What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

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    Default What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

    I'm trying out a bunch of mouthpieces from WWBW for my Martin Comm III alto -- seven to be precise: MacSax D-Jazz 6, Phil-Tone Aurora 6, Ponzol EBO .075, JodyJazz HR* 5M, Vandoren V16 A5M, Selmer Soloist D, D'Addario Select Jazz D5M. Planning to keep one or maybe two and return the rest. What specific tips do you all have on mouthpiece comparison?

    What I've been doing:
    - testing intonation throughout the range; all the pieces seem about equally good on this front -- some of them play a little flatter in the low register, but that's probably my technique
    - playing at different dynamics throughout the range
    - playing a ballad head on each piece
    - playing some bebop style lines on each piece
    - trying each piece with a couple different reeds, keeping the reed brands constant across pieces but using a different individual reed for each
    - taking notes on each piece and how it plays with different reeds (though this hasn't actually been as helpful as I expected because it's so hard to describe tone quality in words)
    - most of all, just noodling around on each piece to get a feel for what it can do!

    Any obvious steps I'm missing?

    After spending a few hours playing all these pieces over the last couple of days, there's actually one that clearly stands out for me and is almost certainly a keeper, and another one that's a pretty clear runner-up. But I definitely want to spend some more time before making any decisions. So, what's your procedure for comparing mouthpieces?

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    Distinguished SOTW Member artstove's Avatar
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    Default Re: What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

    Well, you are way more thorough than I am. So I don't think you are missing anything. And it seems like you have gotten results from your approach. The only thing I can think of is maybe play on the top contenders for a good long period of time (simulate a gig) so you get a sense of how they feel after playing for a while.

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    Default Re: What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

    I would think that for a true comparison -- i.e., a controlled experiment -- you'd want to use the same individual reeds on every mouthpiece. Because as we all know, the reeds in a given box may be cousins, but they sure ain't quintuplets.

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    Default Re: What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

    Try recording them all, preferably with a couple of different mics at the same time using two tracks.

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    Default Re: What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

    Quote Originally Posted by sopsax View Post
    I would think that for a true comparison -- i.e., a controlled experiment -- you'd want to use the same individual reeds on every mouthpiece. Because as we all know, the reeds in a given box may be cousins, but they sure ain't quintuplets.
    True but this may not work so well unless the mouthpieces have identical facings, not just the opening size but more importantly the length and shape of the curve.

    for me the crucial factors in deciding on a mouthpiece are range and dynamics plus the ability for me to easily shape the tone and not have that dictated too much by the mouthpiece
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    Default Re: What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

    My tips are simple

    1. The balance between ease of intonation and sound in a orchestra/big band

    2. Sound and feel in a small group.

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    Default Re: What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

    You're well on your way for sure. Probably a better controlled study than I've ever done in my life.

    I used to work at a music store and would try out horns and pieces a lot in my free time.

    The one thing that I always consider the most out of a set up (with the mouthpiece IMO being the most important) is how much it lets you shape the sound.

    If you're a pro player who does a wide range of styles then you NEED something that can blend. And I'm not talking about blending with a section specifically but just be able to dial it up or down depending on how you blow into it.

    Most mouthpieces have their own character ( I think we can agree on that). But as long as the tuning and the response are right there, for me it's being able to squeeze every ounce of volume I can out of the thing and then being able to easily play ppp.

    Although your technique has much to do with that as well. I remember (only about 5-6 years ago) when I learned to place my tongue on the reed while playing to dampen it. Changed my whole world.
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    Default Re: What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

    Quote Originally Posted by trecht View Post
    I'm trying out a bunch of mouthpieces from WWBW for my Martin Comm III alto -- seven to be precise: MacSax D-Jazz 6, Phil-Tone Aurora 6, Ponzol EBO .075, JodyJazz HR* 5M, Vandoren V16 A5M, Selmer Soloist D, D'Addario Select Jazz D5M. Planning to keep one or maybe two and return the rest. What specific tips do you all have on mouthpiece comparison?

    What I've been doing:
    - testing intonation throughout the range; all the pieces seem about equally good on this front -- some of them play a little flatter in the low register, but that's probably my technique
    - playing at different dynamics throughout the range
    - playing a ballad head on each piece
    - playing some bebop style lines on each piece
    - trying each piece with a couple different reeds, keeping the reed brands constant across pieces but using a different individual reed for each
    - taking notes on each piece and how it plays with different reeds (though this hasn't actually been as helpful as I expected because it's so hard to describe tone quality in words)
    - most of all, just noodling around on each piece to get a feel for what it can do!

    Any obvious steps I'm missing?

    After spending a few hours playing all these pieces over the last couple of days, there's actually one that clearly stands out for me and is almost certainly a keeper, and another one that's a pretty clear runner-up. But I definitely want to spend some more time before making any decisions. So, what's your procedure for comparing mouthpieces?
    I have trouble with bias. When I think something is good or bad, then I am likely to play in such a way as to confirm my inclination.

    So I mark mpc w/ tape and set them up ready to play. Then I play them and arrange them in order (rejects, good ones with notes on performance). I do not look at the identifying marks for confirmation, but wait until I have checked them all. When I follow this process, repeating as necessary, I have found that sometimes the slightest change in reed position or ligature position makes a lot of difference (setting aside altogether my own goofus tendency to make a mpc already selected as one of the "good" ones sound good and one of the "bad" ones sound bad). Eventually, however, I can pick out what works best for me.

    I doubt if top flight players have this kind of problem, but I sure do.

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    Default Re: What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

    Day 3 of the mouthpiece trial... It's interesting how some of the MPs play just like I remembered them, and others quite differently. The Jody is a case in point: when I tried it the first day it was the only one of the seven that I really couldn't connect with (hard to describe why, but the tone just wasn't anywhere near what I was looking for); then yesterday and today it sounded totally different and much better than I had remembered, so that now it would be a top contender were it not that I think I may have already found The One.

    The opposite happened with the D'Addario: yesterday it was my "clear runner-up". I heard something special and personal in the tone that I liked a lot, especially in the mid to high register where there was a kind of piercing quality to it that most of the others didn't have. But trying it again today (same reed and lig) that quality wasn't there, or not as much. But I should say that I've spent less time with this piece than the others because (as others have noted) its shank is too tight. Even with lots of cork grease it's hard to get it all the way onto the neck, and it actually tore a bit off the cork, so I'm reluctant to play it. If I was keeping it, I'd definitely have the shank loosed up a little.

    Most of the other pieces have stayed more stable. The Selmer and the Vandoren are both very responsive, reliable pieces and the most immediately playable of the lot, with the Vandoren being darker in tone. Neither seems to have that much personality, but if you just want to find a mouthpiece that works well and forget about it, these strike me as good options.

    The Phil-Tone Aurora is a nice, distinctive sounding piece but is too mellow for my liking. It's got a roundish, almost woody sound that would work great for, say, a cool jazz ensemble, but I don't know that I'd want to be playing it over a loud rhythm section.

    The Ponzol impressed me a lot the first day (my notes: "powerful rich sound, fat, resistant") but for some reason didn't stand out from the crowd as much today or yesterday. Definitely a solid piece though, and I should probably spend more time with it.

    But the one that beats the field for me is the MacSax. I was reluctant to order it because it's a bit over my $200 budget, but boy am I glad I did. It's got an edge and character to it that none of the others come close to. It's almost like there's an extra dimension to the tone -- it's rich, open and clear in a way that makes most of the other pieces sound muffled by comparison. And I don't have to work at all to get this tone quality, at least in the mid-high register; it's just there. To make sure I hadn't stumbled upon some kind of magical reed and ligature combination, I tried the same reed and lig with other pieces, but none of them came close to matching the MacSax.

    So I'm pretty sure I've found a winner. The only thing that gives me pause is that the MacSax is a little harder to play in the low register than most of the others -- I can still get that tone quality but it gets more difficult further down the horn, and there's a bit too much air in the tone for my liking. Also this piece seems to tire out my embouchure faster than the others. Could be a matter of finding the right reed, and/or working up to it.

    One thing I haven't done is play any of these pieces in an extensive performance setting; I did take the MacSax to a jam the other day but only played one tune. I've tried recording some of them, but the only recording equipment I have is my laptop and the sound quality on that is so crappy that they all sound the same.

    In any case, I'm about ready to call WWBW and return everything but the MacSax. But I'll probably give it a couple more days to be sure and to decide if there's another one I want to keep.

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    Default Re: What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

    You're dealing with the 'first impressions' testing, which will help you sort out mpcs that you can be pretty sure you don't like and choose something that is comfortable and plays well for you. But the real test of a mpc happens after playing it for a period of time in a variety of settings. How it works for you on the bandstand is where you truly find out what works best for you.

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    Default Re: What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

    Quote Originally Posted by JL View Post
    You're dealing with the 'first impressions' testing, which will help you sort out mpcs that you can be pretty sure you don't like and choose something that is comfortable and plays well for you. But the real test of a mpc happens after playing it for a period of time in a variety of settings. How it works for you on the bandstand is where you truly find out what works best for you.
    Agreed. I pretty much play it for a week or two...If it's not my new favorite, it failed the test.

    I don't really use different mouthpieces for different applications though. There's the one I use all the time, and the one that lives in each case in the event I leave my favorite at home by mistake. Every case I own has a spare MPC, reed, and neck strap in it because I've been known to forget things...

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    Default Re: What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

    Hello Trecht,

    I see you are in Berkeley, CA. Why don't you go to Eric Drake and ask his opinion? It will be well worth it.

    Good luck

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    Default Re: What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

    For me it's kinda simple:

    Does the mouthpiece or horn, etc. help me a get a sound that I'm looking for ? Can I afford it ? Boom.. buy it !

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    Default Re: What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

    Quote Originally Posted by sopsax View Post
    I would think that for a true comparison -- i.e., a controlled experiment -- you'd want to use the same individual reeds on every mouthpiece. Because as we all know, the reeds in a given box may be cousins, but they sure ain't quintuplets.
    That depends on what you want to learn. If you have a lifetime supply of one type of reed, it might be important.

    I recently received three mouthpieces from Phil-Tone: Tribute, Mosaic, and Intrepid - all in 7*. I used my favorite reeds that were already in my rotation. The Intrepid rocked my world, the others were merely good. So much so, that I played the Intrepid exclusively, rehearsed on it, gigged with it. A resounding YES!

    A week or so later, I questioned myself about having given up so easily on a couple of pieces that I was really looking forward to, yet had abandoned so easily. This time I took a different approach, and spent the time to find the reeds that really let the mouthpieces speak. I am embarrassed to admit that all I needed to do was drop a notch in reed strength, and both Tribute and Mosaic were ringing and singing! Argggghhh - all because I was soooooooooooo convinced that the Intrepid should have been the one to need a softer reed, and had it exactly wrong.

    So no, I don't ascribe to use the same reed (or even similar) on all mouthpieces - even if they have the same tip openings, and come from the same maker. Better to spend the time to find the best reed match for each mouthpiece. Only when you are convinced that they are operating at optimum level, are you able to pass credible judgement.
    Go for The Tone,

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    Default Re: What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

    I have been preaching what Dr G learned, for many years now.
    Putting one reed on a bunch of different mouthpieces is never the way to do it. You must find the right reed that works best with each mouthpiece so that each mouthpiece set up is at its absolute best for you. Then you can compare each mouthpiece to one another.
    Get the best sounding reed and ligature set up for each mouthpiece is imperative. Then compare them back to back.

    I wish you luck with your search.

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    Default Re: What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

    I bow to your wisdom.

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    Default Re: What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

    What Dr. G said.
    I think it is pointless to test different mouthpieces with the same reed and it is not a fair comparison at all.
    Not even when they are all supposed to be based on the same design.
    When for instance my favorite reed would be a Vandoren Java and it sounds
    nice on one mouthpiece but sucks on another mouthpiece. Should I instantly ditch a new $300
    mouthpiece when it doesn't sound right with a $3 reed that I happen to like on some older mouthpieces?
    Every well designed mouthpiece has its' sweet spot where it sounds and plays best.
    When you only have one kind of brand reeds laying around I think that is a bad starting point for
    comparing new mouthpieces. I usually try to find the best reed combination for every different mouthpiece and only then start comparing. Usually by recording myself.
    One should have a number of different type or brands of reeds laying around and be familiar with them to make a fair comparison.
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    Distinguished Mouthpiece Designer/Maker/Forum Contributor 2014 Phil Barone's Avatar
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    Default Re: What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

    Quote Originally Posted by trecht View Post
    I'm trying out a bunch of mouthpieces from WWBW for my Martin Comm III alto -- seven to be precise: MacSax D-Jazz 6, Phil-Tone Aurora 6, Ponzol EBO .075, JodyJazz HR* 5M, Vandoren V16 A5M, Selmer Soloist D, D'Addario Select Jazz D5M. Planning to keep one or maybe two and return the rest. What specific tips do you all have on mouthpiece comparison?

    What I've been doing:
    - testing intonation throughout the range; all the pieces seem about equally good on this front -- some of them play a little flatter in the low register, but that's probably my technique
    - playing at different dynamics throughout the range
    - playing a ballad head on each piece
    - playing some bebop style lines on each piece
    - trying each piece with a couple different reeds, keeping the reed brands constant across pieces but using a different individual reed for each
    - taking notes on each piece and how it plays with different reeds (though this hasn't actually been as helpful as I expected because it's so hard to describe tone quality in words)
    - most of all, just noodling around on each piece to get a feel for what it can do!

    Any obvious steps I'm missing?

    After spending a few hours playing all these pieces over the last couple of days, there's actually one that clearly stands out for me and is almost certainly a keeper, and another one that's a pretty clear runner-up. But I definitely want to spend some more time before making any decisions. So, what's your procedure for comparing mouthpieces?
    1. Never compare more than two mouthpieces at a time. Then discard one and add one.
    2. Never play each one for more than ten or fifteen minutes because you'll just begin to compensate and the end result will be the same as if you play the piece for a long time.
    Don't test mouthpieces for more than and hour and take frequent breaks. Phil Barone

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    Distinguished SOTW Member 1saxman's Avatar
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    Default Re: What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

    I'm way too extreme to even comment on this but maybe it will serve as a bad example if nothing more. First, I have no interest in 'blending' although I'm sure many others sometimes or always play in a sax section. I have always played a certain type of mouthpiece and always go for the extreme examples even in my old age. I bought a Berg 130/0 when I was 19. Level Air 9*, Dukoff M9, Guardala King Curtis, etc. I'm usually the only horn or at least the only sax so there is no 'blending' - I want to be heard and I developed a powerful sound over the decades. So trying out a mouthpiece is a two-stage affair for me. First; I find a reed that will play on it then I check the global intonation. If it tunes up in a reasonable position and seems to be a free-blowing piece with no weird tendencies, I push on with it and just play for awhile. Most mouthpieces don't get any farther, so out they go. Second; I take it on a gig along with my good mouthpiece. Most will not last more than a few minutes, so out they go.
    So with me there's no 'find a reed for it' or 'explore the differences' - either it blows or it doesn't. The only one that has 'graduated' to 'keeper' for me in the last 20 years is a Barkley 'Hybrid Killer 9' which is pretty much interchangeable with my King Curtis and same reed but offers some slightly different attributes. I've played numerous gigs on it but last night for some reason I went back to the Guardalas on tenor and alto and simply had a blast with them. I have Barkleys for alto, tenor and baritone. The bari one is going to be my mouthpiece probably forever as it gives me every single attribute I look for in a bari piece.
    When you have several mouthpieces to trial, its important to keep a log on your first impressions, reed types required and general results.
    Also, Phil's comments above are very sensible and logical. Finally, always be careful with this; there is an effect that I have known for many years where you find a mouthpiece you like but you also like your old one. The danger is, if you bond with the new mouthpiece you may find that you will no longer be able to play the old one. Not everyone will have this problem, and I find it takes about three weeks of playing a mouthpiece exclusively to bond with it. Also, the mouthpieces usually have to be of different design to have this happen, like going from a Level Air to a Berg. Now, the other side of this equation is that not many mouthpieces will appeal to you at first even though they may be very good players - you'll probably find at least a major fault, like 'too bright' for example. Bringing into play what Phil said about 'compensating', you will find that if you concentrate on this one mouthpiece and bond with it, over a short period you will automatically learn to get your real sound out of it. If it is a very good or excellent mouthpiece, this process may continue forever as your tastes change over time. In the final analysis, you might sound completely different on a given mouthpiece than you did on the first day. If the mouthpiece is not that great, you'll find that it is too limiting and 'out it goes' with you getting back on the 'mouthpiece merry-go-round'. Enjoy the ride, but don't try to get too scientific. After all, music making and mouthpiece making are arts, so there is infinite variability in what is 'good' or 'bad'. Typically you'll know pretty quick whether a mouthpiece blows or not - don't make too much of it.

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    Default Re: What's your mouthpiece comparison procedure?

    Quote Originally Posted by 1saxman View Post
    First; I find a reed that will play on it then I check the global intonation. If it tunes up in a reasonable position and seems to be a free-blowing piece with no weird tendencies, I push on with it and just play for awhile. Most mouthpieces don't get any farther, so out they go. Second; I take it on a gig along with my good mouthpiece. Most will not last more than a few minutes, so out they go.

    I find it takes about three weeks of playing a mouthpiece exclusively to bond with it.

    ...there is infinite variability in what is 'good' or 'bad'. Typically you'll know pretty quick whether a mouthpiece blows or not - don't make too much of it.
    Nice post 1saxman. In the quote above, I extracted some key points that I've found to be very true, at least for me. And especially playing the mpc on a gig (or a couple of gigs in different venues); I have one experience in my living room and an entirely different take out in the real world on the bandstand. Phil's point about limiting comparisons to 2 mpcs at a time is also well-taken. If you pull out half a dozen different mpcs, you'll just drive yourself crazy.

    I also think these statements apply whether you're looking for and trying out a high baffle piece or a 'Link-style' mpc.

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