Liu Shizhao Pilgrimage MB Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece Review

A month or two ago,  I posted a review of a couple new saxophone mouthpiece from Liu Shizhao out of China.  He sent me a tenor saxophone mouthpiece prototype MB Prototype and an alto prototype that I was very impressed with and wrote reviews on. Recently,  he has sent me two more saxophone mouthpieces to review that I am equally impressed with if not more impressed.  This review is on his new tenor sax mouthpiece called the Pilgrimage MB model (MB stands for Michael Brecker).

Liu Shizhao Pilgrimage Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

The Pilgrimage MB model is a copy of an original Guardala traditional model tenor saxophone mouthpiece.  The main difference between the MBI, MBII, Studio model and the traditional model is that the shelf baffle in the Studio, MBI & MBII is rounded off  to descend smoothly into the large chamber.

The Pilgrimage MB model tenor saxophone mouthpiece is exceptionally well made in my opinion.  The rails and tip are even and thin.  The baffle rolls over smoothly and evenly all the way down to the chamber.  The side rails are slightly scooped out near the chamber but they are straight until they reach that point.  I would consider the Pilgrimage MB to have a large chamber as it looks as big as most of my Otto Link chambers as I compare them side to side.  The bite plate has a beautiful green design on it although it is hard to make out in the picture above.

Liu Shizhao Pilgrimage Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

The Shizhao Pilgrimage model has a tip opening of .114 which I have heard is right around the tip that Michael Brecker played on. Mr. Shizhao believes this is the style of mouthpiece that Michael Brecker actually played on as opposed to the MBI and MBII style mouthpiece baffles that WWBW has reproduced but I have heard many differing and competing opinions and statements regarding that fact from many sax players over the years so I will leave that for a different blog post and discussion perhaps………

I have to admit that I had high hopes for this sax mouthpiece because every other Brecker style mouthpiece I have owned and reviewed has always been too bright for my personal tastes at the end of the day.  My first original Guardala Studio model I bought 13 years ago sounded killer in a big room with natural reverb or on a gig,  but in the practice room I was always struggling with my sound being too bright and edgy.  I was really hoping that this baffle design would be a change in the right direction for me…………

Liu Shizhao Pilgrimage Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

I first tried the Shizhao Pilgrimage mouthpiece with Rigotti Gold saxophone reeds which played pretty well but I found them a bit too edgy for my tastes.  Vandoren Java 2 1/2 reeds were amazing on this mouthpiece and I felt like they played with less edge and had a fatter sound to my ear.  I had a Rovner fabric ligature that fit the Pilgrimage well but I felt it muted the tone a bit too much as Rovner ligatures can do sometimes (IMHO) so I actually ordered a new Selmer 402 alto ligature from WWBW to use on it.  When I received the 402, I felt like it was perfect for this mouthpiece and livened up the sound perfectly as compared to the Rovner.  I believe Michael Brecker used one of these Selmer 402 ligatures also.

Liu Shizhao Pilgrimage Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

The Shizhao Pilgrimage mouthpiece played absolutely great for me. I’ve played a number of handmade Guardala tenor mouthpieces as well as laser trimmed Guardalas over the years and in my opinion this mouthpiece is in a similar category as those BUT the big difference for me is in the high end of the horn.  I felt like the higher register of the horn had a definite fatter and smoother sound to it than many of the Guardala mouthpieces with a straight baffle and ridge inside.  I mentioned in my last Shizhao MB protoype review how my opinion was that that mouthpiece had a fatter, less edgy tone than many Guardala originals and copies because of the smoothed over ridge on the baffle.  This “Pilgrimage” mouthpiece takes that even farther and has an even fatter and warmer sound because the ridge is totally gone!  The baffle just curves down evenly and smoothly until it reaches the bottom of the chamber.

Even though it is fatter and a tad warmer, I believe it still has that Guardala core sound and power that these designs are known for.  The question for most gigging players is “Does this fatter warmer sound affect the ability for the player to cut through in a live playing gig?”   That is the eternal question for us sax players.  I can’t tell you how many mouthpiece I have played that sound killer on the gig through the sound system but in the practice room are overly loud, bright and edgy.  I then find a mouthpiece more pleasant in the practice room with a fatter warmer sound and then when I get out on the gig I find it not cutting through the mix and I can’t hear myself!

Although I haven’t taken the Pilgrimage out on a gig as of yet, I believe strongly that this mouthpiece is a good mix of the legendary Guardala properties and more of a traditional fat saxophone sound.  It can definitely play loud and wail.  It leans to the right side of bright that is for sure but for me it is not over the top at all.  It can be controlled and manipulated for a variety of styles.

I made this statement in the Shizhao MB protoype review but it is still true for this mouthpiece as well so I will include it here also:

“I found that making my lower lip fatter and more pillowy really helped fatten up the tone and take some of the brightness away.  I’ve also found that the way I blow and focus my air has to be different than playing on a Link style sax mouthpiece. It usually takes me some time to readjust to a high baffle piece but once I do they can play and sound great!”

I’ve only played this mouthpiece for a couple of hours,  but for me the key to getting closer to a Michael Brecker type sound concept on it is playing at at least 80% air and a full air column supported with the diaphragm.  The mouthpiece can take all the air you give it because of the large chamber and I feel like the more air you give it the fatter and more powerful it sounds.

The intonation on this mouthpiece was terrific in my opinion and the mouthpiece played really smoothly and evenly throughout the range of the horn also.  The altissimo was especially easy. (towards the end of the clip (3:03) I do an altissimo run from high E up and back down surprisingly easy.  I don’t know that I’ve even ever done that before that I can remember!)

Liu Shizhao Pilgrimage Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

I’ve provided two samples of the same clip below.  One is a clip with added reverb and the other is a dry clip in a moderate sized room.  I think it’s important to add the reverb clip just so people can get a sense of what the sound is like with a little bit of that added affect since most studio recordings of Brecker have some reverb added I believe.

I’m a little rusty on my Brecker influenced licks but I threw a few of them into the sound clip as well as a few attempts at some Brecker influenced overtone lines.  Towards the end I play a little of “Moose the Mooche” and a ballad to give you a little bit of a different taste of what this mouthpiece can do and sound like.

The Shizhao Pilgrimage saxophone mouthpiece is right up there with some of the best high baffle tenor mouthpieces I have played on.  I am told that these tenor mouthpieces sell for 495.00 USD at the time of this review which I think is a great deal.  To order one you can contact Liu Shizhao by email at saxproshop@gmail.com or you can usually also find these mouthpiece for sale on Ebay if you do a search there.

Congratulations to Mr. Shizhao for making another excellent well crafted mouthpiece!  Great Job!

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and if you get a Shizhao Pilgrimage saxophone mouthpiece be sure to come back and let us know what you think below……..Thanks!!

Liu Shizhao Pilgrimage Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Added Reverb

Liu Shizhao Pilgrimage Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Dry

Disclosure: I received the sample mouthpiece mentioned above for free in the hope that I would try it and perhaps review it on my blog. Regardless, I only review mouthpieces that I enjoy playing and believe will be good for other saxophone players to try also.    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. David Fairall says:

    Hi Steve – sounds great! How’s the response in the bottom register?

  2. REALLY SOUNDS GOOD. HAS THAT BRECKER VIBE

  3. Tobias Schoenauer says:

    Hi Steve… really impressive sound… how big is the difference to the former Liu Shizhao MB Protoype you have reviewed last year? You have used different reeds on the clip?

  4. Jose Ramos says:

    Loved the sound quality Steve. Would love to get my lips on a tenor and alto mouthpiece. I’ve played my alto Selmer Mark VI for more then 40 years and this mouthpiece would be a great addition.

  5. Steven Roosblad
    The sound is beautifully.I am interested to order one
    Steven

  6. David,
    The response down low was great! Because the baffle is smoothed down to a rollover I think it makes the low register much easier than on a typical Guardala type baffle. Steve

  7. Tobias,
    I’m not sure why I used different reeds. I usually just choose from what I have available here. The Pilgrimage is a little darker and fatter than the MB prototype I think. It still has plenty of power and highs but I think smoothing out the ridge on the baffle took some more of the brightness out of the tone than the MB prototype.

  8. Daryl Dunn says:

    I bought one of these a coupla months ago & luv it! Very full, speaks well, gets fat or focused, it’s up to you…

  9. Mark Rybiski says:

    Sound great Steve, and as always you write great articles and information. Big problem now is I want one of these pieces!

  10. Sorry Mark! At least it isn’t as much as the Bill Evan’s mouthpiece!!

  11. I’m already on your mailing list and have bought materials from you. Can I get that free Brecker 40 licks”?

  12. Sure, I just sent them to you. Thanks, Steve

  13. Hi Steve, this mouthpiece is impressive, but being a high baffle piece I would like to know how it subtones . Also it might be a disadvantage if you can only order direct from China. Can I also ask you on your site you always play your Link or your Lamberson, so what do play when you are doing a gig that’s a bit more funky? I’ve started to play a bit more funk these days and so I think I’ve gone beyond the realms of my Barone New York (however good the altissimo is for jazz) and am looking for something suitable. I’ve spotted a German made mouthpiece by Christophe Herftig which might be suitable…i don’t suppose you’ve ever come across one?

  14. Geoff,
    The Pilgrimage subtones great in my opinion although I don’t have a problem subtoning on most high baffle pieces. For funk gigs I mostly play a JVW refaced link that as a baffle in it. There are a bunch of recording of it on the site. Although it looks like I always play the same link I actually have 12-15 links that I play at different times when I want so it is not all the same link. At this point, I’m keeping the Pilgrimage and hope to try it on a gig at some point. Steve

  15. Have you tried this on a gig yet, Steve?

  16. Justin, No, but I still have it in case I go back to gigging at some point in the future. I really like this piece of all the Guardala type pieces I have played. Steve

  17. What vandoren java reed 2.5 did you play on Pilgrimage-red or green???

  18. I played the green Java. I have never liked the red Java every time I have played them……..

  19. Thanks.☺

  20. Joerg Ruettgers says:

    Hello Steve,

    Do you know if Liu is still producing these Pilgrimage MP’s, because I wrote him but didn’t receive any answer (saxproshop@gmail.com)
    As an old fan of your website I contact you, because I don’t know the value more or less of a bronze mouthpiece FL T315 MS. It was offered to me for 1400USD. The sound of this pieceI think is more like Spectruoso, isn’t it? I know the solid silver MP’s are very rare to find in good shape and very expensive around 3000USD. Do you know about something about the FL T315 MS or have you ever played one?
    Is there any mouthpiece on the market which is more like the solid silver ones?
    I am looking forward to an answer if you have time.
    Thank you and best regards from Switzerland
    Joerg
    P.S. Your major and minor II-V-I licks are great! Thx for your great work

  21. Hi Joerg.contact me please : saxmaniak2003@yahoo.com
    I have Pilgrimage.
    It is fantastic mp.

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