This is probably the first of several reviews of mouthpieces from Phil Engelmann who makes and refaces mouthpieces under the name of Phil-Tone. Over the last few years I have bought several of his mouthpieces, had him work on one of mine, and bought one of his refaced mouthpieces as well. Today I’m going to be talking about one of his custom pieces called the Equinox D (for dark) but first some explanation about why I wanted to get this mouthpiece.
I had previously talked about the reunion concert I did. Well that was concert band music and I didn’t feel like I had a mouthpiece that would do that kind of music justice so I started to hunt around. When I was in college I used to have an H. Couf 5* Artist Regular that I used for “legit” playing and I really liked it a lot. James Houlik had come to my school for a clinic and he was talking them up a lot so I ordered one and it was one of the best moves I ever made. Unfortunately I must have lent it to someone and never gotten it back because it’s nowhere to be found…a story I seem to repeat a lot.
Fast forward a few years. I was getting ready to go on the road with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and I bought an Otto Link Tone Edge 6* that I also ended up loving dearly. It felt perfect for what I was doing at the time. Unfortunately, I think that one suffered the same fate as the Couf. The guys I knew back in the day were pretty fast and loose about lending mouthpieces around and I guess I wasn’t real good on follow up myself.
Anyway, the Couf would have been absolutely perfect but I couldn’t see my way clear to invest money in a mouthpiece that was strictly for concert band play because I so rarely do it. I started thinking about just getting a Tone Edge in a 6* because I figured it could work for the concert band but it might have other applications as well. I contacted to Phil to ask about one of his reface jobs on a TE (since he does great things with them) and while we were talking I I decided to take the plunge on the Equinox D as it sounded like a better choice for me. It was and here’s why:
Phil makes a regular Equinox that is very focused and I thought the extra focus would be better than the Link which I would normally describe as more spread even when they’ve been worked on. But I also wanted to blend, hence the “D” model. I can say for sure that this mouthpiece has a great mix of focus and “darkness” although darkness is a rather subjective term…one person’s dark is another’s tubby. Maybe the best description would be “smoky”. It’s equally subjective but possibly more descriptive.
The first time I used it other than trying it in my practice room was on the first rehearsal for the concert band. I was very happy with it right from the start. I was able to play very evenly across the whole range of the horn (especially well in the lower register when playing quietly) and it blended well in all of the situations that came up. In concert band music it seems like the tenor can be part of the sax section, the trombone section, or the French horn section depending on the intention of the composer or arranger and I had no problem blending with any of the groups.
The next time I tried it was for a jazz sextet gig I played. Nothing crazy, just a summer bandshell concert with alto, trumpet, and me on tenor and three rhythm playing standards. This was a lot different, though because I was playing with more edge and presence than in the concert band (obviously) and with the addition of some altissimo. Once again, I was very happy with the blend but I was also very happy with the freedom I felt to play whatever I needed to. We did a mix of standards including funkier stuff, swing, and ballads and I always felt like my tone fit and I could play with the whole arsenal so to speak.
I also use the Equinox D when I teach. I don’t teach much anymore because I’m generally too busy but I do have one lone student right now (like a Sith Lord). It’s great for lessons because I can easily go from playing etudes and classical duets to playing standards in the second part of the lesson and it all sounds idiomatic.
The mouthpiece is very clean and refined looking and the finishing work appears to be immaculate. It is very reed friendly – in fact it easily uses the same reeds that I have broken in for my usual gig mouthpiece even though that one is a 7*. Phil himself is an absolute joy to work with. We generally handle our business via email and he’s always very helpful and supportive. I was under a bit of a time constraint from when I decided to order the mouthpiece until my first rehearsal and he got it to me just in time even though we are on opposite coasts.
I’ve tried the mouthpiece on my more commercial gigs like with my usual wedding band but I haven’t pulled the trigger on making it my only mouthpiece. It’s not a problem with the tone, volume, or response – in fact, it plays very well…it’s just easier to execute my concept for that style of music with my other setup. I keep pulling it out so it’s possible I could get there with this piece or possibly either a 7 or 7* in the D or maybe switching to the regular Equinox…but I’m saving for a new backup horn right now so that will have to wait. That said, I would not hesitate to recommend this mouthpiece, the regular Equinox, or anything Phil touches to students or other pros because the workmanship is great, the price, which is amazing for the level of quality, and Phil’s personality and work ethic. Check them out and you won’t be sorry.
Here’s a little mindless noodling:
While writing this I was listening to If Dreams Come True by Carolyn Leonhart and Wayne Escoffery. Great album!