Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saxscape Mouthpieces Part 2: SL (Slant), Xtra Dark, and Fat Cat

Last week I featured Saxscape's Naima, a fantastic sounding mouthpiece, and this week I'll overview three more Saxscape models: the SL, a tribute to the Slant, the Xtra Dark, a standout dark mouthpiece with a kick, and the Fat Cat, a much more agile mouthpiece than its name suggests. These three and all of Saxscape's other mouthpieces are in a hard rubber format made from an environment friendly synthetic material.


The SL is Ken Barry's recreation of the classic Otto Link Slant.  It's not a physical replica so much as a recreation of the Slant's sound. The SL's tone is a warm and colorful one, and on first impression it is similar to but a little warmer sounding than Otto Link's recent Slant recreation (the "Vintage" model). The colors in the tone also resemble Saxscape's Naima, just in a darker less punchy format. The mouthpiece feels great to play and there are no flaws to report as far as playability and response.  Overall, the SL is a solid warm sounding mouthpiece with good playability and response.

Here is a clip of me playing a couple choruses of Beatrice on the SL.
Ben Plays Saxscape SL.wav

Xtra Dark

Among dark mouthpieces the Xtra Dark is a standout set apart for a few characteristics that make it a lot of fun to play.  First, is the fact that its sound is easy to hear and well defined even from behind the horn.  The tone's subtlety and definition are easy to hear while playing, and it excels in this category relative to other dark sounding mouthpieces. Second, is the ease of the altissimo register, which sings in a way untypical of a darker mouthpiece. There is little or no increased resistance in the altissimo register, and the tone refuses to thin.  Third, is the tone color of the mouthpiece. While producing a thoroughly dark tone "inspired by the Selmer hard rubber pieces," it also has character and flexibility toward some brighter colors reminiscent of the SL and Naima. Overall, the Xtra Dark model feels great to play and produces a flexible dark tone which combined create a really fun playing experience.

Here is a clip of me playing the first two A sections of Body and Soul on the Xtra Dark.
Ben Plays Saxscape Xtra Dark.wav

Fat Cat

While the Naima, SL, and Xtra Dark all felt like different gradients in a related tone color family, the Fat Cat sounds and feels like an entirely different beast. Though Saxscape's website says this piece "has a fair amount of resistance," I found it to be the least resistant of the bunch.  The response is quick and over all feels very easy blowing.  The free blowing aspect of the Fat Cat iss almost too much as my sound started to break up when I really pushed the mouthpiece.  The tone is a combination of highs, lows, and mids with the focus on the mids and highs, that gave the mouthpiece a slightly spread light on its feet tone quality. Overall, the Fat Cat is an easy to play vibrant sounding mouthpiece with nearly too little resistance.

Here is a clip of me improvising freely on the Fat Cat.
Ben Plays Saxscape Fat Cat.wav

Note to the readers (not related to the review): Next week I'll begin a new weekly exploration of saxophone technique and improvisation.  Occasional reviews will continue, but the overall focus of the blog will be switching from saxophone equipment to saxophone playing.  Please, come back next weekend and check it out!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Saxscape Mouthpieces Part 1: The Naima

My home is pretty conveniently located - an hour from Philly, two and a half hours from NYC, and, as I've recently learned, less than two hours from mouthpiece artist/craftsman Ken Barry. I recently met him and had the opportunity to play a number of his mouthpieces. His love is hard rubber mouthpieces (synthetic, actually), and he has really dedicated himself to his craft.  His brand is Saxscape and includes a strong line up of 5 or 6 models currently in production. This week I'll examine his Naima model.


The Naima is Ken's most prized model. It's the mouthpiece he plays on the regular basis, and it was easy for me to hear why.  This is one of the best sounding hard rubber mouthpieces I've ever played on. Ken's goal, with the Naima, was to recreate the sound of the metal Florida-era Otto Link in a hard rubber (synthetic) mouthpiece, and that drive has brought about a really fantastic mouthpiece.

Full-bodied, colorful and powerful are all descriptors of the Naima's tone. It has a brilliance that give the tone focus and projection, but it also has a beautiful depth of tone that fills it out and colors it. Its sound isn't overly bright or overly dark but is a nice balanced combination of lows, mids and highs. There is enough punch in the tone to provide definition to the sound, but nothing that stands out as "edgy" or draws attention to itself. The Naima's sound really makes an impression (in my mind, at least) with its beautiful proportions of brilliance, depth, definition, and power.

Playing on the mouthpiece, thankfully, is also a great experience. It is easy to play the full range of the horn including altissimo. The response is good and leaves little to be desired. Of special note was the extreme ease of transitioning between a subtone and a full tone, which is a definite testament to Ken's craftsmanship. Most importantly, no matter the dynamic or intensity, playing the mouthpiece feels comfortable.

Hear is a chorus of Confirmation I recorded while play testing:

Ben Plays Saxscape's Naima

Conclusion: The Naima produces a gorgeous balanced and defined sound.  Its feels great to play, and for once I have nothing negative to say!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Otto Link's "Vintage" Metal Mouthpiece

The phrase "to each their own" comes to mind when I think about my experience playing Otto Link's new "vintage" metal mouthpiece.  Every mouthpiece has its own sonic qualities and those of the metal "vintage" model make it fairly unique among mouthpieces manufactured today.

The metal "vintage" model goes for a truly vintage sound.  It produces a very dark sound with decent definition.  From the audience's perspective the sound does have some focus, but from the player's perspective the tone has little definition or focus.  While the model will appeal to players looking to find a dark tone in a metal mouthpiece designed with the jazz saxophonist in mind, the struggle to hear the subtleties in sound while you play is a definite disadvantage.  This is what Otto Link promised, a return to the mouthpieces of yesteryear, and some of their earlier metal mouthpieces (New York era) have very similar qualities.

The playability of the mouthpiece is fairly average when compared to other well made mouthpieces. The mouthpiece responds nicely to dynamics and articulation, and it feels similar in those respects to a modern production mouthpiece.  Otto Link didn't want to take too many steps backwards!  The mouthpiece does take a more air than their current metal models, but otherwise the average saxophonist should feel comfortable on the mouthpiece.

Here is a quick clip from a practice session on the mouthpiece -

Ben practicing on Otto Link's metal "vintage" model mouthpiece

Conclusion: Otto Link's new metal "vintage" model is a very dark sounding mouthpiece that will feel comfortable to most jazz saxophonists.  Its serious disadvantage is its inability to allow the player to hear (from behind the horn/mouthpiece) the definition and focus of the tone.