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