The Saxophonists best friend…
What’s Your “Set up”? I often get asked that question, meaning what kind of mouthpiece and reeds do you use. Fortunately I found my perfect set up over 15 years ago and have no need or desire to try anything else because like I said, it’s the perfect set up… for me.
I’ll tell you what I use but I ‘m not here to recommend anything in particular, everyone should try several kinds of shapes and sizes in a saxophone mouthpiece. We’re all different and what’s right for one person won’t feel right to another.
There are numerous parts and dimensions to a sax mouthpiece; baffle, tip, lay, rails, chamber, shank, etc. Best thing is to try as many different brands as you have access to then when you find a brand that feels somewhat better than the rest start zeroing in on the particulars such as chamber size, lay opening, etc.
When you’re an experienced player no one needs to tell you what’s right for you but as a beginner your instructor will make helpful suggestions; for example, if your tone is thin he might suggest a more opened tip mouthpiece.
For many years I tried every kind of mouthpiece I could get my hands on. Whatever people were suggesting and whatever I saw advertised. I’ve got a box full of ’em; Otto Link, Berg Larsen, Bari, Yamaha, hard rubber ones and metal ones. I can’t even remember them anymore.
I borrowed a friends baritone sax once so I went mouthpiece shopping. After about an hour in the practice cubicle I had it narrowed down to a couple nice ones, then the guy working at the store asks me if I’ve tried the Rico’s yet, I told him that I was looking for a mouthpiece not reeds. He said that Rico is making mouthpieces now and he hands me one to try. This bari Rico ended up being my favorite one and so when I took it to the counter they told me it costs 12 bucks, yes $12! I was so impressed with it I had to try one on my tenor but it just didn’t feel right. You never know till you try,
Finally I had the chance to try a Dave Guardala mouthpiece and fell in love instantly. It was a Michael Brecker model. This was around 1990 and it’s what I am using today. I later also got a King Curtis model and have it as a back up. I hope I never loose the Brecker model cause I like it the best.
Dave Guardala “Reeds” My Mind
I don’t know if Mr Guardala still takes phone orders but in those days he did cause he took my order and tried talking me into using Vandoren Jazz Cut reeds. I didn’t go for it cause I had tried Vandoren reeds before and hated them. He persisted on these and I finally said just send the mouthpiece, I’ll worry about the reeds myself.
When the mouthpiece came in the mail and I opened the box I had to laugh because there was a Vandoren Jazz Cut reed set up on the mouthpiece by Dave. I though, man, this guy sure is persistent about these reeds on his mouthpiece. Well, of coarse I gave it a try and since that day haven’t used anything else. This is the best combination I’ve ever tried. I have tried those same reeds with other mouthpieces but they just didn’t work the same.Thanks Dave Guardala!
Beginners will start with a #1 or #2 reed. As you get into a more opened mouthpiece and your air support becomes more powerful you’ll most likely get a harder reed, maybe #3 or #4. Like shoes, they come in half sizes as well. Again, this requires a lot of experimenting with reed strengths and mouthpiece combinations. You’ll know when the right one comes along.
More Important Than The Sax
Yes that’s right, your mouthpiece and reed combination will make a bigger difference in your sound than your saxophone. Of coarse we all look for a good horn that’s well made and is working properly but the mouthpiece is were the air hits the road. This is where first contact is made so your reed and mouthpiece combination play the most important part in the tone you will produce through the other end of your horn.