Drake Phil Woods Master Series Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece Review

Today, I am reviewing a Drake Master Series Phil Woods alto saxophone mouthpiece made by Aaron Drake at Drake mouthpieces.  This alto mouthpiece is advertised as  “a near identical replica of the mouthpiece that Phil Woods played for over 40 years.”  Don’t worry about the wording of “near identical”, this does not mean it is not identical.   Aaron sent me more detail that I highlighted in maroon after I posted the review:   The reason the mouthpiece is described as a “near identical” reproduction of Phil’s original mouthpiece is due to the deep teeth indentations found on Phil’s original mouthpiece (he played this piece for over 40 years). This indentation was filled in so that it would not adversely affect each persons unique tooth placement on the beak.

If you are a jazz fan, play the alto saxophone and have listened to any Phil Woods recordings, you can’t help but be interested in this alto sax mouthpiece.  I remember listening to Phil Woods when I was a teenager on the records Musique Du Bois, Warm Woods and Live at the Showboat and I was in awe of his soloing as well as his beautiful alto saxophone tone.  If this new Drake Master Series Phil Woods mouthpiece is a copy of Phil’s actual vintage Meyer alto saxophone mouthpiece then I had to try one out!

Drake Phil Woods Master Series Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

I asked Aaron if this was indeed a copy of Phil’s NY Meyer 5 alto sax mouthpiece and he said that it was.   Aaron says this project started in 2018 when Jill Goodwin (Phil’s widow) sent Phil’s main NY Meyer 5 mouthpiece to Aaron to see if he could reproduce it.

I asked Aaron if he had more details on Phil Wood’s main mouthpiece and he sent me back this reply:

“Phil’s mouthpiece was a NY Meyer USA – 5M – you will see the markings on the top of the shank of the mouthpiece “NEW YORK USA”.  We know that this was the piece that Phil played for over 40 years – his backup piece was also a NY Meyer USA 5M, this piece was also in his case, but was not played much.”-Aaron Drake 

Aaron Drake sent me his 5 tip opening Phil Woods Master Series alto mouthpiece because that is the closest model to Phil’s original NY Meyer mouthpiece as it is the same tip opening at .073.

The Drake Phil Woods model sax mouthpiece is not made with hard rubber but it is made from Drake’s vintage resin material.  Each mouthpiece is created as a one piece casting that Aaron finishes by hand.  The entire process is done at his shop and nothing is outsourced.  (After I posted this review I had someone comment and refer to this mouthpiece as “plastic”  I asked Aaron about this.) His response has been added to the review in maroon color:  “Our Vintage Resin is not plastic, it is a resin composite material that incorporates ceramic to enhance its hardness and acoustic properties.  This material is the closest to the properties of vintage hard rubber.  The Vintage Resin is engineered for durability and will outlast hard rubber.  I recently had an opportunity to take a look at one of my pieces made 10 years ago.  It was played every day by a top professional musician and the facing was unchanged and still spot on.

Also, speaking to the material – it is not possible to capture the level of detail in the reproduction process using hard rubber and the process of milling hard rubber has a completely different acoustic affect on the finished mouthpiece – our one piece casting method is much more homogeneous and resonates differently – it is more “alive”.  

Casting hard rubber is a method that is still used – the process is reductive and will not result in the same level of reproductive consistency and detail possible with our process and material – the goal with this mouthpiece is to give each player an experience that is as close as possible to playing Phil’s mouthpiece.”

Drake Phil Woods Master Series Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

Here is what Aaron Drake says about the Phil Woods alto saxophone mouthpiece from his website:

This mouthpiece is the product of a very special project in collaboration with the Phil Woods estate.

This mouthpiece is a near identical replica of the mouthpiece that Phil Woods played for over 40 years.  The essential geometry of the mouthpiece is identical to Phil’s mouthpiece, and it has the great characteristic vibe of one of the greatest alto saxophone sounds the world has ever known!  
There is a comfortable level of resistance balanced with a freeness and ease of play through the range of the alto.  A true experience to play and explore its potentials. 

Each Phil Woods Mouthpiece is Handcrafted by Aaron Drake and is finished with a serial number. 
Each mouthpiece includes a Drake Quad Point ligature and cap, velvet pouch and carry case.
These mouthpieces are designed for a “universal” ligature fitment and most standard HR Alto ligatures will fit.

Drake Phil Woods Master Series Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

The Drake Phil Woods model alto saxophone mouthpiece came well packaged and protected.  The mouthpiece looked great right out of the box.  The resin material is shiny and smooth to the touch.  The table, tip, rails, baffle and chamber look perfect.  Everything is clean cut, even and smooth.

The mouthpiece has “New York USA” faintly engraved on the top of the shank and “Medium Chamber” and “5” engraved on the bottom of the shank.  I imagine this is to copy the engraving on Phil’s original NY Meyer 5.

Drake Phil Woods Master Series Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

The Drake Phil Woods Master Series alto saxophone mouthpiece looks great as I examine it while writing this review. The table looks flat and smooth with not a mark on it.  The side rails and tip rail are thin and look to be perfectly even to my eyes.

The baffle is a smooth rollover baffle that looks slightly higher on the left side than the right as it rolls over.  The baffle then descends down into the medium sized chamber.  The side walls are slightly scooped out also.

Interestingly enough, the mouthpiece chamber looks to be somewhat oblong shaped meaning that it looks a little bit higher in diameter than it is wide.  This might just be the affect of the chamber floor being a little lower than the circle of the chamber which gives it this look.  The chamber opening is smaller than the bore size and opens up into the bore at the end of the chamber. The roof of the chamber is pretty thick compared to many modern day mouthpieces also.

As far as any asymmetry I write about in this review or that you see in the photos, Aaron Drake sent me an email about these after I wrote the review that I highlighted in maroon which I think is helpful:  “I wanted to comment on the subtle asymmetries in the mouthpiece – these were present in Phil’s mouthpiece and lend to the the unique “one-of -kind” nature of his mouthpiece.  The original NY Meyer mouthpiece that Phil played was hand finished, these subtle asymmetries are not unusual for a vintage mouthpiece.”  

Drake Phil Woods Master Series Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

The Drake Phil Woods Master Series alto sax mouthpiece came with two slide on ligatures that Aaron wanted me to try out. (I believe it only comes with one ligature if you purchase the mouthpiece). One is called a Drake Quad Point Ligature and one is a Drake Dual Rails Ligature.  They both look the same as the photos below from the outside.  The difference between the two is that the Quad Point Ligature only holds the reed on the four outside corners where the reed touches the ligature.  The Dual Rails Ligature holds the reed with rails on each side of the ligature.

I personally felt that the Quad Point ligature was a bit more spread and diffused in tone where as the Dual Rails ligature seemed to have a more centered and focused tone.  This is of course highly subjective so take this opinion for what it’s worth.  I personally liked the Dual Rails ligature the best and used that ligature on the sound clips because I like a focused tone but the Quad Point ligature did seem to allow more freedom for the reed to vibrate I think.

Drake Phil Woods Master Series Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

Although I used the Drake ligature for the sound clips and felt that it worked well, in general I am not a big fan of slide on ligatures just because they only hold the reed at the point where they slide on tightly.  If I am having an issue with a reed, the first thing I do is to adjust the reed position as well as the ligature position on my sax mouthpiece.  I like the option of being able to position a ligature further back on the mouthpiece to free up the reed a little more or to position it closer to the tip end of the mouthpiece to perhaps seal the reed better and give the tone a little more focus.  I find these ligature adjustments to influence the response and articulation of a reed many times also.  That’s just my opinion though………..

As a point of reference for other ligatures, the Drake Phil Woods alto sax mouthpiece  will work with a Vandoren Optimum metal alto sax ligature positioned towards the rear of the reed.  It doesn’t quite tighten enough if it is more forward towards the tip but tightens nicely if you slide it back towards the middle or rear of the reed.

Drake Phil Woods Master Series Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

My first experience playing the Drake Phil Woods alto sax mouthpiece was that it was really easy blowing.  Some of this probably had to do with the .073 tip opening as I usually play around a .080 tip opening.  All the reeds I tried on this alto mouthpiece just felt a little too soft for it but I believe that was because the hardest new alto reed I had was a Rigotti Gold 3 medium reed which was just too soft for a .073 tip opening.

Luckily, I have about a thousand used Vandoren Java reeds in a shoe box in my office.  I tried a Vandoren Java 3 reed and it played perfectly for me.  I also tried a number of other Java 3 reeds that played great on the Drake Phil Woods alto sax mouthpiece as well.

Drake Phil Woods Master Series Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

The first two clips below are with the Vandoren Java 3 reed that I would say offered a good hardness and resistance.  The first is a dry recording with no affects and the second has a little bit of reverb added.

I also decided to add two clips of the Drake Phil Woods alto mouthpiece with a softer blowing reed which is a Ishimori Woodstone 3 1/2 reed.  I wouldn’t say this reed was too soft but it does lean to the softer side as compared to the Vandoren Java 3.  Many players are more comfortable playing softer reeds, so I thought it would be good to add these clips as well.  As above, the first is a dry recording with no affects and the second has a little bit of reverb added.

Drake Phil Woods Master Series Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

I thought that the Drake Phil Woods alto mouthpiece played great as you can hear on the sound clips below.  It has a bright clear tone that is powerful and crisp. The tone is focused and has a tight round core to it.

In the clips below I play a few Phil Woods lines in each clip from a “Stolen Moments” solo I just transcribed a few weeks ago and “The Summer Knows” which is another classic Phil Woods solo.  (Do yourself a favor and check out the Stolen Moments solo……)

I feel  like the harder Vandoren Java 3 reed has a little bit more texture and character to the tone.  The softer Woodstone reed has a clearer tone that I think is somewhat brighter in my opinion although you might disagree with that.  I do think the slightly softer reed was easier for me to bend notes and use vibrato but I do like the thickness of tone of the harder Java 3 reed.  I would imagine there is an inbetween area between both reeds that can be attained by more playing with this mouthpiece where all these elements I really like about each reed can be mixed together.

The intonation with the Drake Phil Woods mouthpiece was as would be expected on my Selmer Reference 54 alto sax.  I will say that my middle E was sharper for me than I am used to but this is common for me when I play alto mouthpieces with chambers smaller than a large chamber. This is a characteristic of my sax unfortunately.   The more I played the Drake Phil Woods mouthpiece the more I got used to this and brought the pitch of that note down.

Drake Phil Woods Master Series Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

If you like the sound and look of the Drake Master Series Phil Woods Model alto saxophone mouthpiece by Aaron Drake, you can find them at the Drake website.  I think Aaron Drake has done a great job in reproducing this great alto sax mouthpiece that was owned by Phil Woods.   Of course, I haven’t played Phil’s original NY Meyer 5, but when I listen to his recording of Stolen Moments above I can hear how the Drake Phil Woods model is in that ballpark of sound for me which I am ecstatic about!  It makes me just want to transcribe and shed even more Phil Wood’s solos!

Thanks to Aaron Drake for his work in reproducing this great alto mouthpiece.  Thanks to Jill Goodwin for taking the leap of faith in sending it to Aaron, and thanks most of all to the master and legend Phil Woods for using the tools he had to create music that is extraordinary and spectacular.  You are missed Mr. Woods!

If you have played or end up playing a Drake Master Series Phil Woods Model alto saxophone mouthpiece or have any other thoughts or comments about this review, I would love to hear what you think in the comments below.  Thanks,   Steve

Drake Phil Woods Master Series Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece-Vandoren Java 3 Reed-No Effects

Drake Phil Woods Master Series Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece-Vandoren Java 3 Reed-Slight Reverb Added

Drake Phil Woods Master Series Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece-Ishimori Woodstone 3 1/2 Reed (Softer than the Java 3 above)-No Effects Added

Drake Phil Woods Master Series Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece-Ishimori Woodstone 3 1/2 Reed (softer than the Java 3 above)-Slight Reverb Added

Jason Weber playing a Drake Phil Woods 7 Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

Lastly, here is Jason Weber playing some Sanbornesque smooth jazz type lines on a Drake Phil Woods 7 alto saxophone mouthpiece.(Reminds me a bit of Mark Russo’s alto tone on his Meyer mouthpiece)  This sparked my interest enough that I wanted to post this video also as it shows another side to this Drake Phil Woods alto saxophone mouthpiece. I don’t play much altissimo on the alto sax because I have a medical issue with my hearing where that range of notes distort and bother me while playing and listening but Jason Weber sounds killer at the beginning of this clip!

Disclosure:  I received the sample mouthpiece reviewed above for free in the hope that I would 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 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 Grant King Koeller says

    This seems to be a great Meyer copy of Phil’s original mouthpiece except for one critical thing, it’s not hard rubber, it’s plastic. I could just get a modern Meyer 5MM and it would be a close enough copy, I could even get the brand new New York Meyer 100th anniversary tribute by JJ Babbitt in a 5 MM facing and it would be a spot on duplicate. For what’s it worth, any Meyer will sound great, I have 4 Meyers, a 6MM, two 7MM’s and an 8MM.The actual design of any Meyer mouthpiece makes it a perfect mouthpiece for jazz, lead alto big band, rock and even classical. The Meyer Brothers got it right,when they designed it so many years ago… I would say for the money, I want a genuine hard rubber piece, not a plastic mouthpiece. (or whatever his resin formula is). that is not to say, that there are not fantastic playing plastic mouthpieces, out there, Brilhart, Beecher,and ARB, and claude lakey,, it’s just for the money, a Meyer Phil Woods copy should be in Hard Rubber.

  2. Grant, Well, there are mixed opinions out there on that obviously. I just did a comparison between Theo Wanne Gaia 3 mouthpieces made of metal and hard rubber and while many people say material is huge a makes a difference I have also heard from hundreds of people that say material doesn’t matter and that it’s all about design. I do admit that I would love to try this exact same mouthpiece in hard rubber also just to compare and see……..

  3. I would also respond that I have played probably hundreds of modern Meyer 5 MM mouthpieces over the years as that is what I have my beginner students move to in junior high school and I used to try them before buying them for my students. I would disagree with your assessment that they “would be a close enough copy” to a vintage NY Meyer mouthpiece. I guess it depends on your definition of “close enough” but the ones I have tried have not been “close enough” in my mind that is for sure……..

  4. I have been playing for 40 years and this is definitely one of the best, if not the best mouthpiece I have played. I think it is worth a try for sure.

  5. Avatar Arya Boustani says

    Great review, thanks a lot Steve. I was wondering if it would be possible to record one with slightly harder reed even. You were right about Java being a better fit. I think having that tip opening perhaps a Java 3.5 reed would be more suitable to create slightly less buzz and add to the body of the tone, or perhaps using a different kind of read with slightly thicker heart and thicker tip. I really enjoyed your tunes on this. 👍🏼

  6. hmm…all the examples display more stridency than I prefer…the sound i hear is that of a Claude Lakey…nothing special…I play New York USA and Meyer Bros. 5MM…

  7. Arya, I’ll see what I can do. Java’s are a brighter, buzzier reed in my opinion as are Rigotti and Woodstone. I’ll see if I can find a darker reed that plays well on it……. Steve

  8. Ned, I’ll see if I can find a darker reed in my boxes of reeds. I know the Java, Rigotti and Woodstone reeds tend to be brighter. Steve

  9. Avatar Rudy Vincent says

    I thought the alto sound was terrific. Sounded just like Phil.

  10. Thanks Rudy!

  11. Thanks Steve! You sound great on this piece!

  12. The samples sound great. Being s huge Phil Woods fan, I am naturally curious, but I did recently purchase the 100th Anniversary NY Meyer 7 and I think it’s hands dow the best mouthpiece in my collection…and my main alto piece is an old NY Meyer.
    I’ve been mainly playing on Drake mouthpieces on tenor and do love them, so, as I’ve said…curious about the Phil Woods model.

  13. Avatar Paul Millard says

    Great sounding mouthpiece Steve! There are many Phil Woods sounding moments in there especially with the Woodstone reed. Mind you your playing is fabulous, great bebop lines ala Phil and lovely reference to Phil’s ballad style with The Summer Knows melody…Phil’s sound was like he was playing a scaled down Tenor Sax, the fatness he achieved was glorious but still with that sweet edge of an alto, that may be an element not quite there with the Drake. It’s a beautiful sounding mouthpiece though, congrats to Aaron & Co 👌🎷

  14. Thanks Steve for this review.
    You sound great on this mouthpiece!
    According to Aaron himself, the 5 tip opening is at .075, not .073.
    So it’s not that closed.

    Best regards

  15. Steve, thanks for your reviews, I recently got Drake Bebop classic 6, it’s an interesting mouthpiece. Now thinking about a mouthpiece for a different style, recently appeared on sale Retro-Revival Modern Line “Eric Marienthal Special” Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece. I’m looking for a mouthpiece for Smooth jazz. Could you test this mouthpiece? The price is high…

  16. Avatar Lars Bergson says

    Steve-o, I’m gonna put you on the spot! Please compare and contrast Aaron’s Phil Woods mpc with 10MFan’s Showboat, regarding sound, playability, etc etc. I know that the Showboat is not a physical copy of Phil’s Meyer, but is designed to ultimately resemble its sound.

    Also, I was under the impression that Phil played a Meyer Bros, which was the generation before what we call a “NY Meyer.” Do I understand correctly that Phil played the mpc that came AFTER the Meyer Bros? Also, the earlier NY Meyer had scooped-out sidewalls, and the later NY Meyer had straight sidewalls. Which does this have?

    As always, a very informative review!

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