De-mystifying Sax and Clarinet Mouthpieces
Get the low down on mouthpiece design and why they are all different! First, the parts of a mouthpiece, with help from Theo Wanne:
- Baffle – The shape of the baffle determines the brightness or darkness of the mouthpiece, as well as its “buzz”.
- Beak – The front-outer portion of the mouthpiece that your mouth fits over while playing.
- Bore – The tube-shaped part of the mouthpiece that fits on the neck of the saxophone. It usually extends a bit further into the mouthpiece than the neck does.
- Chamber – The open area in the middle of the mouthpiece between the floor and the bore. A large chamber produces a fat & spread sound, while a small chamber produces a more focused sound.
- Facing Curve – The shape of the curved walls that end at the tip rail. The curve should be continuous and gradual, with no flat spots or bumps.
- Facing Curve Length – The response of the lower notes on a horn is dependent upon this length.
- Floor – The higher this section is the more projection the mouthpiece has. The lower it is, the darker the mouthpiece will be.
- Inner Side Walls –These are often concave in shape (like an Otto Link) or flat (like most clarinet mouthpieces).
- Throat – The area inside the mouthpiece where the chamber transitions to the bore. The throat can be round, half-round (like Selmer soloists) or square (like Selmer S-80 and S-90 mouthpieces).
- Tip Opening – The distance between the reed and frontal rail. The larger this opening the more air one has to blow into the mouthpiece; the smaller this opening the less air one has to blow into the mouthpiece.
- Tip Rail – The tip rail thickness helps determine the response of the mouthpiece. If it is too thin the mouthpiece may “chirp”. If it is too thick the mouthpiece may play “dead”.
Tip openings - the distance between the tip of the reed and the tip of the mouthpiece
- 3-4 opening (narrow): is played on by most students. It is easy to control the pitch and will give a smooth even tone. Best with a flat baffle.
- 5-7 opening (wider): is played by most alto sax players. It can take more air and project more, and you can bend and control the pitch more easily.
- 8-10 opening (wide): needs a lot of air and will give a big sound especially with a steep baffle. Easy to bend notes and make inflections but can be harder to blow and control the pitch.
Chambers - the shape and size of the chamber inside the mouthpiece
- Small: the chamber is smaller than the bore. This gives a focused and quick response. Soprano players most often use a small chamber.
- Medium: The chamber is the same size as the bore. Gives a full centred sound but lacks a fat bottom. Most alto mouthpieces have a medium bore.
- Large: The chamber is larger than the bore, giving a big fat bottom end and a full open sound. Most tenor players use this for both jazz and classical playing.
Thanks to the Theo Wanne mouthpiece website for all this information! You can read more about his mouthpieces HERE and check out our stock in Sydney HERE