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Saxophone mouthpiece study

jbtsax

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
#1
A small group on the saxophone acoustics forum is embarking on a study to compare the intonation tendencies of different mouthpiece shapes and designs. It is understood that for a saxophone to play properly the equivalent volume* of a mouthpiece must come close to matching that of the missing cone.

Some mouthpieces are shorter and have larger chambers, while others are longer and have more narrow chambers. So there are different ways that mouthpieces can have the same volume required to match that of the missing cone.

The essential question is whether the long and narrow mouthpiece and the short and fat mouthpiece both play in tune in all registers and whether their harmonics differ in some way.

Anyone who has any experience of one mouthpiece being more in tune than another on their saxophone is invited to give input in this thread. The brand and number (facing) of the mouthpiece(s) and the type (SATB), make, and model of the saxophone along with a description of your experience would be very helpful. Thanks. Of course anyone is welcome to joint the forum and participate there as well.

* The equivalent volume is the geometric volume of the inside of the mouthpiece plus the volume added by the travel of the reed and the effects of the player's oral cavity.
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
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#2

pete

Brassica Oleracea
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#4
Just bringing a bit of happiness into everyone's life!

As a more relevant point, you might also want to try to track when the mouthpiece was made and/or what it's made out of.
 

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
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Administrator
#5
I've had a fair amount of experience with this jbtsax--the most recent (and to some degree ongoing) being with my Toneking alto. I'll take a look at what people have written in the forum threads there (I'm already member--albeit a quiet one), and see if I can add anything to the discussion.

One mouthpiece I have never found any use for, is the soprano HR Berg. I picked up a couple of NOS HR Bergs for soprano at a music store in Vancouver, while I was living in Maritimes for 10 years. I happened to be home on vacation, and my favourite music store was selling off a bunch of stuff that they found in their back room. I picked up these pieces for $20 each, but didn't have either of my sopranos with my to try them out on. I would never have guessed that neither would work on either a Pan American curvy or a Mark VI.

I can't remember the facings or openings of the pieces ATM. I'll check them later when I'm in my studio, and update this post. Both pieces are circa 1970s, and both are HR.
 

kymarto

Content Expert/Moderator
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#6
Of course you are aware of the treatment of this question in Scavone's thesis...However he did not measure intonation, but tone color. If the volume and Helmholtz resonance are identical, the intonation should be the same. The question comes about the Helmholtz resonance, I think. If that is not equivalent in the two mpc types (short fat, long narrow) then it will affect notes in the top of the second octave upwards.
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
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Administrator
#7
Of course you are aware of the treatment of this question in Scavone's thesis...However he did not measure intonation, but tone color. If the volume and Helmholtz resonance are identical, the intonation should be the same. The question comes about the Helmholtz resonance, I think. If that is not equivalent in the two mpc types (short fat, long narrow) then it will affect notes in the top of the second octave upwards.
i-know-some-of-these-words_20120529130516.jpg
 
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Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
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#8
Of course you are aware of the treatment of this question in Scavone's thesis...
It's a safe bet that 95% of readers of this forum are not familiar with this thesis. Perhaps you could explain it in plain English for those readers here who haven't had the advantage of reading this piece of academic work. Thanks!
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
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#10
TL; DR (In other words, a summary would be good.)

Please forgive me if you think I'm picking on you. I do have a point:

I'm a computer tech. I've specifically told my users that if I give them more than a one sentence summary, I'm either lying or you need way too much background in computer techie stuff to understand the answer. While the idea of a one sentence answer is not necessarily something that can be used in all fields, my point is: if you could, please either give me a brief summary or say that the answer is too technical for anyone without a background in acoustics to understand. And I want to understand: one of the reasons I'm here is to learn stuff.

I'm a fan of reading reddit.com. They have a subreddit (read "forum category") called Explain Like I'm Five. Not that I'm saying that I should be treated like I'm five -- although I would like some crackers and juice and an afternoon nap -- but I'm very entry-level in a lot of fields and I wouldn't mind seeing a non-technical-as-possible summary.
 

jbtsax

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
#11
Of course you are aware of the treatment of this question in Scavone's thesis...However he did not measure intonation, but tone color. If the volume and Helmholtz resonance are identical, the intonation should be the same. The question comes about the Helmholtz resonance, I think. If that is not equivalent in the two mpc types (short fat, long narrow) then it will affect notes in the top of the second octave upwards.
Let me take a stab at giving this the 5 year old makeover.

Mr. Scavone is a very smart man who used fancy arithmetic to compare a skinny mouthpiece to a fat one where if the big open part was taped shut they would both hold the same amount of milk. His fancy arithmetic says that the skinny mouthpiece will have more high notes in its tone than the fat one. But, Mr. Scavone didn't find out if when you blow across the tops of the taped mouthpieces whether they make the same note or not. Mr. Scavone didn't even check to see if a cone without any ice cream in it that holds the same amount of milk when you blow across it would make the same note either. Silly Mr. Scavone. Now we know skinny and fat mouthpieces sound different, but we don't know if they both play in tune on all the notes of the scale. That's why we have to play with skinny and fat mouthpiece ourselves.
 

Carl H.

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
#12
Tell me more about this "ice cream" you mention. I believe it bears more study.
 

Gandalfe

Admin and all around good guy.
Staff member
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#13
Now we know skinny and fat mouthpieces sound different, but we don't know if they both play in tune on all the notes of the scale. That's why we have to play with skinny and fat mouthpiece ourselves.
I have been using small chamber pieces for people who have problems staying in tune on their instruments. I thought this was a known method. I learned it from one of my sax instructors.
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
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Administrator
#14
Anyone who has any experience of one mouthpiece being more in tune than another on their saxophone is invited to give input in this thread.

I'm going to modify this statement a little bit: I've often had the experience of playing a mouthpiece that makes it easier to play in tune than on another.

Quickie run-down:
* The first bari I owned was a Keilwerth-made Bundy without rolled tone holes. While I could play on it with my Sigurd Rascher, it was easier to use the old long Selmer C* or the Geo. M. Bundy that looked like a C*, only a bit more "rectangular." Both the C* and Bundy 'pieces were probably about the same age as the horn, itself.
* The second bari I owned was a Yamaha YBS-52. When I was playing in various jazz combos, I decided to get something a bit jazzier than the Rascher -- which was as easy to use as any other 'piece -- and ended up getting a hard rubber Berg Larsen 110/0. Based on talking to some folks and reading sale posts, the 110/0 was "unusual." I got the 'piece in the late 1980s.
* My one-and-only professional alto sax I've owned was a Buffet Dynaction. I've mentioned that the only mouthpiece I could easily use on the horn was a Selmer LT. It really didn't like the Rasher 'piece.
* I've used the Rascher on my wife's 1981 Selmer Omega alto and I called it good.
* I've played a variety of Mark VI sopranos, altos, tenors, and baris. The Rascher was very good on all and excellent on the bari. My instructor, at the time, also had a vintage Martin alto mouthpiece that looked similar to a Rascher, but was a bit smaller. That one was a little better than the Rascher on the alto.

FWIW, I've always used a "standard" embochure, not a double-lip or something. I've almost always used Vandoren 3.5s. I used a variety of ligatures, but mostly ones that looked like Rovners. I used the stock ones, otherwise.
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
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#15
Now, as far as intonation is concerned, I essentially consider that in the category of "making the horn hard to play." I can also say that there are certain notes that are just hard to play in tune and I'd call it more the instrument's "fault" rather than the mouthpiece's. As an example, I remember that the Dynaction alto had a problem with Eb, even though the LT made everything else good.

Just my experience. YMMV.
 

jbtsax

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
#16
That is interesting Pete. My only experience with a Rascher mouthpiece was when one was in the case of a trade in alto at the store where I worked. I put my best reed on it and it produced such a choked off sound that I put it back in the drawer and didn't bother with it again. I don't know if it was damaged, or that's the way they all play. I did however reinforce my assumption that Rascherites are quite weird. I figured they have to be, if they can make music on that thing. :)

Following a University Master Class with Donald Sinta in the late '60's I switched to the LT model with the round opening in the chamber. I had been playing on a Selmer D and C# in college up to that point. The D was my "jazz" piece. The LT produced a bit darker and rounder tone. Later I switched to a Rousseau 4R which gave me the tone I liked and a little better response in the low register.

The Rascher would be an excellent mouthpiece for this study due to its unusually large chamber. I spoke by phone with Dr. Gary Scavone once about mouthpiece pitch, and he indicated he played on a Rascher mouthpiece and his mouthpiece pitch was a C---a step and a half above the standard A. There may be a relationship in that, but I can't yet understand the mechanics.
 

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
#17
Soprano Bergs

OK, so here are the details on the N.O.S. soprano H/R. Bergs I bought 10+ years ago sans horns while in Vancouver on holidays.

These 2 pieces are circa the 1970s. The first is a 50/1 S.M.S., while the the other is a 42/2 S.M.S.

I have 2 very different soprano saxophones. The first is a 1920s Pan American curvy, while the other is a late-model Mark VI. These mouthpieces play on neither of these of saxophones. It has been years since I've tried them on either horn, so I can't give you particulars on how badly they tuned, but suffice to say they were not nearly in tune on either horn.

If it would help with the discussion, I could try the mouthpieces on the 2 sopranos and let you know in which direction (sharp/flat), and where on the respective horns these pieces were out, and by how much.

Needless to say I normally don't buy m/p's without a horn, but given they were only $20 each, I figured at worst I'd be out $40... as it turns out, I was. Anyone want to buy a HR Berg? It's minty. I still have the original boxes somewhere too. Guaranteed to not play on either a Conn/Pan Am Curvy on a Selmer Mark VI! :emoji_imp:
 

kymarto

Content Expert/Moderator
Staff member
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#18
Let me take a stab at giving this the 5 year old makeover.

Mr. Scavone is a very smart man who used fancy arithmetic to compare a skinny mouthpiece to a fat one where if the big open part was taped shut they would both hold the same amount of milk. His fancy arithmetic says that the skinny mouthpiece will have more high notes in its tone than the fat one. But, Mr. Scavone didn't find out if when you blow across the tops of the taped mouthpieces whether they make the same note or not. Mr. Scavone didn't even check to see if a cone without any ice cream in it that holds the same amount of milk when you blow across it would make the same note either. Silly Mr. Scavone. Now we know skinny and fat mouthpieces sound different, but we don't know if they both play in tune on all the notes of the scale. That's why we have to play with skinny and fat mouthpiece ourselves.
The theory goes like this: There are only two musically useful shapes for wind instruments that want to play more than one octave, and those are a cylinder and a cone. Only those two shapes have impedances (points of resonance) that are in integer relationships. So why is that important? I'll keep it as simple as I can.

When we play a note, there is a strong resonance point (impedance maximum)at the end of the horn, and then a series of other impedance maxima at points along the tube. What we want is for those points to be in integer relationships with each other. If we have a cone, the first partial (resonance point) is the length of the tube, because that is the easiest point for the horn to resonate (I'm simplifying JBT). For a harmonic series, we want the second one at half the length of the tube, the third at 1/3 the length, the fourth at 1/4 the length, etc. That is important. If the shape is wrong, then the impedance points in the tube will be in the wrong places. Now as long as the first resonance point is strong, it will force all the rest of the partials to be in harmonic ratio, even if they are pulled off their own resonance points. There is what is called a "regime of oscillation", where all the partials give or take depending on their energy, so that the note can sound with all the partials in line.

Now let's say we have a poor tube shape, and all the resonances are "out of line". The strong first resonance will always be at the end of the tube--or the first open tone hole, and it will pull all the rest into the correct integer relationships whether they like it or not. So generally speaking, no matter how much the tube shape is off, it won't affect the tuning of the first register: as long as the tone holes are in the right places it will play in tume.

But now let's hit the octave key , and break up that strong first partial so that the second partial becomes king of the hill. Once that happens, #2 will immediately shift to its point of strongest resonance, and if that is not in integer relationship with the fundamental (first partial), then the octave will not be in tune.

So if the shape is wrong, the most obvious thing that will happen is that the second register will be out of tune with the first. But something else happens as well. It takes energy for the strongest partial to hold the others in line, and if they are pulled off their impedance maxima, they become weaker, and there is a tug-of-war going on. The sound gets duller, the note is unstable, and the response is not good--the horn feels resistant.

So how do we make sure that the shape is correct? We can't. The ideal applies only to a full cone, and on a full cone there is no place to put a mouthpiece. We have to cut off the top of the cone, and once we do that, we throw all the partials out of line, and to different degrees. The first partial, comprising the whole cone, is the least affected, since the truncation (part cut off) is a smaller proportion of the length of that wave than for any other. The second partial is halfway up the cone, so the truncation becomes twice the proportion of the wavelength for that partial, and 3x the proportion for the third partial, etc. The partials get spread. What that means is that as the upper partials are pulled into line, they lose more and more of their energy.

But all is not lost! The closer we get the mpc to "appear" to the wave as the missing part of the cone, the more we get the partials back into line, so that they can contribute, rather than sucking energy from the sounding note. This all has to do with the wave timing. The math is nasty, but basically the wave travels faster as the diameter narrows. Now since the sax is quite a bit shorter without the missing apex of the cone, we have to make the mouthpiece wider than the neck. That way, when the wave leaves the neck and enters the mpc, it slows down, and we want to slow it down just enough that it will hit the reed tip at just the same time as it would if it were traveling right to the tip of the missing conic apex at full speed.

We want the mpc to mimic the missing conic apex. The first way to satisfy that condition is to have the volume of the mpc equal that of the missing conic apex. That makes the strong first partial very happy, as the timing is just right. But the higher we go up the tube, the less satisfactory that first condition becomes. The upper partials are better than if the volume were wrong, but the shape is still wrong, and the change in shape becomes more critical the shorter the wavelength. Now no way are we ever going to get the shape right, but there is a second condition that we can shoot to satisfy, and that is for the resonance of the mpc to match that of the missing tip.

If you were to take that cut off tip, and blow across the open end like blowing across a bottle, you would get it sounding a note. That is the Helmholtz resonance. I'm not going to get deep into it, but Helmholtz resonances can be changed for the same volume by varying the size of the opening as compared to the size of the inner chamber. For instance, if you blow across the top of a bottle, you can change the note depending on how much of the hole you cover with your lip. So by varying the size of the chamber as compared to that of the throat, you can change the Helmholtz resonance of a mouthpiece.

Just making the volume right (not easy for many reasons) will be pretty good until the upper half of the second octave, after that the Helmholtz resonance of the mpc comes into play. If the resonance is low, it will tend to make the high notes flat; if it is high it will make them sharp. If we are in the ballpark, then we should be pretty well in tune across the range of the instrument.

Here is where we get to the point in question: about mpc length. It's clear that we can have a longer mpc that has the same volume as a shorter mpc--we just have to make the inner diameter commensurately thinner. Theory says that in the first octave and a half or so, those two mpcs should play intonationally the same. But if the Helmholts resonance is different (which it will be, because the throat diameter is determined by the neck diameter), then above that they will not be intonationally the same.

What Scavone did was to model a short, fat mouthpiece and a long, thin mouthpiece. He did not match the Helmholtz resonances, because he wasn't interested in checking the intonation in the second octave. He wanted to know what it did to the tone quality. What he found was that the long mpc was brighter--had more high partials, than the short mpc. He attributed that to the fact that it more closely mimicked the shape of the missing conic tip, which meant that the timing for the higher partials was not off so much. By making the upper tube resonances more in integer relationships to the longer tube resonances, the higher partials we not so attenuated by being pulled off their centers.

So forget Scavone in terms of intonation. And the problem with checking Helmholtz resonance is that we have to blow across our mpcs at the point where the neck begins, and with the end the same diameter as the neck. If anyone is so inclined, I suggest this: take the end of an old neck or make something to resemble it, but make it very short: only long enough to allow a mpc to be put on it and removed. Now take the mpcs in question and put them on a functioning saxophone and record how deeply they neck is inserted for them to play in tune on the horn. Then insert the neck stub that same amount, seal the reed, blow across the end of the neck stub (or do a pop frequency test--better) and see if they have the same Helmholtz resonance frequency.

That won't be the actual Helmholtz frequency, but it will show if there is a differential between the Helmholtz frequencies of different mpcs. Theory says that all else being equal (which it never is), the lower the pop frequency, the flatter the high notes will be.

Was that somewhat clear? Questions?
 
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pete

Brassica Oleracea
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#20
That is interesting Pete. My only experience with a Rascher mouthpiece was when one was in the case of a trade in alto at the store where I worked. I put my best reed on it and it produced such a choked off sound that I put it back in the drawer and didn't bother with it again. I don't know if it was damaged, or that's the way they all play. I did however reinforce my assumption that Rascherites are quite weird. I figured they have to be, if they can make music on that thing. :)

Following a University Master Class with Donald Sinta in the late '60's I switched to the LT model with the round opening in the chamber. I had been playing on a Selmer D and C# in college up to that point. The D was my "jazz" piece. The LT produced a bit darker and rounder tone. Later I switched to a Rousseau 4R which gave me the tone I liked and a little better response in the low register.

The Rascher would be an excellent mouthpiece for this study due to its unusually large chamber. I spoke by phone with Dr. Gary Scavone once about mouthpiece pitch, and he indicated he played on a Rascher mouthpiece and his mouthpiece pitch was a C---a step and a half above the standard A. There may be a relationship in that, but I can't yet understand the mechanics.
Unfortunately, the only Rascher 'piece I have left is my bari. I don't have any reeds, a lig, or a bari. If you think it'd help, I could probably send it your way to test.

The idea behind the Rascher mouthpiece is to take a Buescher mouthpiece and make it look more like the drawing in A. Sax's patent. "Like the drawing," is an important phrase, as A. Sax did not specify dimensions.

Regarding dimensions -- and tying into kymarto's comments -- I think it'd be interesting to try a mouthpiece that has a conical bore and see what that does for intonation and/or tone, all other things being equal.

==============

Because, as mentioned, all other things aren't equal, it doesn't surprise me that there are a billion mouthpiece makes and models to go with the billions of saxophone makes and models. It also makes me wonder if, like with the Loomis Double-Resonance prototypes and the Leblanc Rationale horns (in any form), there's a point where you can't make the mouthpiece design significantly better without almost completely changing the mouthpiece design, and/or whether this redesigned mouthpiece would be so significantly better that it justified the time, effort, and money spent.
 
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