Ken Okutsu Vincent Herring Custom Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

Today, I am reviewing another great alto saxophone mouthpiece by Ken Okutsu at Okutsu mouthpieces in Japan.    This is a new custom model called the “Vincent Herring Custom”.  Vincent Herring is a great alto sax player, if you haven’t heard him, do a search on iTunes and check out some of his recordings. I put up a transcription of an alto sax solo of his on “All the Things You Are” about a month ago if you want to check it out.

I have reviewed a number of Ken Okutsu’s tenor and alto saxophone mouthpieces before and was very impressed with all of them so when I heard Mr. Okutsu had a new custom alto sax model that Vincent Herring loved I had to try it.

Ken Okutsu Vincent Herring Custom Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

Here are some  quotes and information from the Okutsu website about the Vincent Herring model:

The Testimonial from Vincent Herring

“You will never find a better one.”

After a few years of working with mouthpiece makers I finally have one that is great!

I have only committed to playing 3 mouthpieces as a professional saxophonist. A New York Meyer 5 that I got from one of my saxophone teachers (Dave Peterson) in the late 1970’s. A prototype from Vandoren that ended up being 1 of the 3 hand made mouthpiece they used to make the current popular V16 in the 1990’s, and this new one made by Ken Okutsu in Japan. EXCELLENT!

For all of the hundreds of people that email me about mouthpieces, I can say with confidence “This is the one”! For years people asked me to put my name on a mouthpiece and I would not do it, until now! When you play this mouthpiece please send me feed back! If you like or love my sound, Cannonball and Phil Woods consider your search for a great mouthpiece over!

(Mr. Herring is using 6L tip opening size.)

Features

  • Small chamber with narrow throat. It makes more focus tone.
  • Long facing. It makes free-blowing and flexible playing feel.
  • Brass shank ring. It makes heavier tone.
  • Medium rollover baffle and concave side walls.
  • Matt finish.
  • The beautiful vintage sound.
  • All mouthpieces are crafted by CNC machinery for incredible accuracy and finished by hand carefully.
  • Concave table. It makes the tone full and rich. The practical life span of reeds is lengthened.
  • Material is the highest quality ebonite (hard rubber).

Ken Okutsu Vincent Herring Custom Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

The Okutsu Vincent Herring 6L  has a tip opening of .075.  The chamber is smaller than a Meyer medium size chamber but I would not say it’s a “pea-shooter” type chamber like some other small chamber mouthpieces I have played. The side walls are scooped and it looks to have a medium rollover baffle to it.

The side rails and tip look even and clean.  The table is advertised as concave which is touted as a good thing on the Okutsu website: “Concave table. It makes the tone full and rich. The practical life span of reeds is lengthened.”  

I’m not sure if there is scientific proof to back this up but it is interesting.  I am curious why it would make the tone fuller and richer.  Also, why would it increase the life span of a reed over a flat table? I did a search online and coincidently found a page where Mr. Okutsu attempts to answer these exact questions. The Okutsu website gives this explanation:

The Best Table Is Not Flat

The Table is the part of the mouthpiece that the reed is clamped onto by the ligature. Okutsu Mouthpieces make all tables very slightly concave from front to back. The concave table makes the tone full and the lives of the reeds long.

The facing curve begins at the split point of the side rails, as shown in the photo below. For the combination of a mouthpiece and a reed, it is the most important to make no leaks at the break points.

The break points are fulcrums of the vibration of the reed. If there are any slight leaks, the reed can not vibrate efficiently. The sound become dull and stuffy and maybe with many squeaking error tones.

The concave table is the equipment which the high quality mouthpieces have traditionally to avoid the leaks at the break points.

When the reed is clamped on the concave table, the reed is bent slightly by the pressure of the ligature. This causes the reed and the mouthpiece to push against each other at the break points.

Used reeds become warp by the moisture. When the warp is slighter than the concavity on the table, the influence of the reed warp is canceled. It is the advantage of the concave table. It makes the tone full and the practical life span of reeds is lengthened.

Some mouthpiece makers and refacers insist that the perfect flat table is the best design. I don’t agree with the opinion. The perfect flat table is suitable with only the perfect flat reeds. But used reeds with flat back are very few.

Whoa!  This is worthy of a whole other blog post to discuss, I love this stuff………..

Ken Okutsu Vincent Herring Custom Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

Regardless of the discussion about the best surface for a mouthpiece table, I will admit here and now that I feel there is something special and unique about the Okutsu mouthpieces I have played. There is a certain character and response that they have that is different than many of the flat table mouthpieces I have collected.  I’m not saying it is better or worse but just that I perceive it as different and unique. I don’t know if it is even the table or something else but they have a certain character and individuality to their sound.

The Okutsu Vincent Herring Custom mouthpiece had a tone full of character and substance in my opinion.  There was something about it I really loved.  A graininess and richness to the tone.  It had a bit more “pushback” than many mouthpieces I have played.  When I write “pushback”,  I am referring to a type of resistance where I feel the air that I’m blowing hit some resistance and I feel a back pressure in my mouth, cheek and throat.  It’s not a bad resistance at all, please don’t get me wrong, it’s more like the air column through those body parts is full and has some pressure.  Not too much to cause discomfort but just enough that any slight adjustment or manipulation of the throat, tongue and mouth have an immediate impact and affect on the tone that is being produced.

On the contrary of being unpleasant, this is a really cool feeling.  It feels like you have more control and that it’s immediate and quick.  I loved it.

Ken Okutsu Vincent Herring Custom Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

The upside to the smaller chamber is that you get some good power and focus to the sound.  The downside for me and my Selmer Reference Alto is that the smaller chamber tends to make the middle D,Eb,E and F notes on my alto a bit sharper.  This is a bit of a drag as I usually try to stay away from smaller chambers with my Selmer alto but……..this mouthpiece plays so well that I think it might be worth living with and adjusting to.

The Okutsu Vincent Herring alto sax mouthpiece has a full powerful sound with loads of character in my opinion.  Character can be tricky to define and describe, all I can say is that some mouthpieces are very pure sounding.  You hear the tone and it’s clear and clean if that makes sense.  Others, like this one have certain elements in the sound.  It’s like a graininess that make it sound richer and fuller to my ear. For me, it is like the difference of being blindfolded and rubbing your hand across a mirror and then rubbing across a stucco surface.  The stucco feels more interesting and filled with character if you know what I mean.  I know,  I have lost some of you with my analogy but that is my experience.  I really loved playing this mouthpiece.

Ken Okutsu Vincent Herring Custom Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

I used a 3 medium Rigotti Gold reed on this mouthpiece.  I took the reed out right before a Skype lesson I had and it was a bit hard for the mouthpiece but wouldn’t you know that by the end of the lesson it played perfectly.  I then played it on the mouthpiece for another three days before recording the sound clip below.  There is a lot to say for breaking in a harder reed…….

In the sound clip I’m playing quite a few lines from the Tim Green Blues solo I posted a few days ago. I’ve been playing it for the last few days so it is fresh in my head.

I mentioned above how the “pushback” gives a quicker control to the tone.  I think you can hear that in the sound clip as I play some of the bends and use vibrato.  The tone is even and smooth throughout the range of the horn.  The low notes are not as fat and full as a medium or large chambered mouthpiece but they have a compact tight sound to them that is cool I think.

Although I don’t play in the altissimo much on alto, I found it easy to get. Easier than on many larger chambered mouthpieces………

Ken Okutsu Vincent Herring Custom Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

Thanks to Ken Okutsu for sending me this mouthpiece to review.  It was a pleasure to play it, to be honest, I had trouble putting it down after recording the sound clip today.  I’m looking forward to playing it much more and seeing where it takes me.

If you like what you have read and like the sound clip, you can contact Ken Okutsu on his website at www.okutsumouthpieces.com.

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

Ken Okutsu Vincent Herring Custom Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

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. Jeffrey D Todd says:

    Sounds terrific, Steve! I believe this is the best-sounding alto clip I’ve heard from you. That baby’s a keeper!

  2. Jeff Schachinger says:

    Hey Steve, Not my favorite but as usual, you sound great on it! The sound is a bit too compact for my taste. I prefer something a bit more fat and spread. I play a Morgan Jazz 7M with Rigotti 2.5 strong which I think captures that well. Just my ears!
    Thanks for the review.

  3. Kevin Ledbetter says:

    I am in the camp that finds this mouthpiece very compelling.
    Great response and tone. If you want David Sanborn this won’t do it,
    but Phil Woods, and maybe Cannonball, this is the ticket.

  4. Steve Scheinberg says:

    Hey Steve! Something about this recording told me you were really enjoying playing this mpc! Question is how do you compare this one to a Morgan Excalibur? From the description, it sounds like a very similar design and similar kind of sound. Thanks.

  5. Steve,
    I don’t have the Morgan here to compare side by side but I believe it was brighter than the Herring model I am reviewing here. It played just as easily though. I think I remember it having less resistance also. Steve

  6. Jeff, No problem. Each person has there own preferences. I have a Vandoren V16 with a super long facing curve that gives me the ultimate fat and spread sound………Steve

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