Does Your Repair Technician Check Your Mouthpiece?

Steve Goodson

If you take your horn to the repair shop because “it’s just not playing like it should” and there is no obvious problem, then maybe, just maybe, the problem lies with your mouthpiece, and I’m pretty much willing to bet you lunch anywhere in New Orleans (and we do have some DANDY spots to have lunch) that your technician will not check your mouthpiece for problems. Why would this be? It’s simply because all technicians are trained that the problems are all below the ferrule on the neck, and since there are no problems beyond the end of the neck, the technicians lack the expertise and the simple equipment necessary to diagnose common mouthpiece problems. We’re NOT going to talk about how to repair or reface mouthpieces here. That’s a complex topic for another time, and requires training and equipment that almost no players have. I do find it absolutely inexcusable that ANYONE who holds themselves out as being able to repair saxophones lacks the basic tools and expertise to make basic mouthpiece repairs. I’m not talking about major refacing, opening up or closing down a tip, adding a baffle, or any real modification. I’m only talking about basic mouthpiece repair. As I have stated on other topics, ask the technician to see their mouthpiece gauges, their tip measuring device (either a special caliper or a tip wand), their feeler gauges, their leveling block, and their mouthpiece files. If they lack ANY of this equipment, and it’s not immediately available for your inspection, I strongly urge you to close your case and seek someone who is truly competent to diagnose any and ALL potential problems with your horn. I would respectfully submit that a technician unfamiliar with and unequipped for basic mouthpiece repairs may not know too much about pads and their replacement, either.
“BBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBut there’s nothing wrong with my mouthpiece!” you say. Are you sure? Maybe it DOES play OK, but does it play as well as it can? Could it be causing problems, but you have just forced yourself to work around them? Here are a couple of quick and easy diagnostic tests anyone can do, with no special equipment, that may help you spot potential mouthpiece problems.
A magnifying glass helps, but is not required. Clean ALL of the accumulated gunk and debris off the mouthpiece…..all of it. Shame on you! You should have done this long ago! If it’s not absolutely clean, go no further, because you’ll be wasting your time. Now, closely examine the tip rail. It should be perfectly smooth and even, and no wider than the edge of a dime (hopefully much narrower than that….wide tip rails impede good articulation)…..if there are chips, scratches, gouges, or the tip is uneven, it needs repair. The shape of the tips contour should also exactly match the brand of reed you use. Yes, reeds do vary from brand to brand.
Now, perform the same sort of inspection on the side rails. They should also be completely free of chips, scratches, and gouges, and should also be no wider than the edge of a dime. This width will most likely taper from the tip down to the window, becoming progressively wider, but it should not become THAT much wider!
The window requires our attention next. It should be perfectly flat at the edges, with no chips or dents, and should correspond in placement to the vamp of the reeds you are using. If your window does not extend AT LEAST to the end of the vamp (the beginning of the bark) on the reed, then you are not getting you money’s worth from your mouthpiece. Also be certain that the material immediately under the edge of the window is quite thin and tapers into the mouthpiece chamber and does not present a vertical “obstacle” as the wave enters the chamber of your mouthpiece.
Finally, the table must be carefully checked to be sure that is absolutely, positively, totally, and perfectly flat. Sorta kinda maybe pretty flat is not enough. If the table is not flat, there is no way that the reed can sit evenly, and in all probability, there will be leakage under the reed. There are a variety of ways to check this, but you don’t have the equipment of expertise for most of the accepted methods. Here’s one you can do in the privacy of your own home: get a thick piece of plate glass (preferably with the edges ground smooth so you don’t cut yourself) and with your mouthpiece table absolutely clean, rub the table on the glass with a pretty firm pressure. Now take a look: if you see any shiny spots, those locations are higher than the rest of the table, and are causing you playing problems.
You’ll notice that I didn’t tell you how to correct these problems, only how to identify them. This sort of repair is best left to someone who is experienced in mouthpiece work. If you want to see a class I taught on this very topic, I put a video up (about an hour in length) on YouTube….the URL is–0.
Let me know your comments and questions!

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