This is an updated review containing several new mouthpieces and further impressions on his Phil-Tone Eclipse that I've been playing for a few years now.
Phil-Tone Aurora alto: Wasn't sure what to expect with this mouthpiece. I had remembered seeing these mouthpieces on Junkdude for a while, and thinking they were some kind of expensive plastic student mouthpiece. I was very, very wrong. The first few notes really surprised me...you'll see how in a bit.
Phil-Tone Solstice alto: Very excited for this one. Paul Desmond was my beginning inspiration to playing alto and I continue to emulate his sound on every acoustic gig. I had my reservations, as every purported "Desmond" type piece has just been stuffy and dead. I was pleasantly surprised by this mouthpiece.
Phil-Tone Rift alto: This was another mouthpiece Phil created in response to the demand from alto players looking for a brighter mouthpiece without that harsh shrillness and thin sound in the upper register. The hand made baffle looks great and I was excited to try the mouthpiece.
Phil-Tone Custom Meyer alto: Always heard a lot about Phil's custom meyers and finally decided to order one myself. Had high expectations for it, wanted to see if he could finally get me to enjoy a standard Meyer style piece.
Phil-Tone Eclipse tenor: I had heard a few good things before I got this one in my hands, so I was expecting good things. The initial play test was very promising.
Phil-Tone Equinox tenor: Phil was REALLY excited about this mouthpiece when he made it and promptly sent it off to me for some extensive play-testing. I share in his excitement; initial play tests were very promising, and above all, fun!
Phil-Tone Custom HR Link: Immediately I thought back to Tenney's custom links, and wondered how they would compare. I can say they are very different mouthpieces. Read on to understand...
Phil-Tone Aurora alto: This piece was finished beautifully and had a very "under-stated" look to it. Simple, elegant and polished.
Phil-Tone Solstice alto: My first chance to check out the new logo, which I dig. Stamped into the piece so even if the gold wears away after use, it'll still be easily identifiable. Otherwise clean looking; you can see the hand-work around the chamber, proving the entire "hand made" aspect behind the pieces.
Phil-Tone Rift alto: Was interested to see what this looked like because of the hand-made baffle aspect. I can say it definitely looks hand-made, which I enjoy, but still has an elegant and polished look to it. The tip rail was perfectly formed to the reeds I was using, everything looked great. Still digging the new logo!
Phil-Tone Custom Meyer alto: It looked like a sharp Meyer! Dressed up nicely; nice and even rails, proper tip rail curve, flat table. I can see the chamber work in there, from what I understand he makes the chamber just a teeny bit larger for a fatter sound.
Phil-Tone Eclipse tenor: Can't truly say if these blanks are used by someone else, but the rubber is good and has that very "rubber smell" to it. I always like that in a custom piece. The finish work was very good, with an interesting thing going on in the baffle. I can't nail it down or describe it perfectly, but it looked interesting the way it was shaped.
Phil-Tone Equinox tenor: If you look reaaallly hard at this mouthpiece, you might be able to figure out a famous mouthpiece guy who also uses these exact blanks. I will say, though, that the inside is different. I really liked what I saw here. Very interesting baffle profile, clean looking, sharp and defined.
Phil-Tone Custom HR Link: These HR Links are damn ugly straight from the factory. That terrible and infamous "bump" inside and shoddy finish work. But, Phil has fixed this. Much more attractive and good finish work. I guess this is how Otto Link INTENDED this piece to look/play.
I consider "response" to mean how quickly a mouthpiece responds to your air stream; how easily the extreme ranges of the horn speak; and how fast the articulation can be on that particular mouthpiece.
Phil-Tone Aurora alto: This was a great mouthpiece to just put on and blow. Response was not INSTANT but did give you a little to push up against, which I liked. It was still easy blowing for your "average" player and session. I personally put a ton of air through my horns, so I tame it back a bit and see how your hobbyist might handle the piece. The low end was very buttery and responsive on this piece, without sacrificing an easy, singing high register. Altissimo wasn't bad; it didn't jump out but was clear and in tune. Articulation was easy and swift, with many different types of reeds.
Phil-Tone Solstice alto: I was instantly surprised at how easily this mouthpiece responded. Holy metal, Batman, it's not a stuffy "Desmond" type mouthpiece! In fact, it felt very comfortable while blowing and enabled my creativity to go free. The music mattered here, I wasn't fighting the mouthpiece at all. I particularly enjoyed the upper register; no bright shrillness, no weak thin notes. Easy blowing, balanced, thick, and singing.
Phil-Tone Rift alto: The first thing I did when I put this mouthpiece on was start playing the lower registers of the horn softly. I was really, REALLY surprised at how easily everything spoke and how great it sounded. Best of all, the intonation wasn't all over the place either. So, the next thing is test out the mid and upper ranges of the horn. In a word, fantastic. Quick response, altissimo was stupidly easy...I work on my altissimo and have categorized it in my head as "easy" notes and "need to focus a little more to hit these" notes...usually starts around C4 or so, depending on my reed. I was up to E4 with almost no effort. It was great.
Phil-Tone Custom Meyer alto: Responded like a great Meyer should. Overall, it felt thicker with that really healthy touch of edge on the sound that we want from a Meyer. All the time I feel like guys who "blue print" or customize Meyers just tend to make it this dull, non responsive piece for the sake of "balance" in the registers. This mouthpiece proves you can have something a bit more powerful, free blowing, and balanced in a Meyer. Pleasantly surprised.
Phil-Tone Eclipse tenor: Didn't expect this one to respond as well as it did. Didn't feel much like the alto when blowing, definitely had a crisper, faster response to it. As such there wasn't a whole lot to push up against, but it didn't seem to bother this piece as there wasn't much thinning throughout the ranges. Seemed to excel in the extreme ranges, with the low end and palm keys especially fat and fast response. Articulation was VERY fast on this mouthpiece. Triple-tonguing was possible (with a good reed). After several years on this mouthpiece, I stand by my earlier statements. Low register articulation was enhanced with proper reed selection, although it didn't really need any enhancing to begin with. There's a reason I've played this mouthpiece exclusively on tenor for over 3 years now.
Phil-Tone Equinox tenor: This had a quick response that was controlled by it's focused core. Overall, it felt more structured than the above mouthpiece, a little more refined. The upper register responded so beautifully on this mouthpiece, it seemed I could do whatever I wanted. If I thought it, this mouthpiece did it for me. Low register responded great, even better than my Eclipse mouthpiece I've been using for a few years. This one really took me by surprise. Altissimo was absolutely gorgeous and singing.
Phil-Tone Custom HR Link: Much different than his Phil-Tone Eclipse piece. This one had some resistance and some "cushion for the pushin" as they would say. An overall very even response up and down the horn, didn't stray much at all. Upper register and altissimo was a little more resistant, but much thicker as well. Comfortable to play for someone who likes to put a little more air into the piece. Articulation was solid, not as fast as the pieces above. Playing through any bop head would be fine, but don't expect to double tongue through your Ferling etudes.
Not the same thing, I know, but included in the same category. Projection, in my mind, is the ability to fill up a room with your sound; the ability to make your sound carry to the far corners of the room, no matter what volume. To me, volume is simply how loud you can play...a higher amount of decibels.
Phil-Tone Aurora alto: Easily comparable with a Morgan Excalibur in regards to overall volume. The projection was definitely a broader type, and was great for blending in a section, while still topping off for lead playing. I could get a huge sound on this mouthpiece. I found the piece to absolutely sing at high volume in the upper register.
Phil-Tone Solstice alto: While this is advertised as being a more west coast style piece, I found this to have very good projection potential. I don't think it's meant to be played in that manner, but you can get plenty loud on this thing. It's interesting because Desmond and Pepper could really push on their mouthpieces and their sound would brighten up a bit, and that's what this mouthpiece does with a greater amount of air pushing through it. Soft volume dynamics are fantastic, and this one is medium-focused but lighter in the core. It's hard to explain. But if you listen to Art Pepper, and think of his type of projection on "Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section" I think that most accurately depicts the type of projection you get on this mouthpiece.
Phil-Tone Rift alto: Easily the most powerful mouthpiece in the alto line up, as intended. While I noted in the Response section that playing quietly was still super easy, this thing can absolutely soar. Absolutely monstrous sound when you want it. The projection isn't super thin piercing though...it definitely cuts, but its a thicker type of projection that you don't usually find as much with "power" pieces. This can hang with some of the most powerful alto mouthpieces I've played, but retains a ton more thickness in the upper register and altissimo range. It was a ton of fun to play on; seriously considering adding this mouthpiece to my alto lineup for lead alto playing.
Phil-Tone Custom Meyer alto: It's not a Dukoff. It's not a Conn Eagle HR. 'Nuff said? Maybe not. The projection is a little thicker than your typical Meyer, not quite spread but it's not that thin, out of focus projection that I usually hear with standard, factory Meyers. The low register was far and away the best I've experienced on a Meyer piece, and the highs kept their structure and responded with ease. The altissimo had a very thick sound to it; sounded like the natural range of the saxophone as opposed to having a completely different sound when playing around up there.
Phil-Tone Eclipse tenor: Definitely a powerful piece. Not the loudest I've played, but it had a very clear and medium-focused projection. Think of what you would consider "laser-beam projection", then take that laser beam and surround it with marshmellow fluff. That's how this one projects. Upper register got a bit brighter as I pushed. Lower register could bark when called for; very appealing for those types of situations. After a couple of years on this mouthpiece I have grown fond of the amount of power I can push against this piece when called for; I've used this in R&B situations and when I need a bit more punch in an un-mic'd environment, too. It has always done what I needed it to do.
Phil-Tone Equinox tenor: This had a most definite focus to the projection; much more so than the above piece. While some would call it "laser beam projection" around here (actually, that's probably only me) I think it's worth noting that the sound isn't really bright. I'll get into that more in the tone section. It's a powerful piece with pushing potential. I don't think it gets quite as loud as the Eclipse, but still plenty for most situations. While I would consider the Eclipse viable in a R&B setting (even rock, if you play it right), I would say the Equinox might be more at home in a jazz/big band type situation.
Phil-Tone Custom Link HR: A very spread type of projection, like the piece is enveloping around someone instead of being directly focused at them. This piece could get loud, but still had a fat presence and a lot of depth. Blows freely, no stuffy sound or response.
I consider "tone" to be descriptive of the sound the mouthpiece gives to the player. Terms such as: bright, dark, full, thin, big, small, etc etc can be used to describe tone. Since it is such a controversial and individual topic, I will focus on things that other players will most likely encounter when comparing these pieces.
Phil-Tone Aurora alto: This piece really reminded me of a Morgan 6M. It had that medium bright, rich and clear sonority. However, I felt this piece definitely had more roundness to the tone than a Morgan does. It's not "more spread" or "darker", just has a more round sound and as such I think it offers a little more richness. It sounded fantastic on every horn I used. I really got into a great Phil Woods vibe with this piece, with maybe a little less edge. Overall, the piece sounds great and would compliment anyone looking for a richer tone, while still having that medium bright alto jazz sound.
Phil-Tone Solstice alto: The big defining moment for this mouthpiece. What amazes me is how many people want that “Desmond” or “Art Pepper” sound but haven’t tried this mouthpiece. It is clear, it is warm, it is very lyrical. This mouthpiece is NOT stuffy! You control how you want to sound. I find it interesting when people talk about Desmonds sound in particular, because in my opinion he played 2 different ways. The first is that dark, breathy, edge-less sound you hear on some of his bossa nova tunes, like Bossa Antigua. Then he has that brighter, clearer sound he uses like during Perdido in the Jazz at Oberlin album. I know it’s live vs. studio, but I still find it true on quite a few recordings. I find this mouthpiece can achieve both sound concepts. You want that breathy, dark sound? Put on a harder reed and give a slightly broader airstream. You want the brighter lyrical tone, put on a medium reed and have at it. It really is the best “west coast” style of piece I’ve ever played; all the other ones just make dead, dark, dull, lifeless sounds. This one has a lively, lyrical quality to it and I love being able to feel instantly comfortable sounding like Desmond on this mouthpiece.
Phil-Tone Rift alto: This is the brightest mouthpiece that Phil offers for alto. It is plenty bright, but also rich and thick and full. One of the best alto sounds in the world can be simply described as "bright and fat" (a la Phil Woods) and that is what this piece delivers. It has plenty of punch, brightness, and edge...but it is a very, very full sounding piece. No shrillness, no piercing tinny edge...just a beautiful, bright, fat alto sound. This reminded me you don't need to sacrifice tone for power; this will compete with some of the brighter pieces out there. This is a fantastic choice for anyone playing lead alto, straight ahead playing, funk, or ska music. Really, I think it gives a fantastic alto concept from when you play it. Normally, on alto, I prefer middle of the road, rich sounding pieces. But this really made me stop and think for a bit; I was really, really surprised I liked it as much as I did. I'm not a very big fan of bright mouthpieces on alto, but this was one hell of a piece. The fact that it is hard rubber, and feels more comfortable than metal, is just icing on the cake. Major kudos to Phil on the sound of this piece.
Phil-Tone Custom Meyer alto: This is what a great Meyer should sound like. This is bigger sounding than your standard Meyer, with a richer sound and thicker high notes. The low register becomes clear and in-tune, and the bit of edge on the piece keeps everything in a healthy balance. Phil really hit the nail on the head with this concept for his Meyers. I guess that's why they're so popular; they sound great and are a fantastic "middle of the road" mouthpiece for people who need a bunch of versatility. It's the perfect compliment to his alto line up.
Phil-Tone Eclipse tenor: This is great for the tenor playing I do; some big band, combo, R&B, and occasional cover band stuff. This piece performs well on all those venues. It has a clear and neutral tone, with a bit of edge, allowing you to shape the sound to your liking. I truly love this in a tenor piece, as we're usually called on to play a large number of styles. This piece can go bright or dark, always retaining some edge to the sound, and still allowing for good comfort and response. I played this piece at a number of gigs just to keep testing it, and it performed flawlessly. My favorite out of the bunch, and still my favorite (maybe!) after over 3 years of playing it exclusively on tenor. I have a great story with this piece; I was asked to play on a New Years gig and attended one of the rehearsals so I could take a look at the book they used (big band). The other tenor player was an older gentlemen who had been around forever and knew his way around the horn; played on a Mark VI tenor and a 7 slant link. He tried the Phil-Tone Eclipse and thought it was a Slant at first (I've used the piece so much the markings rubbed off), then noticed the different profile of the mouthpiece and asked about it. He said it was a great mouthpiece and "don't let that one go, son" or that I'd be sorry.
Phil-Tone Equinox tenor: The first thing that comes to mind when playing this mouthpiece is "fun" and everyone who has tried it has remarked that in their first or second words. It is a unique tenor sound, and I haven't come across it despite all the mouthpieces I've tried. It has a very focused sound, refined, warm, but still has plenty of power and a most definite unique character...it's tough to describe when you have nothing to compare it to. The upper register on my horn instantly reminded me of a Coltrane vibe, and I've heard that numerous times from people playing the mouthpiece. The sound is really addicting. I LOVE my Eclipse tenor mouthpiece; hell, I've played it exclusively for 3 years on all of my gigs. But this mouthpiece definitely made me consider switching. I'm still not sure on it, to be honest, but I'm going to buy one from Phil anyway just in case I decide to play it full time. If you're looking to add some focus to your tenor sound, or if you think you sound a little "blatty" or a little harsh...this mouthpiece might be the answer.
Phil-Tone Custom HR Link: Definitely a darker, rounder sound. Not a whole bunch of edge on this piece, but a fat, round, dark tone. This was great for combo gigs and blending in a section. If you're mic'd up, this piece sound can sound fantastic playing a lush ballad or a fat, beefy blues. Not ideal for my type of playing, but I can see the use for this in a variety of of situations. My best description of this piece at its best is "sexy." Finally, a HR Link that is clear and blows freely, while sounding great!! I've tried Tenney's HR links, including his "slants"....this one blows it away, IMO. No offense to Tenney's stuff...it just doesn't have the projection and clear presence of the Phil-Tone.
All these pieces share the name of someone who has proven himself worthy in the mouthpiece world: Phil Engleman. His new website is GREAT and everyone should be checking it out at www.phil-tone.com . His mouthpieces continue to grow in popularity all over the world, and for good reason. They sound great, and Phil is an absolute pleasure to deal with; any of his customers can attest to that.
I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any of these mouthpieces to any serious player. I purchased the Eclipse tenor years ago and have used it on all of my gigs. I had a ton of fun playing these pieces, and if you try one out, I think you'll agree. The Equinox tenor is especially fun and addicting! The more I kept playing it, the more I loved it. Anyone who wants to add a bit of focus to their tenor sound should check out the Equinox.
I like the two tenor pieces because they have an easy way to differentiate them. Think of it in a horn reference: if you want the bigger, broader sound like the vintage American horns, go with the Eclipse. If you want the focused, more structured sound of the French horns, go with the Equinox. Phil has breathed new life into the tenor saxophone with these pieces, and his alto mouthpieces are fantastic. The Solstice should finally get the recognition it deserves and the new Rift is outstanding and making me consider it as one of my main pieces. As always his Phil-Tone Aurora delivers an outstanding mouthpiece with a great core and ease of play, and his "customized" Meyers and Links are among the best in the business.
Best of all, these hand-made mouthpieces are so ridiculously affordable!! It's great that Phil is doing this because he wants to provide top notch quality without charging crazy amounts of money. That type of dedication is the best kind, and it's producing some of the best mouthpieces. Phil can be contacted here under his user name Sigmund451 or by using his new website under the "Purchasing" section.
Thanks once again for reading! Please take the few moments to add your comments below!