Classical Saxophone Mouthpiece Buyers Guide
By Oren Gurney - Saxophone Specialist
The Saxophone isn’t the instrument you would immediately think of when it comes to classical music. Although you are probably very familiar with its use in the world of pop, rock, and jazz (and that is more than likely why you were inspired to take up the instrument), the saxophone has been used in a classical setting ever since its invention by Adolphe Sax in the 1840’s. Sax’s idea was to create an instrument with agility like the clarinet or flute, but with the dynamic range and projection of the trumpet. Sadly, despite its use in orchestral works by composers such as Hector Berlioz, Maurice Ravel and Sergei Rachmaninov, the saxophone has never become part of the standard orchestral woodwind family as Sax envisioned. Nevertheless there is still a huge wealth of brilliant classical repertoire for the saxophone, with new works being commissioned every year!
Classical study of the saxophone requires a different approach to technique and mouthpiece choice. Classical players strive for a very pure, clean, and focused sound, with very precise intonation across the range of the instrument. This is usually achieved by using a mouthpiece with a flat baffle and small chamber, with a very narrow tip opening and hard reed (somewhere around a 3 to 3.5 or higher). In this blog post I am going to go through the most well-known (and some not so well-known) recommendations for the sort of setup you might want to consider when playing in this style.
Selmer Paris has a very long history with the saxophone, for decades their instruments
and mouthpieces have been used by top professionals all over the world. The S80 C* is by far their most popular model, and features a square shaped chamber. It comes highly recommended by most teachers as a first upgrade mouthpiece due to its ease of response and warm tone. The S90 is very similar in design, the main difference being that the square chamber is slightly larger. This means that you have to put a bit more air into this mouthpiece, but the upshot is that it has a bit more depth to the sound. The Soloist is perhaps the most versatile out of the mouthpieces mentioned here, and as well as being used in a classical context, it has famously been used by jazz musicians such as Kenny Garrett and Joe Henderson. It features the well-known “horse shoe” shaped chamber, and has a slightly more vibrant tone quality with great projection. The Concept takes Selmer’s approach to mouthpiece design in a modern direction whilst still keeping some traditional design elements. With a more traditional round chamber, but a highly refined design that allows for ease of response, as well as a broad and rich tone. This mouthpiece then became the basis for their collaboration with Claude Delangle, which produced probably their most innovative mouthpiece to date. A hybrid of both ebonite and brass, this mouthpiece offers a very vibrant sound with incredible projection, whilst retaining the comfortable feel of hard rubber.
Selmer Paris Classical Models
S80 - All Saxophones
S90 - Soprano, Alto Tenor & Baritone
Soloist - Alto & Tenor
Concept - Soprano, Alto & Tenor
Claude Delangle - Alto
Another giant of the classical world on saxophone, Vandoren have wide a range of mouthpieces specifically designed for classical playing, all featuring a traditional round chamber. The V5 is Vandoren’s longest running classical mouthpiece currently available. They have a rich and vibrant sound, and available in a wide range of facings that crossover between classical and jazz, making this one of the most versatile mouthpieces they offer. The Optimum is designed especially to meet the demands of classical players, and features a darker, more focused sound compared to the V5. The newest addition, the “Profile”, is an excellent middle point offering a vibrant and colourful sound to explore, whilst providing the player with the greatest balance of response, clean articulation, and projection.
Vandoren Classical Models
V5 - All Saxophones
Optimum - Soprano, Alto Tenor & Baritone
Profile - Soprano & Alto
Following on from the popularity of the Reserve mouthpiece for clarinet, D’Addario has brought out this model designed specifically for classical saxophonists, and it certainly stands up to the competition! The Reserve range features an oval chamber, offering a nice ease of response, with a strong dark core to the sound with plenty of dynamic flexibility.
D'addario Classical Models
Reserve - Alto & Tenor
This is a new venture for Jody Espina (of Jody Jazz Inc.) following his purchase of the Chedeville Company in 2018. The Chedeville RC recaptures the essence of the original Chedeville mouthpieces that were made before World War II. These mouthpieces are made from a very unique high quality hard rubber, and because of this they offer a very resonant and harmonically rich sound.
Chedeville Classical Models
RC - Soprano, Alto, Tenor & Baritone
Probably the most modern approach to classical mouthpiece design you are ever likely to see. The Water is part of Theo Wanne’s “Elements” series, and is his first classical mouthpiece. After originally being made from hard rubber, Theo has refined the manufacturing process of this mouthpiece and started producing it using his Acoustic Resonance Technology (A.R.T) material. Because of this it is the cheapest mouthpiece of this style on the market, and is a great place to start if you want to experiment with classical mouthpieces for the first time. The most innovative feature of this mouthpiece is Theo’s patented “Shark Gill” baffle, which we’re starting to see a lot on his newer jazz mouthpieces. This baffle design channels and disrupts the airflow so that it fills the chamber more efficiently, giving you a fuller sound.
Theo Wanne Classical Models
Water - Alto
Although you could use any cut of reed for classical playing, there are some specific cuts out there that are designed to support a classical tone. These reeds usually feature a thicker heart and blank, to give you a richer and darker tone.
Classical Reed Recommendations
Vandoren - Traditional, V12 or V21
D'Addario - Reserve or Hemke
Hopefully that gives you a brief overview of many of the options that are available for classical saxophone players. If you want more in-depth information on any of these pieces, make sure you check out their respective pages on our website. Obviously there is no sure way you’ll be able to tell which one is right for you just by reading, so if you’re able to, make sure you take a trip to our London showroom. Our experienced staff there will be happy to take you through the selection process.