“Created especially for concert and marching band musicians by legendary mouthpiece designer Arnold Brilhart” – Rico Graftonite Box
Inexpensive, tough, and adequate, what more could you ask for in a mouthpiece? To some band directors, notably those who aren’t native saxophone players, the marketing on the box is more than enough to convince them that their student should use this piece. But is it the best mouthpiece for the student, semi-pro, or pro?
There can be no doubt that the price is right. It can be found new online starting at $18 on Amazon. This price seems even better in comparison to, what is in my opinion the best starter mouthpiece for the money, the “Yamaha 5C” at $45usd. The price savings between the two is almost half of a new box of reeds. If price were the only reason to buy this mouthpiece then the Graftonite wins hands down.
When Rico chose the material for the mouthpiece they hit the nail on the head. The grainy textured plastic is rigid and can withstand repeated drops on to my tile floor with on a few scuffs. Thankfully Rico chose not to give the Graftonite the gaudy grey of the older Metalite mouthpieces. This piece would easily visually blend into a sax section. If relative unbreakability of a mouthpiece were the only reason to buy this mouthpiece then the Graftonite wins this round as well.
When placed on my modern horn this mouthpiece was nothing special. The resistance was a bit higher than a S-80 but the tone lacked pizazz. I experimented with several reeds, (Rico V3, Hemkes, Vandoren Blue, La Voz, Bari brand reeds, and Legere reeds) to no avail. This mouthpiece just made a baritone like sound and nothing else. The design seemed to lock in to the weak tonal center and allow for very little inflection. This is great for a young student but it means they will out grow it rather quickly as their skills improve. In concert band where the horn has to blend this piece will do alright. Intonation could prove difficult in the palm keys and at the lowest notes but the note in between were well defined and blended well. Short of being microphoned there is little a baritone sax player can do on the marching band field than strain their back and be the second largest brass thing on the field. If you have to have a marching band mouthpiece then the Graftonite wins yet again.
If on the other hand tone, flexibility, and playability are your preferred traits in a mouthpiece then I recommend the Yamaha 5C or if your Budget is higher the Selmer S-80 C**( E – G as well). The 5C offers a consistent scale from lowest to highest notes, a fair amount of flexibility when paired with a brighter reed, and amazing playability due to its reed friendly facing. The 5C also plays well on vintage and modern horns alike. The chamber is on the larger side of the modern mouthpiece spectrum and slight smooth baffle keeps the tone round and controllable on horns that would usually fight any mouthpiece short of a pickle-barrel styled piece.
The S-80/S-90 are great mouthpieces and in turn command a higher price. Though I wouldn’t consider them starter mouthpieces. They are feature square or “D” shaped throats. This is great for establishing a soloist tone and keeping the unique woodwind reediness in the tone. For many vintage horns the S-80/S-90 are not as good with intonation due to the medium, more brilliant, chamber size.You get this performance for around $230 new, that’s 5 times as much as the 5C.
Lastly E. Rousseau Classic mouthpieces are a good split between the S-80 and 5C in terms of price and performance. It comes in at a more modest $120usd and is a great compromise. It suffers from the same intonation issues on vintage horns the S-80 and S-90 piece do but have more projection and brilliance than the 5C. At 3 times the 5C this piece is a great upgrade from a 5C if needed.
TAKE AWAY: There are so many better starter mouthpiece that the savings from buying the cheapest is false economy. Building bad playing habits to coax a mouthpiece to play some problem notes better will be difficult to remove when the student advances. The extra lesson time could easily eat up a much more money than purchasing the right mouthpiece in the first place.