The baffle is the part of the mouthpiece located just above the reed: it is the surface that the air vibrated by the reed strikes directly, so its geometry is crucial. The baffle is the most important geometric element of the mouthpiece in the formation of sound, and it is primarily its shape that is responsible for the acoustic properties of the mouthpiece and its playing comfort.
Impact of the baffle geometry on the sound
There is several geometry for saxophone mouthpieces baffle. The most frequent are:
In a simplified way, the closer the baffle is to the reed, the more the sound will be powerful and brilliant. Thus, with a straight baffle we get a very dark and soft sound (or smothered, with air inside) while a high step baffle will give a very metallic and aggressive tone. An intermediate baffle will give a more balanced tone, with more flexibility but the mouthpiece will be less typed. The baffle does not play only on the brilliance of the mouthpiece. The baffle will also determine the comfort of play, and in particular the resistance of the mouthpiece.
When Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone, the mouthpiece he imagined had a very low straight baffle coupled with a very wide chamber. This mouthpiece, although quite difficult to play, offered the rounded sound appropriate for classical music. It is only from the beginning of the 20th century that some saxophonists had the idea of modeling their mouthpieces by adding a paste of resin inside the beak to raise the baffle and obtain new sounds: these higher baffles then caused the amplification of the high frequencies, possibly until saturation (or "buzz").
The mouthpieces thus modified are not optimized because the volume of the cavity becomes much smaller, which can create problems of accuracy with the mouthpiece. Since then, the mouthpiece designers have proposed mouthpieces with higher baffles, adapted to the demand of jazz saxophonists. In particular the metal mouthpieces like Guardala or Dukoff have very long and very high baffle, which gives them their metallic sound (read also the metallic sound does not come from the metal). This is also the case for the Jumbo Java the ebonite model from Vandoren for example.
Baffle heights variation
For the same baffle shape, we can play on the thinner geometrical parameters which will modify its height: for example a broken baffle can be raised or lowered which allows to play on the mouthpiece brightness/brilliance without modifying too much the power due to step.
A lower baffle will need more air volume, for example. A very high baffle will make a much more “free-blowing” type of mouthpiece, meaning one where the sound comes out directly, without any resistance when the saxophone player/saxophonist blow. The mouthpiece then becomes more difficult to control and riskier but it allows more liberties in the effects like the bends, the grawls…
Then which baffle is the best?
The mouthpiece choice with this or that baffle will depend on the sound you like. You must be careful to clichés because other parameters such as the tip-opening, the mouthpiece chamber and the facing length will also have a strong impact on the color-tone.
If you're looking for a Syos mouthpiece with a defined kind of baffle, here are some examples you can check:
- Straights baffles: Tivon Pennicott & Dayna Stephens tenor mouthpieces (see the tenor webpage on Syos website). Seun Kuti alto mouthpiece (available here)
- Step baffles: Leland Whitty tenor mouthpiece, Giovanni Chirico bari mouthpiece (see the model).
- Curved baffles: Eddie Rich tenor mouthpiece, Raoul Colosimo soprano mouthpiece (soprano webpage), Godwin Louis alto mouthpiece
We even made a special video for you to summarize everything and listen to the results:
There are some principles that can be summarized here:
If you like when it's powerful and shiny (think Sanborn or Maceo ...) avoid mouthpieces with low baffle.
To have the same feeling of play, it is better to play on a mouthpiece a little more open if the baffle is high, and a little more closed if the baffle is low.
You can have fun with resin or wax to tamper with your baffle to change the timbre/tone-color. But you will probably make the mouthpiece intonation too high. Be careful not to damage the mouthpiece!