Will the Real Michael Brecker’s Sax Mouthpiece Please Stand Up?

I wanted to write a blog post on this subject because there has been a lot of discussion and confusion over the years about the Guardala tenor saxophone mouthpiece that Michael Brecker played on.    I started a discussion on this subject on Facebook but thought it would be good to post what I discovered here as well so we don’t have to keep discussing this every 7 months over and over again.

The issue is this:   Michael Brecker played a Guardala tenor sax mouthpiece, no one will argue with this fact, it is well known by fans of Michael Brecker. Sometime in the early 80’s he switched to a Guardala tenor saxophone mouthpiece and he played a Guardala tenor sax mouthpiece until his death in early 2007.  The issue is, what model Guardala mouthpiece did Michael Brecker actually play and what did the inside of his mouthpiece actually look like?  Specifically, the baffle………

Original Guardala Tenor Sax Mouthpiece (not Brecker’s mouthpiece)

I was a huge Michael Brecker fan in the 80’s- 90’s.   I had every album and CD I could find with Michael Brecker playing on it.  I’m sure there are many of you out there that can relate to this.  Matter of fact,  I think I am mainly a tenor sax player because of Michael Brecker.   I played alto saxophone all through high school and college and even though I had heard tons of tenor players during those years I never thought once of switching to the tenor saxophone.

That all changed around 1986 when I first heard Brecker on a recording and then saw him live with Steps Ahead in Buffalo NY.  I was obsessed and had to get a tenor saxophone!  From the moment I got my first H. Couf tenor sax I was chasing after that elusive Brecker sound and tone.  Soon after that, I switched to the tenor sax full-time and have been playing it as my main saxophone ever since.

I started off on the tenor saxophone playing on a Brilhart Level-aire tenor sax mouthpiece.   Although it seemed like a fine mouthpiece, I was really frustrated with it as I tried to imitate that Brecker type of tenor saxophone tone.   I could just not get there with that mouthpiece for whatever reason.   Years later, I switched to a Sugal JB1 tenor saxophone mouthpiece that I bought off of Jerry Bergonzi.  This mouthpiece got me a lot closer to that Brecker type of tenor sax sound in my opinion.   That is the mouthpiece I used in this recording of Mike Stern’s Chromazone from the early 90’s.  Although this mouthpiece got me a lot closer to that Brecker sound and tone,  it was still too bright and harsh for my tastes.

Years later, I bought an original Guardala Studio model tenor saxophone mouthpiece in search of that elusive Michael Brecker type tenor sound.  I thought now that I had an original hand finished Guardala tenor mouthpiece,  that my search would be over. Although the Studio model was in that Brecker ballpark as far as sound, I found it extremely bright and too buzzy for me.  It was even brighter and edgier than my Sugal JB1 that I had.   I found the palm key notes and altissimo thin sounding to my ear and I ended up selling the Guardala Studio model tenor saxophone mouthpiece a few months later.

Original Guardala Studio Model Tenor Sax Mouthpiece Baffle

A little while later, I heard that WWBW was releasing a Guardala MB tenor sax mouthpiece.   I was ecstatic!  Finally, I could try the exact tenor sax mouthpiece model that my idol Michael Brecker played on.  I immediately bought one and started playing it.  Soon after, I started hearing and reading gossip and rumors that Brecker didn’t actually use the MB model I had just bought.  “WHAT!!  Is this true?”  “What the heck!” “Why release a MB model that wasn’t what Brecker played on?”  I was confused, angry and disappointed again.

WWBW Guardala MB Model Tenor Sax Mouthpiece Baffle

I tried to find out the truth from a variety of sources on the internet including SOTW and other various chat rooms and forums but it seemed like I could never get a straight answer and every person I talked to had a different opinion and experience to share……..

Then WWBW released the MBII mouthpiece!  I heard that this was finally the actual mouthpiece that Michael Brecker actually used.  Thank you WWBW!!!   Now I could try the mouthpiece that my idol used.  I bought one and started playing it.  Wouldn’t you know, soon after,  I started hearing more rumors and gossip on the internet.   “Yeah, the MBII is closer to the Brecker sound but Michael didn’t really play a MBII.  His mouthpiece has a smooth baffle with no ledge”  “WHAT!!!  Come on!  Are you kidding me! Why release a MB model that isn’t like Michael’s mouthpiece and then release a MBII that is still not like his mouthpiece?  Is this a conspiracy?” Still, I could not get a definitive answer, everyone I talked to had a different take and opinion.

A few years later, PMS mouthpieces release it’s own line of Michael Brecker mouthpieces and I reviewed the PMS MBII tenor saxophone mouthpiece right here at neffmusic.com.  By this point, I had given up trying to find the truth.  This PMS MBII baffle was totally different and not anything like the baffles of the other MB mouthpiece baffles I had already tried.

PMS MBII Model Tenor Sax Mouthpiece Baffle

A number of years later,  I posted a review of the Shizhao Pilgrimage tenor mouthpiece and I asked Mr. Shizhao if this was a copy or an original design.   He responded that it was a copy of an original Guardala tenor sax mouthpiece he had bought off of Ebay and forwarded this description to me from the Ebay ad.  This brought up this whole subject of which mouthpiece Michael Brecker actually played on and what did the baffle actually look like once again.

Guardala Description from Ebay Ad

Haha!!  This ominous posting from an unknown source confirms all the rumors and conspiracies that I had heard! (sarcasm…..) Here is a picture of the Shizhao Pilgrimage model which is advertised as a copy of the original Guardala tenor saxophone mouthpiece model that Michael Brecker actually played based off of the description in the ad above.  Notice the smooth baffle and lack of a shelf baffle in the photo………..

Liu Shizhoa’s Pilgrimage model exact copy of Guardala Traditional model?

This is of course proven as a fact by an anonymous Ebay seller who heard this truth from the anonymous person that he bought the Guardala mouthpiece from……  What more evidence do we need! Mystery solved!! (sarcasm…….)

BUT, what of all the people that claim otherwise?  Jennifer Price who worked with Dave Guardala wrote this on Facebook:

“Michael mostly used a standard MB1, however for a short period of time he used the MBII which is basically the same with a slightly longer baffle. Both pieces were just regular Guardala pieces. I of course know this because I worked on the pieces he played. Periodically we would go to Mike’s home and he would switch out. He really loved the sound of the wood one we made, it was really hard to make and I’m still picking dust from the wood off me lol but after the three of us discussed it – in the end the wood is not practical, but his smile that day was infectious and to hear him play something that took days to make was definitely a highlight in my life.” -Jennifer Price

“Yes, as I explained we went to Mike’s house a lot and he had a draw of pieces, but……the ones that he played that we made were always the same thing. He would trade out with us each time and kept about 8”-Jennifer Price

So that settles it, we now have a first hand witness that Michael Brecker played a MBI or MBII which looked similar to this photo with a shelf baffle in it.

A Vigilante MBI made as Jennifer Price remembers making Brecker’s Guardala

Notice the shelf baffle………..

But then we have all these other reported accounts from across the internet:

“When I saw Michael playing in the early 90s, he was actually playing (for that gig anyway) a Branford model.. I had one for a while, and the baffle was smaller/shorter? Meaning a warmer sound..still had a nice refined focus”-John

“The original listing Steve posted looks like a misquoted story from Jeff Powell I saw years ago. He said MB decided to use what was called a Traditional model back then. So DG renamed that design the MB and they came up with a new Traditional design that had a lower arched baffle. So if you have a really old Traditional, it could be the same as a MB design.”-Mojo

“What I know was that the so-called MB1 that Brecker played was different from the MB1s sold in the market. The step baffle drop was smooth and not a straight drop. The Traditional model was what Mike played until later when it was renamed the MB1. The MBII was an accident. Somebody in the factory brought home Studio blanks and hand-finished MB1 baffles in them. So the MB2 was actually a bastard-son of the Studio and the MB1.”-unknown

“I have a friend who was at his master class and saw the inside to his mouthpiece and said it was a roll over baffle no step up at all…”-unknown

“We originally had two mouthpieces- Studio and Traditional. When Michael decided he would play the Traditional we renamed it Brecker. We then made a new mouthpiece with a slightly shorter baffle and called THAT the Traditional”-Jeffrey Powell (also worked with Guardala)

“The MBII is actually a Studio, but with a MB chamber/bore. This was how it was created…by accident when one of Dave’s workers brought home Studio blanks and worked the MB chambers into them… I believe Jeff Powell, (Guardala’s partner), said he designed the original MB II for a tour Brecker did with Paul Simon, (as an aside, Jeff also said Michael didn’t use it). From what I remember, Jeff said that he did the CAD/CAM work and Dave finished the pieces, (hand filing them).” -Wersax (SOTW)

After reading all these comments,  you’re probably even more confused. So am I…….  So what is the answer here? What did the inside of Brecker’s mouthpiece actually look like?  I’m still confused! Louis Gerrits recently posted this picture on Facebook which was cool to see and perhaps helped me come to a resolution to this question that has plagued me for years.   It is an old photo of a cabinet in Michael Brecker’s home. What do you see on the bottom shelf?

A Cabinet in Michael Brecker’s Home

If you look down at the bottom of the cabinet in the photo above,  you can see what looks like 12-15 Guardala tenor saxophone mouthpieces!  Is it possible that Michael Brecker had a variety of Guardala models and baffle configurations to choose from?  Could it be possible that he at times chose to play on different mouthpieces to suit different gigs?  If this is perhaps true, maybe we have an answer to the conflicting reports that I have been reading and hearing about over the years.

Maybe the lesson to be learned here isn’t that we need a copy of the exact mouthpiece Michael Brecker played to be great and sound like him but maybe the lesson here is that Brecker perhaps played on different Guardala mouthpieces and baffles throughout his career and if he did, did any of us notice?  Or did he pretty much just sound like the same amazing Michael Brecker regardless of the mouthpiece that he was using?   Who knows the answer to that one???

At this point you’re probably wanting more definitive answers and proof.   Both of which I do not have at this point in time.   All I have heard and read is posted above for you to draw your own conclusions. I am still very curious and wish Michael was still around to ask first hand that is for sure.

The purpose of this post wasn’t to reveal the definitive answer to this question as much as it is to raise the question and perhaps get some more insight from readers of this blog.   If you have any more inside information on this subject I would love to hear it.   Feel free to post in the comments below. Thanks,   Steve

2022 Important Update to this post:

I wanted to add this important addition to this blog post.    Dr. David Demsey at William Paterson University is the Curator of the Living Jazz Archives.   He has a whole section of  the livingarchives.org site dedicated to Michael Brecker.  On these pages he has posted detailed photos of Michael Brecker’s tenor saxophone as well as the last Guardala tenor saxophone mouthpiece that was still on his Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone after he died.  This is the mouthpiece that he recorded the Pilgrimage album with.

Michael Brecker’s Guardala Mouthpiece that was on his Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone after he died. He recorded the Pilgrimage album with this mouthpiece according to Dr. David Demsey-Curator, Living Jazz Archives William Paterson University

You can see the wear from the silver Selmer 404 ligature that Michael always used with his Guardala mouthpieces.  This wear definitely makes it look like Michael used this particular Guardala tenor saxophone mouthpiece quite a bit……….

Michael Brecker’s Guardala Mouthpiece that was on his Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone after he died. He recorded the Pilgrimage album with this mouthpiece according to Dr. David Demsey-Curator, Living Jazz Archives William Paterson University

And now, for the big reveal that we have all been waiting for. The photo below is of the baffle area of the Guardala tenor sax mouthpiece Michael Brecker was last playing before his death on January 13th, 2007.   You can see clearly that the baffle on this mouthpiece is not a “shelf baffle but is indeed a “rollover” baffle as I enquired about in this blog post in 2016.   As has been stated above, Michael Brecker owned a variety of Guardala tenor sax mouthpieces but the photos of this mouthpiece are clear evidence that he did indeed play a “rollover” baffle Guardala mouthpiece at times.   What albums and recording he used which Guardala mouthpiece and baffle on is all conjecture. I would  tend to guess that he perhaps used a shelf baffled Guardala on the louder and more aggressive Brecker Brothers recordings of the 90’s but only Michael would know the answer to that question.

Michael Brecker’s Guardala Mouthpiece that was on his Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone after he died. He recorded the Pilgrimage album with this mouthpiece according to Dr. David Demsey-Curator, Living Jazz Archives William Paterson University

Thanks to Dr. David Demsey at William Paterson University for answering this question of mine.  This is not a definitive answer in that we can’t prove that Michael Brecker used this Guardala tenor mouthpiece on every recording he ever played on,  but at least we know for a fact that he did at times play on a Guardala tenor sax mouthpiece with a “rollover” baffle in it and he used this exact mouthpiece for his last Pilgrimage recording session.

Rest in Peace Michael Brecker!   We just passed the 15 year anniversary of his unfortunate passing.  He is still missed just as much by all of us in the music world and saxophone community.   We think of you every day as we still listen to your music, transcribe your crazy solos and now, a new generation of sax players are growing up, discovering your music and trying just as hard to do what you seemed to do so effortlessly.  You have left us all an everlasting legacy to remember you by. Thank you!!!

If you have any thoughts, insights or additional comments to add, please feel free to comment below.

Michael Brecker’s Guardala Mouthpiece that was on his tenor saxophone after he died. He recorded the Pilgrimage album with this mouthpieceb according to Dr. David Demsey-Curator, Living Jazz Archives William Paterson University

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.


  1. And then you have Barone saying he made mouthpieces for Brecker as well

    • Thank you so much for the update! I just stumbled across this article, but it was a great read!

      Seems like the Shizhao Pilgrimage model with the rollover baffle was in fact a pretty good copy, then

      Really glad I caught the conclusion of your findings with the pictures of his mouthpiece. Thanks!

  2. I do remember him playing on a Branford model when I visited his house. He said his other piece was being worked on. Strange nobody knows. I bet Andy Snitzer would know. He spent some time with Mike

  3. Steve, This is an interesting discussion, to be sure ! I’ve had discussions like this with sax player friends of mine, and as I got older I’ve come to this conclusion (as it, I think, relates to Mike’s sound, or anyone elses): I sound like me. I sound like me on any horn, on any mouthpiece (within reason). Changing up gear only has one impact on my playing – how HARD I have to work to sound like me. I gravitate toward horn/mouthpiece combinations that take the work out of getting my sound so I can concentrate on playing.

    I think the same holds true for Mike and his sound. If you consider that the cone of a saxophone begins within us, the shape and size of our mouth, our throats, how we push our air, where we put our lips, all impact the sound that comes out of the other end of the horn. Furthermore, if you consider that Mike played the entire Ballads album on a hard rubber link, and still sounded just like Mike (albeit maybe slightly less bright, which is, as I understand it, what he was after), I think it is reasonable to assume that he sounded like Mike no matter what he played on. His early recordings on links and dukoffs certainly are not hugely different in sound to his later work, either.

    To offer another illustration of how our sounds are our own: I absolutely love the Phil Woods type alto sound, but i have come to the conclusion (after amassing a collection of hundreds of different mouthpieces) that no matter what I do, I cannot create that “woody” core of his tone. I have my own sound, one that I love, but not necessarily the one that I want, and I’m finally OK with that. No matter what horn I play on, or which of those mouthpieces I use, I get that sound (with varying degrees of color) because it’s what my body produces. I can make it dark, or bright, fat, or thin, by switching up gear, but the core is always the same. Mike had a beautiful core to his sound, one that I’ve never heard anyone else replicate. There are some that are close, but none that are the same. There was only one Mike, and we were lucky to have had him 🙂

    • Jerry,
      I would agree with your comments as far as the general overall sound but my experience has been that a mouthpiece can tilt me in a certain direction as far as sound very easily while a different mouthpiece might send me in a different direction. Obviously, it is all me and my decisions on what I play and how I am trying to sound but if I play a piece that puts me in that Brecker zone it is much easier to play in that style. If I play a Selmer Soloist it is a lot harder to do the Brecker thing for me anyways. If I play a Dukoff on alto I will lean towards a Sanborn thing and it would be hard to try to do a Phil Woods type of sound. With all the pieces I have played I am still amazed at the different tones I have gotten out of each. There are clips on the site where I feel the sound is closer to Brecker or Woods or Kenny Garrett or Rich Perry or Paul Desmond……..Yes it is still me but I do feel like a piece can affect the tone and lead me to a different sound if that makes sense………..

    • Avatar John Gist says

      In reference to your experience getting that woody core in your alto sound, I didn’t think it was possible for me either. I’ve always gravitated towards the Sanborn type of alto sound, but now I’m all about traditional jazz & lead alto. I’ve never played a Meyer that worked well for me. I’ve finally found my dream mouthpiece for alto in a Barkley Vintage ZZ #5. It has a horseshoe chamber and flat baffle, and it has a monster dynamic range. This mouthpiece is wood core city all day and night. Ultimately this mouthpiece is a Selmer Soloist & Brilhart Tonalin mashup.

  4. Haha,
    This is funny. First lesson, don’t listen to SOTW and strange advertisement texts.

    How many sax players have more than one mouthpiece and change it from time to time. The Answer all of them.

    Does it matter? Mostly only for the player itself. How does it feel, what do I need these days. Without direct comparison, you mostly can’t hear a difference, especially with skilled players who have a strong own sound.

    Was the Guardala business policy a bit shady and confusing? Seems like it, doesn’t it?

    By the way, which ligatures has he played? Does anybody know about this? 😉

    • Tobias, I always thought he played A Selmer 402 alto ligature on his Guardalas. Not sure if I’m right about that or not………

  5. Avatar Richard Savoie says

    In my opinion, he played a Selmer ligature on his guardala all the time. Those ligatures are no longer
    Manufactured by Selmer.

    • Are you sure about that Richard. I thought it was a Selmer 402 alto ligature. I ordered one a couple of weeks ago……….

      • Avatar Barry Titone says

        I believe that he used the Selmer alto metal ligature-for small metal mouthpieces ALC307. I use that set up on my old silver Guardala studio piece from 1988 as well as on my Gold Guardala MBII. I sound like me and the same on both. The older piece seems a little warmer sounding.

        • Avatar George Baker says

          The Selmer 402 silver alto ligature(though I didn’t know it was an alto at the time) is what Dave sold me when he customized his MB for me, back in Aug, 87′. It finally broke many years later and order the Tenor 404. Guess what, you’re right, it didn’t fit and ordered the 402 and it was perfect.

  6. Avatar Ross McIntyre says

    There is no such thing as an MB1. It was an MB. That was lightly engraved on the shank with a number.

  7. Great article Steve!!

  8. Yes, great article! I think Jerry M. Zucker hits the nail on the head. A mouthpiece can make a difference and you can search for the holy grail the rest of your life, but the core of the sound is you!

  9. Avatar Heiner Musiol says

    Great article, I agree, with a lot of information. I love the pic of Mike’s cabinet because it proves he himself was on a constant hunt for “his” tone.
    Guardala mouthpiece are so different even if they have the same model name. Take for instance my two Crescent mouthpieces, a 3-digit gold plated model and a 4-digit silver plated model. When you look at the pics I did, you will clearly see the different length of the baffles as well as the different shape of the chambers:


    Imagine being a world-class player (I can’t) living close to Guardala’s workshop in the 80s. You would see him very frequently, asking him to tweak your mouthpiece or make a new one with a slightly different inner geometry. I guess this is what Mike did.
    In other words, he got a number of custom-tailored suits by Armani whereas the rest or at least most other Armani clients got a ready-to-wear suit with a lot of variations that made it a grab-bag. I remember two MB I that I owned, a “Fatboy” with a very short step baffle and an early 3-digit with no baffle or rather a Link-like sloping baffle. Totally different mouthpieces.

  10. Avatar Ricky Eastman says

    The Physical demands on the body from the schedule of the most in demand player in the world.
    I sometimes wonder how much this has to do with M.B’s mouthpiece choice.
    Was it just less strenuous to play his schedule with a high baffle piece, rather than him trying to do this all on an Otto Link.

    • Ricky, Add to that the genetic problem he had with his neck and it makes sense that he had to go with an easier playing piece……….

  11. Avatar Richard Savoie says

    To Steve:
    Yes, it’s a Selmer 402 alto ligature but Selmer is not manufacturing them anymore as I was told even if they are a few ones left to grab (even on Amazon.com). I might be wrong, let me know if you learn something. Thanks!

  12. Avatar King Koeller says

    Bottom line… the actual mouthpiece doesn’t matter…a true artist could have played anything and sounded great….Think about Charlie Parker…he played any horn , mouthpiece ,and reed combination and sounded incredible.

  13. I saw Michael at the Blue Note in 1995 playing with McCoy Tyner . He was going back n forth between two pieces. I later went to his dressing room and we talked for about 10 minutes. He showed me two Brecker I models he was testing. I asked about his piece and he opened the case and showed me the piece. It was a studio model with a modified chamber. I don’t remember if it was identical to the MB model, but it was larger than a studio but the baffle was like a studio type. My buddy Paul Maslin also confirms that he played a studio.
    I guess Jeff also says he did played a modified studio.. Nobody will know.. until his wifes allows someone to go by a take some pics..

  14. Avatar Jeff Taylor says

    And doesn’t Bill Evans have some kind of a Brecker mouthpiece claim?

    • Jeff, Yes the Bill Evans model I just reviewed is a copy of a Guardala that Brecker sold to Bill Evans.

  15. Here, Bill Evans tells that he plays a prototype of Dave Guardala, (maybe THE prototype).

  16. Steve,
    Very interesting article. Thank you. Perhaps a definitive answer will come about through your questions. It seems logical that the multi mouthpiece use is closer to the truth. I am curious about the photo of Michael’s cabinet. Do you have an idea of what the Ace bandages were for?

    • Hi John,
      I don’t know what the bandages were for. When I first saw the picture my first thought was wondering if he would wrap them around his neck back when he was having neck problems. I’ve seen many pics during that time where he has material wrapped around his neck………

  17. Avatar Adrian Chia says

    I saw somewhere on the Internet from reliable source that Mike played a Traditional model which was a prototype MB1 piece. It looked just like the MB1 but the step baffle drop was smooth instead of a straight immediate drop.

    • Thanks Adrian! Those are exactly the kind of rumors that I am talking about. that smooth rollover of the baffle edge can have a pretty big impact on the tone in my experience………..

  18. I love this info, are there any great articles/ on the Master himself?…Coltrane? His mouthpiece in his later years. I heard he used a Metal Link but I’ve never heard a Link produce that incredible sound! I’m not dissing the late great Michael Brecker.

  19. Avatar Mats Granath says

    Very interesting article and comments!
    If you sum up all the comments and then really listen to Steve’s great soundclips of different mp’s, I come to the conclusion that Mike probably played a Traditional with a rounded baffle most of the time. To me Mr. Shizhauo is right. Why? Because his Pilgrimage model sounds really close to a modern MB sound, in my ears anyway. Closer than any of the other clips of different DG models or clips of other high baffle mp’s. Steve is also absolutely right about the impact on your sound that different mp’s have. As an example: Listen to the Brecker bros. album “Score” with some really old material I guess. I have a hard time recognize Mike there, by the sound I mean! You can hear him in the style and choice of notes and lines, but the sound….Sounds like a really bad, stuffy Otto link piece in my ears!

  20. I remember a rumour going around about Freddie Gregory making him a mouthpiece. Anyway, about 6-7 years ago I did a big band rehearsal in a Pub in London and Freddie showed up so we all had a drink with him. I asked him about it and he said it was true, ‘Michael played on a custom made mouthpiece made by him’. By all accounts he gigged on it, but in what year or for how long I don’t know. Sadly, Freddie past away a couple of years ago but I know a close friend of his who knows about mouthpieces, so the next time I see him I’ll ask him if he knows anything on the size, facing and baffle etc of it. I agree with Rich though, probably the best person to ask about all of this would be Andy Snitzer.

    • I’ve never heard that before. Interesting! Thanks, Steve

    • Yes, I confirm Freddie told me the story himself when he was doing my alto custom mouthpiece. Brecker played Freddie’s mouthpiece on numerous gigs. He loved it according to Freddie and had to stop after Guardala told him he was under contract with him. At the end of the day, it’s business and Brecker will sound amazing no matter what he will play.

  21. Avatar Dave Moody says

    In 1987, Dave Liebman gave me his tenor mouthpiece for a few days to check out. Dave Guardala made it for him and it was a custom Link type bore, about a size 6. He told me Mike played one I might like more. In ’88, Dave made me one, then called and said he just made a very good one, to return the one I had for it, so I did. It was really good. When I saw Mike, he tried mine and I tried his. Mine was a little freer blowing but sounded the same. They were both silver plated original traditional models.

  22. Avatar Mike Plested says

    I’m so confused, LOL. Actually, I like your point that he sounded great on multiple peices over the years. I would offer that he sounds similar on his Dukoff before he played the Guardala. Though I can tell the difference any day of the week and prefer MB on the Guardala, he sounds more like himself on a Dukoff than anyone I’ve heard trying to sound like him on any DG model. That being said, I am trying to locate a Bergonzi model Guardala (which I am pretty sure Bergonzi never played on any albums i had). I had a friend in College who had one and I really liked it.

  23. Practice, practice, practice!

  24. Avatar Dave Fairall says

    Know this is an old thread, but just found it searching the web for Guardala info.
    I really like the clip someone shared of Bill Evans at a clinic in Poland – where he acknowledged he plays a prototype Guardala and has played the same piece for 30 years.
    I have an old Guardala FatBoy, Branford Model I believe, that I bought used from Sam Ash in NYC about 25 years ago and have never looked back. They told me that is was actually stolen from the store by a terminated employee, then returned, so the a box they put it in reads Dave Guardala R&B model, so all these years later I’m just not sure what the hell it is. It doesn’t sound exactly like the Brecker models, but is close, very warm with a lot of edge when needed. I guess my point is that you the longer you play a piece the more you can mold it to get the sound that’s in your head. I periodically go on mouthpiece searches, buying, returning, keeping some etc. but always come back to my DG FB. or whatever is actually is. Thanks!

    • Dave, That’s so true! I remember going to try mouthpieces at a music store and this tenor player was playing that had the darkest most gorgeous sound. I asked him what he was playing on and he said a Ponzol M2 which blew my mind. I had been playing one of those for about 6 months and got the loudest brightest sound out of that piece. I was amazed that he could sound so dark and old school with it. It was the sound in his head coming out………

  25. I met Mr Brecker on a number of occasions back stage of gigs and also at Freddie Gregorys workshop in Edgeware north London..he visited Freddie every time he hit the UK..I know he had several mouthpieces made..some he sold to students and some he played on gigs.He sounded the same but with a more robust Tenorness.Nigel Hitchcock got the same model for his alto..Bob Mintzer was buying a lot and even the Gonz.Freddie was annoyed that Mike kept on at him about how great Gregory’s pieces were but wouldn’t use them on profile gigs.He regarded DG as a charlatan as Freddie quote “made his pieces totally by hand” from a solid bar of bell metal brass or solid silver..I remember Gregory playing me an answer phone message of Brecker virtually begging Freddie to make him another mouthpiece..They were totally different profile to the DG mouthpieces..a work of art really,I watched him make them..he was a true master.
    once after a quindectet wide angles gig I approached Michael and asked him what sticks he uses..he laughed and said Vic Firth!We talked about Bob Malach and Brecker said that at home he plays around on many different set ups including hard rubber..I said he should make an album on a Conn chu with a wooden mouthpiece playing lockjaw Davis covers..he said; Unfortunately people know me by my bright and translucent tone and I’m kind of stuck with it now..Only some artists can completely change their sound at such a point in their career and survive the critics..
    I said;But you’re Brecker,you can play anything and anyway you want..he mentioned triad pairs,classical stuff then wrote his name address and phone number in my M.U diary,looked me in the eye and said ;if you ever get any decent 40’s or 50’s Otto links please don’t hesitate to call me!
    Unfortunately that was the last time we met.
    Regardless of Jazz he was a virtuoso and a total gentleman..

  26. Avatar George Baker says

    I have a hand made Dave Guardala tenor mouthpiece. It says MB 969 on it with a pink bite plate. I bought it from him at his house in Hicksville, LI in August of 1987. This was 2 months after I broke my back, and spent the next 10 months in a body cast. My wife drove me to gigs. Anyway, I had been playing a Berg 140/3, and a modified metal Link 9*. The problem was back pain and spasms playing these 2 mouthpieces. I called and setup an appointment with Dave, and made the trek from Staten Island to his house for our meeting. We discussed what I played on, and what I was looking for in a mouthpiece. I wanted the big bottom end, full, even sound through the palm keys as well as easy altissimo to F4 and beyond to infinity. He grabbed a mouthpiece, had me play on and started working on it, and tweaking it over the next hour and a half to achieve what I wanted. Fantastic! He finished the mouthpiece and 31 years later, it still plays great! It’s is a very special mouthpiece. It does have the aforementioned long roll over baffle similar to the picture, no step or ledge. The slope is fairly steep though. Also, and I don’t know if it makes much of a difference, is there are slight grooves at about a 45 degree angle going from left to right down the baffle from the just below the tip to the slope. I also bought the Selmer Alto Ligature for it as well, and some generic plastic cap that fit it. Total cost for mouthpiece, his handwork, ligature, cap and tax was $297. (If I only knew then what I know now) A friend of mine tried the mouthpiece, and loved it so much, he bought the Studio Gold Plated alto and tenor model from Rod Baltimore’s for $225. each. I tried his Studio pieces during a break on a gig, and they were awesome! As for me, the reason why I met with Dave was to find something easier to play, without causing pain and achieve the sound I like. After all, Brecker is Brecker, and there was only one. He had his own concept and no matter what mouthpiece he played, he would get his sound. All I can say is: find a good mouthpiece maker/refacer and go with your best reeds and horn and have fun finding what is most comfortable for you to achieve the sound you have in your head. On a side note, I picked up a Link 10* refaced by Sakshama that is absolutely incredible. I thought I could go back 30+ years and play this, but alas too much air, even for me. I found it to be a sound defining type of mouthpiece. Very different from I’m use to. Back to Dave’s mouthpieces. I also have one of the newer DG Super King from WWBW that is really bright. It is a totally different piece in design and sound compared to my old DG custom mouthpiece. Love your insight into mouthpieces, as well as your playing 🙂 PS – I still have about 8 mouthpieces besides the DG custom in my case for different situations. Oh well. Happy hunting and enjoy the ride. Enjoy! 🙂

    • George, Thanks for sharing. It’s great to read about some of that history with Guardala and you. If only we could go back in time and get pieces for what they sold for back then………Steve

      • Avatar George Baker says

        Indeed! I should have known something was up. The next time I went to Rod Baltimores, sax players were buying them like crazy before they went to Europe or Puerto Rico. They were selling them for $500. or more per mouthpiece. Then Dave said, I can do that too. I’ll try to take some good pictures, or have my daughter take some and try and add them to the discussion. Enjoy the day!

  27. I remember trying a couple of Guardalas when they first hit the market. I didn’t much care for the sound, so I returned them. I think they cost around $150 back then, and I was just curious more than anything. I was playing an early Dukoff *9 with a MH Lavoz reed, and I didn’t realize that Brecker was playing a similar setup in the early ’80s. It was very free-blowing and responsive, and I used it for about 10+ years until the chrome plating started peeling off. From what I remember, Brecker played a Dukoff LD9, which was a large chamber mouthpiece with a lower baffle. I never aspired to sound or play like Brecker, but I ended up sounding sort of like him anyhow, because I was playing the same genre of music. I always thought Brecker sounded the best when he was playing on a Link in the ’70s, and I can definitely hear more depth in his sound. I realize that he blew his throat out and had to switch to an easier setup. I developed a sliding hiatal hernia from over-blowing and playing on a resistant setup, so I also switched to a much easier one. I’ve been checking out some live Brecker videos on Youtube, and I have noticed that he sounds the best playing through an EV RE20 microphone. I’ve owned one of those for over 30 years, and I haven’t found a mic that has more depth than the RE20. Quite a few musicians have acknowledged that the EV is a huge part of my sound, and I have to agree. My current setup is a 1957 Mark VI tenor with a Ponzol M2 #110, and a Fibercell MS Black Onyx reed. I love my horn, but I will always be searching for that perfect mouthpiece and reed combination, just like every other saxophonist in the world!!

  28. Avatar steven flygare says

    I may have one of the later Brecker models Dave ever made. I won’t post the serial number,but I will tell my story.I bought an early one in SLC,Utah for $100 from a local tenor player. It was a paint peeler,very bright and loud but the second time you blew it,the light bulb goes off and you realize it could be the best playing mpc. ever! I called Dave on the phone when he had ads in Downbeat and asked him to make me a soprano piece. He sent me a jewel,gold traditional model .Then Dave came out to Utah a couple of times and I hung out with him for a while at the music store that had brought him out. A few years later,late 90’sish, I dropped my tenor piece and I called Dave and he said he could repair the old one but best way to go was a new one. He said him and Michael had “changed it a few times”,going for a “darker” sound. I said darker was great for me. He sent me a mouthpiece for the ages,unlike the old one,this piece is absolutely fat,rich,powerful,subtone is gorgeous! Don’t believe the gossip that says his early ones were the best,they weren’t. The later ones are the best,even the brass was better! I have a traditional gold alto piece that is also killing!

  29. Avatar Edward N Spillane says

    Little off topic…Steve, you should definately review the Seventh Avenue South replica MBII by Retro Revival!

  30. There are some awesome new uploads at the one and only Michael Brecker Archive homepage:
    THE original Pilgrimage MP!! (I guess Liu was right on a lot of details)
    Also check out the great close up pics of Michaels Mark VI.
    Take care

    • Thanks Philipp! Yeah, I saw those. Pretty cool pictures to stare at. I love those close up pics of Michael’s Mark VI! Steve

  31. Avatar Geoff Pfeifer says

    I met Michael Brecker at the Blue Note in NYC in either 1995 or 1996. A good friend of mine wrote a commercial jingle, and, hired Michael Brecker to play on it. I went to the club with my friend and that’s how I got to meet Michael. I think he was playing with McCoy Tyner’s trio on that gig. Anyway, me and my friend got to hang out with Michael upstairs in the green room, and Michael is really excited about these two new Guardala mouth pieces that he just got. And he was switching back-and-forth between them on different songs. And he showed the two pieces to my friend and he showed the two pieces to me. I swear to God I could not tell the difference between either one of them. But he could. So, my take on this…… Michael Brecker was always playing on something new and ever so slightly tweaked by Guardala. I don’t think there was ever a definitive Michael Brecker Guardala mouthpiece. Close approximations, sure, but, never a definitive/exact piece.

  32. Avatar Giuseppe C. says

    I don’t know if this may interest Michael Brecker fans and if you already know this information but, wandering on the internet, I came across this Japanese shop which, if I understand correctly, sells the sax they write to be the original with which Michael Brecker recorded, for example, they write, “Tales of the Hudson”


  33. Avatar John Gist says

    There is a company named Eastern Music selling a MB in 4 finishes and a MB Fatboy in 4 Finishes as well. I’ve order both…

    The MB is 18k gold plated (8 = .115 tip openin) and has a rollover baffle. It plays and feels like the Guardalas I’ve owned (2 laser trimmed Super Kings, 1 original Studio and 1 original MB2), but better. I’ve recorded my self and compared the sound to previous live Brecker videos on Youtube. As far as tone and focus goes, this mouthpiece sounds most similar to 1987 Brecker.

    I’m waiting to receive the MB Fatboy silver plated (8 = .115) in the mail. This mouthpiece has a baffle similar to the laser trimmed Studio model from WW&BW.

  34. merci pour ton histoire Steve! très instructive.


    thank you for your story Steve! very informative.

  35. During the mid- to late-’80s I was fortunate enough to study with Joe Henderson. Around the time when his original Selmer VI got destroyed in a car accident and he was playing a Yamaha YS-62, I was trying out a 161,xxx Selmer VI (which I bought and still play!). Joe was curious about the VI and asked to check it out. Joe didn’t bring his horn to teach. He taught from the piano. So, he had to play on my then-current mid-’80s metal Otto Link 7* with a La Voz M or MH reed — a setup very different from his. I’ll be damned if he didn’t sound exactly like himself. I try to remember that moment when I’m going down another inevitable mouthpiece rabbit hole.

  36. Avatar Mark Rybiski says

    Based on his biography you might want to contact and ask Tim Ries. He was good friends and according to Susan, Mike’s widow she gave Mikes MKVI to Tim with the caveat that he play it. A huge thanks to Dr. Dempsey for the pictures.

    • The VII would work on those Rolling Stones gigs. Haven’t seen Tim in a few years, but he’s a pretty accessible guy, so I suppose he’d answer questions.

  37. The player makes the sound, not the mouthpiece.
    The mouthpiece is just a piece of metal.

  38. Great article Steve. Not sure if I saw it or not before today. I ordered 2 Guardala mouthpieces direct from Dave in 1987. A studio alto #104 and MB model #536. I played them for about 13 years and sold them to Theo Wanne.

    Back in 1987 you paid for the pieces up front and waited a month or two for them to arrive in the mail. No mention of a return policy. My Brecker model was like the picture of Mike’s pilgrimage model but gold not silver. A friend of mine ordered a MB II model Paster in 1987 and he got the one with the step baffle.

    Just wanted to echo my own experience with the MB I and MB II in the relatively early days of these pieces.


  39. Avatar Arya Boustani says

    Thanks a lot Steve. Lots of work you put in this and the sax community really appreciate that. 🙏🏽
    So is this mouthpiece have a definitive ownership these days? If so how come there hasn’t been any scan / CAD machining of this piece? Not sure if MB’s Mark VI also has contributions to the tone. I imagine it does because I had a dark sounding early 60s sax body and playing even a very bright mouthpiece always had added warmth and dimension to the tone compare to playing the exact mouthpiece / reed / ligature combination on my 70s Mark VI. BTW this is my favourite design (medium length baffle diving deep to the chamber in a rollover fashion). You get highs and lows (spread sounding) and if your sax body gives some focus and core (apparently some of 8xxxx series have that quality based on what I gathered in internet) then it creates a nice full tone profile. What are other mouthpiece designs with this kind of baffle profile that comes to your mind?

  40. Great article Steve. I recently recorded myself on a variety of mouthpieces under controlled studio conditions and surprise, surprise, sounded pretty much the same on all the pieces.

    • Paul, I have heard many people say this before. I can’t help but wonder if part of this whole difference in opinion about mouthpieces has to do with the mindset of the player. What I mean by that is that I have found the mouthpiece to make a huge difference to me and my playing but I usually have a goal in my mind of what I want to sound like or the sound I want to achieve. When I play the mouthpiece it will either get me closer to my goal, take me further from my goal or remain the same. I have talked to many players that have no goal whatsoever. They just want to try different mouthpieces to see what will happen or in the hopes that they will magically improve their playing or sound. Without a goal or sound in your head, how will you ever know if the mouthpiece is bringing you closer to it or taking you further away from it? That is my take on it. Many players are just blowing air in the hopes that the mouthpiece will be a magic bullet for them with no goal or sound direction that they can envision or imagine…….

  41. Steve, I agree that it is a mindset. I’ve always, always been and alto player. I switched to tenor when I joined a classic rock & roll band. The first mouthpiece (other than the stock mouthpiece) was a Dukoff M8*. It blew my mind because I was like “hey, I sound like the saxophones in the radio!”

    Since then I’ve tried several (too many mouthpieces). The one thing that I noticed was that after a while I started sounding the same on all of the mouthpieces. I was like “are the mouthpieces we’re wearing out or something” because I wasn’t sounding like Brecker anymore. I then realized and recognized that what I was hearing was my sound. I was hearing it (my sound) and I didn’t like it because I didn’t sound like Brecker. Do you see the sycosis?

    I have now come full circle and I’m playing on a Dukoff 6* black Vibracom because the tip, chamber design and baffle makes it easy for me to get my sound at any volume. As a consequence, I sound more like Brecker not trying to sound like him.

    We have a saying in my circle (in terms of sound), If i’m just in the neighborhood of sounding like my heros(s) then that is everything!!!

    • John, I agree with what you wrote but I will say that so many players talk about their sound like it is “just the way it is” and that it is “set in stone” or “unchangeable”. I don’t agree with that at all. When I was young I wanted to sound like Phil Woods and made the adjustments I needed to get that type of sound. I wanted to sound like Sanborn and I did. In college I wanted to sound like Brecker and sure enough, on gigs, musicians started to comment that I sounded like Brecker. I have done sound clips where I tried to sound like Paul Desmond or Kenny Garrett and I could hear my sound going in that direction. We are capable of change as far as our sound. It is not set in stone as far as I’m concerned. Coupled with that, is that the mouthpiece plays a huge role in my opinion……..

  42. This is so interesting. Egil Furre, on another article on this site made this comment. I am amazed that even in 1992, this is a statement that Brecker hit it off with the Traditional model and said “this is it!”. The Traditional model is stated to be the model with the long rollover baffle…….. Wow!

    There was an article in Music Trades – July 1, 1992: “A Look At Guardala’s Unique Manufacturing And R & D Techniques”. In this article one can read this: “Jeff Powell: We honed our art by working with Michael Brecker. He has the finest air stream of any saxophonist, and he knows exactly what he wants. It took a long time to finally get exactly what Michael wanted. But when he finally picked up one of our Traditional models and said “This is It,” we knew we had gotten it right. Michael has been playing “It” ever since.”
    “It” should be the Guardala mouthpiece you wrote a blog post on February 2, 2022

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