Instead of randomly buying new mouthpieces, better to learn something about your soprano mouthpiece.
I’m writing this because I see too many bloggers and forum posts about playing soprano saxophone that are just wrong, and that tell newer or less experienced players the wrong things. Particularly damaging are posts about soprano mouthpieces that make huge assumptions based upon very little experience.
I thought I’d put this together, all in one place. The comments that follow are all unsolicited from soprano players worldwide. It encompasses well known professionals and students, and it spans a period of about 9 years. They are speaking about all kinds of soprano mouthpieces that they sent to me for rebalancing. These comments are NOT about a mouthpiece that I made, but rather one they already owned and had “put right”.
My point is that almost no mass produced soprano saxophone mouthpiece is even close to playing correctly when it goes in the box at the factory. I’ve seen and played thousands of them now. I am amazed when one is correct, that is how rarely that occurs.
The tolerances are too small and the consequences of those tolerances being missed are serious and known. It isn’t rocket science, but it is all about precision.
You may love your soprano mouthpiece. That’s fine. But it is a 500 to 1 shot that your piece is playing right. By “right”, I mean: in tune, without gross workarounds, even throughout the range, with precise response and with the tone you’re after, too. And I state this directly: most intonation issues on soprano are directly related to the mouthpiece and can be greatly reduced or completely eliminated by putting the mouthpiece right. Fact. And I guarantee it.
Too many people blame it on either “the soprano” being “a beast”, or on the player being at fault. Don’t believe either. The soprano is no more difficult than any other saxophone and once a player has adequate equipment (meaning, in good working order), problems disappear immediately. I’ve seen it again and again.
I put soprano mouthpieces right every day: virtually every brand from the biggest makers to the most exclusive boutique makers. The original price of the mouthpiece is no guarantee the piece is right.
Here are what clients worldwide have said about THEIR mouthpieces after I’ve rebalanced them:
- Joe, got the mouthpiece today. One word sums it up. WOW! Bright but sweet, powerful but can easily subtone, intonation is great, same clarity on low Bb up to the altissimo, it is wonderful to play, a big thank you! Once again, a huge thank you! Alan Michael – Salt Lake City
- I’ve got it and it’s amazing! Thank you very much! Michael Cielsienski – Gdansk, Poland
- I got my mouthpiece this evening. Thank you for the fabulous work. I can tell the difference as I blew it for the first few seconds. It indeed intends to have a Dukoff’s sound, which is also the Mr. G type sound. I am using a Hemke 2 and I can make a similar sound like the Kenny G’s earlier stage live sound. As far as the low notes, I can tell the difference: the low C feels more powerful and solid than before. I only played it for around one hour today and I think I need to spend weeks to fully explore it. Siyuan Ma – Texas
- After about a week of playing the modified S25, I just wanted to let you know that I really like the piece now. The characteristic sound hasn’t changed much, but the responsiveness has improved drastically. And especially in the low register I now have all the colors available I wanted. Doing business with you was a very positive experience. Many thanks Markus Wabro – Germany
- I am just so pleased with how the three pieces you have done for me are working. Just amazing. From now on, when I use the expression “OMG” I will be referring to you! Jeff Schlosberg – Minnesota
- Joe , the Sugal (Super Dave Liebman) mouthpiece came back today. I gave it a work out and to my amazement it played in tune and with ease. Thanks for your quick turnaround it’s a pleasure to make music again.Allen Otis – Andover, MA
- My rebalanced Dukoff mouthpiece arrived today, and it looks real great. The superior finish quality let my mechanical engineer’s heart jump in joy. Then I started to play, oh what a difference! Great sound, great response and the whole range of the horn is now in reach. I’m very happy that I used your help and service. [ But now I have to un-learn all my workarounds… ) ].Thank you again, Manfred Koethe – California
- Both mouthpieces ( Gottsu and Gary Sugal ) get alive again , very easy blowing ,thick and powerful , upper registers are not thin as before and lower registers are more easy to reach ,Very nice job , I can’t ask anymore ! Thank you again for the great craftsmanship . David Chou – Taiwan
- I got the Rousseau today, and couldn’t be more pleased! Plays great, more easily than my old one, but with the same basic tone and response. Most importantly, of course, is that it actually plays in tune. Even on the curved neck, I actually can relax and play, without even pushing all the way in. Fantastic work, I’ll definitely recommend you in the future. I have to say you seem to understand mouthpieces more than some of the other refacers/makers I’ve worked with. I was skeptical that changing the facing length would change the intonation, based on my own limited understanding, as well as others I’ve spoken with. But obviously it worked wonderfully. It is really too bad you don’t deal with tenor mouthpieces, I’m still on the hunt… Thanks again Robert Lewis – South Carolina
- Just got the Link you refaced for me, blew a few notes on my silver conn and – WOW!! Great response, no stuffiness and the high range of the horn, palm keys and altissimo, have come alive – not an easy task with the openness of the Conn. Thank you so very much and I certainly won’t look anyplace else in the future for my soprano mouthpiece needs Fred Baker- New Zealand
- · I’m very, very pleased with your work! The piece (PPT) has now got everything I was hoping for. Easy blowing and very egal throughout the whole register. What surprised me the most was how good the intonation on the Borgani suddenly is. Actually I was beginning to adapt to the horn being extraordinary sharp on the high left hand palmkeys and compensating for that (which was also the previous owners experience). But your rebalancing for sure almost eliminated that problem Bertil Sidenius- Denmark
- · Joe I played my mouthpiece again yesterday and I love it! Surely it plays as I hope to be,first very dark,and also with great response! Thank you, my friend. You did a fantastic job ! Mario Malette- Ontario
- · They arrived today!!! Tonight I had my first session with the two of them and was definitely fantastic.They sound perfectly. The 12* is bright and powerful the 10* is sweet and round.Two different sounds!! Really a good job. Many thanks. Lorenzo Mondinari- Italy
- · I just wanted to let you know that I received the mouthpiece and it is incredible. It makes the soprano feel like a tenor! I have really never played a soprano mouthpiece like this before, you have a special talent! Josh Gayhart- Georgia
- · Joe, the mouthpiece came today. You absolutely improved it. Great work. Thanks so much. John Racina- Texas
- · So, I took the Bari with the 992 on a gig last Wednesday night and it was just great thanks. It played consistently from top to bottom and has a lovely tone especially in the low register. But the important result for me was that I was able to focus solely on my tone and my music! Yipee. Anyway Joe, I am one satisfied customer, Bob Marsh- United Kingdom
- · Finally the mouthpiece has arrived and it became a true Christmas present. You did an exciting job, especially on the Yamaha horn it plays smoothly, sounds great, plays effortlessly in tune and reveals beautiful colours. Thank you so much for this marvelous work, you have done. I wish you great Christmas holidays and I’ll recommend your work to all my fellow soprano players. Dirk Rumig- Germany
- · I brought my soprano with me on my trip so I could try the mouthpiece. You did an amazing job. This is definitely the best soprano mouthpiece I have ever played. I just played it with some recordings now and it plays perfectly in tune and every note on the horn pops out easily. You balanced it so well, that I can now get much more volume of sound out of this mouthpiece and I can shape the sound how I like on every note. I can finally play the soprano with the same confidence as I play the tenor and alto. I will definitely enjoy playing more soprano on gigs now. Thank you so much for your amazing skill. Mark White- Florida
- · The piece now has that great sound it had when I first got it, but with a bigger/fatter quality, intonation is excellent, and I can use softer reeds effectively, good work, Joe. Alan Brady- New Jersey
- · The mouthpiece is wonderful! I can see and experience the harmony that the piece exudes from your craftsmanship. It’s an important piece of jewelry for my horn I had a chance to play on it for about an hour last night against a pitch meter as well. Every note is right in the center. I’ve never seen that before. It is very free blowing from top to bottom. The mouthpiece is alive with vibrations and harmonics which extend into the horn. The piece is responsive and articulate. The tip opening is perfect for my chops and the piece Balances perfectly with all your elements and my super action 80. It is everything a Dukoff should be. This Dukoff is a piece that I will be able to grow into and enjoy. Thank you for working with me and putting all of your skill and patience in time into a wonderful work for me. Sentimentally speaking from a true soprano sax player, you are now part of my heartfelt expression through my horn. Thank you Joe. Jonathan Dweck- California
- · Wow! Everything I asked for is now there: no spit gurgle, easier resistance and the low notes speak much easier! The sound really fulfills my ideal soprano sound: clear, pure, sweet and beautiful! This is the first reface experience where every favor asked has been fully executed to perfection! A big thank you to you, Joe! Tuomos Heinonon- Tampere, Finland
- · I am impressed. It doesn’t seem like the same piece I sent you. Thanks for your expertise and good work!! Justin Holden- Massachusetts
- · I’m a middle school band director, and a clarinet player. I recently got into playing with a traditional jazz band, and started playing a little soprano sax. I was using a Selmer Super Session E and was pretty happy with it, but decided to send it off to Sopranoplanet & see what improvements could be made on it. Joe was very helpful & kept in communication with me through the whole process. I liked the sound I was getting before, & LOVE the sound I’m getting now. It was very well worth it! Thanks Joe for everything! John Pecorilla- Oregon
- · I always thought that soprano mouthpieces were pretty much one and the same from piece to piece. I now know differently. Joe has made me a piece that makes it so easy to get to what I want to do with the horn. By far the best soprano piece that I’ve owned. Thank you Joe for your beautiful work. Bill Pierce , Director of Woodwinds, BERKLEE School of Music- Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Tony Williams Band
- · The mouthpiece arrived just over a week ago and it’s magnificent! My wife is very happy with it and she sounds great. So far she’s using Hemke #2 reeds because that’s what she could get locally but she’s ordered some 2 1/2 reeds. Many thanks, count me as a totally satisfied customer. Richard Hopkinson- Australia
- · A month or so ago I sent you two completely unplayable mouthpieces – one appeared to be unfinished and the other modified to an unusable extent. I was surprised, honestly, when you said they could both be saved. I was so happy to know that, if nothing else, these two pieces could be made useful. I received them last night and was shocked to play them – they are exceptional in every respect. The tone is consistent throughout the range, the pitch is great, the altissimo is fantastic, and the articulation is easy. I would have been thrilled just to have them working – I thought, given where they started, that would have been miracle enough. Even having played your work for years I am speechless at the transformation of these pieces.Thank you, thank you, thank you … P.S. – Truly, I wasn’t looking for a new go-to mouthpiece … but, I now have one and two outstanding back-ups. The previously “strangely-opened piece” is a dream come true. The formerly “unfinished piece” is excellent in every way as well, very similar to its new twin, and the Red Buescher continues to be among my favorite possessions for both playability and general coolness. My upmost respect and gratitude – you are an absolute wizard. Jacob Swanson- New York