A Saxophone Expert’s 9 Foolproof Tips for Buying a Mouthpiece
Updated: Jul 5, 2020
Given my 40+ years as a professional musician and educator, I’ve helped many a soul-searching musician find the right mouthpiece. My own journey to find the right mouthpiece was a long one. Over the years I’ve learned what it takes to find ‘the one’ and let me tell you, the process is not easy. When you do find the perfect mouthpiece, however, the results are astounding and can launch your musical career. Think Harry Potter in Ollivander’s wand shop, when finding the right wand marked the beginnings of Harry’s incredible wizarding career. Follow these simple nine steps and you’ll be sure to find your right mouthpiece.
1. Don’t look to buy, look to try. You don’t want a drawer full of mouthpieces that sound good in the store and terrible when you get home. Take your time!
2. Every single mouthpiece, even the ones that are numbered the same, play totally different. Making a mouthpiece is as much art as science and little changes can make significant differences in feel and sound. Don’t make rushed decisions and again, be sure to try the mouthpieces before you buy.
3. Order as many as possible. The more you try, the more likely you will be able to find the mouthpiece that will become your sound.
4. Have a listener sound checking you. The sound on a tenor sax breaks 3 or 4 feet from the horn so, sometimes it’s hard to tell what it really sounds like. Have your listener stand further away to get a more accurate read on the sound.
5. Record yourself playing each mouthpiece on your phone, so you can hear the differences between each one. It is important to carefully compare mouthpieces to make sure you have the sound you’re looking for.
6. Check the mouthpiece with a tuner! I use the iStroboSoft App and Drones on Youtube to guarantee my chosen mouthpiece is in tune.
7. Remember, not all mouthpieces are created equal. Even if it’s the same brand, each mouthpiece will have a unique sound. Take your time and don’t rush the process.
8. Avoid extremes until you get to an advanced level. The Standard Alto, Meyer 5, and the Standard Tenor, Otto Link 6 or 7, usually works best until you’re sure you know what you want. For the Bari, I recommend a Berg Larsen 105.
9. Research what your favorite players are using as a starting point. One of the best ways to learn is by copying, and that includes mouthpieces.
The process of finding a mouthpiece is a long one. In search for my personal sound, I’ve used and discarded too many to count. After you find your match, it’s time to get to business since the mouthpiece is only as good as the player. Check out my series of 6 saxophone technique books, Zinn and the Art of Saxophone, to carry you through your entire saxophone journey.