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