generally generate a brighter sound through which fewer nuances are detectable, and modern mouthpieces generally have smaller, more angular chambers that brighten the sound, and often include raised baffles that add a detectible edge or ‘buzz’. That’s the hot tap — such that when you use a modern mpc on a modern sax you get a hot/hot mix. Now all you need to do is find the right temperature mix for your sonic shower. Often a modern mouthpiece will bring out a delightful edge on a great old vintage saxophone … and equally as often, a classic Dukoff or Link will quell the zinging brightness of a newer horn so some of the fat & rich nuances show through. When you’ve found the sound you want the shower is perfect … :)

P.S.: eBay is a great tool for mouthpiece experimentation – just keep the ones you like & resell the others … 
 

Additional Comments
Matching mouthpieces to your saxophone to produce the desired tonal & response characteristics is a vast subject. We’ll be adding more in time, and as always, welcome your input. As you experiment remember that there may be variables you haven’t identified that influence your results, and that just because the result from a certain combination does not fit any application you have in mind, that does not mean it doesn’t work …



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