YBS-61 bottom half

Yamaha YBS-61 From 1974 through 1984 Yamaha created what I and many others consider one of the best baritone saxes ever created. It’s tone is clean, clear and with minimal coloring from the horn. Simply put this horn and all Yamaha horns from this point forward, allows the saxophone to sound like the musician playing it. With a Yamaha you can sound like yourself and in turn develop a unique sound that is identifiable. Many other baritones have a strong inherent  tone that can be colored by the musician but will always sound like itself. Conn 12m and Selmer Mark VI’s tend to have “the tone” and is usually identifiable as what it is regardless of who’s playing it. Mind you there’s nothing wrong with that if it is a sound that you like but Yamaha gives their players blank slates to paint with.

The YBS-61 and subsequent models all feature Yamaha’s nearly perfect ergonomic keys system. From the location of key touches, side keys, and palm keys to neck angle and low-a key placement, Yamaha set the standard for playability. If you’ve ever played a vintage Conn 12M then you too must have wondered just how large of hands people in the early part of the 20th century had. The key touches are nowhere near comfortable for people with average hands let alone children or smaller adults. The key touches are aligned in an almost straight line which is in no way ergonomic. The palm keys touches are no better either. The are all in the same plane which doesn’t match the natural arch of the hand while playing. Let’s not forget the right hand side keys. The high F/Eb key is flat across its touch and provides no natural resistance to movement across it’s face. This means you can easily overshoot it during a particularly difficult passage.

It should be said that few of these particulars are unique to vintage baritones. Virtually all vintage horns has one or more of these issues from the 1910’s through 50’s. Some manufacturers started addressing ergonomics earlier than others. That said, Yamaha really has set the standard for quality key work and excellent tolerances. Currently it’s all the rage on Chinese import baritones to add double key arms to the low notes from low C down to low A. Yamaha’s key design is very strong and thus requires no double arming to get the required strength not to flex when in use. When in proper adjustment Yamaha low A mechanism is robust, light, and very quick despite have multiple points of motion. In later models Yamaha would adopt the double arm on the low C which it appeared to have borrowed from Yanagisawa horns.

All of this praise does not come without some condemnation. While the horn is well made and functions beautifully the same cannot be said for the case. As you might already know, time is the true test of any design, and the case latches failed. The weight of the horn is enough to make the latch screws pull through the case material. Without a backing plate the latches and handle were eventually going to give in to the inevitable pull of gravity. While the latches/handles represent a functional issue my only other complaint is that where they give you lots of room to store items within the case they did not include overs for the various compartments. If the item you place in the compartment is not snug then it may very well end up in the bell. There’s nothing quite like fishing a mouthpiece cap from the body of you horn during warm up for a gig.

The horn is not without its share of problems, some more nit picking than actual. First is the lack of coloration of the tone. While for some this blank slate offers infinite possibility for others it is the polar opposite. They complain that the Yamaha has no soul or personality. They wax poetically about the 12M’s gutsy tone, the Buescher 400’s Deep bottom end, or the Selmer’s sonorous middle and top register while accusing the Yamaha’s tone of being very vanilla. Are any of these assessments correct? It’s up to the player to decide.

Structurally the -61 has some shortcomings. The sheet metal guards are somewhat soft and easily bent with even a slight knock. I get that the guard is supposed to absorb impacts but it seems a bit too soft. The palm key heights are not adjustable on any Yamaha saxophone. This has been a common feature on Keilwerth horns for years and would facilitate better form for players with larger hands. lastly the largest and most egregious fault in the early YBS-61’s is the lower octave vent.

The lower octave vent, the vent which opens between the A and G break, is in the wrong location. The as-built location on the body 1/4″ down from the top main body connection does not allow the A,G#, G notes to speak cleanly in the second register. One or more of these notes will feel hesitant or sound slightly fuzzy because of this. Some players claim not to have this issue on their horns while others, like myself, are always aware of this issue when we play. To show how big of a problem this was; Yamaha fixed this problem about halfway through production of the -61. Still to this day they reference those modifications to new baritones like the YBS-62. Here’s Yamaha’s description from their website for the YBS-62: “A feature exclusive to Yamaha saxophones, the three-vent octave mechanism eliminates fuzzy, unclear tones when playing G, G# and A with the octave key..”  This is the problem and there are many early -61’s still out there playing that could use this repair. Sadly any repair tech unaware of this flaw might be on a wild goose hunt and some owners paying a tech of exploratory exams when the problem is much more fundamental.

The repair involves moving the octave vent and plugging the original vent. I’ve heard from some who’ve had this done that the repair absolutely repaid the issue but I’ve also heard from Yamaha themselves that there is no guarantee that this will fix any perceived deficiencies in the horn. Yamaha says this will having in it’s archive instructions for repair techs to make a retrofit and repair the horns.  Good luck in getting a copy of this document as Yamaha customer service was not in any hurry to distribute this information.  Yes, I said that Yamaha USA’s customer service was apprehensive to share information directly with me on how to correct a design flaw on my 40 year old horn. More on this later.

TAKE AWAY: All things considered I really enjoy my YBS-61. Any mouthpiece, any reed,  any musical genre, and any tonal concept can be achieved at any time by this versatile model. If modern Yamaha baritones are 1/10th as versatile as the my old -61 then I can’t wait to get my hands on one.

 

Image above from Kessler Music check them out.

 

ModelYBS-61
Years1974-1984
KeyBb
Auxiliary KeysLow A
EngravingYes
Finish:Clear Lacquer
Keys:Clear Lacquer
Finger Buttons:Pearl
Current ModelYBS-62

In an effort to make my views on mouthpieces easier to compare I’ve created this series of quick reference charts. These charts represent the basic playing characteristics of each mouthpiece.  The scale is from 1 to 10 with 1 being the least amount of a particular feature and 10 being the most. Of course all of these characteristics are intertwined. For ex. You can’t really have a mouthpiece with high brightness and very low projection.

The four characteristics are:

Flexibility: how easy is it to alter the base tone. Very flexible pieces have tones that are easily bent and techniques like lip bends and squeeze tones become easier. The more flexible a piece is the harder it is to keep in tune, as a general rule of thumb.

Core Tone: This is a measure of how many harmonics are present in the base tone. Less core means more harmonics and thus a more “color” tone. Whereas more tone means the piece will blend better into ensembles.

Brightness: This is a measure of how prominent the high harmonics are in the tone. The brighter the tone the more it cuts through the ensemble and is considered more contemporary.

Volume: How loud is the piece? Can it be heard from space?

Warburton Baritone Saxophone Mouthpiece J series

Now i wouldn’t be surprised at all if you didn’t first think of Warburton when you came to this site. In fact Warburton hadn’t crossed my radar until a few years ago when a few brass friends mentioned in passing that they make a woodwind mouthpiece in addition to their brasswind pieces.  Curious about this development I went to their website to view their saxophone offerings. To my dismay at the time they had baritone mouthpiece in development but not ready. Rather than invest in a tenor piece I decided to wait. After a few years I forgot about Warburton until an offer I couldn’t refuse crossed my email box and then I had my very own J-Series piece at the .110 tip opening that I prefer.

DISCLAIMER/REMINDER: As a general rule, the sound you get from any mouthpiece is dependent on a number of factors. These include the players physiology, the horn, the reed chosen, the mouthpiece and most importantly the players sound concept. The sound concept is the internal tone each player hears in their head. If you prefer a darker tone then no matter what your body will find a way to darken the tone. Consider how Don Menza can sound like Webster, Coltrane, and Hawkins just by hearing the sound in his head. His well practiced body then makes changes to give him the desired tone.

Construction: The material is a traditional hard rubber with a gentle sloping baffle and slight rollover. The sidewalls are straight and the tip and side rails are thin. I’m not certain of the chamber size but I do find that I have to pull the mouthpiece out off of the cork more than any other mouthpiece i own. that suggests that the chamber may be more medium than large.

Mouth feel: The piece has a traditional hard rubber baritone mouthpiece feel. The beak is slim so it would work well for any size mouth. Personally I prefer a bit larger a mouth feel as I feel like it opens my airways a bit more.

Reed friendliness: Reed friendliness  is normally a function of how evenly and precisely the facign curve is and whether there is damage, even slight, to any portion of the facing. The facing of this piece was almost perfect when I dropped a .0015 feeler on it. Because of this and the layout of the curve it played well with most reeds I had. Though, I did have to move down a half strength from the RPC Rollover I had been playing prior (more on that later).

Sound: This piece has is marketed as “designed for the contemporary player that wants maximum flexibility and a traditional hard rubber feel.” Without defining contemporary this leaves a lot of room for interpretation. In my opinion contemporary players sound much brighter than those of yesteryear. They tend to value the brightness and edge of modern pieces. If this is the measure that you use as well then this mouthpiece is not “contemporary”. It can be brighter if pushed but I wouldn’t call it bright at all but it’s not tubby either. It has a great blend of core tone and edge that when pushed can blend with almost any non-amplified group.

Warburton J-Series Sound Experience Chart

TAKE AWAY: This piece can be found for around $200 new. This is a steal for what I now consider a good do almost anything mouthpiece. You can anchor the sax section in the big band or blow a few ballads in a small jazz combo. This piece will fit the bill. It’s easier to play and has more core tone than a Link and intonation is more spot on than you’d get from a high baffle Berg.

Lets take a moment to describe what I call the “perfect” mouthpiece. The perfect piece is one that allows you to play without thinking of your gear. You shouldn’t have to fight your mouthpiece. It should be transparent to the player and listener.  If you have to fuss with the mouthpiece constantly then it’s not perfect for you. The mouthpiece should offer the performer the ability to express themselves as the hear themselves in their own tone concept. The perfect piece should offer the player the level of tonal flexibility that allows them to meet their musical expectations.

Clearly no one mouthpiece be be all things to all people but some have gone on to become standards. The Selmer S-80 piece has been the mainstay of classical and beginning sax playing for decades for it’s ability to blend, ease of use, clear focused tone. The Otto Link Tone Edge, has become a right of passage for players moving from classical to jazz. It’s large chamber and rollover baffle make it a preeminently flexible mouthpiece that easily covers jazz styles from the 20’s through the post bob era’s. The Dukoff and Guardala mouthpieces have become beacons of  smooth jazz, rock, and contemporary jazz tone concept. Their high cliff baffles and small to medium chambers have been duplicated by mouthpiece makers all over the world. These pieces offer edge and punch to compete in an amplified world.

In just those few examples there are a variety of construction methods and potential applications. What those piece share in common is that the player has to choose for themselves what will work in their playing situation and preferences. A player who prefers their Dukoff in their fusion band might find a Otto Link too stuffy, whereas a player who couldn’t connect to their tone on a Jody Jazz or Guardala might find that a modified Selmer Soloist to be the key to unlock their creativity. It is truly the player which makes the mouthpiece.

What do you describe as the perfect mouthpiece? Let me know by leaving a comment.

Selmer S-80 Baritone vs. Selmer S-80 Bass Mouthpiece

When I purchased my bass it wasn’t in playable shape. The octave mechanism was a bit tweaked and needed some work. After a some time with the horn my horn tech excitedly called to tell me the horn was playing and sounds like a champ. He played it for me with a Selmer S-80 baritone mouthpiece. I though it sounded okay but something was missing. My tech hadn’t noticed the monster vintage bass mouthpiece hiding deftly in the corner of the case so he play tested with what he had on hand. When I played it with my Baritone S-80 I couldn’t get the response to work and the intonation was all over the map. Following that I defaulted to the vintage piece in the case and notice that a few notes seemed wonky.

On a whim, I bought a Selmer Bass Mouthpiece off of ebay brand new in the box. On a casual examination it looked exactly like the the Baritone S-80 except for for the engraving “Saxo Basse”on the table. On closer inspection the difference was huge. After a couple hours with the bass piece I don’t think I’ll be using the vintage piece ever again.

First, the similarities:

  • Exterior dimensions are identical
  • Baritone ligatures fit this perfectly.
  • Tip opening charts are identical (so i’m told)

The differences:

  • The chamber is much larger on the bass
  • Baritone has a square window into the chamber
  • Bass has slightly scooped sidewalls vs straight baritone walls
  • Bass has a slightly wider tip width for bass reeds though baritone work as well
  • The bass has a larger back bore (shank opening)
*UPDATE*
I am on the search for a smaller tip opening S-80 Bass piece as I think this tip is a bit to large for me. Otherwise the piece is fantastic.

 Bari Star Baritone ReedFirm, punchy, and has edge; Bari woodwinds has created their best reed to date in the Bari Star line. If your musical situation requires volume, edge, and longevity then this reed should be on your short list.

I’ve been a huge proponent to synthetic reeds since I first played one back in 2001. It was a bright and punchy but a bit unrefined. Eventually I returned to the time honored cane reed for my playing. At this time I was in a Ska band that enjoyed very minor success and toured a little around the region. Like many other wind players touring from dive bar to the next you learn that beer and booze can have a disastrous effect natural cane reeds.  It can shorten their lives and if you have enough booze you can chip or break them on accident. This can lead to the problem of trying to find more reeds on the way to the next venue, on a Sunday when the music stores are closed. Sometimes you ask the sax player in the opening band if he has a spare reed you can swap him for a cold brew, this hardly worked as baritones were few and far between in Ska bands at the time. Though now they’ve made a bit of comeback thanks to groups like Streetlight Manifesto and Ska Cubano.

Enough history now on to the goods:

Tone: This reed is much warmer than the original Bari Synthetic reed. It is closer in tone to a Brancher Jazz cane reed than to other synthetics. It is not as classicaly smooth as a Forestone or as natural cane sounding as a Legere.

Strength Grade Scale: S [soft] – H [hard]

Relative vs Stated Hardness:  I find this reed to be about a 1/2 step softer than the hardness scale suggests the soft – medium should be and I find Hard to be a little 1/4 step harder than they suggested.

Finish: The surface which touches the lips has slight machine marks which are smooth but noticeable. The left and right sides of the reed can be a touch sharp as the angle is only slightly rounded off. I suspect that a few passes with 1000 grit sand paper to round the rails of the reed will fix that with minimal change to performance.

Shape: This reed fits my RPC .110 High Baffle mouthpiece well and with very slight overhang on each side.

Tonal Edge: This mouthpiece has about half of the edge from the standard Bari woodwinds reed.

Performance change while playing: I find that the Medium and Medium Hard did soften after about 1.5 hours of steady playing.  Not enough to want to change out reeds but there was a slight performance difference. I suspect it is due to warmth and the reed returned to normal after it cooled a bit.

Price: $ – Cheap as domestics brews on ladies night. So cheap you can buy 4 or more for the price of 1 box of Vandoren bari reeds.

TAKE AWAY: I recommend that all baritone players take a spin on an appropriate Bari Star reed. These are a suitable fit for times when I prize a bit more volume over a perfect tone. When I need more control and more depth, like in a Big Band, I still prefer the Légère.

Buy them on Amazon, they’re cheap and may become your favorite

Img prop. of RPC Mouthpices

Like most saxophone players I’ve tried dozens of mouthpieces over the years. I’ve played most brands out there and many vintage ones. These include: Beechler, Otto Link, Jody Jazz, Runyon, Lebayle, Francois Louis, Meyer, Vandoren, Hite, Selmer, Guy Hawkins, Dukoff, Woodwind Company, Refault, Brilhart, and Berg Larsen just to name a few. In this time a few piece have stuck with me over the years but have never quite performed the way I wanted them to. After the honeymoon period ended there was always a reason why a mouthpiece would fall out of favor; mouth-feel, tone too bright, tone too dark, reed unfriendly, too much pressure, too free blowing, rapid heat loss, too much condensation settled between songs, or mouthpiece has to use a special ligature.

This changed when I started playing the Vandoren V16 – B9, it is such a great piece that I feel every baritone player should spend time with it. But it too had issues in not being bright enough for my changing sound concept. That’s when I began the search for a high baffled mouthpiece with cut and punch while also having depth and effortless control at all volume levels. I tried a few different piece at a local music store but didn’t quite hit the nail on the head.  But that’s a topic for a different day. I then decided that I wanted a brand new, hand crafted, boutique mouthpiece made for me with the qualities that I was seeking. That lead me to Ron at saxmpc.com.

DISCLAIMER/REMINDER: As a general rule, the sound you get from any mouthpiece is dependent on a number of factors. These include the players physiology, the horn, the reed chosen, the mouthpiece and most importantly the players sound concept. The sound concept is the internal tone each player hears in their head. If you prefer a darker tone then no matter what your body will find a way to darken the tone. Consider how Don Menza can sound like Webster, Coltrane, and Hawkins just by hearing the sound in his head. His well practiced body then makes changes to give him the desired tone.

Construction: The material is a traditional hard rubber with his initials carved into the side along with the tip opening information. The finish is satin and very smooth both inside and outside. The rails were even in width and the tip opening was even across its width. The high and long shelf baffle terminated in a steep though not sharp slope into the chamber of the mouthpiece.

Mouth feel: The piece has a slim mouth feel and is suited to most any size mouth. I prefer a bit larger a mouth feel as I feel like it opens my airways a bit more. By adding 1 – 1mm thick rubber mouthpiece pad to the beak it was near perfect. This also has the benefit of protecting the piece from tooth scratching.

Reed friendliness: I think this is one of the places where this mouthpiece is really interesting. The type, cut, and strength of the has an immediate and strong change in the timbre of the tune. A bright reed seems to reinforce the higher harmonics the mouthpiece favors. If you place a darker reed you can achieve a more modest and full tone. The reed strength was also a welcome change. Ron’s pieces are made to be played on a harder reed than many people use for such open pieces. The recommended strength is in the Rico Jazz Select 3S to  Rico 3.5 range. I was able to play the piece comfortable on reeds up to a Jazz Select 4H with only a little extra effort.

Sound: This piece has a high baffle. There is no hiding it but to my surprise the baffle did not immediately result in an ultra bright tone. Instead the high baffle reinforced some basic elements of the tone but allowed the tone to be molded by the musician. In general I enjoy playing on Legere reeds as they tend to give a darker tone than the other synthetic reeds on the market. When they are applied to this piece they pull the tone a bit darker and sub-tones feel like a warm woolen blanket but when pushed the tone goes bright and aggressive. Even at higher volumes the tone is full and doesn’t break.

Ligature:  Ron ships all mouthpiece with ligatures and caps. Vandoren are you listening? The included is a brass 2 screw traditional ligature. It fits perfectly and does it’s job very well. I prefer Rovner type ligatures so I added a spare tenor ligature and it fits well. The piece is close to the size of a hard rubber tenor mouthpiece so some more expensive ligatures may fit. .

TAKE AWAY:  In the end this is one of the most versatile mouthpieces I’ve even owned. It previously served me in my big band and jazz combo. I could blend with the section or fire off a auditorium filling Ronnie Cuber style tone with the same piece. If you are sitting on the fence waiting for one of these to hit Ebay I’d suggest you just go to Ron’s site and order it. There’s a good reason his pieces don’t go to the auction block as often as Wanne’s, Jody’s, Meyer’s and Link’s. When I can afford it I’ll be getting his .105B or .110B Tenor piece as well it’s a monster of a player from what I’ve heard.

Normally I don’t post sound samples of my mouthpieces. First, I feel that there are too many variables that drastically affect the sound that making an accurate comparison is difficult. Second, I think invariably the players skills are judged just as much as the mouthpiece. This can jade some listeners. Lastly, the recording equipment can color the tone and deceive the listener.

For proof of the first point read my review of the V16 mouthpiece and listen to two titans of the bari sax play the same mouthpiece but otherwise different setups. It’s night and day difference between their tones. Vandoren V16 mouthpiece review

All those points aside, I did get a request to share some of a recent charity gig I did while playing my YBS-61, Vandoren V16 B9, and Rico Select jazz unfiled 2.5 reeds. I listened back to the recording and was pleasantly surprised at how the tiny mic element picked up the bari very clearly but due to it’s size attenuated the lows pretty heavily. I don’t know the brand of the recorder but I think it turned out alright.

Here’s the link to the file: MBS Soundcloud

Jody Jazz DV 8 – left profile

Recently I got my hands on a fantastic beast of a mouthpiece. The Jody Jazz DV 8. This piece is one of of the few mouthpieces that I had on my bucket list. Why? Because pro players like Jason Marshall (DV 10) and Claire Daly (DV 6) play these pieces with amazing tones and the marketing hype from Jody Jazz just gave me an itch I couldn’t help but want to scratch.

I purchased this piece 2nd hand and it wasn’t perfect, has a missing bite plate and handling wear, but played perfectly. It has a gutsy soloist tone that carries well in larger groups. Intonation wise it wasn’t the best for a vintage horn like my 12M but matched very well to my more modern YBS-61. Let’s look at some details.

Construction: This piece is made from heavy gold plated brass. It feels solid in the hand but on my 12M it posed a problem. I have to pull the mouthpiece out pretty far and there is not enough cork for comfortably secure positioning. This isn’t unique to this mouthpiece but is symptomatic of most modern mouthpiece on vintage bari’s.

The mouth feel: This piece feels great in the mouth though a little small for my personal taste. The size feels a little smaller that a Otto Link STM.  I have been playing it with a few rubber bit pads stacked on each other to open the mouth a bit more and to replace the missing bite plate but it is still a small mouth feel.

Ligature: I found that  a “dark” Rovner fabric ligature to be a great match for this mouthpiece. It won’t mar the beautiful exterior plating, secures the reed well, and if you believe the hype can help tame the pesky high harmonics. The ligature and cap I bought it with fit perfectly and offers better positioning options that the tapered collar ligature that is an option for this piece.

 Reed friendliness: Just as Jody suggested on the website I had to move to a 1/4 to 1/2 harder reed. Once I did this there wasn’t a reed in this range that it wouldn’t accommodate. I feel that this piece’s facing is near perfect for the baffle/tip/reed combo. Pick a reed and play should be the motto of this mouthpiece.

 Sound:  This is a bold and bright mouthpiece. I played this in my jazz combo and big band and it was perfect for the combo but a bit too bright for the traditional sounding big band. That is not to say that it can’t do double duty but it will require some restraint and proper reed selection to blend into a traditional sounding group.

Other: Here’s a surprise for me and maybe you as well. Beneath the bite plate is the latin like Omicron-Tau type symbol. The same symbol on the body of the mouthpiece. I suspect it is to identify forgeries as there are many Asian copies of the over all design of the DV. In my research I’d never seen this feature mentioned in respect to a JJ mouthpiece.

Bite Plate: I contacted JJ reps about the missing bite plate. They informed me that the repair would entail inspection, cleaning, bite place replacement if possible,and re-plating. Though, the re-plating was somewhat optional but highly recommended. It would look like new for a very tidy sum and a month in their care. I decided to hold off and perhaps seek Keith Bradbury MojoBari‘s service to fashion a new bite plate. But in clear so that I can see that great engraving.

TAKE AWAY:  This piece meets the marketing description on Jody’s page to a tee. It’s easy to play, bright, and beautifully well made. It’s value per dollar new is an individual choice because there are a great many options that cost less and play just as well but this still something different and lovely to play. That being said, it is not for the faint of heart or for people who are new to bright high-baffle pieces. This takes time to learn to control and find your sound on this piece.
 

Jody Jazz DV 8 – Without Biteplate

Jody Jazz DV 8 – Showing Table cutout

Jody Jazz DV 8 – right profile

Jody Jazz DV 8 – Engraving under bite plate

Jody Jazz DV 8 – Tip opening stamp

Jody Jazz DV 8 – Close up of baffle throat termination

Jody Jazz DV 8 

ModernBariSax Lebayle Baritone Saxophone Mouthpiece EngravingThis mouthpiece was first brought to my attention by one of my favorite baritone saxophonists, Brian Landrus on the Sax on the Web forum. From that point on I had to try one. Even though I run a moderately somewhat successful baritone saxophone blog I still have to purchase everything I demo. So with that in mind I camped on eBay and Sax-on-the-web (SOTW) and waited for one to become available. When this piece appeared I immediately jumped on it. It was in mint condition and looked perfect in just about every way.  I did have reservations in bidding as I knew the 7 tip opening (.103) is quite a bit smaller than the Vandoren B9 (.120).

Construction: This mouthpiece really is pretty to look at even though it is just a hunk or hard rubber. The large deeply engraved Lebayle logo and tip opening really compliment the swooping design of this piece. The interior of the baffle chamber were as smooth as expected though the interior of the throat was machined ever so slightly rough. To be clear it looks purposefully not completely smooth. I surmise its to help the piece grip the cork though I am not sure.

The mouth feel: This piece feels fantastic in the mouth. the feel is very much like the duckbill Brilhart’s but much more comfortable to blow than those. I find that compared to my Vandoren V16 and Otto Link Tone Edge that this piece has a smaller mouth feel. This should be good news for those who have smaller mouths and generally don’t find rubber mouthpieces comfortable to play.

Ligature: Because this was purchased used it didn’t come with a ligature but finding to fit was not difficult. I had several Rovner dark ligatures for alto clarinet through baritone and found one that fit perfectly though I couldn’t tell what instrument it was for. i also expirmented with a string ligature, a vintage Selmer expanding ligature, and a two screw brass ligature and all performed well. The rovner provided the best grip on the smooth rubber surface without risk of marring the finish.

Reed friendliness: As of late I’ve replaced nearly every wood reed on reed instruments that I play. From clarinets and saxophones to my bagpipe chanter, synthetics have become my reed of choice. This presented a problem as i didn’t have hard enough reeds to accomodate my embouchure and the closer tip opening. I did try this piece with Vandoren ZZ’s 2.5, 3’s, as well as Rico v3 3’s, Rico Royal 2.5’s and every Legere reed I had and none of them gave me the tone that I wanted. They were just too soft for my embouchure to keep in tune on either end of the spectrum. The palm notes were flat and the low Bb and A notes were sharp. I get the same effect when I use a reed too soft on my Yamaha 5c and a 3 reed.

Sound: The tone is bright and punchy. It has a real baritone sound and at least 3 shades brighter than my V16 but it’s not as bright as the Dukoff that I had tried a few months back. So I feel confident in saying this piece will give a great contemporary tone while still maintaining the ability to provide lush subtones.

TAKE AWAY:  This is a great mouthpiece for those who need power and precision.  Would I recommend someone try one? Yes, but get one that is close in tip to the mouthpiece that you use now.

“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.

Alternatives?

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.

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Take one knurled thumb screw, a thin band of brass, and interchangeable pressure plates, then plate them in gold and what do you get? The Vandoren Optimum Ligature of course. This ligature is the premium for the saxophone line up and at $70 for the baritone with plastic cap from Woodwind and Brasswind it’s not the cheapest. But sometimes quality comes at a cost.

MATERIAL: The ligature is made from quality brass material like all of the Vandoren products. The brass feels like it will resist stretching more than your standard 2 screw ligature. This combined with the sense that the pressure plate feel somewhat heavy for their size, gives the player the feeling that this ligature will last.  I should note that this is not a screw-on-top type ligature. The adjustment screw is responsible for keeping the pressure plate in place.

Special feature/Gimmick: The pressure plates are part of what sets this ligature apart from so many others. Each ligature comes with 3 choices of plates. The first has a wavy or corrugated pattern running the length of the plate.  The second has 2 raised bars perpendicular to the plates longest side, and the 3rd has 4 raised dots.  The method of changing these plates is not as intuitive as I would have liked. If you try to grasp them and pull them out you will likely bend the ligature. The proper removal procedure is to gently press down on one end of the plate as you unscrew the thumb screw. This will pop the plate of quickly and easily without requiring much effort at all. If you feel like you are tugging at it then you have to start again and go slowly. The replacement is the reversal of removal only much easier still.

Cap: The plastic cap is cheap. If it weren’t for the gold Vandoren logo i’d have tossed it in the bin with the other cheap caps I own. It would have been nice to get a brass cap with the ligature. Vandoren does offer an optional leather cap but that was not available when I ordered my ligature.

Fit: The ligature I purchased was designed to fit the slim V16 baritone mouthpiece and will not likely any other bari piece mouthpiece. Because it was designed for the V16 mouthpiece it fits like a dream. Not to high on the mouthpiece nor to low. Adjustments to the reed while on the mouthpiece does not result in the ligature moving or sliding out of alignment. If you can operate a 2 screw ligature then this will be a walk in the park.

Does It Work: I have A/B tested these pressure plates with the untrained ear of my mate and she could not tell the difference between them from any distance. In playing I could barely feel a mouth difference between plates. I was not expecting a 100% increase in power, flexibility, or expressiveness, I was however expecting a difference in stuffiness, articulation speed, or reed pickiness. The pressure plates seemed to have no effect on a well playing reed. There was some effect on a synthetic that I though was beyond service. The wavy plates even pressure likely made the reed seal better the the mouthpiece table thus giving that reed additional life.

There was however a difference in my reeds after trying both synthetic and natural cane reeds. If you like your reeds snug on the mouthpiece then the 4 dot plate and the 2 bar plate will place indentations in your reed. This is pronounced on natural cane reeds but not an issue on the synthetics. The wavy plate did not appear to modify cane or synthetic reeds at all.

TAKE AWAY: Swappable pressure plates feels like a solution to a problem that few if anybody had. This is a good ligature with unnecessary features.If this ligature had no swappable pressure plates it would still be a good ligature. In fact it would be similar to the M/O ligature.In the end, this is the ligature that the V16 mouthpiece should come with from the factory.

What do you get when you take one part Otto Link, one part Selmer Soloist, and mix in a bit of Berg Larsen? A Vandoren V16 of course. Not familiar? Pro bari performers all over the musical world have found the love of these pieces. Denis DiBlasio and Gary Smulyan are just two of the players use this piece to express themselves.

Vandoren has upped its game with this piece. If you are a fan of the V5 series, and I know there are a few of you out there, then you may find this piece a bit too open and free blowing. But if you’ve never tried a Vandoren baritone mouthpiece then you are in for a pleasant experience.

Construction: This piece is crafted from hard rubber, ebonite, and features a stylish but purely decorative gold band at the bottom. The craftsmanship is typical Vandoren with crisp sharp stampings and a smooth polished exterior. the mouthpiece features a long shank, thin for a rubber mouthpiece profile, and low angled beak. The tip and side rails are thin and even. This coupled with the flat table leads to quick articulation and sharp attacks.

The mouth feel of this piece is more like that of a quality metal mouthpiece. Rather than have a steep angled beak to accommodate the amount of rubber needed to make the beak area stronger on most hard rubber mouthpieces they chose to keep it slim. This slimness means that the mouth feel is similar to a metal mouthpiece. For those with smaller mouths or double on different horns throughout a set this will make the transition much easier.

Ligature: This is where the mouthpieces off size is a disadvantage. I keep a few ligatures in my collection and only one fit the mouthpiece, a one screw leather one for a hard rubber tenor mouthpiece. This ligature was not a perfect fit but would secure the reed without marring the mouthpiece. I played the piece for a week until the recommended ligature arrived, a Vandoren Optimum. Supplied with the correct ligature this mouthpiece really showed its personality. It was
was much easier to secure the reed and there is nearly no chance of marring the mouthpiece. The additional pressure plates do not make a difference to me but they are nice to have.

Sound: This is what you came for.  This mouthpiece has depth and a strong core to the tone. Depending on your physiological makeup, horn, and reed combo you can make this piece do almost anything. From warm and lush sub-tones to bright and punchy, this piece can be a lot of things to a lot of people. Currently I am using this piece in an 18 piece big band with no problems blending with the section. But when it’s time to stand and be counted I can add the edge needed to project to the back of the room just by changing my airflow.

Reed friendliness: This mouthpiece did well with every reed I threw at it within  a certain range for me. The piece I chose to play is the B9 tip opening. This features a long facing with a tip opening of around .122″. If I stay in the 2.5 hardness range then the piece is perfect but if I stray down to a 2 or up to a 3 hardness the mouthpiece makes me work for the sound. This is more a function of my chops rather than the mouthpiece construction. Recently I’ve settled in on a Légère synthetic reed for more warmth and buzz

TAKE AWAY: This is the mouthpiece which has halted my search. After spending the last 4 months with this piece I feel it offers the best bang for the buck for a production mouthpiece.

Sound sample: Here is Gary Smulyan and Denis Diblasio showing off the sound of this mouthpiece on two different horns. Gary’s vintage Conn 12m and Denis’s Yamaha YBS-62? really change the color of the tone and offer a great A/B of the mouthpiece. Both players are playing Vandorem V16 B9 mouthpieces. Coincidentally I have the same models of each of their horns, different years though.

 

What do you get when you combine ½ of a cows worth of leather, brass rivets, zippers and foam? A Gard Bags baritone saxophone gig bag of course.
Gard Low “A” American Model, Black
Gig bags are colloquially called “repair man’s best friends” but in careful hands and under ideal situations this type or protective case can be both protective and convenient for a musician who has to carry their horn long distances by hand. For example, it is not uncommon for me to have to park my car several blocks from a venue if playing downtown. As you might image I would never leave my horn unattended at a venue for load-in. After many a strained shoulder, pulling, carting and carrying my Yamaha bari’s coffin case I needed something more convenient.
Convenience was judged on a few criteria specific for my needs. The first is that it had to offer reasonable protection from minor transportation bumps. Secondly, it had to close securely and remain closed while be carried. Thirdly, it had to have lots provisions for easily carrying it when the horn is inside. Fourthly, the case and horn had to fit into my very small cars only available space, the front passenger seat.  Fifthly, the empty case had to fit into a storage crate in a small closet at my home.
Because my bari spends the majority of its life in either its stock Yamaha case or on its stand in my home I wanted a case that offered enough protection that the act of driving to the gig wouldn’t misalign keys or tweak long rods in any way. The case features padding between 2 and 3 inches thick in some areas and will compress enough to absorb some minor impacts. The foam is much more forgiving than the Styrofoam material in the original case.
If you’ve never felt the weight of an original Yamaha case, with its wood construction and aluminum trim, you would be surprised at how much it weighs without the horn inside. This is needed to provide adequate protection to the horn but the problem is that the latches and handles become failure points over time. On my case I’ve had many latch failures in the past 8 years. First the center latches have pulled their rivets out due to the center handle placing flexing stress on the long face of the case and the center latches are closest to the handles. The popped off one at a time then I re-riveted them with backer plates and still the latches would get loose and become unsafe in 1 year. The same with the end handle, over time the vinyl covered blued steel handle would break at the attachment screws after 5 years. I’m on my third handle now.
This bag has very heavy duty brass zippers which slide smoothly and remain closed when slid to the closed position even with the weight of the horn inside.  As a secondary safety feature the grab handles have a Velcro strap which can bind them together and prevent the horn from falling backwards out of the case unnoticed.
Carrying this case is as easy as grabbing the grab handles or using the included leather carrying strap. The grab handles are suitably thick and are comfortable in the hand. The included leather sling strap has brass hardware and there are leather tabs covering both sides of the brass clips. This detail means that the brass clips will never grab or mark your clothes. This is a welcome touch if you find yourself in a suit and tie to play a ska show. There are  sets of “D” rings on both sides of the case which allows for a 3 methods of attaching the straps, vertical on either side or crossing from opposite pairs of rings. Crossing opposite pairs makes carrying the case horizontally over a shoulder easier .
I often get ribbed for driving a small car and playing one of the largest instruments in the band, the upright bass player is the only person for whom I sympathize and who understands my plight. The Yamaha case is simply gigantic. It offers generous amounts of space for accessories with a large triangular cubby at the bell and a long multi-segment cubby running 4/5’s the length of the body tube. All of this real estate comes at a cost. To transport my horn I have to place it in the passenger side seat with its bow in the foot well then buckle it in. While this is safer than strapping it to a trunk rack it does mean I can’t bring my significant other to a gig unless we travel separately.  This case is shaped and fits the horn snuggly and only occupies on ¾ the space that the stock case does. This still means that I can’t take my mate with me but at least I can see out of the passenger side window easier and more safely.
Lastly, I live in a small Townhome and space is at a premium. The need for everything to have a place and simultaneously be in its place is great. This case has been folded and unfolded a number of times will no ill effects to the leather or foam though in all honesty I’ve begun to hang the case on a cheap hanger in the spare closet. The case is so light that it will not break a cheap department store hanger. This leaves the case accessible for whenever it’s needed.
Another feature to note is the rain cover which is included. The little poncho fits perfectly in the small pocket they’ve sewn into the main pocket. This allows the protective cover to be accessible at any time regardless of the nature of the flying liquid. The rain cover is made from nylon and should be washable in the event a rogue beer should be spilled upon it.
TAKE AWAY: This case is a good value and will provide many years of use. It will not protect like a proper hard sided case but with great care you can utilize this case and keep your big baby safe.

 

After that Carney sound? Maybe your vintage horn just hasn’t given you the sound you expected. Giant chamber, steep beak profile, and closed tip. What more could you want from a vintage mouthpiece as big as two modern metal pieces. This piece is an experience all its own and surprisingly not at all as horrible as I expected.

When it comes to baseline mouthpieces I usually go hard rubber and close tip openings for students new to the baritone. Usually a Yamaha 5C with a 2 to 3 1/2 reed depending on brand and student experience levels. I feel that the 5C offers enough variety that the player can reasonably cover most school genres of music all the way into college if needed. In fact I keep a 5C along with some Vandoren 4’s just in case I need to play in a holiday ensemble, though I don’t get those call as often as I used to. On a whim I bought this vintage piece of rubber.

The first thing that caught my attention when it arrived was how heavy it was. It weighed a few ounces more than my rubber Berg and Link. This was not a surprise as the piece is over 2.5″ in diameter. On close examination I identified a decidedly older design. The piece had: wide rails, scooped side walls, a deep baffle opening to a monster chamber, and a smallish shank. The internal volume of this piece looked to be 25% larger than that of my Berg but only 10 – 15% larger than the 5C.

This large volume made itself readily heard when I strapped a hard reed to the piece and began to play. On my YBS-61 I had to push piece nearly a centimeter beyond when I would place the 5C on the neck to make the piece play in tune. As you may have guessed, the large internal volume made the piece play very flat. After warming the horn up and tuning again I was able to get pretty close to in tune but I had a hard time keeping from falling flat on low notes in soft passages.

The tone was very much what I expected when I bought it. It has a warm, introspective tone that gets thin in the upper registers. The close tip opening didn’t help em either as the tip felt closer than my C*. If I had to guess it would be in the .70 – .85″ range. This piece is hard to put a lot of air through. Projection? As they say in New York, “Forget about it!” Perhaps for a very small venue this would work but on a modern horn and for modern uses its quiet limited.

TAKE AWAY:  Short of amplifying this piece the only way you can get it to the back of the audience is if you threw it. On a vintage Conn or Buescher this mouthpiece would likely be an amazing piece but on a modern horn it’s poorly suited and visually intimidating.

Sound samples on the way

That scrap reed is to keep ligature in lace