The saxophone mouthpiece: Large or small chamber?

The saxophone mouthpiece: Large or small chamber?

The chamber is the mouthpiece part located on the outside of the bore, right at the entrance of the cylindrical part which sinks on the cork of the saxophone. It’s a geometrical parameter with a strong influence on the timbre: indeed, its size determines the effective surface through which the air flow generated by the musician enters the instrument.

Scheme of a saxophone mouthpiece chamber

Influence on the sound

The diameter of the chamber plays on several parameters. One of the most important effects is the brightness of the timbre. If you keep all the other parameters equals, an increase in the diameter of the chamber will result in an amplification of the low frequencies of the spectrum, and will therefore produce a more dark sound. Conversely, decreasing the diameter of the chamber will lead to an increase in brightness. In return, large chambers require a greater effort in the breath.

spectrum of a saxophone sound played with a mouthpiece with large chamber
Large Chamber
spectrum of a saxophone sound played with a mouthpiece with small chamber
Small Chamber

In term of acoustics, the chamber will play the role of a filter: thus, a very large chamber will be the equivalent of a low-pass filter and amplify the low frequencies to the detriment of highs. On the contrary, a very small chamber will act as a high-pass filter and cut the low frequencies, favoring the treble instead. But the chamber also plays on the ease of emission of the mouthpiece, on its homogeneity, and on the width of the sound.

What chamber should you choose for your mouthpiece?

I often met saxophone players with very precise demands like: “I only play with very large chambers” for examples. Some mouthpiece brands choose one chamber size and build all their mouthpieces with this size. Other brands like Vandoren offer different chamber sizes.

Scheme of different saxophone mouthpiece chamber sizes

The experimental sessions we conducted showed that the effect of the chamber is not always obvious. Indeed the idea that a large chamber = a dark and warm mouthpiece is difficult to support because it also depends a lot on the other parameters of the mouthpiece, and in particular on the baffle (to read also: The importance of the baffle). On the other hand, some combinations of geometries produce instabilities, which means that for some forms of baffle, a small chamber will not work at all, while for another form of baffle the large chamber will be inappropriate. Therefore, it is necessary to be wary of preconceived ideas, sometimes it is with a small chamber coupled with a very low baffle that you will obtain the very dark and warm mouthpiece you’re looking for.

A good parameter to adjust the mouthpiece design

In the determination of the geometry of a mouthpiece (or "SoundShaping", see also our article Syos crafts: Sound Shaper), we mainly use the chamber as an adjustment variable, whose size will depend very much on the chosen baffle. So for a certain demand in terms of sound I will for example ask myself the questions in this order:

  • Which mouthpiece baffle will be the most appropriate to this demand?
  • With the chosen baffle, to adjust the desired brilliance value what chamber should I design?
  • Won’t the mouthpiece be too strong or centered with such a chamber?
  • If so, can we choose another baffle which will work with a different chamber size?
  • etc…

It's kind of the same with the opening: changing the opening of the mouthpiece will play a role on several parameters of the sound, therefore some changes will be coupled to a modification of the chamber. For example, when moving from a very small chamber to a very large chamber, it is good to decrease the opening so that the mouthpiece does not become too hard to play.

My advices if you have to choose a mouthpiece: do not only focus on the chamber, try to forget your preconceived ideas. The most important will always be the baffle. If you want to pursue a little bit on the other parameters, please check out our other articles:

The importance of the baffle?
The saxophone mouthpiece tip opening


Summary:

  • The chamber play a role of low-pass or high-pass filter: a large chamber will amplify the low frequencies (for a darker sound).

  • Only the chamber won’t be enough to determine the mouthpiece characteristics: the baffle play a primary role, the chamber role is secondary. However, for a similar baffle, an increase or a decrease of the chamber will modify the timbre brilliance.


Maxime CARRON
Mouthpiece designer
Maxime CARRON
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