Understanding the Saxophone Mouthpiece:
The saxophone mouthpiece is arguably the most important component of the instrument when it comes to sound production, tone, and articulation. A well made mouthpiece can instantly improve a player’s tone, assist in developing their technique, and give them the confidence to fill a particular role, ranging from classical soloist, to lead alto in a jazz big band. Given the profound importance of the saxophone mouthpiece, it is crucial to understand every aspect of it before making a selection.
Saxophone Mouthpiece Anatomy:
Different styles of playing often require different mouthpieces, but what exactly are the differences between them?
The sound and tone of a given mouthpiece is largely determined by its tip opening, baffle shape, and chamber size.
The tip opening, or the distance between the reed and tip of the mouthpiece, heavily influences the volume and projection of the mouthpiece. Alto saxophone tip openings generally range between 0.055 to 0.110 inches (1.40 and 2.80 mm), and tenor saxophone tip openings range between 0.065 to 0.145 inches (1.60 to 3.80 mm). The wider the tip opening, the greater the distance the reed travels to produce a sound. This means large tip openings are generally louder and project more, but are more resistant and often require softer reeds than smaller tip openings. It is important to note that many manufacturers use different scales to denote tip opening (6, 6*, 7, etc.). Here is a summary of WCW's tip openings to help you make your choice.
The baffle, or the part portion of the mouthpiece that slopes from the tip to the bore is responsible for influencing the brightness of the mouthpiece. The most common baffle shapes in increasing levels of brightness are the straight, rollover, and step baffle. The straight baffle is essentially a direct cut from the baffle to the bore. It creates a dark, soft sound that is very suitable for classical or concert band playing. The rollover baffle incorporates a slight curve near the tip of the mouthpiece that speeds up the airflow through the mouthpiece, creating a medium-bright sound perfect for jazz band or combo playing. The step baffle is a baffle that extends away from the tip, before dipping sharply towards the bore of the baffle. Popular among rock and smooth jazz players, the step baffle creates an extremely bright sound with a lot of projection.
The chamber, or the transition from the baffle to the bore also assists in determining the brightness and projection of a mouthpiece. Saxophone mouthpiece chambers generally fall in small, medium, or large categories, each with their own characteristic sound. Small chamber mouthpieces generally produce a brighter sound with less emphasis on lower frequencies within the harmonic series. When used in conjunction with a rollover baffle, small chambers can produce quite a lot of projection, however, many classical mouthpieces apply a straight baffle with a small chamber to create a very focused, pure sound. On the other end of the spectrum, large chamber mouthpieces emphasize the bottom end of the saxophone, creating a very lush, warm sound and increasing resonance. Large chambers are common choices for tenor players in jazz ensembles and combos, and are often required in mouthpieces with step baffles to reduce playing resistance. Lastly, medium chambers are a middle ground between large and small chambers. Many alto players choose medium chamber mouthpieces for jazz playing because of their characteristic core sound, medium brightness, and focused projection.
Rails and Facing Curve:
The response and articulation of a saxophone mouthpiece is also influenced by its tip and side rails, as well as the length of its tip curve.
The tip rail of a mouthpiece is the arc-shaped flat region at the tip of the mouthpiece. It is responsible for improving the response of a mouthpiece. A tip rail that is too wide will make the mouthpiece unresponsive to articulation and resistant to blowing, while a tip rail that is too thin is prone to squeaking and being reed-picky.
The side rails of a mouthpiece are the two rails that run alongside the window opening of the mouthpiece. The thickness of the side rails can influence the range and responsiveness of the mouthpiece. A mouthpiece with side rails that are too thick can limit a player’s range and be less free blowing. However, if the side rails are made too thin, the mouthpiece can be unstable and be prone to squeaking.
Lastly, the tip curve of the mouthpiece is the portion of the mouthpiece that curves from the table to the tip. It includes part of the side rails and the tip rail. The length of the tip curve is responsible for determining which register of the mouthpiece is to be emphasized. A long tip rail tends to enable a very lush, dark bottom end, with the added benefit of being free blowing. A short tip rail tends to emphasize the upper registers, creating a bright sound and allowing altissimo notes to be reached more easily. A medium length tip curve is a balance between the two extremes, and is therefore the most popular choice among saxophonists.
Optimized chamber design
WCW mouthpieces feature chamber designs that create projection and range without sacrificing a fat bottom-end sound that many players desire.
Versatile baffle structure
WCW mouthpieces are highly versatile, so whether you're in a combo, big band, or marching setting, you'll have the confidence to perform to the best of your abilities
Rail and facing enhancements
WCW takes great care in the design, manufacturing, and hand-finishing of the facing and rails on all our mouthpieces. By optimizing rail thickness and perfecting table finishing, you can expect your mouthpiece to respond immediately.
The debate over which material makes the best sounding saxophone mouthpiece has been a source of controversy without a definitive answer.
Generally speaking, mouthpieces made out of brass or other metals tend to play brighter and have more projection due to the high density of the material which is conducive to transmitting the vibrations of the reed to the instrument. However, manufacturers and players over the years have proven that a hard rubber or plastic mouthpiece with the correct internal geometries can replicate the bright, resonant sound of a metal mouthpiece.
Windy City Woodwinds chooses to craft their mouthpieces out of their Canadian PLA plastic because it is a material that is very similar to hard rubber in terms of hardness and density. Furthermore, PLA has the advantage of being able to be used in additive manufacturing processes, which eliminates the need for highly expensive injection molding machines or CNC mills. WCW's PLA is also food safe and has the added benefit of not being prone to oxidation when left in the sun, which can give traditional hard rubber mouthpieces a yellow hue and cause them to emit an off-putting smell and taste--the result of sulfur used in the hard rubber manufacturing process leaching out during oxidation. Overall, PLA is a strong, safe, and affordable material that has successfully created mouthpieces that rival the quality of their more expensive hard rubber counterparts.
Be sure to regularly clean your mouthpieces with soap and warm water! Refrain from using very hot water (too hot to the touch), as it could possibly warp your mouthpiece. Do NOT use any alcohol based cleaning solution.