Will the Real Michael Brecker’s Sax Mouthpiece Please Stand Up?

I wanted to write a blog post on this subject because there has been a lot of discussion and confusion over the years about the Guardala mouthpiece Michael Brecker played on.    I started a discussion on this subject about a month ago on Facebook but thought it would be good to post what I discovered here as well so we don’t have to keep discussing this every 7 months over and over again.

The issue is this:   Michael Brecker played a Guardala mouthpiece, no one will argue with this fact, it is well known by fans of Brecker. Sometime in the early 80’s he switched to a Guardala tenor saxophone mouthpiece and he played a Guardala until his death in early 2007.  The issue is, what model Guardala mouthpiece did Michael Brecker actually play and what did the inside of his mouthpiece actually look like?

Original Guardala Tenor Sax Mouthpiece

I was a huge Michael Brecker fan in the 80’s- 90’s.   I had every album and CD I could find with Michael Brecker playing on it.  I’m sure there are many of you out there that can relate to this.  Matter of fact,  I think I am mainly a tenor sax player because of Michael Brecker.   I played alto saxophone all through high school and college and even though I had heard tons of tenor players during those years I never thought once of switching to the tenor saxophone.

That all changed around 1986 when I first heard Brecker on a recording and then saw him live with Steps Ahead in Buffalo NY.  I was obsessed and had to get a tenor saxophone!  From the moment I got my first H. Couf tenor sax I was chasing after that elusive Brecker sound and tone.  Soon after that I switched to the tenor sax full-time and have been playing it as my main instrument ever since.

Years later, I bought an original Guardala Studio model tenor mouthpiece in search of that Brecker sound.  I thought now that I had a hand finished Guardala that my search would be over.  Although the Studio model was in that Brecker ballpark as far as sound, I found it extremely bright and too buzzy for me.  I found the palm key notes and altissimo thin sounding to my ear.  I ended up selling the Guardala studio model a few months later.

A little while later, I heard that WWBW was releasing a Guardala MB mouthpiece.   I was ecstatic!  Finally, I could try the exact mouthpiece that my idol Michael Brecker played on.  I immediately bought one and started playing it.  Soon after, I started hearing and reading gossip and rumors that Brecker didn’t actually use the MB model I had just bought.  “WHAT!!  Is this true?”  “What the heck!” “Why release a MB model that wasn’t what Brecker played on?”  I was confused, angry and disappointed again.

I tried to find out the truth from a variety of sources on the internet including SOTW and other various chat rooms and forums but it seemed like I could never get a straight answer and every person I talked to had a different opinion and experience to share……..

Then WWBW released the MBII mouthpiece.  I heard that this was finally the actual mouthpiece that Michael Brecker actually used.  Thank you WWBW!!!   Now I could try the mouthpiece that my idol used.  I bought one and started playing it.  Wouldn’t you know, soon after,  I started hearing more rumors and gossip on the internet.   “Yeah, the MBII is closer to the Brecker sound but Michael didn’t really play a MBII.  His mouthpiece has a smooth baffle with no ledge”  “WHAT!!!  Come on!  Are you kidding me! Why release a MB model that isn’t like Michael’s mouthpiece and then release a MBII that is still not like his mouthpiece?  Is this a conspiracy?” Still, I could not get a definitive answer, everyone I talked to had a different take and opinion.

A month ago,  I posted a review of the Shizhao Pilgrimage tenor mouthpiece and I asked Mr. Shizhao if this was a copy or an original design.   He responded that it was a copy of an original Guardala he had bought off of Ebay and forwarded the description to me from the Ebay ad which again brought up this whole subject of which mouthpiece Michael Brecker actually played:

Guardala Description from Ebay Ad

Haha!!  This ominous posting from an unknown source confirms all the rumors and conspiracies that I have heard! (sarcasm…..) Here is a picture of the Shizhao Pilgrimage model which is a copy of the mouthpiece that was sold in the ad above:

Liu Shizhoa’s Pilgrimage model exact copy of Guardala Traditional model?

Notice the smooth baffle and lack of a shelf baffle in the photo………..

This is of course proven as fact by an anonymous Ebay seller who heard this truth from the anonymous person that he bought the Guardala from!  What more facts do you need!  Mystery solved!! (sarcasm…….)

BUT, what of all the people that claim otherwise?  Jennifer Price who worked with Guardala wrote this on Facebook:

“Michael mostly used a standard MB1, however for a short period of time he used the MBII which is basically the same with a slightly longer baffle. Both pieces were just regular Guardala pieces. I of course know this because I worked on the pieces he played. Periodically we would go to Mike’s home and he would switch out. He really loved the sound of the wood one we made, it was really hard to make and I’m still picking dust from the wood off me lol but after the three of us discussed it – in the end the wood is not practical, but his smile that day was infectious and to hear him play something that took days to make was definitely a highlight in my life.” -Jennifer Price

“Yes, as I explained we went to Mike’s house a lot and he had a draw of pieces, but……the ones that he played that we made were always the same thing. He would trade out with us each time and kept about 8”-Jennifer Price

So that settles it Michael Brecker played a MBI or MBII which looked similar to this:

A Vigilante MBI made as Jennifer Price remembers making Brecker’s Guardala

Notice the shelf baffle………..

But then we have these other reported accounts from across the internet:

“When I saw Michael playing in the early 90s, he was actually playing (for that gig anyway) a Branford model.. I had one for a while, and the baffle was smaller/shorter? Meaning a warmer sound..still had a nice refined focus”-John

The original listing Steve posted looks like a misquoted story from Jeff Powell I saw years ago. He said MB decided to use what was called a Traditional model back then. So DG renamed that design the MB and they came up with a new Traditional design that had a lower arched baffle. So if you have a really old Trad, it could be the same as a MB design.-Mojo

What I know was that the so-called MB1 that Brecker played was different from the MB1s sold in the market. The step baffle drop was smooth and not a straight drop. The Traditional model was what Mike played until later when it was renamed the MB1. The MBII was an accident. Somebody in the factory brought home Studio blanks and hand-finished MB1 baffles in them. So the MB2 was actually a bastard-son of the Studio and the MB1.-unknown

I have a friend who was at his master class and saw the inside to his mouthpiece and said it was a roll over baffle no step up at all…-unknown

We originally had two mouthpieces- Studio and Traditional. When Michael decided he would play the Traditional we renamed it Brecker. We then made a new mouthpiece with a slightly shorter baffle and called THAT the Traditional-Jeffrey Powell (also worked with Guardala)

The MBII is actually a Studio, but with a MB chamber/bore. This was how it was created…by accident when one of Dave’s workers brought home Studio blanks and worked the MB chambers into them… I believe Jeff Powell, (Guardala’s partner), said he designed the original MB II for a tour Brecker did with Paul Simon, (as an aside, Jeff also said Michael didn’t use it). From what I remember, Jeff said that he did the CAD/CAM work and Dave finished the pieces, (hand filing them). -Wersax (SOTW)


After reading all these comments,  you’re probably even more confused. So am I…….  So what is the answer here? What did the inside of Brecker’s mouthpiece actually look like?  I’m still confused! Louis Gerrits recently put this picture on Facebook which was cool to see and perhaps helped me come to resolution to this question that has plagued me for years.   It is a picture of a cabinet in Michael Brecker’s home. What do you see?

A Cabinet in Michael Brecker’s Home

If you look down at the bottom of the cabinet in the picture above,  you can see what looks like 12-15 Guardala mouthpieces!  Is it possible that Michael Brecker had a variety of Guardala models and baffle configurations to choose from?  Could it be possible that he at times chose to play on different mouthpieces to suit different gigs?  If this is perhaps true, maybe we have an answer to the conflicting reports that I have been reading and hearing over the years.

Maybe the lesson to be learned here isn’t that we need a copy of the exact mouthpiece Michael Brecker played to be great and sound like him but maybe the lesson here is that Brecker perhaps played on different Guardala mouthpieces and baffles throughout his career and if he did, did any of us notice?  Or did he pretty much just sound like the amazing Michael Brecker that he always has?   Who knows the answer to that one???

At this point you’re probably wanting more definitive answers and proof.   Both of which I do not have at this point in time.   All I have heard and read is posted above for you to draw your own conclusions. I am still very curious and wish Michael was still around to ask first hand that is for sure.

The purpose of this post wasn’t to so much reveal the definitive answer to this question as it is to raise the question and perhaps get some more insight from readers of this blog.   If you have any more inside information on this subject I would love to hear it.   Feel free to post in the comments below. Thanks,   Steve

Share : Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on GooglePlusShare on LinkedinShare on Pinterest
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. And then you have Barone saying he made mouthpieces for Brecker as well

  2. I do remember him playing on a Branford model when I visited his house. He said his other piece was being worked on. Strange nobody knows. I bet Andy Snitzer would know. He spent some time with Mike

  3. Steve, This is an interesting discussion, to be sure ! I’ve had discussions like this with sax player friends of mine, and as I got older I’ve come to this conclusion (as it, I think, relates to Mike’s sound, or anyone elses): I sound like me. I sound like me on any horn, on any mouthpiece (within reason). Changing up gear only has one impact on my playing – how HARD I have to work to sound like me. I gravitate toward horn/mouthpiece combinations that take the work out of getting my sound so I can concentrate on playing.

    I think the same holds true for Mike and his sound. If you consider that the cone of a saxophone begins within us, the shape and size of our mouth, our throats, how we push our air, where we put our lips, all impact the sound that comes out of the other end of the horn. Furthermore, if you consider that Mike played the entire Ballads album on a hard rubber link, and still sounded just like Mike (albeit maybe slightly less bright, which is, as I understand it, what he was after), I think it is reasonable to assume that he sounded like Mike no matter what he played on. His early recordings on links and dukoffs certainly are not hugely different in sound to his later work, either.

    To offer another illustration of how our sounds are our own: I absolutely love the Phil Woods type alto sound, but i have come to the conclusion (after amassing a collection of hundreds of different mouthpieces) that no matter what I do, I cannot create that “woody” core of his tone. I have my own sound, one that I love, but not necessarily the one that I want, and I’m finally OK with that. No matter what horn I play on, or which of those mouthpieces I use, I get that sound (with varying degrees of color) because it’s what my body produces. I can make it dark, or bright, fat, or thin, by switching up gear, but the core is always the same. Mike had a beautiful core to his sound, one that I’ve never heard anyone else replicate. There are some that are close, but none that are the same. There was only one Mike, and we were lucky to have had him 🙂

  4. Haha,
    This is funny. First lesson, don’t listen to SOTW and strange advertisement texts.

    How many sax players have more than one mouthpiece and change it from time to time. The Answer all of them.

    Does it matter? Mostly only for the player itself. How does it feel, what do I need these days. Without direct comparison, you mostly can’t hear a difference, especially with skilled players who have a strong own sound.

    Was the Guardala business policy a bit shady and confusing? Seems like it, doesn’t it?

    By the way, which ligatures has he played? Does anybody know about this? 😉

  5. Richard Savoie says:

    In my opinion, he played a Selmer ligature on his guardala all the time. Those ligatures are no longer
    Manufactured by Selmer.

  6. Ross McIntyre says:

    There is no such thing as an MB1. It was an MB. That was lightly engraved on the shank with a number.

  7. Great article Steve!!

  8. Yes, great article! I think Jerry M. Zucker hits the nail on the head. A mouthpiece can make a difference and you can search for the holy grail the rest of your life, but the core of the sound is you!

  9. Heiner Musiol says:

    Great article, I agree, with a lot of information. I love the pic of Mike’s cabinet because it proves he himself was on a constant hunt for “his” tone.
    Guardala mouthpiece are so different even if they have the same model name. Take for instance my two Crescent mouthpieces, a 3-digit gold plated model and a 4-digit silver plated model. When you look at the pics I did, you will clearly see the different length of the baffles as well as the different shape of the chambers:

    https://www.dropbox.com/sh/dzg2uban75yh4ez/AAC6L96zw99FkAlN1myGU7lSa?dl=0

    Imagine being a world-class player (I can’t) living close to Guardala’s workshop in the 80s. You would see him very frequently, asking him to tweak your mouthpiece or make a new one with a slightly different inner geometry. I guess this is what Mike did.
    In other words, he got a number of custom-tailored suits by Armani whereas the rest or at least most other Armani clients got a ready-to-wear suit with a lot of variations that made it a grab-bag. I remember two MB I that I owned, a “Fatboy” with a very short step baffle and an early 3-digit with no baffle or rather a Link-like sloping baffle. Totally different mouthpieces.

  10. Ricky Eastman says:

    The Physical demands on the body from the schedule of the most in demand player in the world.
    I sometimes wonder how much this has to do with M.B’s mouthpiece choice.
    Was it just less strenuous to play his schedule with a high baffle piece, rather than him trying to do this all on an Otto Link.

  11. Ricky, Add to that the genetic problem he had with his neck and it makes sense that he had to go with an easier playing piece……….

  12. Are you sure about that Richard. I thought it was a Selmer 402 alto ligature. I ordered one a couple of weeks ago……….

  13. Tobias, I always thought he played A Selmer 402 alto ligature on his Guardalas. Not sure if I’m right about that or not………

  14. Jerry,
    I would agree with your comments as far as the general overall sound but my experience has been that a mouthpiece can tilt me in a certain direction as far as sound very easily while a different mouthpiece might send me in a different direction. Obviously, it is all me and my decisions on what I play and how I am trying to sound but if I play a piece that puts me in that Brecker zone it is much easier to play in that style. If I play a Selmer Soloist it is a lot harder to do the Brecker thing for me anyways. If I play a Dukoff on alto I will lean towards a Sanborn thing and it would be hard to try to do a Phil Woods type of sound. With all the pieces I have played I am still amazed at the different tones I have gotten out of each. There are clips on the site where I feel the sound is closer to Brecker or Woods or Kenny Garrett or Rich Perry or Paul Desmond……..Yes it is still me but I do feel like a piece can affect the tone and lead me to a different sound if that makes sense………..

  15. Richard Savoie says:

    To Steve:
    Yes, it’s a Selmer 402 alto ligature but Selmer is not manufacturing them anymore as I was told even if they are a few ones left to grab (even on Amazon.com). I might be wrong, let me know if you learn something. Thanks!

  16. King Koeller says:

    Bottom line… the actual mouthpiece doesn’t matter…a true artist could have played anything and sounded great….Think about Charlie Parker…he played any horn , mouthpiece ,and reed combination and sounded incredible.

  17. I saw Michael at the Blue Note in 1995 playing with McCoy Tyner . He was going back n forth between two pieces. I later went to his dressing room and we talked for about 10 minutes. He showed me two Brecker I models he was testing. I asked about his piece and he opened the case and showed me the piece. It was a studio model with a modified chamber. I don’t remember if it was identical to the MB model, but it was larger than a studio but the baffle was like a studio type. My buddy Paul Maslin also confirms that he played a studio.
    I guess Jeff also says he did played a modified studio.. Nobody will know.. until his wifes allows someone to go by a take some pics..

  18. Jeff Taylor says:

    And doesn’t Bill Evans have some kind of a Brecker mouthpiece claim?

  19. Jeff, Yes the Bill Evans model I just reviewed is a copy of a Guardala that Brecker sold to Bill Evans.

  20. Here, Bill Evans tells that he plays a prototype of Dave Guardala, (maybe THE prototype).
    https://youtu.be/YZJQ0uvU0UI?t=13m55s

  21. Steve,
    Very interesting article. Thank you. Perhaps a definitive answer will come about through your questions. It seems logical that the multi mouthpiece use is closer to the truth. I am curious about the photo of Michael’s cabinet. Do you have an idea of what the Ace bandages were for?

  22. Adrian Chia says:

    I saw somewhere on the Internet from reliable source that Mike played a Traditional model which was a prototype MB1 piece. It looked just like the MB1 but the step baffle drop was smooth instead of a straight immediate drop.

  23. Greg Vail says:

    I love this info, are there any great articles/ on the Master himself?…Coltrane? His mouthpiece in his later years. I heard he used a Metal Link but I’ve never heard a Link produce that incredible sound! I’m not dissing the late great Michael Brecker.

  24. Thanks Adrian! Those are exactly the kind of rumors that I am talking about. that smooth rollover of the baffle edge can have a pretty big impact on the tone in my experience………..

  25. Hi John,
    I don’t know what the bandages were for. When I first saw the picture my first thought was wondering if he would wrap them around his neck back when he was having neck problems. I’ve seen many pics during that time where he has material wrapped around his neck………

  26. Mats Granath says:

    Very interesting article and comments!
    If you sum up all the comments and then really listen to Steve’s great soundclips of different mp’s, I come to the conclusion that Mike probably played a Traditional with a rounded baffle most of the time. To me Mr. Shizhauo is right. Why? Because his Pilgrimage model sounds really close to a modern MB sound, in my ears anyway. Closer than any of the other clips of different DG models or clips of other high baffle mp’s. Steve is also absolutely right about the impact on your sound that different mp’s have. As an example: Listen to the Brecker bros. album “Score” with some really old material I guess. I have a hard time recognize Mike there, by the sound I mean! You can hear him in the style and choice of notes and lines, but the sound….Sounds like a really bad, stuffy Otto link piece in my ears!

  27. I remember a rumour going around about Freddie Gregory making him a mouthpiece. Anyway, about 6-7 years ago I did a big band rehearsal in a Pub in London and Freddie showed up so we all had a drink with him. I asked him about it and he said it was true, ‘Michael played on a custom made mouthpiece made by him’. By all accounts he gigged on it, but in what year or for how long I don’t know. Sadly, Freddie past away a couple of years ago but I know a close friend of his who knows about mouthpieces, so the next time I see him I’ll ask him if he knows anything on the size, facing and baffle etc of it. I agree with Rich though, probably the best person to ask about all of this would be Andy Snitzer.

  28. I’ve never heard that before. Interesting! Thanks, Steve

  29. Dave Moody says:

    In 1987, Dave Liebman gave me his tenor mouthpiece for a few days to check out. Dave Guardala made it for him and it was a custom Link type bore, about a size 6. He told me Mike played one I might like more. In ’88, Dave made me one, then called and said he just made a very good one, to return the one I had for it, so I did. It was really good. When I saw Mike, he tried mine and I tried his. Mine was a little freer blowing but sounded the same. They were both silver plated original traditional models.

  30. Dave, So was the Traditional model a smooth type rollover edge or a sharp edge? Thanks, Steve

  31. Mike Plested says:

    I’m so confused, LOL. Actually, I like your point that he sounded great on multiple peices over the years. I would offer that he sounds similar on his Dukoff before he played the Guardala. Though I can tell the difference any day of the week and prefer MB on the Guardala, he sounds more like himself on a Dukoff than anyone I’ve heard trying to sound like him on any DG model. That being said, I am trying to locate a Bergonzi model Guardala (which I am pretty sure Bergonzi never played on any albums i had). I had a friend in College who had one and I really liked it.

  32. Practice, practice, practice!

Speak Your Mind

*

Visit us on FacebookVisit us on TwitterVisit us on YouTubeVisit us on GooglePlusVisit us on Linkedin