Bill Evans Signature Series Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece Review

Today, I am reviewing the new Bill Evans Signature Series Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece.  Now, before I go further I must add a disclaimer:

Warning: This is one the most expensive mouthpieces on the market that I know of right now. (1695.00 US) If you do not want to be tempted by a mouthpiece that you can’t possibly afford: Do not read further! Do not listen to the sound clip below! Neffmusic.com does not accept any liability for any debt you may incur after reading this review. 

There, I have done my civic duty, now lets get on with the review……………

Bill Evans Signature Series 1AO Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

The good thing about having a saxophone website and doing a lot of reviews,  is that I get to meet a ton of sax players online everyday.  A couple of weeks ago, one of these friends of mine emailed me and asked “Hey Steve, would you want to do a review of the new Bill Evans Signature mouthpiece?  I have one I can let you borrow.”  I immediately responded knowing that I would probably never buy one of these at the price point it is being sold at and said “I would love to!”  I guess would be similar to having a friend call me up and say “Hey Steve, Want to borrow my Lamborghini for a week and drive all around town?”  “Hell, Yeah!!!”

Bill Evans is a sax player I have been following since back in the 80’s.  I believe I first heard of him when he was playing with Miles Davis.   Since that time I have bought many if not all of his solo recordings.  I’ve always loved his playing!

Bill Evans Signature Series Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

When the Bill Evans’ saxophone mouthpiece was first released,  it caused quite a controversy on social media.  SOTW and Facebook were aflame with commenters that are seemingly defender’s of keeping consumer products within a certain range of affordability.  People were aghast that anyone would have the nerve to ask such a high price for a mouthpiece.   As people tend to do when they can’t have something, they started to find reasons why they didn’t want this new expensive mouthpiece.  Comments such as “why’s he asking so much for a mouthpiece and why is he wearing a bandana?  He’s hiding something!”  I won’t go into the rest of the assorted comments but let’s just say that none of the people commenting had even tried the mouthpiece that I could tell.

The mouthpiece is called the 1AO model which Bill Evans says stands for his “one and only”.  Here’s a quote from his website:

“1AO – I call it the “One and Only” because it’s the only mouthpiece I’ve played throughout my entire career.

In 1980, Michael Brecker spent many months painstakingly working with a craftsman creating a totally “handmade” mouthpiece. They meticulously refined all of the things Mike didn’t like in other mouthpieces : stuffiness, too open or too closed, too much high end or too much low end,  ease of playing in the altissimo, etc.

They created a mouthpiece that was extremely dynamic and freeflowing, truly one of a kind. In 1981, I was fortunate enough to try this mouthpiece and it immediately blew me away.  At that moment the love affair began and has been going strong ever since. With much enthusiasm and permission from Mike, I was able to buy this mouthpiece. I’ve been playing it ever since that first day I tried it in 1981.  Over time I made a few small changes to make it even better, and VOILA!

 It’s super refined design makes it very easy to get a good reed as well (as horn players, you know exactly what Im talking about). 

At every step of the manufacturing process this mouthpiece was meticulously attended to by the finest of tradesmen including : machinists, design engineers, polishers and platers.  It took over 4 years to complete this process.

I’ve tried most of the mouthpieces on the market today, and if something played better, I’d be playing it. 35 years in, I still haven’t played a better mouthpiece. Period. -Bill Evans

Every mouthpiece has been personally tested and hand finished by Bill  himself.

This mouthpiece is guaranteed lead free with 24 carat gold plating and is constructed of only the highest quality brass.”

Bill Evans Signature Series Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

Just to clear things up, in the description above the “craftsman” mentioned was Dave Guardala.  Evidently, Mr. Guardala made Michael Brecker this perfect mouthpiece and Mike was nice enough to sell it to Bill when he asked if he could buy it.  Bill Evans had a few changes made to the piece over the years and now the 1AO is available to any who may wish to have it (and that have 1695.00……)

Also, notice in the quote above that Bill Evans hand finishes each mouthpiece himself which is quite impressive in my opinion.  I didn’t know that mouthpiece refacing was one of Bill’s hobbies…………

Now to the review, the Bill Evans’ 1AO that I am reviewing today has been played by at least two players that I know of and is used so there are some signs of use on it. Marks on the body from the ligature, slight scratches on the table and slight marks on the tip rail and side rails.

The mouthpiece comes with a red mouthpiece cap with Bill Evan’s name on it as well as a gold ligature with the Bill Evans’ name.  The ligature body looks exactly like a Selmer 402 alto ligature but gold. The screws are a different shape than the Selmer 402 but everything else about the design looks the same.

One point of contention is that the Bill Evans’ ligature on this piece seems too big.   Maybe one of the last owners cranked down on the screws and stretched it out but right now with the screws all the way closed, the ligature is barely tight enough to hold the reed on.  In fact, when I adjust the mouthpiece on the cork, the ligature would move on the mouthpiece.  Like I said, this isn’t new so I can’t speak for how they fit brand new but it would be nice to see them built a little smaller so they can’t stretch to be ineffective.

The baffle is a typical Guardala shaped shelf baffle but is rounded off at the ledge as it descends down to the chamber.  The sidewalls look straight to my eye.

The big difference between this Bill Evans’ sax mouthpiece and every other Guardala mouthpiece I have tried is the tip opening.  The Bill Evans’ mouthpiece feels like it is around a .105 tip opening which is a 7*. Every Guardala I have owned and played has been around a .115 tip opening.  The Bill Evans’ website is a bit vague when it comes to the tip size in that it says the tip of the 1AO is somewhere between a 7 and a 8. (I’m hoping whoever is working on the mouthpieces is a bit more precise than that!)

Bill Evans Signature Series Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

The Bill Evans Signature series 1AO  tenor saxophone mouthpiece threw me off at first.   I assumed that at a .105 tip opening that a harder reed would be the best bet on it so I tried a Rigotti Gold 3 Light…..too hard. 2 1/2 Strong……too hard. 2 1/2 Medium……too hard. Finally, I decided to try a Vandoren Java 2 1/2. I had one last new one that I found laying in the depths of my saxophone case luckily.  I put it on and it was perfect in my mind.  That is what I played on the recording below.

Bill Evans Signature Series Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

The biggest difference  between the other Guardala type pieces I have played and this one is the tip opening. In my mind the .105 tip makes the Bill Evans 1AO much easier to play and more focused I think. I had no problems morphing between louder R@B type playing and jazz playing.  The mouthpiece can be played so that the tone is warm and round or you can push it to get more brightness and edge out of it. You can decide for yourself as you listen to the clips below.

The articulation was clean and crisp and the altissimo was a breeze.  The intonation was very good also. The tone was very even up and down the horn and between the registers.

Bill Evans Signature Series 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 Bill Evans and Michael Brecker have some reverb added.

I tried to add a variety of styles and sounds to the clip.  To be honest, when I recorded the clip, I pushed record and then played for awhile.  When I went to edit it, it was 30 minutes long.  I couldn’t believe it.  I had a hard time editing it down as I thought I played a lot of cool ideas on it.  In the end I got it down to about 6 minutes.  More than my usual clips but I got carried away a bit………Sorry!

Bill Evans Signature Series Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

The Bill Evans Signature saxophone mouthpiece is right up there with some of the best high baffle tenor mouthpieces I have played on. For me, I think this piece and the Shizhao Pilgrimage I reviewed a few weeks ago are my favorite high baffle mouthpiece I have played to date.   Like I have said numerous times already, these sell for 1695.00  so if you read this review, listen to the clip, look at your bank account and decide this mouthpiece is worth a try, you can purchase one on the Bill Evan’s mouthpiece website.

Now, that being said, after one of these review I always get emails “Steve, is it worth it?”  “Is it that much better than so and so mouthpiece?”  “Should I buy it?”  I can’t answer those questions for you, all I can say is that it is a very good mouthpiece.  I would even say great mouthpiece. I would take it hands down over any of the Guardala pieces I have owned over the years.  For me, it’s about being comfortable with that .105 tip opening.  This piece feels like home for me as far as tip opening which is nice.  That being said, I don’t have 1695.00 laying around somewhere waiting to get spent so I’m not off to order one tonight. (3 girls coming up on their college years so I have other stuff I should be saving for…….) I do fully acknowledge however that I would like to own one of these.  Maybe someday when I’m rich and famous…….

Congratulations to Bill Evans for making an excellent well crafted mouthpiece!  Great Job!

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

Bill Evans Signature Series Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Dry

Bill Evans Signature Series Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Added Reverb

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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. John Voegtly says:

    Hi Steve, I’m 79 years old & have always been a part time professional sax player. New to your site & the mouthpiece delemna that sax players seem to have searching for the perfect piece. Right now I’m playing between a Wanne destroyer & a Vigilante Detroit rock. Have you ever tried either ? I also have a G. studio that I purchased I think in the early 90’s. I love Rigotti gold reeds. They are the greatest. one last thing. To your knowledge are there any stores that will ship these expensive mouthpieces out of state to try out. I live in Pittsburgh. Best wishes to you in all your musical endeavors. John

  2. John, The only store I know that ships mouthpieces out to try is WWBW. I don’t think they carry the Bill Evans or the Vigilante. I haven’t tried the TW Destroyer or the Vigilante Detroit Rock. I reached out to Jen at Vigilante a couple times asking if I could do some reviews of her pieces but she never had any extras she could send me to review. I did do a couple reviews of some Vigilantes later that I borrowed from someone though. If you do a search you can find them on my site. Steve

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