Does the mouthpiece material make a difference? Theo Wanne Gaia 3 Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece Comparison

This blog post is about the age old question “Does the material a saxophone mouthpiece is made of make a difference?”  I have read hundreds, if not thousands of discussions on this subject since my earliest days on the internet in the 90’s.  Many of these online discussions would get quite heated with one side insisting that the material a saxophone mouthpiece is made of makes a huge difference and the other side saying it makes no difference whatsoever.  It is not uncommon to see these discussion go up in flames with both parties insisting they are right as they start calling each other names……..

I have been wanting to focus on this subject on my blog for many years but it has been hard to get my hands on two mouthpieces of different materials that are the exact same in design.  My idea was to get two mouthpieces that are identical except for the material they are made of and to play them side by side with the same reed to see if they sound any different.

Today, I have probably the closest examples of two sax mouthpieces of different material that are reported to be exactly the same.  They are two Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* tenor saxophone mouthpieces.  One is made of brass that is gold plated and one is made of hard rubber.

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece Comparison

I just completed separate reviews with sound clips of each of these great saxophone mouthpieces. Theo Wanne Metal Gaia 3 Mouthpiece ReviewTheo Wanne Hard Rubber Gaia 3 Mouthpiece Review.  Theo Wanne is one of the most detailed and exact mouthpiece makers on the planet.  I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say anything bad about the quality of his mouthpiece work over all these years that I have been reviewing mouthpieces.  All you need to do is look at the pictures to see how exact and detailed his work is.

For the sake of this discussion and comparison, my idea is to use the same exact reed and ligature on both mouthpieces and to try to play the exact same musical example on each sound clip to compare.

This is in no way a scientific comparison but will be a subjective comparison based on my experiences as I play the two mouthpieces side by side.  It will also be a subjective comparison to you the reader as you listen to each of the clips below and decided what differences if any you can hear between the two mouthpiece. I would suggest listening to the sound clips on good  speakers rather than on your iPhone or iPad speakers.

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Hard Rubber Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

I will be using the same Rigotti Gold 3 medium tenor saxophone reed on both Gaia 3 tenor saxophone mouthpieces with the same Selmer 404 silver metal ligature.  I wanted to use the same ligature for this comparison and since the hard rubber Gaia 3 mouthpiece and the metal Gaia 3 mouthpiece come with different ligatures, I thought it would be best if I used the same Selmer 404 silver ligature for both mouthpieces.

I will play one sound clip and then without moving my feet or body position at all in relation to the microphone, I will take the mouthpiece off, change the reed and ligature to the new mouthpiece and attempt to record the same clip again with the next mouthpiece.  I will do my best to position the reed and ligature in the same position each time.

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece Comparison

Before I tell you what I think, I would ask that you listen to some of the comparison clips below and please share what you think in the comment section at the bottom of this article before you read my thoughts.  To get the most out of this experiment, it will be helpful to get your unbiased feedback and impressions from the clips.

  • Can you hear a difference?
  • Do they sound exactly the same?
  • If you can hear a difference, how would you describe the differences?
  • Which do you like more?  Why?

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece Comparison

My opinion:  I noticed a big difference between these two sax mouthpieces while playing them.  The hard rubber Gaia 3 tenor sax mouthpiece had a darker more midrange tone while the metal Gaia 3 sax mouthpiece seemed to have more highs and sparkle in the tone as well as a bit more edge at times.

It seemed to me like the highs in the tone of the metal Gaia 3 made it seem louder and more projecting when played at full volume.  That being said, the hard rubber Gaia 3 is plenty loud when pushed but it just seems to have less of the highs in the tone which made it seemed warmer sounding to my ears.

I actually liked the altissimo tone more on the hard rubber Gaia 3 as it sounded more full, round and fat to me.  The metal Gaia 3 had a bit more edge and brightness to it which is probably better for soloing in a loud band but the hard rubber Gaia 3 gets my vote for the prettiest altissimo tone.

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece Comparison

I think I like the hard rubber Gaia 3 mouthpiece more for jazz playing in that the warmer tone just seemed more smooth and lush for those kind of fast lines.  For R&B or funk playing I think I like the extra brightness and edge of the metal Gaia 3 though.

I thought the articulation on the metal Gaia 3 tenor mouthpiece was a little cleaner and more focused than the hard rubber Gaia 3.  The hard rubber Gaia 3 seemed a little spread with the staccato notes but I also think the hard rubber Gaia 3 had a smoother articulated jazz line when playing bebop and faster jazz lines. (Listen to the articulation and bebop line clips……)

So I guess the question we have to ask ourselves is: if these two mouthpieces are exactly the same, are the differences I hear and perceive while playing them due to the material which the mouthpieces are made of.  I’ve always had the impression that metal mouthpieces are brighter and that hard rubber mouthpieces are darker and warmer and in this instance it seems like these two mouthpieces follow that stereotype.  Do you agree?

If you hear no difference in each of the clips of these mouthpieces below, please let me know that in the comments below also.  I might very well be hearing what I think I hear because I know which mouthpiece is which and have preconceived ideas of what they sound like which is shading and affecting what my brain hears.  I hate to admit that but it is a possibility………

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece Comparison

If you like the sound and look of the new Gaia 3 tenor sax mouthpiece by Theo Wanne, you can find them at Theowanne.com. I have agreed to be an affiliate for Theo Wanne as of this review so if you purchase a Gaia 3 tenor saxophone mouthpiece from this link, neffmusic.com will receive a small commission on the sale. (This helps to support my site and keep the saxophone related reviews and articles coming to you…..)

If you are lucky enough to play a Gaia 3 tenor saxophone mouthpiece or have any other thoughts or comments on these comparison sound clips below, I would love to hear what you think in the comments below.   Thanks,   Steve

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Hard Rubber Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Moose the Mooche

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Metal Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Moose the Mooche

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Hard Rubber Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Altissimo Line

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Metal Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Altissimo Line

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Hard Rubber Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Brecker Lick

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Metal Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Brecker Lick

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Hard Rubber Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Articulation

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Metal Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Articulation

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Hard Rubber Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Bebop Line

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Metal Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Bebop Line

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Hard Rubber Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Chromatic Scale to Low Bb

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Metal Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Chromatic Scale to Low Bb

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Hard Rubber Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Donna Lee

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Metal Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Donna Lee

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Hard Rubber Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Body and Soul

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Metal Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Body and Soul

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Hard Rubber Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Tenor Madness

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Metal Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Tenor Madness

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Hard Rubber Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Loud Green Dolphin Street

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 7* Metal Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece-Loud Green Dolphin Street

Disclosure:  I received the two mouthpieces reviewed above in the hope that I would try them and perhaps review them on my blog.  I was allowed to keep one mouthpiece and pay the dealer cost for the second mouthpiece.  If you purchase a mouthpiece through the link I provided in the review, I will also receive a small commission on any Theo Wanne mouthpieces sold through the link provided.  Regardless, I only review mouthpieces that I enjoy playing and believe will be good for other saxophone players to try also.     Steve
Share : Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on GooglePlusShare on LinkedinShare on Pinterest
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 STEVE CARMICHAEL says

    Interesting Steve! I actually heard little difference, but the metal did have more presence to the sound, a little more “sparkle” as you said in the upper mids. I don’t think the difference here is so much the material, but just two different mouthpieces. Very close!

  2. Avatar Michael Schuette says

    I second Steve Carmichael’s impression. Very little if any difference and it depends on the track. Maybe just a bit more presence in the high frequency range for the metal version, not “brightness” but what used to be described as “transparent” sound

  3. Avatar Ross McIntyre says

    I agree with Steve and Michael. The Bottom B seemed to pop out better in Donna Lee on the metal. They are very close.

  4. Avatar Michael Wade says

    I found it helpful to listen to a few seconds of the hard rubber clip and then switch over to the metal clip, rather than listening to the entire clip and then switching to the other mouthpiece. I was able to go back and forth over identical passages until the end of the clips.

    The differences are so slight as to be insignificant in my mind. I feel like both pieces are versatile enough to enable the player to develop the desired sound through minor adjustments as the player gets used to the piece of choice.

  5. Avatar philip french says

    Thanks for the mouthpiece shoot out Steve!!!! The metal definitely has a bit more edge and brightness and stands out front more…. The hard rubber has a full PHATT and warmness to it!!!! Great shoutout again!!!!

  6. Very interesting, and thanks so much for doing that, Neff. I actually thought the opposite. I’m only on a phone, albeit, an iPhone with a decent output. Those are very hard to differentiate between, but I consistently thought that the hard rubber was actually slightly brighter than the metal although both sounded good. As you, and many of your followers are well aware, it’s amazing how personal mouthpiece choices can be! I’ve worked with Bryan at Wanne on several pro deals. I adore their Gaia2 alto metal, And their Slant Sig hard rubber tenor. I can’t say enough about the free-blowing, gorgeous tone of these two. I didn’t find the Gaia, Durga, or Shiva metal tenors to my liking. They just didn’t play for me.

  7. Goodness, this is such a tricky ordeal! Even with the same shape and size mouthpieces, but of two different materials, player’s embouchure will change. Different materials humans tend to ‘bite’ differently.
    Instinctively, metal mouthpiece they will bite cushioning it with lips and with less ‘teeth’, send a slightly tighter airstream which will produce slightly ‘brighter’, or ‘focused’ sound. On the other hand, dark rubber mouthpiece feels safer in the mouth, allowing more relaxed embouchure, more ‘unfocused’ air sent through, which translates in human ears as a bit ‘darker’, ‘mellower’ or ‘broader’ sound.

  8. So true! You are making me question my playing on each clip. I don’t think I adjusted for each clip but who knows what goes on in the subconscious mind? As I think back to playing I don’t think I did though……..

  9. Too similar to agonize about. If I had to choose between the two, I’d probably pick the metal piece, but . . .

  10. To be honest…..You sound the same on most of your mouthpiece clips to me. I can tell right away it’s you and your core sound is there. I do think the articulations in the metal mouthpiece seems to respond quicker, conversely the hard rubber may be a tad darker? But if it was true blindfold test I would be hard pressed to tell a difference.

  11. I thought they were pretty close to each other. The metal did have to seem to have a little more edge but the hard rubber had a nice warmth to it. probably the more important thing is how did they feel and respond to you?

  12. Avatar Mario Lafrésière says

    Agree with Michael Wade Steve really slight differences. Very interesting Théo Wanne is great thanks Steve

  13. Avatar Sebastiano Terzuolo says

    No difference at all..! It could be that the hr one being a hair thicker (as it looks from the pics) opens your oral cavity just a couple mm more, resulting in a minimal change in darkness. But this is, at least to me, the proof that the physics of sound just care about the internal shape of the piece. I suspect the difference the player feels has to do with the different rate of vibrations that the piece sends to your jaw bones.

  14. I hear a significant difference and to my ear and mind, the metal wins every set of clips. Cleaner, more resonant, better focus. The material is material to the sound.

  15. I hear the difference easily. Whether it matters to some folks is another story.
    But for me, the HR is a bit sweeter, fatter, almost like the notes have a rounded edge and a bit sharper edge to them with the metal. I own the metal version and bought it for that harder edge bit.

    That said, for a smoother edged, bit darker sweeter sound, I think I would search elsewhere for a Mac to dial in those features more vs. buy this HR option for that.

  16. Avatar Matt C Palasik says

    Several thoughts…
    1. what material do you normally play? Forget these two mouthpieces when answering. Do you spend more time on metal mouthpieces or hard rubber? I believe this answer would effect how you play both of these mouthpieces, which alters the results.

    2. your examples may be one of the few you can do this type of study with… but lets face it, TW mouthpieces are engineered in a league far above what most mouthpieces are, so without information from Theo on the actual differences between the two designs the study is useless. There could be compensations in the design of both to make them play nearly identical. Just because they are both Gaia models does not mean the chambers, baffles and every thing else are identical. Confirmation from Theo is necessary.

    3. did you record everything on the metal first then the hard rubber? did you do 1 track on metal then hard rubber? This will also effect your state of mind and alter the results. For example: if you recorded a track on the metal, you now have a set sound in your mind. Then if you immediately record the same track on hard rubber, the sound in your mind from the metal is influencing you subconsciously and altering the sound of the hard rubber.

    Overall I think your idea is a great one. I think you need to put more thought into how you perform this side by side comparison.

  17. Matt,

    1. I spend about equal time on hard rubber and metal mouthpieces. Honestly, most of my days for the last 5 years have been spent playing a mouthpiece that I will be reviewing both metal and hard rubber.

    2. I did not talk to Theo about how these compare but did ask Bryan Vance at Theo Wanne mouthpieces about doing this comparison and he said that these two mouthpieces would be good to use because “they are the same in every way except the material”. I can see no difference between them by eye that is for sure. I can’t say that they are 100% exactly the same just because I don’t have the tools to measure them as needed but I trust Bryan’s opinion.

    3. I recorded a track on hard rubber and then immediately played the same track on metal. Then back to another track on hard rubber and metal, etc…….. I mostly did this just so I remembered what I just played.

    Right now, this side by side comparison is about as much time as I want to spend on this experiment. Thanks for taking the time to listen and make a comment. Steve

  18. Sebastiano, I just looked at both mouthpiece side by side and I think the outside diameter of the body of the metal mouthpiece is slightly bigger than the hard rubber version. I don’t see any difference with the beak size or area. The hard rubber might look bigger in the photos because it is closer to the camera. Steve

  19. Steve, what a great experiment. I side with those responding that the metal edged out the HR. These are both outstanding mpcs. But to my ears, listening through a very good set of headphones they are incredibly close. On the straight-ahead playing maybe I preferred the HR a bit, but when pushed the metal won out for me. Should I buy a Gaia3 (and I really want to) I’d go with metal. Thanks for this very interesting experiment.

  20. Avatar Matt C Palasik says

    Steve thanks for the reply, apparently you put more into this experiment than I realized. Good work

  21. There was a clear difference, albeit subtle. The HR model was a little darker, less in-your-face. The metal seems to speak quicker, as if moving closer to the mic, with a stronger mid-range. Another impression, though not the actual case, is that the metal model sounded like it had a slightly harder reed than the HR. They both sound good enough that I’d be inclined to play either depending on the reed or just my mood!

  22. Avatar marc vanden eynden says

    Steve,
    Metal without any hesitation for me. More sparkle and projection when you push it.

  23. Steve,
    I hear a difference, or at least I think I do. I’m writing this before reading your comments or any comments anyone else posted.
    I’m hearing the metal piece to be slightly brighter. The attack is also a bit less harsh on the hard rubber. It also sounds like you’re getting more volume out of the metal.
    The differences are slight for sure. And honestly, I’m digging both sounds.

  24. I have little experience in terms of testing the same mouthpiece metal vs Hard Rubber. But from the way I felt playing metal mouthpiece, I always thought that with metal mouthpiece the main difference was that given the shape of the mouthpiece and the fact it was a bit thinner my embouchure was slightly different, I tend to put more mouthpiece in so that did play a role in the sound, but not due to the material…

  25. There was a slightly brighter sound to the Metal. I’m curious if they felt identical responsewise? If not then that could account for the sound difference.

  26. Yes, but in this case both mouthpiece are the same size. I couldn’t tell a difference when switching back and forth between them as far as embouchure and how they felt.

  27. Thanks Alex. Appreciate the feedback. You have probably read my comments by now but I agree with your analysis of the sound clips.

  28. The differences were so slight that it’s hard to tell if they were real or my own bias towards hard rubber and me WANTING it to sound different.

  29. Steve, Thank you as always for your precise and accurate comparisons. My comment here is to describe the difference between the first and second set of recorded examples found here. The second set of examples as compared to the first for me contain some hardness or brittleness that the first set here don’t seem to have. I would compare it to a using a fine pre amp recorded sound as opposed to a lesser more stock pre amp recorded sound. It reminded me of the sound I first was getting many years ago when I used a Digi 03 with built in pre amps as compared to running through an Avalon 737 preamp that I soon thereafter began using.

  30. Tim, Thanks for listening. So do you think the wave files are better than the mp3 files? I would think the hardness or brittleness as you describe it are the extra highs in the sound that are perhaps cutoff when converting to a smaller mp3 sound clip. Thanks for your thoughts. Steve

  31. Avatar Kevin Ledbetter says

    There is just a little more brightness and focus with the metal. The HR just has a bit more spread in the sound. I think a player would just choose which one that felt better and go with that. Sometimes for me a metal piece has a thinner body, and I almost always seem to be more comfortable with HR. Both are excellent pieces and I don’t think you could go wrong.

  32. Avatar Lincoln Apeland says

    Big difference between hard rubber and metal. I do usually wonder when I’m listening to a particular piece if it’s mental, but in these examples I hear more presence, more detail, more punch and the various parts of the tone and partials are just more obvious in the metal piece.

    Same to be said for the lossless wave files. More presence, more of a robust spectrum, on all examples.

  33. Avatar Angelo Yodice says

    You realize between the between the two there is very little difference. Saying that, there is in my opinion a difference and that is the following. I feel the rubber piece has a fuller sound, deeper tone, full bottom. The metal is a little thinner in sound, that is if one was listening to say a tenor jazz solo say from Dexter Gordon and one turns the treble control on the amplifier to just a little more treble. That’s what I hear in the clips!

  34. Avatar Walter George says

    In my opinion, there is a subtle difference: the HR seems to blend the sounds better and is not as harsh and sharp like the metal.
    One thing that would be worth considering with these mpc tests is recording in raw sound format rather that mp3. You would be able to capture more true sound this way.
    Not too long ago I was testing different microphones and recording them in both formats. What I noticed was that one could really identify the better mic recording in raw format but when recording in mp3, you really could not tell much difference as everything got mixed.
    Doing a head to head comparison both the same way using mp3 format, you should be able to compare them but you would hear a better sound of each using raw format though the raw files would be substantially bigger.

  35. Hi Steve,
    It’s really close and thanks for the higher def files. FLAC? The fat files sounded warmer overall.

    So, it does prove that material doesn’t make a difference, at least that is what the acousticians would have you believe. The hard rubber seemed a bit smoother and the metal a tiny bit less in the lower harmonics. Preference wise I like the rubber for you more. Now if you have a bottom heavy horn like my Chateau, then the metal might be a better choice.

  36. Avatar Randy Wheeler says

    I have always been able to tell the difference between a hard rubber and a metal mouthpiece on recordings of saxophone players. For the same reasons you print here. Also, good speakers can speak volumes. I don’t think that the live audience can tell the difference. The most important thing is how you, the player, feel about the mouthpiece you are using. I use metal on my alto, tenor, and bari. However, I use rubber (Runyon is brighter than most rubber mouthpieces) on my soprano, because metal sounded to metallic to my ears. I have several mouthpieces for my tenor and alto. Each mouthpiece has it’s own character. I use the Vigilante at rock and funk gigs and the Michael Brecker for jazz gigs. I also put on one of my many Theo Waynes to change things up. I play differently depending on the mouthpiece I chose. Does that make sense?

  37. Avatar Michael Hutchings says

    Hi Steve, Interesting comparison. Using Sennheiser headphones I found the hard rubber a touch warmer and fatter, but not much in it. What I would like to know is how you manage to get such good subtone right down to bottom Bb, do you change your embouchure very much, for example playing right on the tip of the mouthpiece? Regards, Mike.

  38. Michael, Yes, I change my embouchure a lot as that is what you have to do to subtone. The more radical the change with the bottom lip and jaw the more extreme the subtone. Once I learned to subtone back in the day, I would experiment with how extreme I could move the bottom jaw out of the way. I don’t go to the end of the mouthpiece but that does help if you do that. I just prefer to keep my embouchure in my normal playing position usually. I have a video lesson on it also in my store if you need more details. Hope this helps, Steve

  39. Hey Steve, since for some people the difference is so obvious, what if you record some examples (or even use the same ones), take the kind of piece used out of the file title, and see how many people actually get what’s been used in a poll?

  40. Avatar Michael Hutchings says

    Hi Steve, Thanks for taking the time and trouble to reply to my subtone query, I appreciate that as I know you’re a very busy man, but you always make the effort. Regards, Mike.

Speak Your Mind

*

Visit us on FacebookVisit us on TwitterVisit us on YouTubeVisit us on Linkedin