What is your approach to mouthpiece refacing?
Our mentor was Dr. Paul “Doc” Tenney, and we believe he was one of the finest, most grounded, and most practical mouthpiece artisans ever. His concepts are the foundation of my efforts. We believe that refacing a mouthpiece is generally a complete waste of time for many (most?) players and is also a complete distraction from the more important element of achieving a good saxophone sound--practicing. But some mouthpieces have defects that may need to be corrected for that piece to play better, and we can readily do this. This would be a standard reface that simpy involves bringing the factory’s intended standards and/or measurements into equilibrium and is basically the “blue-printing” of a mouthpiece. Almost any mouthpiece manufacturing floor employee at J.J Babbitt, Beechler, Selmer (Paris), and Vandoren, (and many others ) could likely do this as well.
We can also “blue print” to other standards and/or measurements, but regardless, a standard reface will likely result in nothing more than the mouthpiece being more responsive and perhaps easier to play--it's going to sound the same. When opening a mouthpiece in a standard reface, we open via a "heel cut" or "butt cut" so as not to change the voice of the mouthpiece. We find this most important for vintage mouthpieces. This we learned from Dr. Paul “Doc” Tenney. So, a standard reface will not necessarily bring out the mouthpiece’s ideal playing characteristics for the player’s needs, and the player's needs is where we like to focus. We are not referring to reading a letter or listening to the players' perspective and making the piece more or less responsive or bright or dark . . . We are talking spending many hours living with the mouthpiece, playing the mouthpiece, learning its playing characteristics, taking copious measurements, and then gradually bringing the alterable vital elements--tip opening, tip width, facing curve, baffle, floor, window opening, chamber, and throat size--into complete equilibrium.
This results in a custom mouthpiece the player will love and not sell on ebay a few weeks later. This is a revoiced mouthpiece. Sometimes, the other factors that impact a mouthpiece’s playing characteristics (that are not alterable) are also impediments to achieving a successful equilibrium--these can include the beak profile, the mouthpiece’s material, the mouthpiece’s material density, and the mouthpiece material’s thickness. Most of the time, we recognize these elements prior to receiving and/or agreeing to work on a piece and will notify the player that ideal equilibrium will require a different mouthpiece blank to achieve that player’s ideal playing equilibrium. Also, sometimes a reed and/or ligature change and/or embouchure change is necessary prior to attempting a revoice for less experienced players.
Are there any mouthpieces you will not work on?
We are currently not accepting mouthpieces for refacing or revoicing, but we strongly recommend you seriously consider sending your mouthpiece(s) to Phil Engleman. Phil is an incredibly kind person, a wonderful mouthpiece artisan, and this is his full time job. If Phil is not available, then we strongly suggest you contact either Keith Bradbury (MOJO) or Dr. James Bunte. Keith Bradbury does the best facing curves currently available on saxophone mouthpieces.
Should I have my mouthpiece refaced/revoiced?
Yes or no; it really depends on your mouthpiece and you the player. We generally do not recommend refacing a mouthpiece unless the mouthpiece has a defect that impacts the player as the player will generally overcome the defect by manipulating/adjusting his or her reed, ligature, and/or embouchure. If the mouthpiece is free of defects, then we generally won’t do anything to the piece unless the player knows the direction in which he or she wants to go and this direction requires a refacing or revoicing. We also very much believe in doing less v. more when it comes to mouthpieces, but this is sometimes not an option when extensively revoicing a piece. Now, we do believe the ideal mouthpiece will have a perfectly flat table, an ideal break point for a player, an ideal facing curve, and an ideal tip opening, with the three needing to be in equilibrium to achieve ideal playing characteristics. And since the mouthpiece operates in 3D, the width of the mouthpiece opening is just as important as the height of the tip opening. Also, the window opening width, the floor, and the mouthpiece throat and chamber need to be in equilibrium as well. Of course, players seems to obsess on how their mouthpieces look, so we make them nice and pretty with a tight, thin, and clean tip rail and balanced side rails. We even clean and hand polish the outside and interior.
Do you open or lengthen the window of a mouthpiece to match the reed profile?
No, we do not and will not do this to a mouthpiece. We also strongly recommend against it, especially on mouthpieces without adequate baffle or floor height. There are plenty of refacers available who will do this, but we find the facing length is a far more important variable in facilitating a comfortable spread to the sound than “overworking” a mouthpiece and thus causing its sound to spread far too wide (thus losing available focus), which is what happens when the window is lengthened to match a reed profile. This also pushes the mouthpiece toward a throaty sound, which we find harsh.
We strongly believe a mouthpiece’s key elements need to be in equilibrium with one another for an ideal playing balance, and this is exactly what we do. After we are done, the piece’s low, middle, and high partials will be as balanced as possible for that mouthpiece.
What are your favorite saxophone mouthpiece designs?
Our favorite saxophone mouthpiece designs have certain substantive characteristics relative to the respective instrument. Many of these characteristics can be found in Brilhart, Gregory, Meyer, Otto Link, Ralph Morgan, Runyon, Selmer (Paris), and Vandoren mouthpieces. Also, we regularly recommend Berg Larsen and Dukoff mouthpieces to certain people.
What are your favorite modern production saxophone mouthpiece makes and models?
OUr favorite modern production saxophone mouthpieces are contingent upon the pitch of the saxophone being played. Please find our respective answers below, and note we are not including “custom-type” mouthpieces in this answer.
Soprano: The Selmer (Paris) collection including the S80 D, S90 190, Super Session E, and Metal Classic D are by and far our favorite modern production makes for both jazz and classical. The Vandoren SL4 is also quite nice.
Alto: For classical playing students, the Selmer (Paris) S90 180/190 and the Vandoren AL3/AL4 are great alto pieces; both makes are close to perfect. We also like Eugene Rousseau's NC4.. For serious classical students, we suggest you play the same mouthpiece as your instructor/professor. The Vandoren V16 5S or 6S are awesome, but generally require a little bit of chamber work. We also like modern Meyer 5/6 and Otto Link 5/6 alto mouthpieces for jazz.
Tenor: For classical, we very much like the Selmer (S90) 190/200 or Vandoren Optimum AL4. Jazzwise, we tend not to really love any modern production tenor mouthpieces out of the box. But if we were to choose any modern jazz tenor piece with no option to customize it, we would definitely pick either an Otto Link “Vintage Series Slant” tenor mouthpiece or the Otto Link “Vintage” Tone Master. Vandoren V5 and V16 mouthpieces are excellent as well.
Baritone: For classical playing, the Vandoren Optimum BL3 is fantastic. For jazz, pick a Vandoren V5 or V16 tip opening you like and have fun. We like a higher and longer baffle in baritone saxophone mouthpieces because it helps accentuate the higher partials, which better allows one to hear the baritone given its range.
What impact do ligatures have on saxophone response and sound? What ligatures do you like?
Ligatures have a tremendous impact on player-perceived response, and we can sometimes hear a sound difference contingent upon ligature type (but this is more likely due to the player’s perception of the response, which thus causes him/her to change and/or adjust his/her input and/or embouchure).
The ligature you currently own is ideal. We very much prefer the (now “vintage”) Selmer (Paris) two-screw ligature on the entire saxophone family, but any stock ligature is generally fine. Most players will find the standard two-screw ligature works best on mouthpieces we have refaced/revoiced; this goes for both hard rubber and metal alloys. Bay, BG Tradition, and Oleg ligatures are good ligatures as well. We tend to strongly dislike cloth ligatures such as the Rovner ligature.
What reeds do you recommend?
We recommend Alexander Classique and Vandoren V12 for classical playing and for players who play on higher baffle mouthpieces. We recommend Alexander Superial, Alexander D.C., or Alexander NY and the entire line of Vandoren reeds for most other players. For more advanced players, both Alexander and Rigotti Gold are excellent reeds, but Rigotti reedsare generally less consistent (huge variations in heel thickness), and sometimes their reeds (cane poles) seem to be not adequately aged or they are using the top of the cane pole. But if you get a well-aged and properly cut box of well cut Alexander, they are simply some of the finest reeds made.
How do you store your reeds?
We used Rico’s Vitalizer kits and cases. But we also live in New Orleans, so adequate humidity is not much of a problem during most of the year.
Does Otto Link and/or Meyer use plastic in their hard rubber?
No, J.J. Babbitt, the owner and distributor of Otto Link and Meyer brand mouthpieces (among many others), does not place any plastic in its hard rubber mix unless such is stated for a respective mouthpiece. They are a leader in the industry and make an exceptional product. J.J. Babbitt's hard rubber is quite excellent, sounds great, and is easy to work with.
Why can't Otto Link and/or Meyer make mouthpieces as well-constructed, nice looking, and consistent as Vandoren?
Well, this is kind of a loaded question, and there are several variables at play here. We are fans of both makes, so let's try to see this as objectively as possible. Vandoren makes excellent mouthpieces, and from their naked eye appearance, they look quite clean and tight. But their mouthpieces do have a level or degree of variability from piece to piece. We will not dispute that the tip rail and side rails on Vandoren mouthpieces are very tight and clean; after all, they are machined that way. Otto Link and Meyer mouthpieces are molded and then hand finished; this is the way they have been made for many years. It is very difficult for a human to finish a mouthpiece as accurately and cleanly as a machine can. Otto Links and Meyers almost always have symmetrical facing curves, accurate tip openings, and tip rails/side rails clean enough for the best professional player. So, both Vandoren and Otto Links/Meyers are equally well-made, both have degrees of "inconsistency," but Vandoren piecess do look cleaner. Now, instead of focusing on the way a mouthpiece looks, focus on manner in which it plays.
What do you think of D'Addario's line of hard rubber jazz alto mouthpieces?
Buy a current production Meyer instead of the D'Addario mouthpiece.