From an acoustic point of view, the saxophone mouthpiece is the most important part of the instrument. Indeed, the mouthpiece is at the interface between the saxophone and the saxophonist, 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 its different parts (including the mouthpiece) has no effect on the sound. In fact, it's the internal geometry of the bore which is very important. Very small changes, especially on the mouthpiece, can radically change the tone and the sensations of play.
Here is a scheme 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 decisive because they determine the shape of the cavity located below the reed, where the sound is created. The tip opening is also a decisive element, since it directly related to the reed vibration amplitude: each musician will be at ease on a particular opening - a mouthpiece less open or more open will be less suitable. It's a bit like the size of your shoes!
For more details, read our articles devoted to each of the parameters:
The saxophone mouthpieces can be made of different materials: since the acoustic properties are independent of the chosen material, the choice is quite extensive. However not all materials are as easy to work with, and some choices of materials and 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 impacts on the outside of the rails for example can deteriorate the geometry and therefore the quality of the sound.
Food-safe: 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 for mouth contact.
Comfort: having the material in the mouth all the time makes the comfort feature very important. Feeling in the mouth and material temperature are main parameters.
Here are the most used materials:
Metal is very popular in jazz mouthpieces, especially for tenor sax. It is often associated with bright and metallic sounds, because the metal mouthpieces have often high and long baffles, and small chambers. Its main default is the comfort in the mouth. To play outside when it's cold, avoid a metal mouthpiece.
Hard Rubber is a material of the plastic family, invented by Charles Goodyear. It is rubber vulcanized with sulfur. It was chosen by the manufacturers from the beginning for its very low cost. Be careful with time, the sulfur rises (the mouthpiece turns yellow-green) and releases sulfuric acid can occur.
ABS plastic is used to make Syos mouthpieces. It has been certified food-safe in laboratory, and its resistance to impacts is greater than with hard rubber (you can drop it on the ground, it bounces). 3D printing with ABS allows the manufacturing of unique mouthpieces with internal geometries on demand (read also: 3D printing: future of the music instrument making? ).