Phil-tone JZ Series Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece Review

Today, I am reviewing another great mouthpiece by Phil Engleman at Phil-Tone mouthpieces.    Phil Engleman is the founder of Phil-Tone mouthpieces and I have reviewed a number of his excellent mouthpieces in the past.  The Equinox, the Eclipse, the Solstice, the Tribute, the Sapphire, the Mosaic, the Rift etc…………… Phil has even more models that I have not had a chance to review yet but today I am reviewing a new model called the JZ Series Tenor Saxophone mouthpiece.

Phil emailed me a few months ago and said he was working on a new mouthpiece for players that couldn’t afford to pay three hundred plus dollars on a mouthpiece. If you have been to my site before and researched some of the mouthpieces I have reviewed,  you might have noticed that finding a mouthpiece under three hundred dollars is getting harder and harder to find these days.  Especially when you are looking for something that is custom made,  faced to exact measurements by hand and play tested before it leaves the shop.

Phil-tone JZ Series Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

As a teacher, it can be really difficult to  suggest a mouthpiece for a budding high school sax player.  I can’t tell you the number of times a student wants a new mouthpiece and asks “What are you playing Mr. Neff?”  “Well Johnny,  this mouthpiece is very good but it is 300-800 dollars and if I tell your parents to get it they will have a heart attack.”  Usually, I talk about getting an Otto Link, Meyer or hard rubber Vandoren V16 mouthpiece but always with the ominous stipulation of  “You have to try a few out and make sure you get one that is good?”  Today, with fewer and fewer local music stores that can be next to impossible for many students.   It’s kind of a pain to deal with if you really want the best for your students.  Because of all this, when Phil told me about this project of his, I was very curious to try and wanted to try these out and perhaps review them.  Phil was nice enough to send me a free sample of the JZ tenor mouthpiece and the JZ alto mouthpiece to review for all of you.

Phil-tone JZ Series Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

When I received the package from Phil and opened it up, my first thought was that the mouthpiece looked pretty “bare bones”.  Nothing special to entice the eye. No 14 karat gold engraving, no sparkling jewels or bite plate made from a Javan Rhinoceros horn.  None of that.  Not even any engraving or other identification to be had except for a lightly written “Phil-tone” on the lower side of the body. Just a bare bones hard rubber tenor mouthpiece.

As has become my custom,  the first thing I do after looking at a hard rubber mouthpiece is…………I smell it! (Don’t judge…….)  Don’t know why I do this but I have grown to really love that hard rubber smell.  My nose is so good that I can actually smell if a mouthpiece will be good or not……….(ok, I’m joking about that part…….)  The JZ Series tenor sax mouthpiece had that authentic hard rubber scent to it in case you’re wondering.

Phil-tone JZ Series Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

The JZ model sax mouthpiece looks to have great rails, table, tip and baffle.  Nothing out of the ordinary or out of whack.  The tip rail matchs my Rigotti Gold reeds pretty closely.  It has a short rollover baffle that quickly rolls over and shoots straight down into the chamber.  The straight fall goes all the way to the back of the chamber area as opposed to ending at the beginning of the chamber.  The side rails are scooped out slightly.  The chamber looks very similar to a typical hard rubber Otto Link size chamber to my eyes.  The hard rubber is polished to a satin sheen and is very smooth to the touch.  (Be careful you don’t drop it!)

The body of the JZ tenor mouthpiece is smaller than most hard rubber tenor mouthpieces out there.  I say I used a Vandoren Optimum ligature on this mouthpiece but I forgot to add that this is the alto version of the Optimum which is important to note.  It can slide almost to the butt of the reed but not quite.  Pushed as far back as I could get it, there is still a half inch of reed at the butt end showing.  This means that the Phil-tone JZ model mouthpiece is slightly bigger than a typical hard rubber alto mouthpiece like a Meyer or Vandoren V16 if that helps.  It is much more thin than a typical hard rubber tenor mouthpiece like an Otto Link or Vandoren V16 hard rubber.

Phil-tone JZ Series Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

I have to admit that I didn’t have high expectations for the Phil-tone JZ model.  Don’t get me wrong, Phil does great work and I have tried enough of his pieces to know,  but when someone comes out with a cheaper model I automatically think “This won’t be as good as the expensive model…..”.   Maybe it’s human nature, I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks this right? That was my preconceived idea before even blowing a note. (I know Phil is getting nervous reading this at this point……..)

However, I have to say that I was very surprised by the Phil-tone JZ tenor mouthpiece.  I played it with a 3 medium Rigotti Gold reed the other day and recorded a clip with it.  Full thick tone with lot’s to love in the low end.  There is a nice rich character to the tone that I really loved.  I was ready to call it a day and post this review but then this morning I decided to try a 3 1/2 light Rigotti Gold on it also.  The 3 medium Rigotti played very well and it didn’t feel too soft but it didn’t really require too much effort to dial it up.  I thought the 3 1/2 would be interesting to tryand I’m glad I did………

I loved the 3 1/2 reed even more.  It’s a different sound that is for sure.  Sounds even richer and has more character to my ears.  Much more power when you push it that is for sure.  I played it for a few skype lessons today, recorded another sound clip and then about 2-3 hours afterwards.  The sign that I really like a mouthpiece is when I keep playing it long after I’ve recorded the sound clip.  I was just playing, having fun and enjoying the sound!

Phil-tone JZ Series Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

I purposefully played the melody of Body and Soul on the start of both clips just to compare the sound of the JZ  with both strength saxophone reeds.  I also make an effort to go up into the altissimo on both clips as well as play a few overtones on one clip which I don’t think I have ever done before.  I’d be curious of your impression if you care to comment below.  I didn’t add a clip with reverb just because I didn’t think it needed it but certainly could if you would like to hear it.  Let me know if that is the case.

The Phil-Tone JZ Series tenor saxophone mouthpiece was a complete joy to play and I’m glad I have had a chance  review it.  If you like the sound of the clip below and the mouthpiece catches your interest then give it a try.  Right now, Phil is selling this mouthpiece for 199.00.

Now, before you start complaining about that price, remember that many of the mass produced mouthpieces out there are selling in the 120-180 dollar range.  For a few dollars more, you are getting a piece that is handmade to exact measurments and playtested.  It doesn’t come off a conveyor belt and put in a box for you to playtest it after you buy it.   If you are into a shiny gold mouthpiece then this isn’t the mouthpiece for you, but if you don’t care about that and you want a more affordable mouthpiece that plays great, the JZ tenor mouthpiece is a great option to consider.

You can contact Phil on his website at www.phil-tone.com.  I don’t see the JZ model on his website yet but if you send him an email I’m sure he can hook you up with one.  Tell him Steve sent you………….Great work Phil!!   I’m waiting for the Beyonce Series to be released………….

Let me know what you think in the comments below. Thanks, Steve

Phil-tone JZ Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Rigotti Gold 3 1/2 Light Reed

Phil-tone JZ Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Rigotti Gold 3 Medium Reed

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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. It seems like a decent HR piece which is versatile and reliable, but without the uniqueness of depth of other Phil Tone pieces. I thought the medium reed sounded much better. Yes. it beats a V16, which I’ve never been impressed by, but if you listen to an Eclipse, Sapphire, Tribute of Mosaic there is a wow factor that this just does not have. Personally, I’d rather save for a mouthpiece you can love for a long time, with this one I think eyes might start to wander elsewhere pretty quickly. Still not a bad starter if you want to progress on to some of his other work.

  2. Beautiful sound on both Steve. Sounds like a great Link to my ears. I know you like backpressure, as do I. What was you’re impression about that, some back pressure present or totally free blowing? (I think I can perceive a little back pressure in the upper register.). Also, what tip opening were you playing?

  3. Never mind abou the tip opening. I missed it in your intro. 7*.

  4. Hi Russ,
    The resistance felt great to me. The 3 medium Rigotti played great so I was surprised when a 3 1/2 light and 3 1/2 medium played well also. I expected the harder reeds to not work or be stuffy but they felt great also. Steve

  5. Geoff,
    I really loved this piece and think it could keep a student happy forever. It’s basically a Link type design as far as baffle and chamber. If it was a blind listening test between all the mouthpieces you listed, I don’t think I could tell which one was the JV that is for sure. I don’t have an Eclipse, Sapphire, Tribute or Mosaic here or I could do a Phil-tone mouthpiece comparison with sound clips……….That actually sounds like fun………..

  6. Rob Payne says:

    I thought the JZ sounded great. What I really like about the Phil-Tone mpcs is that they allow you to color your sound any way you want with ease. Some mpcs just don’t allow you to do that even if they are good mpcs in other respects. And the Phil-Tones never sound “tubby” yet they have all the substance you could wish for if that makes any sense. Most of the vintage mpcs I’ve tried in the past were way too tubby for me. A lot of the modern mpcs I tried were too bright. The Phil-Tones seem to just hit that sweet spot of not too dark and not too bright. I love their flexibility. I think the biggest mistake people make is to buy a mpc and or horn because that’s what their favorite player uses. It just doesn’t take into account what kind of body you were born with which is really part of your embouchure. Buying a Selmer Mark Six and a Meyer mpc just like Phil Woods is not going to make you sound like Phil Woods, or there is no guarantee that it will at any rate. I’ve found that modern horns and mpcs work better for me than any of the vintage stuff which isn’t to say the vintage stuff is no good because there are some great vintage horns and mpcs out there, it’s just that the modern stuff works better for my body type to get the sound I want. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you just have to try a lot of different horns and mpcs to see what really works for you and that’s why these reviews you so kindly do are so helpful. I think it’s a superb idea to make an affordable mpc that sounds as good as the more expensive mpcs considering how lousy the economy is and how poor a lot of musicians are, especially in a time when the cost of everything just seems to keep going up and up. Back in the 70’s I used to gig with a big band in San Francisco and was making a whopping 25 bucks a night. Who can live on that? I had a lot of fun doing it though and I was young and immortal at that time. But I certainly could never have afforded a six hundred dollar mpc back in the day. So I say the JZ deserves two thumbs up and so do you, Steve. Cheers.

  7. Andy Geiger says:

    I loved the sound clips so much I ordered a 7* tenor JZ piece. About a week later it arrived on a Friday and I played with it over the weekend. It is really very good! I used several ligatures: Vandoren MO, Francois Louis Ultimate, SaxWorks “U Bolt”, and Marc Jean, all alto size. All fine, but liked the Marc Jean best. Easy blowing, the sound I get is rich and sophisticated. I have bought and sold many mouthpieces (Robusto, PT Sapphire, Vintage Link, Metal Link, Jody Jazz HR, etc., but this one is a keeper for sure! Thanks for the review, Steve.

  8. That’s great news Andy! Thanks for posting. I agree. These are great pieces for that price point that are just as good as other more expensive mouthpieces in my opinion. I’ve been playing the alto JZ for the last week and it is also great. Getting ready to do a review on that. Steve

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