Theo Wanne Gaia 3 Hard Rubber Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece Review

I was excited to hear that Theo Wanne was releasing a new alto saxophone mouthpiece called the Gaia 3 a few months ago and asked Theo if I could review it.  I had reviewed the original Gaia alto saxophone mouthpiece back in 2010 and it was one of  the best alto saxophone mouthpieces I have reviewed in my opinion. Original Gaia Alto Mouthpiece Review  That original Gaia hard rubber alto sax mouthpiece was my main alto mouthpiece for a number of years. It had a beautiful singing, vibrant tone that sounded great for jazz playing or even more modern commercial alto sax solos.  Years later, Theo Wanne came out with a Gaia 2 alto sax mouthpiece but I don’t think I tried that one that I remember.

When I asked Theo if I could review this new Gaia 3 alto saxophone mouthpiece I assumed that it would be the same shape and size as my original Gaia alto sax mouthpiece was.   I was surprised when I opened the box and saw the slim mouthpiece shape of this new Gaia 3.  I have to be honest that I was a bit disappointed when I saw the mouthpieces slim profile because my experience with past slim profile alto mouthpieces has been that they have all been too bright, edgy and buzzy in tone.  I was nervous that this new Gaia 3 mouthpiece would have those same characteristics that I didn’t like.

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 Hard Rubber Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

I received the Gaia 3 alto mouthpiece in mid-February and it has been on my alto saxophone ever since.  For the last four months,  I have used it for all my alto saxophone playing.  I apologize to Theo Wanne for taking so long with this review.  I think the state of the world with the pandemic, the political stuff and then the racism in the news everyday has distracted me and made it harder to focus on completing this review. Today, I am putting all that aside and focusing on completing this review.

The Gaia 3 alto saxophone mouthpiece was shipped with the usual high standards of the Theo Wanne company.  The mouthpiece comes in a perfectly designed box with stylish gold printing on it with all the details of the mouthpiece inside.  Inside the box is a beautiful leather looking mouthpiece case. Each mouthpiece has a ligature included with it as well as a high quality perfectly designed card with specific direction on how to adjust the ligatures, the affects on the saxophone tone when the ligature is in different positions and directions on how to change the pressure plates on the ligatures.

The mouthpiece comes with a reed replacer cap which is on the mouthpiece where the reed goes and the ligature is tightened down on the reed replacer cap to protect the mouthpiece in shipping and when you are not playing it.  Although the reed replacer cap is a cool idea, the Gaia 3 mouthpiece does not come with a “regular” mouthpiece cap that you slide on the mouthpiece over the reed and around the ligature.  This is a bit surprising as Theo has dialed in every detail pertaining to his mouthpieces and yet there is no mouthpiece cap for these mouthpieces as of yet!

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 Hard Rubber Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece with Enlightened Ligature and Reed

I did ask Bryan Vance about the reason that there is no Theo Wanne mouthpiece cap and he sent me back this email:

In the beginning, as they say…..Theo was a big believer and proponent of the Reed Replacer cap that he designed, simply for the reason that it saves mouthpieces when they are dropped, protects them when they are in the case and keeps the ligature from damaging the table. I think we can all agree that those are all good things.

Of course, there are those of us who need a cap when on stage, or like to leave a reed on when not playing (I’m guilty of that). The trouble here is that cap makers all use standard molds to go over slim, standard ligatures, and as such we have tried a lot of the other designs over the years, like the FL Ultimate Cap for example, and always found they left something to be desired. So, we settled on using standard caps that were large enough to fit our ligatures. In 2018/2019, we noticed a shift in the sizing that was available, and found we were getting a lot of complaints about them falling off or popping off on their own. The decision was made to discontinue the use of these.

In the meantime, we have been working on new cap designs that we can manufacture ourselves, but the design process, believe it or not, is long, and the mold for each size can have substantial costs. So, it’s a process!!

Wow!  Who would have guessed that designing and making a mouthpiece cap could be so complicated a process!  Like everything at Theo Wanne mouthpieces, I am sure that they want these mouthpiece caps to be perfect so the wait continues……….

The Theo Wanne Gaia 3 hard rubber alto saxophone mouthpiece comes with a Theo Wanne Enlightened Ligature to use with the mouthpiece.  I really like these ligatures on Theo’s mouthpieces and they seem to really get the most vibrant response from the reed in my opinion.  The Enlightened ligature works well but you have to be careful when moving a sax mouthpiece that is tight on the cork as the ligature can move on the mouthpiece and scratch the hard rubber.  If I am using an Enlightened ligature and need to move the mouthpiece I try to grab the mouthpiece in areas where I don’t touch the ligature.

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 Hard Rubber Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece with Enlightened Ligature and Reed

Even before you look at the mouthpieces themselves, everything about the Theo Wanne packaging and presentation just speaks to quality and high standards.  Just the process of opening the package and unpacking the mouthpiece brings about an excitement and anticipation that this mouthpiece you are about to play is going to be amazing!

Here is how the Theo Wanne website describes the new Gaia 3 alto saxophone mouthpiece:

The GAIA 3 alto is fully re-designed!   It still has the classic Meyer style of sound, but with many visible, and hard to see innovations.

The result of the GAIA 3’s new design is a freedom of play never before experienced in a traditional sounding alto mouthpiece!  Easy to see innovations include our proprietary Shark-Gill Baffle™, which improves the airflow and opens up the sound.  Harder to see is the redesigned baffle shape and chamber:)  Once you spend some time on it, you will find a dynamic range and flexibility not found in any other mouthpieces.

Large chambers have been widely explored in the history of tenor mouthpieces, but very little has been done with alto mouthpieces. The GAIA 3 Alto mouthpiece opens up a whole new world for the alto saxophone.  Not only is the DESIGN revolutionary, but it uses our state of the art manufacturing and premium materials so that design is made right!  The GAIA 3 has evolved from the GAIA 1 with an even more core and body to the sound.

Theo GAIA alto is available in premium hard rubber and in 24K gold plated brass.  At first we were hesitant to make this mouthpiece in brass, however, due to popular demand we made a few and the brass version was a huge hit!

SOUND

  • Outplays history’s best traditional alto mouthpieces.
  • Full, rich and fat traditional sound with a hint of edge.

DESIGN

  • Includes our proprietary Shark-Gill-Baffle,  True Large Chamber, and rounded inner side walls all the way to the tip.
  • Crafted to the highest accuracy in the history of saxophone mouthpieces.
  • Designed by Theo Wanne, the foremost expert on the design and manufacturing of vintage and new mouthpieces.

DETAILS

  • Case: Beautiful Leatherette Case! Like the case?  See our other Mouthpiece and Reed Cases here!
  • Serial Number: Includes serial number showing care given to your mouthpiece.
  • Plating: Reticulated 24K Gold plating with highlights on globe logo.
  • Premium Hard Rubber: The Hard Rubber GAIA 3 uses the finest vintage style hard rubber on the planet!
  • Ligature: The metal GAIA 3 includes our integrated two-point contact 24K Gold Plated Liberty Ligature and Alive Gold pressure plate. The Hard Rubber GAIA 3 includes the Enlightened Ligature, rated #1 ligature in the world. To truly individualize your sound, try our premium Pressure Plates, which fit all of our mouthpieces and ligatures!.
  • Cap: Patented Reed Replacer Cap. The most secure cap in the world.
  • Bite Pad: User Replaceable Bite Pads allow you to peel and stick on new bite pads. Try our varying hardness bite pads to personalize the feel.

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 Hard Rubber Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

The mouthpiece itself is beautifully made and has a perfect looking symmetry and balance to it.  The mouthpiece engraving is as perfect as can be.  Not a flaw or mistake anywhere.  Each mouthpiece has a unique serial number on it which I really love as I know which mouthpiece is mine and if I decide to sell a mouthpiece everyone knows from the serial number that this is the mouthpiece I reviewed on my site.

The tip, rails, baffle, table and chamber all look perfect as well. Smooth, even, symmetrical…….flawless.  The sidewalls look straight as they head towards the large chamber but when I run my finger over them I can feel that they are slightly scooped out. The baffle is a medium height almost straight looking baffle that has a slight roll to it as it approaches the entrance to the chamber.  The baffle ends at a scooped out curve where the large chamber begins.  The chamber looks pretty big for such a slim alto mouthpiece.

The new Gaia 3 alto sax mouthpiece has a new baffle design with what Theo Wanne calls a “Shark Gill Baffle”.  You can see these lines in the picture above.  Matt Ambrose at Theo Wanne mouthpieces describes the new Gaia 3 mouthpiece like this on a SOTW (Sax on the Web) post about the mouthpiece:

The Gaia 3 is the culmination of a LOT of experimentation, prototypes, and trial and error. Theo figured out kind of a break-through in rollover baffle design that is really significant. I’m usually pretty conservative when talking about our mouthpieces and new features and designs because I’m sensitive to the fact that too much sensationalism can be seen as hype—this is not hype. More projection, more complex tone, super quick response, the Gaia 3 is a significant step forward in my opinion. There are some chamber geometry changes as well, and also notable are the precision grooves in the baffle (see picture below). We have experimented with acoustics and airflow for many years and developed this design to augment the efficiency of the mouthpiece. We are really proud of the Gaia 3.

Here is Theo Wanne’s take on the Gaia 3 Shark Gill Baffle in his own words on SOTW (Sax on the Web):

I know the shark-gill baffle is the obvious visible feature, so I’ll mention that it works with boundary layer effect similar to how a sharks rough skin helps it glide faster through water, or how the dimples on a golf ball help it travel with less resistance through the air. I’ve enjoyed experimenting with this principle as many of the effect of it are counter intuitive, which makes experimenting fun  

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 Hard Rubber Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

The Gaia 3 alto saxophone mouthpiece came with built in bite plates that protect the mouthpieces and are easy to replace.  The pad can be peeled off if you bite through it and replaced with a new one in the same area.  When I first started playing the Gaia 3 alto mouthpiece, I used a rubber bite plate over the existing one.  I was surprised by the difference in sound to my ear when, one day, I took my bite pad off and decided to try the Gaia 3 mouthpiece with just it’s own bite plate. It sounded so very different to my ear. Louder, brighter and more alive! I liked it much more without my added bite pad.  It’s like I feel closer to the sound in some way.

I play tested the Theo Wanne Gaia 3 alto saxophone mouthpiece with some Rigotti Gold 2 1/2 Strong, 3 Light, 3 Medium and 3 Strong alto saxophone reeds as well as some Boston Sax Shop 2 1/2  and 3 alto saxophone reeds that I have been using over the last few months also.  Both brands of reeds lined up perfectly with the tip rail of the Gaia 3 mouthpiece and played great.  I ended up really digging the Rigotti Gold 3 Medium reed as well as the BSS (Boston Sax Shop) 2 1/2 reed the most for the sound clips below. I recorded a sound clip on each reed.

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 Hard Rubber Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

So, what did I think of the new Gaia 3 hard rubber alto sax mouthpiece?  First of all, I loved it just as much if not more than the original Gaia alto saxophone mouthpiece I used to own. The Gaia 3 alto mouthpiece seems like it can be bright and modern sounding when pushed if you choose to go in that direction but it also feels and sounds great on bebop lines.  The tone is focused and round with a strong solid core to the sound that leans to the brighter side.

I could do a quasi-Sanborn type style with the Gaia 3 alto mouthpiece but I think the tone is prettier, rounder and fuller than that same style on a Dukoff alto sax mouthpiece.  The Gaia 3 alto mouthpiece sounds great on bebop lines also.  The tone throughout the range of the horn is even and smooth so playing fast lines sounds really flowing and smooth. It articulates cleanly with a quick response.

The intonation is really excellent on the Gaia 3 also. I think the combination of the medium baffle with the large chamber seems to balance out the intonation on the notes that can be quite a bit sharper on my Selmer Reference 54 alto sax like the middle E and Eb. These notes were very easy to bring down to pitch.

I made sound clips below with the two reeds I liked the most on this mouthpiece. I also added the same clips with added reverb as well. I really like the reverb clips as the listener can get more of an idea how the mouthpiece might sound on a gig with effects.

The harder Rigotti Gold 3 Medium reed seems to have a bit more of a thick character to it.  More reedy sounding and refined than the BBS 2 1/2 I think. The softer BBS (Boston Sax Shop) reed had a little more brightness and buzz to the reed.  On the BBS clip, I left in a part of the recording at 2:40 where I turned away from the mic to see if a truck was coming into my driveway.  I just found it interesting how different it sounded as I turned away from the mic and the recording picked up the room sound.  I guess that is why it is good to face a microphone when you are recording!  Haha!

Lastly, I think it is worth mentioning again that I have usually not liked alto saxophone mouthpieces with a slimmer profile.  They usually feel too small for my tastes compared to the hard rubber Meyer sized alto sax mouthpieces I am more used to.  This was not the case with the slimmer Gaia 3 alto saxophone mouthpiece.  The size of it felt similar to playing a metal tenor sax mouthpiece to me and I felt comfortable with it immediately. The beak shape and everything about it is very comfortable.

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 Hard Rubber Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece

If you like the sound and look of the new Gaia 3 alto saxophone mouthpiece by Theo Wanne, you can find them at Theowanne.com. I have agreed to be an affiliate for Theo Wanne  so if you purchase a Gaia 3 alto 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 alto saxophone mouthpiece or have any other thoughts or comments, I would love to hear what you think in the comments below.  Thanks,   Steve

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 Hard Rubber Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece-Boston Sax Shop 2 1/2 Reed-No Effects (I found the 2:40 mark interesting as I turn away from the mic.  It sounds so different I wanted to leave it in….)

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 Hard Rubber Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece-Boston Sax Shop 2 1/2 Reed-Reverb Added (I found the 2:40 mark interesting as I turn away from the mic.  It sounds so different I wanted to leave it in….)

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 Hard Rubber Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece-Rigotti Gold 3 Medium Reed-No Effects

Theo Wanne Gaia 3 Hard Rubber Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece-Rigotti Gold 3 Medium Reed-Reverb Added

Disclosure:  I received the sample mouthpiece reviewed above in the hope that I would try it and perhaps review it on my blog.  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
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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. Wow the tone. Damn. The mouthpiece really rounds out the sound are you sure there is no EQ on there? Wow.

  2. David, Not on the “no effects” clips. The other clips have reverb added. Steve

  3. Avatar Paul Thomas says

    Purchased one of these a few months ago. I had the original Gaia for years. This one is even better; very versatile, I love it.

  4. Avatar Simon Farmer says

    Enjoyed reading this review Steve and very interesting to hear the clips, you sound very comfortable with it!…been looking forward to you reviewing the alto version after seeing the tenor review a while ago. Very keen to try this mouthpiece, though it’s obviously a little bit of an ‘investment’! I’m currently using a Vandoren V16 A8 S+, but was looking for something that might be a bit warmer sounding in the upper register, without loosing the projection and easy blowing nature of the V16. Was going to try an 8…did you try a few tip openings or just the 6? I wasn’t really sure about the narrow shaping, I prefer a chunkier looking mouthpiece, but I guess you get used to it and if it helps the sound then great! Cheers, Simon.

  5. I recently picked up one of these in a 7 opening and it is hands down the best alto mouthpiece I have ever played. I have never been a fan of large chamber mouthpieces on alto. I think the alto should sound like an alto and not like a tenor. I had previously tried the Gaia 2 for alto and found it too tubby and tenor like. For the same reason I was also disappointed in the Jody Jazz DV NY. For that reason I had been playing both the TW NY Bros 2 and the Ted Klum NY. After several discussions with a friend of mine at Theo Wanne was adamant that I at least try the 3, as he believed that it was the best alto piece he had ever played. I decided to give it a chance, and I am so glad that I did. This thing has just the right amount of edge, despite its large chamber, and has all the projection you could ever want in an alto piece. I had been holding out hope that TW would make either a medium or small chamber Gaia, but having played the Gaia 3 I can see why they haven’t done that yet. This is a killer alto piece. If you like that Meyer style sound, you need to give it a try. I doubt you will be disappointed.

  6. Jacob – metal or hard rubber? Would you use it for R&B / Funk / Rock? Thanks

  7. I would like to try one as well. I don’t want to buy without a trial. (Don’t want to buy a pig in a poke).

  8. Jacob, I’m very curious about the 7 also. I can’t imagine liking it more than this 6 but you never know. Your review of it makes it sound smokin’! Thanks!

  9. @David: I have the hard rubber, but I don’t think it makes too much of a difference on the TW pieces, just personal choice. As long as it wasn’t an orchestra gig this is the MP I want to play with. The thing is loud, like really loud IMO.

    @Steve: I usually play a 6 on a Meyer tape piece but my friend at TW said I should go with a 7 or 8 on the Gaia. I feel like I get a little more edge than you do. I use a 2.5 BSS instead of my usual 3-3.5. That extra edge may be from the softer reed. Regardless, I love the piece.

  10. I’ve got the Gaia 2, which I really like, and am not short of cash. Do you think the difference is likely to be significant, based on your experience of the Gaia 1? Thanks, as ever.

  11. Andrew, I have no idea as I didn’t try the Gaia 2. I think there is a pretty big difference between the Gaia 1 and the Gaia 3. Maybe ask someone at Theo Wanne what they think about the differences between a Gaia 2 and Gaia 3. Steve

  12. Avatar David S Pelleg says

    Andrew Bowie, if you aren’t short of cash it is a no-brainer. Just buy the Gaia 3 and play it. Sell the mouthpiece you don’t like. Theo Wanne mouthpieces trade strongly in the secondary market so you are risking $50 / 50 quid.

  13. Thanks, Steve. I’ve taken a punt on it anyway! I’ll let you know what I think: every time I’ve done this based on your recommendations (like for the tenor Gaia 3) it has been a big success, so I’m optimistic.

  14. That’s great to hear. Let me know what you think when you get it and play it for a bit. I also think it is one of the most reed friendly pieces I have ever played. Steve

  15. It arrived today, and despite thinking I should give it a more extended runout before posting, I just have to say that it is awesome. Its response is way quicker and easier than any alto piece I’ve ever had, the tone has just the right amount of edge (it sounds more mellow with a Silverstein lig, but more crisp with the Wanne lig). You can play pp without any loss of clarity, and, though I couldn’t totally let rip for domestic reasons, it has power in spades. Intonation is superb, and it worked with three pretty different reeds as long as you got the lig dead right. So no regrets, but please don’t find another piece this good in the near future. All I need now is my gigs back 🙁 Thanks again, Steve. You cost me a load of money, but help me get a lot of pleasure.

  16. Avatar Alexandra Willats says

    @Andrew Bowie How did you find it compared to the Gaia 2? Would you say it’s brighter/darker/more buzzy? I own the HR Gaia 2, size 6 and it’s a great MP and very ligature friendly. I find the Gaia 2 has a fair amount of resistance and favours Rigotti reeds in my experience. I’m wary of the Gaia 3 because of the ligature constraints – I’m not a huge fan of the lig it comes with. But ultimately it’s all about the sound! (Bank balance allowing)

  17. Avatar Andrew Bowie says

    @Alexandra Willats It’s much more free blowing, with less resistance, but not so little that you can’t shape the sound. I’m using Rigotti, too. The ligature it comes with works better than the ligature on the Gaia 2, and I think I even prefer it to the Silverstein (both a hr soprano and a metal small tenor ligature work perfectly on it). On brighter, etc., I haven’t tried them side by side, but it is definitely fuller and sings a lot more, and is much quicker to respond, especially pp. If you’ve got the cash I wouldn’t hesitate, as it is even more powerful than the Gaia 2 without becoming strident at all.

    Professor Andrew Bowie

  18. Avatar Alexandra Willats says

    @ Andrew Bowie Thank you for the feedback, very useful. It’s good to know there are a few ligature options available, and that the responsiveness is even better than it’s predecessor. Now I’m very tempted, but given I’m about to purchase a tenor in a couple of days, I may need to wait a while! I’ll definitely trial one and maybe sell the Gaia 2 to help fund it. Thanks again, and to Steve for another great review.

  19. @ Andrew Bowie Thank you for the feedback, very useful. It’s good to know there are a few ligature options available, and that the responsiveness is even better than it’s predecessor. Now I’m very tempted, but given I’m about to purchase a tenor in a couple of days, I may need to wait a while! I’ll definitely trial one and maybe sell the Gaia 2 to help fund it. Thanks again, and to Steve for another great review.

    Glad you liked the review Alexandra. I wouldn’t sell the Gaia 2 before you try the Gaia 3 though. As that is your main mouthpiece, it is better to keep it and then compare it to the Gaia 3. Then you can make a decision on which one to keep and which one to sell.

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