Updated: Jun 19, 2020
Since the invention of the saxophone by Aldophe Sax in 1846, the saxophone mouthpiece has been under constant evolution. The earliest mouthpieces were made out of vulcanized rubber, also known as hard rubber, and were designed by Sax to emanate a classical tone. Over time, as jazz music proliferated, many saxophonists desired a more edgy sound, and began modifying their mouthpieces to these specifications.
The tip opening of a mouthpiece heavily influences its ease of blowing as well as its intonation. Tip openings are categorized differently based on manufacturers, but typically range between .06’’ to .105’’. Smaller tip openings (.06’’ - .07’’) require less force (i.e airspeed/breath support) to play, create a darker, more classical tone, and are easier to keep in tune. Medium tip openings (.07’’ - .09’’) require slightly more air and are slightly more difficult to play in tune, however create a brighter sound due to increased vibration of the reed--a sound suitable for jazz playing. Larger tip openings (> .09’’) require the most air to play and are the most difficult to keep in tune, but create the most sound and projection which is favorable in the rock/funk setting. (Wanne)
The shape of the baffle is another important factor when it comes to the sound of a mouthpiece. There are three main types of baffle. The straight baffle emits a darker, more homogenous sound and can sometimes render a mouthpiece to sound “stuffy” or be difficult to play. The step baffle creates the greatest amount of brilliance and projection of all the baffle types. It is characterized by the distinct drop-off, or step, within the baffle of a mouthpiece. The step baffle usually requires a larger tip opening due to its tendency for a reed to close up against it if the tip opening is not sufficient. Step baffles are highly suitable for rock/funk styles and potentially for lead players in big-bands desiring a brighter sound. The circular baffle, also known as a roll-over baffle, creates a sound that’s not quite as brilliant as the step baffle, but is noticeably brighter than a straight baffle. The circular baffle is the preferred baffle for most jazz combo and big-band players due to its hybrid dark/edgy sound. (Syos)
The chamber of a mouthpiece is a source of additional influence on a mouthpiece’s feel and tone quality. Generally, the chamber acts as a filter for different frequencies of sound. Small chambers tend to create a brighter sound by filtering out the lower registers, thus emphasizing the treble. Large chambers create a wider/darker sound by filtering out the higher frequencies, but consequently, require more air to project. Classical mouthpieces tend to have medium or small chambers to create a more homogenous sound and prevent the “buzziness” of a large chamber. Interestingly, many rock/funk players prefer a small chamber due to the ease of projection, which also helps to play altissimo notes. Jazz players prefer medium or large chambers as they seek a fat/resonant sound. (Syos)