Sax and Clarinet Mouthpiece Buying Guide
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Saxophone and Clarinet Mouthpiece Buying Guide

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Mouthpieces exert a huge impact on your instrument’s tone and playability. Learn how to choose one to match your music, budget and skill level.

Table of Contents

Tuning
Parts of the mouthpiece
The ligature
Saxophone and clarinet mouthpiece materials
Plastic mouthpieces
Hard rubber mouthpieces
Crystal mouthpieces
Saxophone-specific materials
Saxophone Mouthpieces
Jazz/rock/fusion mouthpieces
Concert/Classical mouthpieces
Why buy your mouthpiece from Musician's Friend?
Still Need Guidance?

If you feel overwhelmed when browsing the vast selections of saxophone mouthpieces and clarinet mouthpieces at Musicians Friend, you’re on the right page! We’ll explain the differences between the various mouthpiece types and offer tips on choosing the right model to match your instrument, music and skills.

Whether you’re replacing a damaged clarinet or sax mouthpiece or looking for an upgrade to improve your tone and playing experience, you will quickly find they vary considerably in design, materials and price. And if you thought your choice would be limited to a handful of models, you may be surprised to find just how many different mouthpieces models are available.

Because the mouthpiece is the actual link between the player and the instrument, a good one can make the difference between a rewarding playing experience and discouraging frustration. Most beginner-level instruments include a basic, mass-produced plastic mouthpiece. By replacing it with a better-quality mouthpiece, you may be able to delay purchasing an intermediate or step-up instrument as you progress.

While there are some differences between saxophone and clarinet mouthpieces, both are single-reed instruments with similar construction, hence we cover both instruments in this guide. Aside from some instrument-specific differences we’ll address later, the concepts we’ll be covering apply to both saxophone and clarinet mouthpieces.

Some things to keep in mind: Don't buy a mouthpiece just because someone you admire plays one. Everyone's mouth, lungs, and abilities are different, so the same mouthpiece won't necessarily work for everyone. A good mouthpiece will be easy to blow, will play in tune, and will be very stable, consistently producing clean tones without difficulty. Its tones will be clear, resonant and focused with good projection and a strong fundamental.

Tuning

Mouthpieces are instrument-specific so you must use one specifically designed for it. An alto sax mouthpiece can’t be used on a tenor sax, and vice-versa. Musician’s Friend makes it easy to shop for mouthpieces by filtering for specific instrument types. Options include:

Clarinets

Saxophones

You can further narrow your search by brand, price, playing style and mouthpiece materials.

Parts of the mouthpiece

Knowing the various mouthpiece components and their functions will help you zero in on a mouthpiece with the sound, feel and level of playing precision you want.

Anatomy and Parts of a Woodwind Mouthpiece

Baffle - The area of the mouthpiece directly behind the tip rail. The baffle’s shape influences the relative brightness or darkness of the mouthpiece as well as its “buzz”. Generally, the closer the baffle is to the reed, the brighter the sound. These are called “large” or “high” baffles. Conversely, a baffle that is further from the reed is sometimes called a “small” or “low” baffle and produces a darker sound.

Break Point - The point at which the reed separates from the table’s flat surface. It is the beginning of the facing curve. See Facing Curve.

Chamber - The open space in the middle of the mouthpiece, located between the bore and floor. Larger chambers produce a “fatter” tone while small chambers produce a narrower, more focused tone. Modern mouthpieces tend to have smaller chambers for brighter sound.

Facing Curve (Lay) /Tip Opening - Sound, playability and control characteristics in both saxophone and clarinet mouthpieces largely depend on how much resistance the mouthpiece produces. This is called the lay of the mouthpiece, and two components that help define it are the tip opening at the end of the mouthpiece and the facing curve, which extends from the tip to the point where the mouthpiece contacts the reed.

Tips can be described as open, meaning there is more open space between the tip and the reed, or close, meaning that space is reduced. The more open the tip, the more flexible, or soft, the reed will need to be. The facing curve between the tip and where the reed connects varies in length. The shorter the length, the softer the reed will need to be.

Therefore, a close tip and a long facing curve will create the least resistance and require the firmest reeds. This type of mouthpiece is typically easier to control and produces a comparatively dark tone. In contrast, an open tip and short facing curve will require the softest reeds, produce greater resistance and offer a brighter tone. Keep in mind that these are rules of thumb, and any time you get a new mouthpiece, experimenting with reed firmness is in order.

While beginning players may be best served with a mouthpiece that offers the best control, those who with more skill may want to try different tonal qualities, and thus experiment with mouthpieces offering different lays. Many mouthpiece models come in a number of different lays, and they are generally graded numerically based on hundredths of an inch or alphabetically, from least to most resistant. Facing charts such as this one can be helpful in getting to a short list of mouthpiece possibilities.

Side Walls / Side Rails - The side walls form the interior shape of the mouthpiece leading into the chamber. The shape and depth of the walls and rails both impact tone and volume.

Table - The flattened section where the reed is clamped by the ligature. Usually they are perfectly flat, however some models have a very slight amount of concavity to accommodate reed swelling as it grows wetter.

Tip rail - The tip rail is the point at which the reed seals with the mouthpiece as it vibrates. It shouldn’t be too thick or too thin, as that can hinder the responsiveness of the instrument.

Window - The opening the reed is positioned over.

Selmer Paris S80 Alto Sax Mouthpiece

The highly-regarded Selmer Paris S80 is an alto saxophone mouthpiece made from hard rubber and comes in a number of different lays for varied tone and playability options.

 

Listen to a comparison of two popular saxophone mouthpieces, the Selmer S80 and S90.

The ligature

The fastening hardware that fits over the mouthpiece, the ligature holds the reed in place on a saxophone or clarinet. It should apply pressure to the reed evenly. Just a little unevenness can result in squeaks and poor intonation. If you have a damaged ligature or need one to go with your new mouthpiece, Musician’s Friend has a complete collection of sax and clarinet ligature models to choose from. You’ll find both traditional metal ligatures, such as the Vandoren Optimum Series for saxophone, as well as polymer or fabric ligatures like the Rovner Dark Bb Clarinet Ligature and Cap.

Rovner Versa Tenor Saxophone Ligature and Cap

The Rovner Versa Tenor Saxophone Ligature and Cap has an adaptable pressure plate with which you can dial in six different sounds.

Saxophone and clarinet mouthpiece materials

In making both saxophone and clarinet mouthpieces, manufacturers use a number of different materials, each with their own strengths and weaknesses in terms of durability, aesthetics, and playability.

The extent of the materials’ effects on shaping tone are a matter of debate among players. However, there are some general sound characteristics that are commonly associated with the different material types as well.

Plastic mouthpieces

The most affordable among mouthpiece materials, plastic is a good choice for beginners, as it is an inexpensive option.

Clarke W Forbes Debut Bass Clarinet Mouthpiece

The Clarke W Forbes Debut Bass Clarinet Mouthpiece is a durable and highly regarded plastic model that’s great for beginners.

Find great plastic mouthpiece models for beginners and advanced players alike at Musician’s Friend.

Hard rubber mouthpieces

Hard rubber, sometimes called ebonite, is a very common mouthpiece material and generally has a more focused tone than plastic. But it has a comparatively mellow sound and is a good choice if you’re looking for a “rounder” tone with less edge and projection. Some hard rubber models like the Theo Wanne GAIA Clarinet Mouthpiece are capable of producing rich, full, and loud tones.

Hard rubber mouthpieces in a variety of styles are available on Musician’s Friend.

Crystal mouthpieces

Though not commonly used, crystal mouthpieces like the Pomarico Crystal Tenor Sax Mouthpiece Model 3 deliver a bright tone that’s particularly good for jazz. Obviously not as durable as those made from other materials, they must be handled with care. You’ll find a range of crystal mouthpieces at Musician’s Friend.

Saxophone-specific materials

In addition to the materials used in both sax and clarinet manufacturing, saxophone mouthpieces come in two different types of metal:

  • Brass, which is the more common material.
  • Stainless steel, which generally produces a brighter tone.

Though they tend to be a bit more expensive than hard rubber mouthpieces, some players, especially in jazz, prefer metal for both its sonic brightness and the look of the material.

Browse a complete collection of metal saxophone mouthpieces at Musician’s Friend.

Berg Larsen Metal Baritone Saxophone Mouthpiece

The Berg Larsen Metal Baritone Saxophone Mouthpiece is a hand-crafted stainless steel mouthpiece that comes in a variety of tip opening sizes.

Saxophone Mouthpieces

Now that we’ve covered some basics of woodwind mouthpieces and how they are graded, we will look at the specifics of saxophone mouthpieces, which have some variations that clarinets don’t.

Many saxophone mouthpieces are designed for specific genres. Here are some of their characteristics.

Jazz/rock/fusion mouthpieces

Everyone knows that the saxophone is a crucial instrument in the history of popular musical style like jazz and rock. And the saxophone sound that most would identify with these styles is one that’s big, full, and bright. Jazz players usually prefer the higher baffles, larger tip openings and chambers that tend to produce a fatter tone.

To help players get these timbres out of their instrument, mouthpiece manufacturers design models like the JodyJazz JET or the Meyer Metal Jazz that have large chambers, high baffles, and large tips.

 

Although the JodyJazz JET is very bright with a pronounced attack, it’s also capable of great warmth and fatness as this demo proves.

Concert/Classical mouthpieces

In concert bands and orchestras, the saxophone generally takes on a more mellow sound. Mouthpieces often have medium-length facings and medium to medium-close tip openings. Classical and concert players usually use harder reeds to help focus their sound and generally prefer hard rubber models.

The Beechler Diamond Inlay, which comes in a large-bore style that creates moderate air speed for a darker tone, or the E. Rousseau Classic Mouthpiece, which produces a warmer tone and has solid projection capabilities.

Rico Royal Graftonite Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

The Rico Royal Graftonite Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece is an affordable, entry-level model that is available in a range of chamber sizes and lays.

Why buy your mouthpiece from Musician's Friend?

Specs only tell you so much. You need to spend some time with a mouthpiece before you decide it’s right for you and your instrument. That’s not possible in a store with a clerk breathing down your neck. When you purchase your sax or clarinet mouthpiece at Musician’s Friend, you get a full 45 days to check it out under our No-Hassle Return Policy. (Mouthpiece returns are subject to a sterilization fee.)

Still Need Guidance?

If you need more help choosing the best mouthpiece for your needs and budget, give our friendly Gear Heads a call at 877-880-5907. We’ll help you hone in on the model that makes sense for you.

Looking for more tips on buying woodwinds? Check out our clarinet and saxophone buying guides.

Tags: Woodwind Instruments & Accessories Saxophones Clarinets

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