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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 will 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. Since we're all shaped differently what's
right for one person won't feel right for 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
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
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.
"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
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 persistant
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
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.
What Type Of Saxophone Should I Play?
Thinking about playing the saxophone? Adolphe Sax,
it's inventor drew up plans for 14 different types of saxophones.
I don't know how far he got with that list but I have heard of
11 and personally have seen or played 8 of them. The 10 different
voices (types) are sopranissimo, sopranino, soprano, saxello,
alto, c melody, tenor, baritone, bass, contrabass, and subcontrabass...
you can have a look at them here.
Alto or Tenor?
Let's talk about these two since they are the most
popular followed by soprano and baritone. Many people wouldn't
really know the differences between the alto and tenor saxophones
if they glanced at them from a distance but there is a big difference
Girls play alto and boys play tenor. When I was
in high school band it seemed that's the way it was. It make sense
when you think of the size difference, a tenor sax in it's original
factory case is somewhat heavy to carry, making it very difficult
for a small teenage girl to lug it home from school every day.
For a small person, boy or girl it's not a bad idea
to start on the alto sax, it requires less air and the notes are
closer together making it easier for small hands to control. Of
coarse this is a generalization and if you're small and dead set
on playing a tenor sax from the get go then do it.
Soprano and Baritone
One voice higher than the alto is the soprano, and
because it's smaller it does require less air support. This is
the good news, the bad news is that good intonation (tuning) will
be harder to achieve for the beginner, especially in the higher
register. Same thing applies to the baritone sax as far as being
difficult to play in tune in the upper register, and the low register
requires lots of air... it's a big horn.
Buy a Cheap Horn at First
This is a good idea for 3 reasons;
1) You, or whoever you're buying it for might not stick with it
for very long
2) You won't get a great tone in the first year or 2 no matter
how expensive the horn is
3) The horn itself is not the most important part of your set-up,
it's the reed and the mouthpiece... just make sure with a repairman
the horn is in good working condition.
Please feel free to email me on any of
these sax tips - JF
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