Mark Spencer Silver Tenor Mouthpiece

Here’s a new mouthpiece review of a Mark Spencer Silver tenor saxophone mouthpiece.  I bought this mouthpiece from Bob Franceschini who some of you might know. (He played saxophone with Mike Stern for a number of years).

Mark Spencer is a mouthpiece maker and refacer in Australia that made this mouthpiece especially for Bob Franceschini.  I  emailed Mark about it and he told me that he makes each mouthpiece unique for the specific player.  This one has a .118 tip opening and a high baffle that drops into a cavernous chamber.  Bob Franceschini likes the larger tip openings and needs to be able to wail on the type of gigs he does.

Mark Spencer Tenor Sax Mouthpiece

Here are some of the things that Mark Spencer said about this mouthpiece in our emails to one another:

“This one I made for Bob quite deliberately in the knowledge that he was in the Stern band, playing some heavy fusion and so of course it is fashioned to respond well in his hands in that context. You would find quite a different piece with Julien Wilson (I recommend 2007 “Trio: Live”) yet the tip opening is the same as is the chamber – Julien is full of subtones and subtle, colourful allusion. I’m not making excuses for the piece – in fact I was very happy with that piece for the context it was headed into, and it may well serve someone well outside of the original intended context, but it would only be fair to the listener/player to know that there is no single Mark Spencer mouthpiece.

I work everything by hand and along the way I play the piece a lot. The differences are quite subtle but I guess they help lead a player is the way I think about it. To say the baffle is just ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ is oversimplified as there is quite a lot that can be achieved in baffle shape. If you were to carefully measure even the one you have you would find that the baffle is nowhere near as high in relation to the reed as your eyes suggest – actually the difference between the highest point of the baffle and a regular early Babbit Link STM rollover is very little. The difference between the rollover of a link and the removal of some of that earlier rollover material, and the subsequent drop to a lower floor than the STM makes mine visually deceptive. There is no way you could get enough fat out of a truly high-baffled mouthpiece in my opinion. I started as a devotee of mid period Coltrane who wanted the additional punch that Turrentine had. There really isn’t any part of me that would be happy to sacrifice body and fat for the sake of loud. That said, some players who don’t use much throat in their technique do struggle to get a good sound out of my pieces. That’s another, longer, story. Some would dismiss Turrentine as bright. But I wouldn’t: “Live at Minton’s”; untouchable. Same goes for Julien’s “Club de Esquina”.

Those of you who know me, know that I don’t stray over a  .110 tip opening very often.  I was pretty nervous about buying this mouthpiece.  Originally Bob told me it was a 8* which was cool but then when I emailed Mark he thought it was a .123 which made me really nervous.  That was way too big of a tip compared to what I am used to. Later, Mark looked in his records and emailed me back that it was a .118.  This made me feel  better but I still had never played anything over .115 that I  liked so I was still apprehensive about it.

When I first received the Spencer mouthpiece,  I slapped a 2 1/2 reed on it that was on another mouthpiece and tried to play it.  It sounded awful!  Hard too play and all tubby sounding.  It felt like I was blowing into a cavern.  I quickly took that reed off and found a new one which was much better.  No tubbiness and easier to play.   After 15 minutes I was out of breath, feeling dizzy and my mouth hurt.  These are common symptoms that you experience when you jump to a large tip opening.  I had been playing a .105 tip so this was a pretty big jump.  I was ready to throw in the towel and try to sell it but then I decided to give it another day or two.

The next day I played the mouthpiece for a few hours.  Wouldn’t you know it, the mouthpiece felt and played great.  It didn’t feel that large after awhile.  My mouth wasn’t hurting and I wasn’t getting dizzy.  I loved it and told Bob I would be keeping it.

As you can see from the pictures, this mouthpiece is a beautiful work of art.   The one unique thing I have to point out is the baffle.  I have never seen a baffle like this before. It sort of reminds me of those water slides you go down at the water park.  It angles down and then scoops up and then back down again.  It finally terminates with a straight drop into a massive chamber.  If a mouthpiece has a high baffle I like seeing a pretty big chamber after it.  I’ve learned over the years that I like that combination.  I have no idea how this baffle shape affects the sound but this mouthpiece doesn’t play nearly as bright as I thought it would when I looked at the baffle.

The sound of this mouthpiece is huge!  The trick for me is putting enough air through it.  My 100% airstream on my .105 tipped mouthpieces feels like it’s about 60% on this one.  To get to 100% I really really have to blow.  When I do that the sound is huge and full.  It feels like the whole room is filled with sound.  I haven’t taken this mouthpiece on a gig yet but I think it would crank.  I still would like to spend a month playing it until I’m used to the bigger airstream to see what it can do and where it can go for me.  I have played this mouthpiece for two extended teaching days where I taught for 7 hours straight.  Basically, I’m playing much of the 7 hours demonstrating things for the students.  At the end of both days I couldn’t stop playing the Spencer mouthpiece.  I just kept playing it for another hour diggin’ the sound.  It’s like I got into a groove with it.

Mark Spencer Tenor Sax Mouthpiece


As you can hear on the sound clip below, this mouthpiece can get nice and bright when pushed.  It’s not a thin bright at all though.  It’s nice and fat sounding.  When I lay back, it can handle some straight ahead playing also and sounds killer for that.  The trick again for me is finding that new level of air support.  The more I play it  the closer I will get.  I would say that this is maybe one of the loudest mouthpieces that I have played to date.  I like the fact that it can be super loud but doesn’t lose it’s tone at all.

Some tricks that I have discover with this mouthpiece that help in playing a bigger tip are:

1.  Take slightly more mouthpiece and roll my bottom lip out a little bit more.  This lets more of the reed vibrate and it responds easier.

2.  Placing the ligature a little bit closer to the front of the reed seemed to make it easier to blow for me.  I’m pretty sure I’m not imagining this.

3.  The reed played best when it was exactly lined up with the tip of the mouthpiece. Too far back and it felt sluggish, too far ahead and it felt too hard to blow.  there is a magic spot right in the middle.

4.  Reeds last longer for me on a bigger tip.  A reed that would have died already on my .105 tip is lasting a couple of weeks on the .118.  It plays as good as when I put it on.

Take a listen to the Spencer sound clip below.   If your interested in a Spencer mouthpiece contact Mark Spencer through his website at http://ausax.110mb.com/ . Let me know what you think. Thanks, Steve

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. Sheridan Farrah says:

    Steve,
    With this being such a larger tip than you normally play on a regular basis, do you see yourself sticking with this size tip (this piece in particular, which btw you sound AMAZING on) or do you think you’ll go back to playing something in the 7* – 8 range?

  2. Tarsis says:

    It sounds very nice to me, Steve. I just would love to hear you play a very open Link to compare. It would be interesting.

  3. Thanks Sheridan. I’m not sure to be honest. My problem is that I try so many mouthpieces it’s hard to jump to a .105 from a .118 and back again. I do want to stick with this for awhile to see what happens when I really connect with it. So far I’ve had a few moments where I was in love with it. I want to see if I can get that all the time. To know the potential that a mouthpiece has you have to spend a lot of time with it……………..

  4. I have a .115 EB link here now that I was thinking of doing a review of. It’s a super high baffle though……..really bright in the high end for me. I was thinking of sending it to Brian Powell to see if he can bring down the baffle just a smidgen. I haven’t decided on that. To be honest, there are so many variations from link to link that you never know what you will get.

  5. Peyton says:

    This mouthpiece sounds incredible! It has so much depth and character. It sort of has a dark mystic side to it. Very cool!

  6. Steve,
    Your 4 points are right on the money dude. Playing a bigger tip piece for many years now I have found it to be awesome and a pain at the same time.. It affords you a bigger tone and expanded dynamic range and there is a certain vibe you can get only with the more open pieces.. Griff, Wayne, Rollins, Ernie, Bergonzi, Lovano, and Lockjaw being among my favorites. The draw back is that it is more taxing and physically demanding. If I lay off playing for more than a few days, I’ll need a nice long practice session and a couple of nights of playing in a row to get back into shape.
    BTW , I find that I can always come down to smaller tip pieces, if
    i need to.. No problem and almost no adjustment time for that.. You just have to move up in reeds strength a little. There are definitely situations where the bigger pieces are too much.. or just curiosity to try out different pieces etc.. don’t sweat that.
    I think you are sounding pretty f***ing soulful on the Spencer! Rock, BF

  7. Stephen LaBrooy says:

    Great sound as always Steve, but that mpc sounds special, a lot of character and individuality, you can really talk with it – shades of light and dark, definately a sound to die for.

    Kindest Regards Stephen

  8. Incredible emotion in that clip! I was looking at a Florida STM Link for alto with a 10 facing and I usually don’t play as wide as a 10, but do you think I would be able to grow into it? Thanks!

    Nate

  9. I can’t say. That’s a personal thing. I know for me a 10 is too huge on alto. My upper limit is around .085 on alto. I think a 100 is around .100. Have you tried it?

  10. That’s a great sound Steve. As you know the guy can really make a mouthpiece, would it be better and more comfortable if he made one for you like this in a 7* or 8? Or do you think some of it’s qualities would be lost in a lower tip size? Best wishes, Phil

  11. I did talk to Mark about making me one around .110-.113 tip opening. He was excited to do it but at the time I couldn’t afford it. I’m still hoping to have him make one for me in the future.

  12. Gregg Noble says:

    Steve
    Where can I find a list of tip openings and prices?
    Thanks! Gregg

  13. Do a google search for “Mark Spencer” and “sax mouthpieces” and you should be able to find his website.

  14. Karl Weiss says:

    Hi Steve.
    I have a question for you. Is the silver custom model the same as the Model A?
    Is his 110 opening the same, such as the 110 opening of a Ted Klum Focustone or Otto Link mouthpiece?
    How can you achieve the best Mark!
    I can not reach him at his email address!
    With best regards,
    Charles

  15. Karl,
    No, the Model A is different than the one I played. If you email Mark he knows which model that is. He said he thought it was harder to play for players with less airstream but I found it great to play. It is very different than a Klum mouthpieces in my opinion. I think sax accessories has a trial policy if you want to try one and send it back if you don’t like it. Not sure what the fee is for that. You would have to contact them. Steve

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