Classical Saxophone Mouthpieces

What characteristics are you looking for in a classical alto saxophone mouthpiece? The answer to this question depends on a combination of factors which are very subjective;

What kind of sound are you looking for?

What are you going to use that mouthpiece for?

Once you have made up your mind about these questions, think about your strengths, skills and weakness. You may be a progressing player meaning you require a set-up that allows you to improve your skills. If you are playing with too much tension in your embouchure, you may need an easy blowing mouthpiece whereas others may need more resistance in order to improve their technique.

The decision on the right mouthpiece is very personal and there won’t be two people sounding the same with an identical set-up. Nevertheless, we thought the following guidance could help you understand the differences between the most popular classical alto saxophone mouthpieces.

In the following article we will compare the most reputable alto classical saxophone mouthpieces. The prominent brands are good at researching and improving their products, and during the last year we have been very lucky in trying out and stocking two great new mouthpieces, the ‘AP3’ by Vandoren and the ‘Claude Delangle’ by Selmer. Both models look for a round sound in the same way the ‘AL3’ and Selmer ‘Concept’ did some years ago. This has been the tendency of the new mouthpieces, however, there are other mouthpieces that are the choice of many leading saxophone players offering different sound options. We will explore the variables and characteristics of each mouthpiece.

First, lets understand the different parts of a mouthpiece with this Vandoren diagram:

Mouthpiece Structure Diagram - Vandoren Howarth

There are three parts of a mouthpiece that influence its sound: the chamber, the tip opening and the facing.  In the following chart you will find the differences between the  prominent classical mouthpieces:

Mouthpiece Chamber Tip Opening (mm) Facing (mm)
S80 C* Square 1.55 24
S90 180 Square 1.45 24
Concept Round 1.52 24
AL3 Round 1.52 23
Claude Delangle Round 1.65 24
AP3 Round 1.58 24
Reserve Oval 1.45 23.5

A mouthpiece with a round chamber will have a rounder sound but a little less definition whereas a square chamber mouthpiece will have a more focused sound that will make the articulation more precise. As the perfect mouthpiece doesn’t exist you will always need to practice and get use to your set-up to be able to control it. With a round chamber you will need to practice to achieve a defined articulation whereas with a square chamber mouthpiece you will need to work more towards a round sound.

Regarding the tip opening and the facing, if we have two mouthpieces with the same tip opening, the one with longer facing will need a stronger reed. Although, if we have two mouthpieces with the same facing, the one with a closer tip opening will need a stronger reed:

With the same tip opening: With the same facing:
  • long facing = stronger reed
  • short facing = softer reed
  • open mouthpiece = softer reed
  • closed mouthpiece = stronger reed

S80 C*/C**/D

The S80 range is characterised by a dark warm, wide and full toned sound. The projection and the defined articulation are some of the main features of this mouthpiece. Both sound and tuning are very regular within the different registers. This mouthpiece is available for the entire family of saxophones. Kyle Horch plays with S80 mouthpieces.

S90 180

The S90 features a very direct, easy blowing and focus sound. It has bright colour and provides a very precise articulation. It is very projective and homogeneous within the different registers. This mouthpiece is amazingly flexible and produces very warm and round high notes. The tuning is very stable and even between registers. The S90 range is appropriate for both classical and contemporary music. Mariano García performs with S90 mouthpieces.

Concept

The Selmer Concept mouthpiece has been very successful over the last few years and we can find saxophone players performing with it in every top conservatoire. In addition to being an easy blowing flexible mouthpiece, it produces a round warm sound. The articulation is a bit less straightforward than in the S90 or S80 but produces a rounder sound with less effort.  It is available for soprano, alto and tenor.

AL3 Optimum Series

The AL3 is one of the most popular Vandoren classical mouthpieces. It features a very nice round sound especially in the bottom register. The conception of the Optimum series looked for a new external shape, particularly the beak where the angle is less acute than in the V5 series. As a result, the embouchure adapts to a more open and rounded position. It was the main round chamber classical mouthpiece before the Concept appeared. Jonathan Radford plays with AL3.

AP3 Profile Series

The new AP3 features a rich sound where the intervals flow very easily. The definition on the articulation feels very similar to the AL3 and the Concept. The tapered beak is one of the biggest differences between this mouthpiece and the AL3. The AP3 beak is closer to the V5 mouthpieces than to the Optimum series. With a bigger tip opening and facing than AL3 this mouthpiece is more projective and provides an immediate sound. V12 and V21 reeds are the recommended ones for this mouthpiece.

Claude Delangle

This pioneering bi-material mouthpiece has been developed in collaboration with Claude Delangle. It presents a balance between tradition and innovation. The cutaway design is inspired in the Concept mouthpieces and the metal ring is characteristic from the Adolphe Sax’s first mouthpieces.  As well as the Concept, it features a round and warm sound. It is more resistant than the Concept, allowing the player to put more air through the instrument and achieving a bigger, denser and fuller sound.

Reserve 145

The D’Addario Reserve mouthpieces are unique mouthpiece range for the classical player. Their innovative oval chamber creates a very dark, flexible and projective sound. The shape of the baffle helps the player positioning the embouchure in a round position. The Reserve mouthpieces are more resistant than most of the classical mouthpieces in the market. They are available with different tip openings and in different facings. Philippe Geiss plays with Reserve mouthpieces.

If you would like any further advice on mouthpieces, please contact our Saxophone Department: sax@howarth.uk.com

Maria Luzuriaga López – Single Reed Specialist
Howarth of London

About Howarth of London

Woodwind Specialists - Howarth are leading suppliers of oboes, bassoons, clarinets, saxophones and flutes. Makers of fine oboes, cors anglais & oboes d'amore.
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