From an acoustic point of view, the saxophone mouthpiece is the most important part of the instrument. The mouthpiece connects the saxophonist to their instrument, and it is inside this small object that the sound is shaped.
Saxophone mouthpiece anatomy
The saxophone is a wind instrument, so from an acoustic point of view, the material of the different components (including the mouthpiece) has no effect on the sound. In fact, it's the internal geometry of the bore which is most important. Very small changes, especially on the mouthpiece, can radically change the tone and the feel of play.
Here is a diagram showing the different geometric elements of a saxophone mouthpiece:
The chamber and the baffle are the most important parameters. Their influence on the sound is pitvotal because they determine the shape of the cavity located below the reed, where the sound is created. The tip opening is also an important element, as it directly affects the reed vibration amplitude: each musician will be at ease with a particular opening (a more or less open mouthpiece will be less suitable). It's a bit like the size of your shoes!
For more details, read our articles on each of the parameters:
Saxophone mouthpieces can be made out of many different materials: since the acoustic properties are not affected by the material, the choice is quite extensive. However not all materials are as easy to work with, and certain materials and manufacturing processes can impose geometric choices. There are, however, some important criteria to consider:
Solidity: having a shock-resistant mouthpiece is a real asset. Geometry is very important, even small dents on the rails, for example, can deteriorate the geometry and therefore the quality of the sound.
Non toxicity: when it is not stored in your case, the mouthpiece spends most of its time in your mouth. It is essential to use materials that are safe to place in mouth for prolonged periods.
Comfort: having the material in your mouth for prolonged periods of time makes comfort a very important feature. The feel of it in your mouth and the material temperature are important parameters.
Here are the most common materials:
Solidity ✭✭✭✭✭ Non-toxicity ✭✭✭✭☆ Comfort ✭✭✭☆☆
Metal is very popular for jazz mouthpieces, especially tenor sax. It is often associated with bright and metallic sounds, because metal mouthpieces often have long high baffles and small chambers. The main issue with this material is the comfort in the mouth. If you're playing outside when it's cold, avoid a metal mouthpiece.
Solidity ✭✭✭☆☆ Non-toxicity ✭✭☆☆☆ Comfort ✭✭✭✭☆
Hard Rubber is a material from the plastic family, invented by Charles Goodyear. It is rubber vulcanized with sulfur. It was primarly chosen by the manufacturers for its very low cost. However, beware as with time the sulfur rises (the mouthpiece turns yellow-green) and can release sulfuric acid.
Solidity ✭✭✭✭☆ Non-toxicity ✭✭✭✭✭ Comfort ✭✭✭✭☆
ABS plastic is used to make Syos mouthpieces. It has been certified as non-toxic by the labs, and its resistance to impact is greater than that of hard rubber (you can drop it on the ground, it bounces). 3D printing with ABS allows us to manufacture unique mouthpieces with customised internal geometries on demand (read also: 3D printing: future of musical instruments? ).