Musings on Sax Mouthpiece Making – Design vs Materials?
Does the material that a sax mouthpiece is made of have an automatic effect on the way a mouthpiece plays? Is metal always louder than hard rubber?
These are some common questions that I get asked about the effect of material on the sound and playing characteristics of a saxophone mouthpiece. My answer is simple and more complex at the same time.
My opinion over time has changed from thinking material matters, to thinking it matters very little, to my current thought of 75% 25%. Read below to see what 75/25 means.
Design – First off, the most important element that influences sound is the chamber shape and size, followed by the outside of the shape of the mouthpiece and then the facing curve. These three elements influence the sound more than the material difference.
Having said that, material definitely matters and makes a difference for a couple of reasons.
Vibration – A mouthpiece doesn’t vibrate in the same way that a trumpet bell or a saxophone does but the beak thickness of a mouthpiece is very important and the part of the mouthpiece that actually does vibrate. So different materials vibrate differently and do influence the sound.
Manufacturing Method – When we machine a mouthpiece, each material acts differently to being cut – this is called flex. A material that has more flex might be more difficult to machine and have less accuracy than a firmer material. Metal is the more sturdy material with less flex than hard rubber and Polycarbonate. Also we can manufacture metal pieces to have thinner side rails and shanks. Overall mass can effect how a mouthpiece sounds.
So in conclusion a mouthpiece can be made to play bright and loud out of any material or pretty and dark out of any material, but some materials lend themselves better to certain sounds. I do believe that hard rubber is a warmer sound than metal. Having made identical mouthpieces out of brass and hard rubber, I found the hard rubber was approximately a 10% warmer sound. The further we dive into this question the more ambiguous the answers become.
Here is my final answer that I’m forcing myself to make. Design is 75% of the sound and material is 25%.
JodyJazz Saxophone mouthpieces are hand-crafted in the USA with the strictest attention to detail using the highest quality materials, and every single mouthpiece is fully gauged and play tested.