Sugal Super Gonz I Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece Review

Today, I am reviewing a “Sugal Super Gonz I” tenor saxophone mouthpiece like the one I played for seven years back in the 90s.  Before the Super Gonz I,  I had been playing a Sugal JB model tenor saxophone mouthpiece that I bought from Jerry Bergonzi in 1991 and had been using for about two years.  That is the mouthpiece I use on this clip of Chromazone I posted on the site. That JB model mouthpiece was the first tenor mouthpiece that I really hit it off with on the tenor sax.  Before that, I had been playing on a Brilhart Level-Air mouthpiece and a couple of Dukoff D tenor mouthpieces for five years but I was very unhappy with those choices at the time.

I was in a lesson with Jerry Bergonzi one week (probably complaining about my sound) when he handed me the Sugal JB mouthpiece to try.  I tried it right there in the lesson and was pretty blown away by it.  He said I could take it home for the week to see if I liked it.  I did and absolutely loved it.

I hear so many players that say “mouthpieces don’t matter….” but here was another instance where a night and day transformation happened with me regarding a mouthpiece.  I had been playing the tenor sax for 5 years by that point, and on the Level-Air and Dukoff D mouthpieces I was incredibly frustrated.  For five years I struggled with my tenor sound.  I took that Sugal JB model mouthpiece home and from the minute I started playing it I was like 95% closer to the sound I had been hearing in my head.  I was ecstatic and bought the mouthpiece from Jerry in the next lesson.

I did not live happily ever after though.  In 1993, I accidentally dropped the Sugal JB mouthpiece on a concrete floor while changing reeds.  It landed right on the tip and was ruined. I was devastated!  I called Gary Sugal up and he said I could come down to his factory in Providence Rhode Island the next week to try out what he had in stock.

Sugal Super Gonz I Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

When I got to Providence, Gary brought out a bunch of tenor mouthpieces for me to try.  I don’t remember what models they were but there were 6 or 7 mouthpieces that I played on that day if I remember correctly.  I had my girlfriend with me at the time and I remember putting a copper Super Gonz I 7* on and trying it.  Within a few seconds of playing it, my girlfriend said “Wow!  That one sounds really good!  I like that one!”.  I was actually thinking the same exact thing!   Just to be sure, I went through all the mouthpieces again without telling her which one was which and sure enough, that Super Gonz I mouthpiece was our favorite and I bought it.

I played that Super Gonz I mouthpiece on many gigs between 1993-2000.  During that time, I also went through my share of health problems as I write about in my “Funny as a Brain Tumor” story.  In 2000, these assorted health issues were making it hard for me to blow as hard as I used to on the Super Gonz I.  I used to play Rico Royal 3 1/2 reeds on it and blew pretty darn hard but I could no longer play that way without hurting myself. (I was also scared of blowing that hard because in 1996 I had blown open my eustachian tube by blowing so hard and got bacterial meningitis twice in one month.  I didn’t want to do that again!)

I called Gary Sugal again and ordered a Super Gonz II because I thought I wouldn’t have to blow as hard for the volume I needed but it turned out that the Super Gonz II was way too bright for my tastes. Thus started my long and dedicated search for a new tenor saxophone mouthpiece.  I started trying different mouthpieces as I went and in 2007 decided to start a website that would track these assorted trials. Neffmusic.com was born.

Sugal Super Gonz I  Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

The truth is that even though I have tried so many great tenor mouthpieces over the years, I still have a  sentimentality when I think of that old copper Sugal Super Gonz I tenor sax mouthpiece I used to play. Last year, I saw a brass Super Gonz I mouthpiece that was also made in 1993 posted for sale and decided to buy it for curiosities sake.

Although this Super Gonz I is over 25 years old,  it is in pretty good condition. It has some nicks and scratches but the gold plating seems to still be in pretty good shape.  The blue mouthpiece patch is still intact which is a rarity for a Sugal mouthpiece this old and the slide on ligature is still with it and works like it should.  The only thing missing is the iconic blue Sugal mouthpiece cap (I lost mine years ago…..if you have one sitting in a drawer please let me know as I have been looking for one).

I know people always state that the material a saxophone mouthpiece is made of doesn’t matter but I swear that every Super Gonz I have tried that was made of brass seemed a bit edgier and brighter in tone than the warmer sounding copper model that I used to own. This brass SG I mouthpiece gives me that same impression.  I hate to use the word “brassy” but it seems to have more of that quality than I remember my old copper Super Gonz I having.

Sugal Super Gonz I Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

Here’s the description of the Sugal Super Gonz tenor saxophone mouthpiece in Gary’s own words from the Sugal website:

SG I and KW I: This 18 Karat Heavy Gold plated brass mouthpiece is machined on our in house CNC (Computer Numerical Control) high tech cutting lathe from a solid piece of virgin grain one inch square bar stock.

All our Super Gonz models have a medium size chamber and feature our precision machined parallel “Mini Tracks™ ” which focus the air flow, economically  into the chamber, allowing the metal to “breath” or expand for maximum resonation.

This offers the “Traditional”  player a rich powerful dark centered sound.  Reminiscent of a Trane-Dexter sound  the SG I  model has a full dynamic round sound and can be modified (customized)  to have a slightly larger chamber or an additional slight edge.

Designed in collaboration with Jerry “The Gonz” Bergonzi the SG I  captures that “warm” traditional sound. This model has been played on dozens of club dates and educational videos by Jerry. It has also been played and endorsed by other great educators such as Jerry Coker, Gary Cambell, Miles Osland and many others.

Sugal Super Gonz I Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

The Sugal Super Gonz  played great with a Rigotti Gold 2 1/2 Strong reed.  Although the ligature that it came with works well, I opted to use a Selmer 404 silver ligature which fit it perfectly instead.

The engraving on the mouthpiece is a bit sloppy and hard to read.  For some reason, it looks like Gary Sugal’s signature was engraved twice a bit askew of each other.  The engraving has what looks like a 7 for the tip size but it could also be a 7+ or 7*, it’s hard to tell.  The mouthpiece does play and feel like a 7* to me when I play it.

In Gary Sugal’s description above, he write about the “parallel mini tracks” on the baffle of the mouthpiece and how they ” focus the air flow, economically  into the chamber, allowing the metal to “breath” or expand for maximum resonation”.  I remember reading similar descriptions in the Sugal mouthpiece ads in the magazine “Saxophone Journal” back in the early 90s also.

As I read these words now, they seem like elaborate and flowery sales jargon but back in the 90s I was hooked.  I remember reading each ad and thinking “Man, I NEED a Sugal mouthpiece to “focus my airflow economically into the chamber allowing the metal to breath for maximum resonation!”  That sounded awesome!!   Is it true?  Who knows?  Is it provable?  No way….. Does it sound good?  You bet it does!  It certainly got my attention and probably a lot of other sax players back then………

Sugal Super Gonz I Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

How does the “Sugal Super Gonz I” play?  Well, it played great for me!  I found it to be very similar to my old Super Gonz I actually.  I don’t think it is quite as warm as that copper Super Gonz I used to have but there were many other qualities about the sound, response and articulation that reminded me of that old mouthpiece of mine.

I have always found these Sugal Super Gonz I mouthpieces to have an interesting mix of properties that are challenging for me to describe.    For example,  I find this mouthpiece to have a very fat, thick and spread tone when played into a room but when I play it into a wall it has a really focused concentrated tone that bounces back to my ears.

It also has a unique mix of highs and lows in the sound I think. The Super Gonz I I had in the 90s could be played more spread and dark on a jazz set but could also be played brighter and more focused when you pushed it for a more modern “Brecker” like sound.  This “Super Gonz I” plays the same way.  At times, I think it is darker sounding and other times I think it is brighter.  The low end can be fat and lush sounding and the high end can be focused and cutting when needed.  It is a great mouthpiece if you start the gig playing standards and end playing solos on tunes like “Respect” in my opinion.

Sugal Super Gonz I Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

Although this Sugal Super Gonz I looks and plays very well, I have seen other examples of these mouthpieces that had inconsistencies with the thickness and evenness of the rails, tip and the bite plates.  Whenever I see one for sale, the first picture I look at is of the rails to see how thick and even they look.  I think this is a good rule of thumb when buying any used mouthpiece. This Super Gonz is a good example of a mouthpiece with rails and a tip that are fairly even and not too thick in my opinion.

If you are interested in trying a Sugal mouthpiece you can find out more information on the Sugal website  or you can probably pick one up used on Ebay if you look long enough…….

If you try one or have tried a Sugal Super Gonz I tenor sax mouthpiece in the past,  I would love to hear what you think in the comments below.  Thanks,   Steve

Sugal Super Gonz I  Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Recording with Reverb

Sugal Super Gonz I  Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Dry Recording

Disclosure: I purchased this Sugal Super Gonz I tenor saxophone mouthpiece reviewed above used on the internet so I could try it and perhaps review it on my blog. Regardless, I only review sax 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. Avatar Jeffrey Todd says

    You sound super free and playful on this mouthpiece, Steve. I bet it feels very similar to the one you played for years, because it sounds like you know it very well.

  2. I was blown away back then. It was the best mouthpiece I played on! I should have worked my ass off to make the money back then.
    Couldn’t afford it and regret that I did not buy it.

    Yours Georg

  3. Avatar Chris Mickel says

    I have tried a few of them. I think they were the Bergonzi models, but it’s been close to twenty years and I don’t really remember. I do remember one was brass, one was copper, and one was wood. To be honest, I didn’t like them. They didn’t work for me at all, they were really stuffy and dull sounding. At the time I had a good current production Otto Link S.T.M. that I dropped and messed up. So, I was trying different things and after a few months I found a Guardala (studio model) that I really liked. That was around 2000. My playing and tastes have changed a lot since then and I have moved to more darker sounding pieces. My main piece is a hard rubber Navarro Maestra 8 that I use for everything and my backup is a Florida Otto Link S.T.M. that I found used. The link had a few issues but I got a good deal on it and had Adam Niewood balance out the facing (he does great work). I’m really happy with my gear now and have no interest in changing things (though I do get curious and try things from time to time). But, who knows. I might like the Sugals if I tried them now.

  4. Thanks for the nostalgia…….Went back into my mouth piece draw and found 3 Segal brass mouthpieces. Two tenor and one alto. I remembered I really liked the 1993 model of the tenor Gonz II “8” (Kirk Whalum). Probably played it for 20 years.. I really liked the built in ligatures and the blue cap. I finally started using the Theo Wanne GAIA 2 in both hard rubber and brass. But for most of my gigs, I use the hard rubber Theo Wanne Slant Sig (8) and let the microphone do all the hard work.
    Thank you for reminding me of the good old times.
    ED

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