Dec 04

Phil Barone

Saxophone Sound Development 1 - Understanding Your Mouthpiece

by Phil Barone

This coming year marks my thirtieth year in the saxophone mouthpiece business, and in that time I’ve learned much more than how to make mouthpieces.  I’ve also learned about human nature and, more specifically, how neurotic we are. I’ve seen it manifest itself in mouthpiece selection and saxophone equipment selection in general. 

Humans want what they want "immediately", and when it comes to something like playing the saxophone, that just doesn’t happen. And more often than not, a player's ideal tone can be more elusive than just something as simple as just buying a mouthpiece or having one refaced.  It’s just not that simple.

Years and years of propaganda have led many of us to believe that the facing is of utmost importance when, in fact, it’s really the chamber.  This is because back when the sax mouthpiece was still in its infancy stages, it was being developed by clarinet makers and to this day the incremental differences are too small to make a substantial difference.  

Mouthpiece Chamber Adjustment and Tone

The chamber is more imporant than the facing, and I’ll tell you why.  The facing works in conjunction with your reed and each time you change your reed it’s just like changing your facing.  Put a reed that’s a little denser toward the back on and it’s just like having a shorter facing, put one on that’s less dense or thinner and the facing feels longer.  The chamber never changes so you have something much more stable to deal with.  I can dramatically change the way a mouthpiece plays and sounds by modifying the chamber because there’s so much material to work with but I can’t say that about the facing.  Also, since the facing is so important to the mouthpiece playing in tune there’s more parameters that must be met whereas the chamber is more resilient and forgiving. 

Mouthpiece Tip Openings and Tone

Don’t confuse your facing with the tip opening; they are two complete and distinctly different things.  The facing is the curve in its entirety, it begins on the two side rails and ends with the tip opening of the saxophones mouthpiece whereas the tip opening is not really part of the saxophone mouthpiece’s curve;  it's just the opening. 

An important thing to remember is that while the facing is not terribly important, the tip opening is.  If two mouthpieces have the same chamber, the more open one will be a little darker.  More open mouthpieces are darker and more closed mouthpieces are brighter provided the chambers and baffles are the same but not by a lot.  However, if a mouthpiece is more open, it will be harder to play and control which is why I am an advocate for chambers and finding the right one.

In recent years the refacing industry has become increasingly busy despite the fact that facings aren’t that influential to your tone, in spite of what we get pounded into our heads every day via the internet. Chambers are important. So talk to your tech about altering your chamber as a means to finding your ideal sound.