Sax Mouthpieces: The Length of the Facing Curve

I’ve been doing a lot of experimentation into different facing curve lengths on my alto and tenor saxophone. On my alto I have been using mouthpieces that were all refaced by Brian Powell to .80 tip openings. These are what I’ve been using:

Florida Hard Rubber Link-20mm facing length
Florida Hard Rubber Link-20.5mm facing length
Modern Meyer-21mm facing length
Old Hard Rubber Link-22mm facing length
V16 A7M-23mm facing length

I’ve never understood what difference the facing lengths make until playing around with these mouthpieces. There is quite a bit of difference in the way they play, respond and sound to me. Sure the different baffles make a difference in the sound but there is also a noticeable difference in the way they play when using the same reed. I used a Vandoren Java 2 1/2 reed and played the mouthpieces constantly over the course of a couple weeks. Here are some of my conclusions:

– The shorter facing lengths made the 2 1/2 reed seem harder to play. A reed that was soft on the 23mm length played perfect on the 20 or 20.5 length. A reed that played hard on the shorter lengths played perfect on the 22mm or 23mm lengths. I think the longer facings allow more of the reed to vibrate so it feels easier to play.

– The longer facing lengths had a fatter sound to me. The shorter lengths had a more focused sound. This is just my opinion but I feel very strongly that this is the case. I had a few students listen to me playing and they noticed the same.

– The shorter lengths made it easier to tongue notes. They had a crisper attack to them and it was easier to play staccato patterns. The 23mm length felt a bit sluggish to me. The shorter facing lended it self to a crisper style while the longer facing lended itself to a more legato smooth style for me. This was a difference in my perception and in the playability of the piece. I don’t know if it could be heard by the listener.

– The longer facings had a noticeably fatter and thicker low end. the notes were really fat and sounded killer when subtoned. I could do the same on the shorter facing but the notes had a different sound to them. They weren’t as fat sounding. A bit more focused and hard sounding to me.

– The altissimo notes were easier to play on the shorter facing. I could still play them on the 23mm facing but it seemed like I had to work a bit harder to get them. It wasn’t so hard that it was a pain or I missed notes but it was hard enough that I noticed a bit of a difference.

– The longer facing had more flexibility for me in regard to expression and intonation. It was so easy to bend and scoop notes and add vibrato. I think because of the long curve the reed has more of an ability to be bent and manipulated. The shorter curve was a tad harder to manipulate and bend. I think this could be good if you want the ability to work with your intonation more. On the other hand if you had a horn that had great intonation and your embouchure was not stable the shorter facing might be better for you r needs intonation wise.

In the end, I decided on the 22mm curve for alto. The 20.5mm and 21mm were great but I felt like they didn’t give me that fattness to the tone that I love. I didn’t care for the 20mm at all and have actually just sent it off to Brian Powell to put a 22mm curve on it. The 23mm curve was a favorite of mine also. I kept going back and forth between the 22mm and the 23mm. In the end I decided the 23 was a little too extreme. The tone is super fat and thick but I could feel that sluggishness when articulating the notes. The 22mm for me was in the middle. The notes had a fatter fuller sound than the smaller length and the attack was a bit crisper than on the 23mm piece.

As a side note, The 22mm piece was a piece I got from Dave Valdez. It had been refaced by Freddie Gregory and had a huge sound to it. It had a 22mm facing length on it although the two rails weren’t exactly even according to Brian. The piece played great but was really reed picky for me. I sent it to Brian and he refaced it and put a 20.5mm curve on it. When I got it back it played fine but didn’t really do it for me. It just was so-so sound wise. I sent it back and he put the 22mm curve on it like it originally had and I have to say it is so much better for me. It just opened up the sound and gave it so much more power and volume than it had with the shorter curve.

I’ve noticed that there is a correlation between the facing length and the baffle profile. Some of the pieces I like that have a shorter facing curve have a higher baffle in them. The 20.5 link I love but it has a higher baffle in it that gives it more power. The 20mm and 20.5 FG link(it’s now a 22mm) I didn’t care for at all but I noticed that the baffle is lower in these. This is interesting to me. I think the longer facings can give you more power and volume in a piece that might have a lower baffle.

In a future blog I will be posting my results from a tenor mouthpiece trial. I think the findings will be similar. Brian refaced an old link to 23mm(short curve) and I just sent it to him again to make it a 27mm(long curve). I will be comparing those to similar links I have that are at 25mm.

Thanks for reading. This has been a fun experiment for me. I’ll see you next time. 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 30 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 Gerardo Avila says

    Hi Steve

    It would be a good idea for us as students to be able to contact all those mouthpiece makers you talk about in your reviews, so we can buy one of the mouthpieces. Sorry if this information is already somewhere in your page and I haven´t seen it.

    Thanks

  2. i started adding website links to the reviews around the time that you posted this so that should help. Thanks for the suggestion. Steve

  3. Avatar thetordella says

    Hi steve— what have your experiences been with tenor facings? What do you prefer – 24, 25, 26mm length? I know this is an old post but any insight would be valuable to me. All the best

  4. Hi thetordella,
    Honestly, I seem to tend to like pieces with a 24 facing length I think. I really seem to do well with a 24 and slightly softer reed. On 25 and 26 I need harder reeds. That being said, the baffle and rate of curve as a big impact on a piece also………

  5. Avatar Gerardo Avila says

    Hi Steve
    I have a Beechler metal mouthpiece #7 refaced by Brian Powell to a 0.85 tip opening and a 21.5 curve lenght. I like very much this mouthpiece, and really like how it sound with Vandoren V16 reeds, 2.5. But the thing is, those reeds feel very hard for me, I get tired very quickly. So, my question is……if I change to a #2 reed maybe I feel confortable, but the sound is not the same as a #2.5 because of the thickness of the reed itself. and I hear so often that everybody plays either 2.5 or 3 reeds on a 0.85 tip opening mouthpiece….what´s wrong then?……..acording to this article of yours, do you think sending the piece back to Brian and asking him to increase the curve from 2.5 to 22mm could make me feel the #2.5 reeds better (softer)?

  6. Hi Gerardo,
    That is a question that Brian Powell could answer well. A longer facing would indeed make a reed easier to play and feel softer because more of the reed is allowed to resonate and move. Although, 21.5 is not a short facing so I’m not sure how much difference going to 22mm would do. If you were at 20 and changing to 22 that would be a bigger difference. Maybe ask Brian and see what he thinks. Steve

  7. Avatar Michael Bard says

    interesting: i just read this article from theo wanne who said the same thing you noted: http://theowanne.com/knowledge/mouthpiece-facings

  8. Avatar Arya Boustani says

    Thanks Steve. I’m just deciding on the curve on an alto Berg metal 85/1.
    It is high baffle so do you think 22 mm is too much? What about reed cut? If reed cut is longer (jazz style) would it fit better with shorter or longer curve length?

  9. Arya, You would have to ask a mouthpiece refacer for the answers to your questions. They have a lot more experience with this stuff than I do. The reed cut has to do more with the thickness at the heart of the reed I believe. Thicker reeds like a longer facing curve in my opinion. Reeds with a thinner heart do well with a shorter facing. On a longer facing they are like blowing on a wet noodle (no substance). I think it all depends where the break for the curve is and the bendability of the reed at the exact point. If it is thick and harder to bend at that exact point then it will be harder to play. That is my experience anyways. As far as your Berg, 22 seems a little longer than average but it is not crazy long. Usually longer makes the tone darker and fatter in my opinion. Makes the low notes a bit easier to get also. Hope this helps. These are just my observations, you should ask someone who refaces for more insight and answers though. Steve

  10. Avatar Vivian Astridge says

    I am exclusively interested in the old style so called dark sound. on tenor and the smooth sound on alto .This sound has been described as mellow, warm, sweet , smokey , fat etc. There is one characteristic however that distinguishes the type being referred to and that is the total absence of edge. I have not been able to obtain dimensions of the type of mouthpiece that would result in the type of sound being referred to. As i live in the undeveloped part of a third world country obtaining any sort of mouthpiece is not merely difficult but almost impossible. Could some one please give me information and dimensions of the old type mouthpiece that produced the type or sound I am interested in. Thank you very sincerely.

  11. Avatar Giuseppe C. says

    Hi Steve,
    A friend of mine refaced some mouthpieces for me for free; a question: Are the facing length measures that you give for the hard rubber the same for the metal Otto Link mouthpieces? I refer to the mouthpieces for tenor sax, not for the alto sax.
    When you write: “In a future blog I will be posting my results from a tenor mouthpiece trial. I think the findings will be similar. Brian refaced an old link to 23mm(short curve) and I just sent it to him again to make it a 27mm(long curve). I will be comparing those to similar links I have that are at 25mm”, I think that this applies to the mouthpieces that you use, 7 *. My friend refaced two modern Ottolink Supertone masters of the 80s from 0.095 to 0.083 and from 0.090 to 0.080.
    What length of the facing curve would you recommend for these two mouthpieces if I use Rigotti Gold 2 1/2 medium tenor sax reeds?
    Thank you.
    Giuseppe.

  12. Giuseppe, Sorry, I have no idea what facing length would be the best on smaller tip openings like that. My comparison was just of different facing lengths with a tip opening that I am comfortable with. Perhaps a mouthpiece refacer will see this and give us his opinion of what facing length would be best…….. Steve

  13. Avatar Arya Boustani says

    Hi Giuseppe,

    I had this issue recently for alto and a while back for tenor.

    I found some refacers say oh this is a good length or this is too short or too long rather than giving you the relationship between the mouthpiece design, tip opening, what kind of tone you are looking for, what kind of bite you normally have (how far in the mouthpiece), etc.

    I found Erik Greiffenhagen (mouthpiece guys) was more communicative than other refacers for me. Brian Powell lengthened my metal Berg Larsen too long and it lost some of that focus that is normally the highlight of Berg’s mouthpiece.

    The facing length sometimes shouldn’t neutralize the character of the mouthpiece rather you feed into it to create a more distinctive character. But if you don’t like that character, then that mouthpiece is not good for you. The same with the Link, you want to get that wide tone from it but not too wide and undefined. Mouthpieces like Link can suffer from lack of enough definition if the curve length is too much. Probably medium length is ok for Link.

    You may find help from Eric Falcon (you can find him in Facebook messaging). Eric just made a metal Florida Link for me and I found that the facing curve he put in that mouthpiece for a 7* was quite balanced. It feeds into that Link character but not too short or too long. Still I have a good core and note definition but the tone width that Link is famous for.

    Sometimes a bit shorter length curve creates more focus and note definition which is a good thing most of the time (a school of thought perhaps) and I’ve seen feedbacks for some refacers that apparently they tend to do that (like Ted Klum) then you have to make the fatness by adjusting your bite, your embouchure, throat, etc. and you could end up having a nice balance of a well defined core and enough fatness. Rigotti in my opinion has enough spiky character in the high-mid frequencies so if you stay with medium length curve or slightly longer for the high baffle pieces you could be fine. You can also adjust the position of the ligature to get a bit more or less of the definition.

    If I really like a certain reed brand / model in a particular strength and you find that strength is too soft for a longer facing curve, then you can go a bit shorter length curve to increase the resistance for bending the reed. You may have a bit smaller sound (reduces some of the low-mid and adds a bit more to high-mid frequencies) however again you can compensate it with your bite length, embouchure, and inner mouth / throat muscles. Just my two cents.

  14. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the quick reply.

    I have not yet tried the two mouthpieces that I had not used for years because today, too old and untrained, too tiring for me; tomorrow my friend will take them to me as I see each other every week with other friends to go to dinner in a restaurant and I’ll try them.

    I had read on a website, perhaps on the “Mouthpiece museum” by Theo Wanne, in the history of Ottolink, that the first models had little tip openings, like 2 or 3, compensated in the sound by a long facing curve: at the time of Ben Webster , perhaps up to the “Four stars” or the “Tone master” mouthpieces Ottolink also used, later, by Coltrane.

    My friend, who is actually a retired engineer and teacher but who, since he was young, was passionate of violin making and took a luthier diploma doing a course and now builds violins, violas, guitars, etc., is very good at these artisan works and now he’s trying his hand at refacing my mouthpieces.

    He told me that, after reducing the tip opening, he reported the length of the facing curve to the same extent as it was before the refacing, about 22mm. So I was thinking of trying to make him try a facing length curve a little longer, maybe 25 mm., to compensate for the reduction of the tip opening, after having tried them, maybe only for the mouthpiece with the narrowest tip opening…

  15. Arya,
    Thank you for your exhaustive comment.

    I use a double lip embouchure and I love a little core in the sound. I am not too interested in volume or size of the sound, but more in the stamp of the same; for 11 years I use a modern hard rubber Meyer 6 (0.081) medium facing and medium chamber and it works …

    Sometimes it seems to me that the mouthpiece is losing sound or that it’s a bit smaller, but at 0.092 I start to work hard on high notes, losing “personality” in the sound (I tried the metal Vandoren V16 T5); maybe I’m back too soon to my Meyer … It’s also true that you can slightly “modify” the facing, as you write, putting the ligature higher up, like Dexter Gordon did, or lower …

    Thanks for your always kind tips …
    Before reading Your comment I had sent another comment to Steve that still should not appear …
    See you soon!

  16. Dear Steve and Arya,
    My friend luthier is an Italian worthy descendant of the Italian genius Leonardo da Vinci :):.
    This afternoon (in Italy it is now 22.12), I tried the two modern Ottolink Super Tone master mouthpieces from the 80s that my friend luthier brought to 0.083 and 0.080 for the tip openings. The facing length is at 23 mm for the first and at 22 mm for the second, as they were before when they were 0.098 and 0.090.

    A real pleasant surprise: unlike other Ottolink 5 and 5 * that, although playing brilliantly, had the notes of the acute register almost non-existent, these two still have the beautiful notes full beautiful and proportioned (the widest mouthpiece has whistled me occasionally on the middle D but I think it depends on me that, due to family problems, I do not play since June).

    In practice they have a beautiful, strong and powerful sound, “shot” all over the register and even beyond the register, tuned on the three octaves, more volume and sound of my Meyer 6; the 0.080 is lighter and brighter, the other a bit darker but they play both, doing the whole chromatic scale, very well and WITHOUT FATIGUE both with the sound “set” (I don’t know how to say “normal” sound in English) and also with the “blown” sound (subtones on the whole chromatic scale of the extension of the sax). Also, now, they are beautiful shiny!

    I sent by Wathsapp recording to my teacher who answered “un suonone!” (a big powerful sound) and then he told me that he would like to bring some more mouthpiece to fix to this friend of mine …

    The particular thing is that my friend, with his modesty, said that it is a very easy thing and that it takes nothing, while my teacher told me that the “refacers” of Rome say it is very complicated (and they make you wait two weeks!). It’s important and nice to have good and kind friends!

    Now I have the problem of choosing, as soon as I have time to go back to the studio, which use of the three mouthpieces that fit me!

    Best wishes,
    Giuseppe.

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