Adventures in Mouthpiece Hunting Part I

Many musicians end up choosing the wrong mouthpiece or a specific brand of mouthpiece because their teacher or band director tells them that is what they have to play. From my experience in listening to video lessons from saxophonists such as Bob Reynolds, Don Menza, Bob Sheppard, and Antonio Hart along with the lessons I’ve taken with Mike Brignola and Dave Pollack, I’ve gleaned that a saxophone player should try to find a mouthpiece that feels comfortable.

What many players mean by a “comfortable” mouthpiece is one that is easy to get a sound out of, but at the same time allows the player to play in tune and keep their mind focused on the music instead of fighting the mouthpiece. I have tried many different types of hard rubber mouthpieces in an effort to find a mouthpiece that gave me a sound that had a nice spread to it but at the same time had a strong core.

After playing on many different mouthpieces, I realized there is no perfect mouthpiece that will give you everything you want, but there are some that will allow the player to achieve the sound they have been hearing in their head but have not been able to get out on their horn.

That being the case, I decided to look for a mouthpiece that would give me the freedom to sound like me. After playing many hard rubber alto and tenor mouthpieces, I found three mouthpieces that really stood out as superior hard rubber mouthpieces.

Warburton J Series

Warburton J Series Saxophone MouthpiecesWhen I found out that Warburton (mainly know for trumpet mouthpieces and other accessories) was making a line of hard rubber mouthpieces, I decided to try one out after talking to the maker and re-facer of these mouthpieces, Eric Falcon. I went to the Warburton store and sat with Eric Falcon as I tried the J Series with facings of .90, .100, and .110.

I was currently playing on a Vandoren V16 T7 hard rubber mouthpiece at the time, which was a great mouthpiece, but I was looking for a piece that would give me a bit brighter and more focused sound. After trying all three and comparing them to my hard rubber V16, I was blown away by the J Series’ projection as well as the overall warm sound I could get from the mouthpiece. I also noticed that my high D, E, and F came out clean and not thin or sharp.

I decided to pick up the .100 J series because overall it was a mouthpiece that I could easily keep in tune. I would say the J Series mouthpiece is similar to a hard rubber Jody Jazz mouthpiece or one of the new “vintage” Otto Link hard rubber mouthpieces.

The differences I’ve found in the J Series when compared to the Vandoren and the Otto Link are:

  • It has a more focused sound.
  • It is a bit brighter (in a good way) than the previous two.
  • Overall, it was easier to keep in tune.

Currently this mouthpiece goes for $175 on alto and $185 on tenor. All in all, I feel it’s a great choice that should be on the top of any saxophone player’s list when looking for a hard rubber mouthpiece. It can be purchased at either The Woodwind Brasswind or Warburton’s website, I recommend using the Warburton website if you’d like to speak to Eric Falcon, but both websites list the mouthpieces for the same price.

Warburton D Series

Warburton D Series Saxophone MouthpiecesSince I’ve purchased the J Series mouthpiece, I ran into a friend of one of my professors at college who was selling a vintage Otto Link hard rubber. When I played his vintage Otto Link hard rubber, I really liked the piece (even though it was a bit small) and remembered that Eric Falcon refaced mouthpieces in addition to producing his own line of mouthpieces.

When I visited Falcon over my winter break to do some work on my vintage Otto Link hard rubber mouthpiece, he told me since the last time I saw him he had come out with two new metal mouthpieces and two new hard rubber mouthpieces. Before Falcon started doing work on my mouthpiece, he recommended that I try out the Warburton D series mouthpiece because he based it on an vintage slant Otto Link hard rubber.

As Falcon was working on my hard rubber ‘Link, I tried the D series. After playing on it for 20 minutes, I noticed this piece had a darker sound in comparison to the J Series and had given me a sound that reminded me of tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen or Bob Sheppard.

Once Falcon refaced my link, I put the D Series back to back with it and was surprised by how similar they sounded. I would highly recommend the D Series mouthpiece to any player that has been searching for a vintage Otto Link hard rubber mouthpiece but wants to pay a much more reasonable price with the added benefits of modern re-facing. These D Series mouthpieces fall in the same price range as the J series. The price for alto is $175 and for tenor, $185. So far, I’ve only seen the D series on Warburton’s website.

John Thomas Saxophone Mouthpieces

John Thomas Saxophone MouthpiecesThe John Thomas hard rubber mouthpiece is made out of the highest quality German hard rubber. The interesting thing about these mouthpieces is that after they are manufactured, each one is individually hand-finished by John Thomas for a couple of hours until the mouthpiece is up to John’s standards. Because of this, no two John Thomas mouthpieces will sound identical.

When I got a hold of the John Thomas mouthpiece for tenor and started to play it, I noticed after a couple of days that this mouthpiece produced an even tone throughout all registers, and for me does not have the characteristics of being either very bright or very dark. I would have to say this is one of the most versatile mouthpieces I’ve ever played. I was given one of these mouthpieces to try by my teacher Mike Brignola so I did not have the opportunity to speak to John personally.

I would have to say that based on the specs of John Thomas’ hard rubber mouthpiece, he based the tenor mouthpiece on an old New York Meyer mouthpiece or an old Otto Link hard rubber mouthpiece. The great thing about John Thomas mouthpieces are you can get them at the exact specifications you want. These are great hard rubber mouthpieces that play in tune throughout the whole register, they allow the player to be as bright or as dark as they want, and they will open up the altissimo register for those players who want to play as high as Lenny Pickett. The John Thomas alto mouthpiece and tenor mouthpiece both run $180. Both the alto and tenor mouthpieces must be purchased directly from John Thomas’s website.