Check your own mouthpiece for problems.
If you want to really “know something” about your mouthpiece, here is a simple and safe way to find out. It will not affect your mouthpiece if you do it as I instruct in this article, but it will tell you something that you almost certainly don’t know about it. And you will be surprised.
However, your surprise may not be a pleasant one.
So, this little experiment requires the following:
- A flat solid surface, such as a piece of plate glass or polished marble or granite. It needs to be clean and perfectly flat.
- A piece of 1500 grit sandpaper. 2000 grit will also work. Note: 1000 grit will also work BUT you MUST BE VERY CAREFUL to follow the instructions precisely.
- Any saxophone mouthpiece made of hard rubber, plastic or metal. Note: stainless steel pieces are too hard for the test as described here.
Once you have these few items, you are ready to find out one thing about your mouthpiece:
Is the table flat?
So, here we go.
- Set the solid flat surface (glass, granite) on a solid and firm base (table, workbench).
- Place the 1500 grit sandpaper on the flat surface, making certain that there is nothing under the sandpaper such as dirt or grit. We want a smooth piece of sandpaper with no deformities.
- Take the mouthpiece and look at the table. See if you can determine by eye whether the table is flat or not. Make a note of your observation.
- Now, carefully place the mouthpiece, table down, on the sandpaper. Be certain not to drag the mouthpiece across the sandpaper at all; just place it gently.
- NOW, here is where you need to be attentive:
- Gently place your hand on the top of the mouthpiece as shown in the picture. DO NOT move the mouthpiece at all yet.
- Exert VERY LITTLE DOWNWARD pressure on the mouthpiece and pull the mouthpiece back toward your hand BUT ONLY PERHAPS 3/8THS OF AN INCH.
Now look at the table of your mouthpiece.
If you have done this properly, you will see exactly where your mouthpiece came in contact with the sandpaper… and also “where it did not”.
NOTE: If you fail to notice any marks on the table, it is possible that your pressure was TOO light. Try it again with a very slight increase in pressure.
The attached photos show exactly what this will look like. The mouthpiece shown is a brand new, out of the box, well known, mass manufactured soprano mouthpiece, currently selling for about $150. I have masked its identity.
First, I used a polished marble slab as my base, along with 1500 grit sandpaper. And the results may shock you but they don’t shock me.
What you will see in the various pictures is that the table is a roller coaster and certainly not even close to flat.
Note these things:
- The sandpaper contacted the butt end of the table but not the middle of the table.
- The sandpaper contacted the front of the table again, thereby “bridging” most of the table itself.
- But, then, the rail extensions from the table reveal that part of the rails near the table were untouched by the sandpaper, before the sandpaper does touch the rail further away from the table. In effect, another “bridge”.
The table, from back through a point along both rails, should be perfectly flat.
The sandpaper should have contacted all of it.
More than 95% of the mouthpiece I see look something like this when I get them. maybe it’s closer to 99%.
If your mouthpiece table is not flat, then consider this: what is happening to your reed when you tighten your ligature, and what does that mean in terms of sound and response?
Spoiler alert: a LOT!