Frequently Asked Questions
What is included in a refacing?
With my basic facing I measure the current facing curve and analyze it on my computer. I also visually inspect the table, chamber and baffle and record a number of measurements. I compare my analysis to your reported problems and your goals. I develop a plan-of-action and I review this with you if I think it needs to be reworked in a way you were not expecting.
What does the info you scratch into the side of the mouthpiece you work on mean?
Why does my mouthpiece chirp and squeak when I play it?
I have thought quite a bit on the physics of chirping. The driving force is high pressure. Players almost never chirp at low sound volumes. If a piece is uneven or the facing curve has irregularities, it will not be responsive and a player needs to use more pressure to make it speak. With high pressure often comes a tighter embouchure that closes off the tip opening some. This geometry is prone to squeaking. Especially if the tip is uneven and/or the baffle is high near the tip. It allows the very tip of the reed to vibrate like a mini reed at high frequency. The high baffle focuses the air even more. Try taking more mouthpiece in and/or playing while forming an "Ahhh" with you oral cavity.
The mouthpiece material has no effect on squeaks in my opinion. However, metal mouthpieces usually have higher baffles than non-metal mouthpieces. So it is common to think that metal is louder and squeaky. But this is not due to the material.
Players who like to play on the very tip of a mouthpiece are more prone to chirps. Players who take more mouthpiece in have less chirps. When you take in less mouthpiece, you usually close off some of the tip opening with your embouchure. A tight embouchure can do the same thing. Often you choose a harder reed to make this embouchure work for you. Or you start with too hard of a reed and this forces your embouchure to be tight or towards the tip. This is not necessarily a bad embouchure. Just be aware of the factors at play here.
Reeds that have a thin tip and a thick heart are more prone to squeaks, especially when used with long mouthpiece facings. A Fibracell reed has a cut that is difficult to make squeak. When I use a Fibracell and take in a little more mouthpiece, no mouthpiece squeaks for me. However, some players do not want to use Fibracells or change their embouchure. Then, working on the facing curve, tip rail and lowering the baffle some usually helps.
What are the playing differences between tip opening sizes like a Selmer C*, D and E?
This basic question should be visited more often. In the case of Selmers, these letters and asterisks designate tip opening sizes. That is, the distance between the tip of the reed and the tip of the mouthpiece when the reed is at rest. When you stay with a basic mouthpiece design and go gradually larger with the tip opening, it takes more air to get the reed to vibrate. Some call this "more resistant" since it is harder to get the sound going. I prefer that it is "less responsive" in generating sound and "less resistant" to air flow since you now use more air when playing.
But the key to playing larger tip openings is to match them to softer reeds. This recovers the responsiveness and can actually be more responsive than a hard reed with a close tip opening.
I think a larger tip with a softer reed is easier to play at both ends of the sax range. On a close tip, your embouchure eventually gets strong enough that the reed closes off when you play loud on high notes. This causes you to use a harder reed. This often makes the low notes difficult to play softly and with control. There are usually leaks in the sax that contribute to this problem. We've all heard players who honk on the low notes. Going to a larger tip and a softer reed often recovers the low note response and the set-up will not close off on the loud high notes.
Now the problem with going too large is pitch control. Larger tips are "more expressive" in that a good player can bend the pitch and shade the tone easier. But the intonation now changes more with subtle embouchure moves. Even highly experienced players will get to a point where going larger in tip opening is not a good thing.
Lastly, let's talk tone. To me this is a secondary consideration when going to larger tips. But once you get into a comfortable zone of tip openings and reeds, you can try neighboring sizes for fine tuning tone and response. You can also try different mouthpiece designs to assist in getting the sound you want. Anyhow, the general change in tone, as one goes larger in tip opening and softer in reed strength, is to get a darker and louder sound. To compensate for this effect, most open tip mouthpieces in use have a baffle added to the design to add brightness to the sound.
So how much change in tip opening should you try? On tenor and bari, a .010" larger tip opening will feel like a "step." You will most likely need to drop down 1/2 reed strength. A .005" change will feel like a 1/2 step and might help in zeroing in on a good size. Some players can adjust to a leap of 2 steps, but 3 is not recommended.
On alto and soprano, a step is more like .005" in tip opening. You can argue that maybe soprano should be .004" and alto .006" or so, but you get the idea. If you study a mouthpiece chart of tip openings you will see that most makers increment their sizes in the steps I listed and many offer 1/2 steps.
Can my mouthpiece be altered to be less reed picky?
The theory is that an uneven facing curve will play well with an uneven balanced reed that matches it. There may be a couple of them in a box. An even facing, with a good curve, will play well with balanced reeds with a good cut. Hopefully, there are more of these in a box or at least they are closer to being there.
Learning how to adjust your reeds helps to deal with reed variation compared to what the mouthpiece wants. Or, you can play on synthetics, which are generally more consistent, but you may not like them. But an even mouthpiece facing is a good strategy to start with.
The mouthpiece you reworked for me plays great. Why does it not do well in the seal test (AKA: pop test, suction test)?
My mouthpiece work occassionally does not do well in the seal test. I do not use it. The seal test favors short facing curves and small tip openings. (...and soft reeds). I like longer facing curves. The facing curve shapes I use have better low note response than curves that pass the seal test well.
How does chamber size affect intonation, etc?
Chamber size will affect tone, sound volume (and projection), and intonation. Some like to debate that volume is not the same as projection. But I do not think you can change one without the other.
A larger chamber will sound darker and have less projection because it is has fewer frequencies in the audible spectrum.
On larger saxes, a player's embouchure and muscle memory can compensate a lot for the intonation effects. Its not like every other note is out. You will either need to loosen up for high notes or tighten up some. Many players learn to do this. But this is even more difficult on the little beast we call a soprano. It is a better strategy to find a mouthpiece that allows you to minimize your embouchure changes. Especially if you double on other saxes, etc. But first you need to get your embouchure support set near the proper amount using the mouthpiece alone pitch targets. Paul Coats has some well-written articles on this that are easy to find on the web. Another approach is to set your embouchure support as suggested by Stephen Duke's Mouthpiece Placement, Tuning & Tone article on the Yamaha site. Then you can test how different chamber volumes affect your intonation (if needed).
So what really goes on inside a mouthpiece?
I have a great interest in this and have collected whatever literature I could find on the subject. Bottom line is that there is not enough theory known or published to help in mouthpiece design and selection. You need to rely on empirical studies and your own trial and error.
I agree that aerodynamics have little or no application inside a mouthpiece beyond helping to get the reed to speak. But many aerodynamic inspired mouthpiece designs also work great acoustically. Most of the flow is not turbulent inside mouthpieces except at the very tip. The air flow velocity is too slow. There may be laminar recirculation, but that is not the same as turbulence.
Baffles help to make a reed speak easier via the venturi effect. They also are a surface for the sound waves to bounce off of and back to the reed. Though this effect may not be going on the way I have envisioned it for years.
When the reed opens, a puff of air acts to start and maintain a standing wave inside the saxophone. Beyond this, the air flowing through the mouthpiece and the sax does nothing acoustically. It is a good teaching aid to "fill the sax with air" but most of everything is really just happening at the tip.
Some jagged surfaces can create a more edgy sound. Some seem to do nothing. It is hard to say because eliminating them will make the chamber volume larger. Now when you play test it what are you hearing? It is a combo of both changes. All that really matter is if you like it or not.
As for rough surfaces, they just create a thicker boundary layer. Smoothing them out makes the effective chamber volume slightly larger from reducing the roughness in addition to a real volume change from sanding the surface.
Do you still have that nice museum of Guardala photos?
Yes. Click on the button at the top of this page.