9 Great Alto Saxophone Mouthpieces to Compare

The most common question I get asked on this blog and in emails is  “Steve, which mouthpiece is the best?”  “Which one should I buy”.   I probably get 3-4 emails a week asking that question.   I always feel bad because I wish there was a simple answer to that.  The truth is that many of the mouthpieces I review are great.  Any of them would sound amazing if I played them for awhile.  I haven’t found one that blows the others away.  Even if I did……….each person is different and one I think is the best for me, you might totally hate.  As an example, all 9 of the mouthpieces below are great playing alto mouthpieces.  I would have no problem playing any of them.  All of them are different in there own way but all of them play well and are in tune.  Some are brighter, some are darker, some are louder, some prettier sounding, some are fatter sounding, some are more focused,  some remind me of Cannonball, some of Phil Woods, some of Sanborn……………  The mouthpiece you like the sound of best and that you can play comfortably is the best one for you.

The mouthpieces I like the best are the ones that I form a connection with.  It’s more than just feeling comfortable with it.  It’s like I feel like the mouthpiece is just an extension of me.  What ever I think of and try to play just happens on the mouthpiece.  When I have that kind of connection I love it.  I feel like I can play 10 times better than I usually do.  That connection very rarely happens the minute I play a mouthpiece (Although once in awhile it does……) but it can happen hours or days later as I play it over and over.

OK,  So here is a side by side clip comparison of 9 alto mouthpieces that I have on my shelf right now.  I have a V16 refaced by Brian Powell with a super long 23 MM facing curve, an Aizen Jazz Master 6, a Ted Klum Acoustimax .080, an Aizen NY Jazz 6, a Mouthpiece Cafe NYC 6,  a modern Meyer refaced by the late Jon Van Wie,  a Theo Wanne Gaia 6 and a Aizen SO 6.  I have played all of these mouthpieces for many hours.  The Aizens are the latest that I just received last week.

In each clip, I’m playing a similar idea.  The D Major scale, a little blues riff and some bebop lines from my “Mastering the Dominant Bebop Scale” book.  Nothing fancy just a simple line so perhaps you can hear better how the mouthpieces sound next to each other.  I’m using a 2 1/2 Ishimori Woodstone reed on all the mouthpieces and a Vandoren Optimum ligature.  I’m trying really hard to play the same from clip to clip so you can judge by the sound and not just by what I’m playing.

I’m hoping this series of clips will help some of you better decide which mouthpiece is for you.   Of course……..you never know until you get it and try it.  I’ve written some of my initial thought below each mouthpiece.  I will add to those or change them as I listen to the clips more.   Please feel free to write any comments or questions you might have below.   Thanks,   Steve

Vandoren V16 .080 refaced by Brian Powell

Fat spread sound with smooth articulation. Kind of fuzzy around the edges of the tone.

Modern Meyer .075 refaced by JVW

Clear and brighter with a hollowness to the sound. Has a sharpness and clarity to the sound.

LAW MCB Alto Mouthpiece .080 tip

Brighter very centered sound. Laserbeam type focus to the tone.

Aizen Jazz Master 7

A little darker fatter more spread sound with smooth articulation. A round full  somewhat smokey tone.

Aizen NY Jazz 7

Nice lively bright bebop type of sound. Nice resistance and dryness to the sound.

Aizen SO 7

A little darker super compact clear and focused sound. Super free blowing.

Mouthpiece Cafe Resin NYC 6

Bright but with a nice roundness and soft edges to the tone. Free blowing.

Ted Klum Acoustimax .080 tip

Thick medium bright sound with character to the tone. Nice resistance to blow against.

Theo Wanne Gaia 6

Brighter tone with a nice character and evenness throughout the horn. Some resistance when blowing.

Let me know what you think below.  I am always very interested to hear others views and opinions.  If you have any questions feel free to ask and I’ll try to answer…………(just don’t ask me which is the best one that is right for you)     Steve

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Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 25 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site Neffmusic.com.

Comments

  1. Machado Mijiga says:

    Thanks for posting this Steve, it really puts these brutes up against each other. You seem to have a pretty similar tone on alto as I do and a pretty similar setup (I play on a CE winds Classic which is to the Reference 54 as an Antigua is to the SA80 II).

    I have been long contemplating buying a new mpc, and this really helps. I personally preferred your tone a bit more on the JVW Meyer and the Acoustimax, but I could tell that you truly do like the GAIA 8 better because it sounded a bit closed when you played on the 6 on both clips (including your review clip) and I actually liked the tone of the 8.

    Do you personally feel like refaced pieces play more comfortably when refaced to suit your needs than stock mouthpieces, even if they are incredible?

  2. I actually sold that 8. I did like it better but I felt like it was more open than I like. Maybe if I just stuck with it and didn’t try all these other smaller tips I would have gotten used to it more. Yes, refaced pieces play much better than the original without a doubt but………….I would never have a mouthpiece refaced that you consider incredible! Big mistake! What you like about the mouthpiece and what you think is incredible about it most likely is tied to the flaw in it if there is one. What I suggest is getting another piece that is like the one you have and having that refaced and see if it can beat the one you have.

  3. I think I liked the Mouthpiece Cafe the best, but I could be biased as that’s what I played on until switching to a Drake NY.

  4. I wish I still had the Drake NY I tried. That’s another piece that I played that I regret not keeping. I would have liked to see it in this line up.

  5. Steve, my personal alto mpc is the TW Gaia 6 and to be honest I think your clip doesn’t do justice to it, it’s probably the reed that’s not the optimum fit for it. Using the same reed on all these mpsc wouldn’t make much sense to me, since they probably have very different facings. Anyway, much to my surprise, I did prefer your sound on the V16, it’s much fuller and richer. My second favorite was the LAW, which sang very nicely. To my ears, some of the others sounded a little “dead” in comparison, especially the Acoustimax and the Aizen SO.

  6. Yeah, I hear what your saying about the reed. On the other hand I have done clips before with different reeds and people say they don’t know if what they are hearing is the mouthpiece or the reed change. The 2 1/2 worked well on most of the mouthpiece. It was a little soft on the Gaia and the Aizen SO. You can here a harder reed on the SO on the Aizen SO review. The reed felt a touch hard on the Acoustimax for me.It was perfect on all the rest.

  7. simon peat says:

    i liked the JVW Meyer the best…it had pretty much everything that i like in the sound and sounds like a very versatile piece…..could play ballads or full on funk! JVw’S Work was amazing!! BUT TO BE FAIR YOU SOUND GREAT ON ALL OF THEM!

  8. Vandoren,Theo Wanne and Mouthpiece Cafe.
    Blend these together into 1 mouthpiece, and I believe
    that would be “perfect” lol
    To be honest,you sound great on all and the “best” IMO
    on the Mouthpiece Cafe model. (I played a Morgan for years,so I’m prejudice)
    Ahh! The search never ends 🙂

  9. I feel like my new JVW Meyer is sorta a blend of those 3. Has a nice mix of aspects of all 3.

  10. I like v16 compared to all. Just nice.

  11. Martyn Wood-Bevan says:

    Mouthpiece Cafe, Aizen NY Jazz & Theo Wanne Gaia, in that order. I like the “brighter, with rounded sound” concept, which seems to provide an excellent balance. Some mouthpieces just didn’t quite have this – perhaps a little too mellow or safely one- dimensional.

  12. Cool. I have the Mouthpiece Cafe mouthpiece still also. I’ll have to try that one again. It’s been sitting in my mouthpiece drawer for a while………………..I really liked that one when I first got it. You nailed the description. I call it bright but fat sounding. That’s how I thing of them. The Gaia is a bit dryer sounding than the Mouthpiece Cafe piece.

  13. Steve, you have no idea how useful this is. If there was a website like this comparing about 50 of the most common or most sought-after pieces, lai out like this, it would be a godsend. thankyou.

  14. i think your brian powell V16 sounds great but i think what does it for me is the aizen jazz master and the n.y. with the jazz master just having that bit more richness to the tone than the n.y. cheers mike.

  15. LAW MCB Alto Mouthpiece .080 tip. The preview doesn’t work.

    Fantastic resource btw. Love it.

  16. Thanks. I’ll look into it.

  17. Xcuse my ignorance, gents. When you ‘re-face’ a mouthpiece, does that just entail smoothing out any defect/damage to the rails and table,for instance, to ensure the reed lies flat or is it a re-grind/re-shape & polish of the chamber dimension, say. That would make the m/p into a new animal altogether. Nice article though. Thanks

  18. is metal mouthpiece beter or gives a good tone than ?

  19. You can’t say one is better than the other. It all depends on the player and how they get along with a mouthpiece. I have known players that only play metal and others that only play hard rubber. you have to try them for yourself.

  20. Curious – on the Vandoren – what’s the difference between medium and small chambers? How does that affect the sound, and what size chamber is the one you demo’d?

    Thanks!

  21. I played the medium chamber. The small chamber is more focused and brighter than the medium chamber. It was too bright for my tastes. I prefer the medium chamber. The tone was fatter and more rich sounding. Some guys will dig the small chamber more if they are looking for a more powerful lead alto type of sound. I like a fatter alto sound though. Hope this helps.

  22. Todd Young says:

    I have been trying to get as close to the rich full sound of Paul Desmond since my dad took me to see him on his last tour with the original Bruebeck Quartet in 76. I get close on a couple of the Rousseau classical mouthpieces but don’t have nearly the fullness of sound. I found out he played on an MC Gregory 4a18m mouthpiece. I haven’t found one available in an exhaustive search, but did happen to find a copy, made and sold by Gregg Wier, of the same mouthpiece. I took a punt and bought it site unseen from him through E Bay knowing that you like his work. Do you have any experience with this particular piece?

  23. Hi Todd, No I haven’t even heard of that Greg Wier model. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it once you get it. Sounds interesting.

  24. Hey Steve, I thought you sounded FANTASTIC on the LAW MCB and on the Aizen SO… Beautifully focused! Granted, I might be slightly biased, since that is exactly what I try to achieve in my saxophone sound. It was very interesting to hear all of these different pieces side-by-side; it’s incredible how the slightest design difference can have such an enormous affect on the sound.

  25. Thanks Craig, I used to love that LAW mouthpiece. I ended up selling it but it’s one of the pieces that I miss the most……….

    I’m glad you can hear the differences between the mouthpieces on the recordings. When I first started the site I tried doing videos and putting them on youtube but I found that all the differences in sound on the recordings were lost when the video was compressed to youtube. Every once in awhile I get someone who says they can’t hear any difference and I sound the same on all of them which always shocks me…………..

  26. Butch Miller says:

    Steve,
    What mouthpiece is best for me….just kidding. Thanks for taking the time and effort to give us a listen to the different mouthpieces. I haven’t played in 40+ years, used to be pretty good, but now I’m getting back into making that sweet sound again. This has really helped me to decide on which mouthpiece(s) to get. Thank you so very much and God bless!

  27. Alyson Van Alstyne says:

    Steve, Happy New Year!
    I’m just the mom of a 5th grader who somehow got it in his head that he needed a reedless mouthpiece. I never heard of such a thing and was kind of horrified at the thought…but rather than being a snob, I thought I would check around and ask. It sounds like a crutch, and my gut says to convince him to tough it out, but if they are good I have no problem letting him experiment. I just think its too early to introduce different mouthpieces, and don’t want to start him with bad habits.
    Thanks

  28. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a reedless mouthpiece. I have never heard of one anyways………..Maybe it is something new???

  29. Hi Steve:
    Nice clips, very nice sound and intonation on all mpcs. My top 3 are in preference order:
    1- Cafe Resin
    2- Meyer
    3- Vandoren V16

    The sound I donýt like too much is Theo Wanne, I hear it like if you are playing with some kind of mute.

  30. Thanks for the feedback Luis. The Theo Wanne Gaia has a dryer sound to it. I still have the 3 mouthpieces you chose as the top 3 by the way.

  31. Steve
    You sound realllly great on all the mouthpieces. My favorites were the V16, SO 7 & Café NYC 6. What do you mean when
    you say it is free blowing or super free blowing? Is it the same as easy blowing?
    Thanks so much.

  32. Polly, yes, free blowing is like easy blowing. Reeds just seem to blow easier on it and sometimes you need to move up in reed strength on a piece to compensate. I find that if a piece has very little resistance and is too free blowing that it is hard for me to shape and mold the sound the way I want. Every player is different and has different tastes though.

  33. Hi Steve,
    I’ve got a pro-model Yanagisawa Alto (A-991) that I’ve had for a few years and I was wondering what your opinion is on the standard mouthpieces given with Yanagisawa saxes. Are they any good? What would you recommend for a good jazz mouthpiece?
    Thank you for posting this info.

  34. Pia, i have never tried a Yanagisawa mouthpiece so I can’t give an opinion about them. All of the alto mouthpieces on my site are good to great pieces in my opinion. It really depends on what kind of sound you want I think. Steve

  35. Jia Jia Zhang says:

    Hello Steve,
    Thanks so much for your demos! I’m an aspiring saxophone player, and I’m just wondering what sax you were playing with in the clips. As a student, what type and brand of alto sax do you also recommend I get? I do wish to continue playing the saxophone and becoming a higher level musician, so I don’t want to purchase a sax that won’t accommodate for maybe intermediate level playing. But then again I am limited in my budget so something under $1000… Oh! And I will mostly be playing classical pieces, and with that in mind what kind of mouthpiece do you recommend?

    Thanks so much!

  36. Hi Jia,
    I played a Selmer Reference 54 saxophone on those clips which I love. They are really expensive though. I think I got mine for 3200 years ago but they are much more now. I’m not sure what to suggest for 1000 as even student model Yamaha YAS23s are more than 1000 now a days I believe. Maybe save up some more and then try to get to a music store where you can try some horns out in person.

    As far as mouthpieces, I am not really a classical mouthpiece expert. I usually have alto players play a Vandoren AL3 but there might be other mouthpieces out there that I don’t know about………….Good Luck! Sorry I can’t be of more help. Steve

  37. Ernie Tollar says:

    I liked the metal one. clarity and core. I play metal otto link on alto, so maybe that’s not a coincidence. I always come back to those. I’ve played rubber links, meyers, early on a beechler. i have 4 metal links. always wanted the coltrane clarity and weight on alto…
    you sound great on all. AIZEN jazz master was top. so was V16. i always found a little to much of a nasal higher mid range frequency with those but you sounded great even..

    nice post

  38. Aizen Jazz Master 7. When you played that “scoop” it was like the mouthpiece reacted to your thought.

  39. Thanks Michele. I love when a mouthpiece responds so easily to what you want to do!

  40. am a Nigerian Steve,i play sax,but i can’t sight play,and i want to improve,how possible is this?

  41. Chelsea McNelliey says:

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the great article and beautiful sound clips! I really love the refaced Meyer! Just wondering if you specified anything in particular before John Van Wie refaced it? I have a great mouthpiece refacer at my fingertips and a Meyer which I’m keen to get some work done on, and would love if it turned out anything like that one! Also have been playing on a “The Martin” Alto for quite some time now and feel like I need to upgrade – do you have any opinion on this horn? I usually play about 10-15hrs a week… Thanks for your time 🙂

  42. Chelsea,
    I’m not sure what exactly JVW did to the Meyer. I know he refaced it and when I tried it I really liked it so I bought it. I don’t really know anything more than that as far as the facing curve numbers and all of that.

    I haven’t played a Martin alto ever. Sorry. Steve

  43. Felix, Learning to read music is a lot like learning to read. You just have to learn the fundamentals from a teacher and then practice a lot. I teach the basics of reading music in my Beginning Sax Lesson Video series. We work out of the Essential Elements 2000 book for alto sax.

  44. All of the mouthpieces sound great in their own way, just depends on the type of sound you want and style of music you are playing. I was particularly impressed with the Aizen mouthpieces though. Just love the sound. I thought that I might prefer the SO 7, but there was something about the Jazz master 7 that really caught my attention. A somewhat dark, meaty sound, but yet somewhat vibrant, not too dry. Makes me really want to find out more about these mouthpieces. I’m also considering a refaced Meyer, perhaps a G series. I know that Phil Engleman does a nice job with refacing Meyers and he also has some really nice mouthpieces as well. So many choices. Thank you for all of the recordings. I know that we don’t all sound as great as you, but it does give us an idea of what these mouthpieces sound like and may make that endless search through thousands of mouthpieces a bit easier to narrow down. Looking for something that works well with my Eastman 52nd Street alto. Something somewhat “Meyerish” I suppose.

  45. Lori Calhoun says:

    So in researching the Vandoren V16 series, I see both small and medium chamber on A5-A6-A7-A8 & A9….. what’s the difference and which did you play? Gotta get me one. That Vandoren is way sexy.

  46. Lori, I review both a Vandoren small chamber and a medium chamber on my site. On this 9 alto mouthpiece poll it’s a medium chamber………

  47. Roberto Rojas says:

    Steve, thanks so much for investing the time to educate people like me. I appreciated each one of the clips. If I should have the luxury of choosing one of these mouthpieces I’d go for the Aizen NY Jazz 7, but it is not something I can afford. Then, the closest to my budget is definitely the Vandoren. Thanks again for including this Vando clip. Blessings on you!

  48. Have you ever tried a Lebayle hard rubber mouthpiece? I love your reviews, and I am eager to hear your opinion on Lebayle mouthpieces or hard rubber pieces in general. Thank you in advance!

  49. Nolie,
    I have only tried one Lebayle alto mouthpiece that I bought used and it wasn’t very good for me. I ended up sending it out to get refaced but still didn’t like it very much. I have heard they can be great mouthpieces so if I run across another one I’ll put up a review. Steve

  50. Gerry Smith says:

    Hi Steve,
    Have you tried the Aizen GR yet? I’m very curious as to how it compares with the Solstice – for getting ‘that sound’ but also versatility – projection when you need it etc.
    Gerry

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