Phil-Tone Theo Wanne Mosaic Review

I’ve been involved in quite a few mouthpiece pass arounds recently and most of them were from Phil-Tone (made by Phil Engleman). Previously I reviewed the hard rubber Sapphire and the metal Tribute (a collaboration with Theo Wanne). Today I want to talk about the Mosaic, another collaboration between Phil and Theo Wanne. Like the Tribute this is a metal mouthpiece based on a classic approach. It is not based on any particular mouthpiece but has been described as having a similar feel and sound to the old original Dukoff mouthpieces. The one I tried was a “factory second” although the only differences from the real production version were purely cosmetic – there was a mouthpiece patch on during plating so that area is disclorored…I thought it looked kind of cool.

Appearance

The Mosaic is on the left. Tribute on the right.

The Mosaic is on the left. Tribute on the right.

The Mosaic is a beautiful bit of work. Phil and Theo are both known for their attention to detail and their ability to deliver a precision-made, hand-finished mouthpiece. The rails and tip are thin, even, and seemingly perfect to the naked eye. The whole mouthpiece is finished in silver and bead blasted for a very interesting and pleasing look (just like the Tribute). This is a very large bore mouthpiece with a fairly minimal rollover baffle. It’s about the same profile as an Otto Link so it accepts the same size ligatures and has a comfortable mouth feel if you’re used to Links like I am.

How Does It Play?

I found this mouthpiece to be more comfortable and more versatile than the Tribute. It was more even through the registers and the upper register was more gutsy and full in general. The lower register was just as full to me It tended to be a little dark but very full and rather room-filling. I spent some time with it at a big band rehearsal, on a gig with an R&B band, and recording it in my little studio. When I first tried it on the big band rehearsal, it didn’t last long for me. The big band is for a recording session later this year and it’s predominantly a vehicle for trumpet players…translation – It’s LOUD! The mouthpiece was so new to me that I didn’t know how to get the most volume out of it and it just seemed like I would be fighting a losing battle. The tone was nice but I just didn’t want to fuss with it at that time.

The second time I used it was with one of my regular bands, Jr. Cline and the Recliners. We were playing at a local casino in a nice room with a solid PA and monitors so I just decided to commit to it since I should be able to hear myself well all night. Well it turns out I was wrong about that because you can never underestimate the ability of guitars to overwhelm any given situation. On a side note, they had a bunch of those plexiglas barriers and it should be noted they rarely if ever work as expected. If it’s not a fully-enclosed system then it can’t possibly work but people often hear with their eyes first and I digress.

On that gig the mouthpiece was comfortable and full but I felt like I had to work way too hard and blow much more air than usual to get the sound I needed to sound appropriate in that setting. I was able to get around the horn really well but the altissimo was some work. The book is actually written over the full range of the horn with more written low notes than a lot of other two-horn books and all ranges were playable but still more work than I would like except for the low notes which spoke really well.

When I played it in my studio, I really liked it a lot. I think this was in no small way because I was more comfortable than ever with the mouthpiece. It was also true because I was in a very controlled environment where I could hear myself really well without competing with other instruments. In this setting I found out why people are really flocking to this mouthpiece because it is smooth and silky with the ability to roar when pushed. I think the problem I have with playing it live is my ability to hear it from behind the horn. When it’s hard to hear it’s important to have a feel for what is coming out the end of the horn and I could not get comfortable with that especially compared to my regular mouthpiece which is really excellent for that.

In conclusion, like some of the other stuff I’ve tested recently, this is a mouthpiece I could use if I was playing a different kind of music on a regular basis or if I was prone to switching mouthpieces for changing circumstances…I’m not. Of the three recent mouthpieces I’ve tried from Phil-Tone I like this one the second best but I really think it would grow on me if it was all I played for a long period of time. This is the kind of mouthpiece that you would want to invest time and effort in rather than something that’s just going to be perfect the first time you put it on. I actually liked the Sapphire the best but I’m more comvinced than ever that my Eclipse is the perfect mouthpiece fo all of the things I do right now.

The Clip

This is a fairly long clip because I was having a lot of fun playing this piece. As with all recent recordings it was recorded directly into Reason on my MacBook Pro using a Fat Head Ribbon microphone through a Balance interface. I think you can hear how flexible and full it is but I didn’t necessarily push it as hard as I could or would in certain settings but that’s probably true of everything I do in the studio.

Phil-Tone Sapphire Review

Phil did't have pictures on his website so I grabbed these from Tenor Madness - a great sax shop and a dealer for these mouthpieces.

Phil didn’t have pictures on his website so I grabbed these from Tenor Madness – a great sax shop and a dealer for these mouthpieces.

Hot on the heels of getting the chance to review Phil Engleman’s collaboration with Theo Wanne, the Tribute, I recently received the Sapphire to try out. Well, to be fair it’s been a month and a half and not “hot on the heels” but it’s been harder to get back rolling on this blog than I thought it would be. Being a single dad really puts a crimp in your available time. For instance, I was interrupted 4 times before I got this far in my writing today. 🙂

Introduction

Anyway, back to business. The Sapphire is a replacement for something Phil has been doing for years and I believe the thing he started with before making his own mouthpieces. Phil has always had a knack for taking stock, off-the-shelf Otto Link Tone Edge mouthpieces (known for being wildly inconsistent at best) and turning them into powerhouse, monster players. The process involved lots of steps to fix the tip and rails, adjust the “floor”, open the chamber, and possibly the most important, adjusting the baffle. The intent was to take these modern, inconsistent, and possibly flawed pieces and turn them into something that felt and sounded more like the old “slant signature” Tone Edge mouthpieces. The slant signature being the most well known and sought after Tone Edge of all time. He has done this for many years but recently decided to work directly with J.J. Babbitt company (makers of the current Otto Link and Meyer lines of mouthpiece) to have a blank made just for him that would allow him to produce consistent and superior results without as much busy work just to get to square one. Based on what I was able to play I think he’s on to something special.

This is the only identifying marking on the mouthpiece

This is the only identifying marking on the mouthpiece

 Appearance

A couple years ago when I bought my first mouthpiece from Phil I posted a review on Sax on the Web Forum (long before I started this blog) I expressed a thought about the appearances of mouthpieces that feels appropriate here. Based on the effect people ascribe to mouthpiece construction, materials, etc. it’s odd that good ones don’t look all that different from the “bad” ones. I mean it seems like the ones that really play should glow or have a pearlescent sparkle like the tears of a unicorn but the reality is that the naked eye can’t necessarily see a whole lot of difference from one mouthpiece to another. You can definitely spot a particularly bad example but the differences between good and great mouthpieces are very hard to discern sometimes. The Sapphire looks different from all of Phil’s other custom pieces. It is a little shorter from end to end with a shorter shank that has two cuts. As with all of Phil’s work, the tip and rails are absolutely immaculate. Also there isn’t a ton of baffle in the rather spacious chamber. The beak seems like it might be a little higher and of a sharper angle than his other pieces as well and that’s actually good for me because I have become more comfortable with a higher profile mouthpiece over the years. The one I have may be more on the prototype side as well because there are very few markings on it at all. The mouthpiece I tried is a 7* – right in my comfort zone. I used a Rigotti Gold 3 Strong reed and a Francois Louis Pure Brass ligature.

How Does It Play?

If you read my review of the Tribute you might remember that I intended to use it on a gig but bailed at the last minute because it didn’t seem like it was going to fit the gig both from a sound profile as well as from my ability to discern and hear myself in a rough monitoring situation. With the Sapphire it was a very different situation. I found myself playing the exact same gig with mostly the exact same band. I hadn’t had a chance to play the mouthpiece prior to the gig but I was game to try it so I slapped one of my reeds on and got to work. This mouthpiece was instantly comfortable to me. Not only that but it was close enough to how I usually sound that I was easily able to pick myself out of the monitor mix even though it was a bit of a messier mix than the last time we played there. The overall feel was a little darker than I am used to these days so I had to work a little harder than I would normally want to but the evenness of tone and intonation was exactly what I would hope for.

When I was able to try it in my studio I was still very happy with the sound and happily played the mouthpiece for quite a while as I put it through its paces. I’m pretty sure this could easily be my every day mouthpiece except for a couple of things none of which are knocks on the mouthpiece: First, I already have a Phil-Tone Eclipse that has been my main piece for several years and it is easier to play a bit brighter the way I like to sound in most of the musical situations I find myself in. Second, when I am looking for something on the darker, smokier, Blue Note side of things (a sound the Sapphire excels at) I already have an Equinox D mouthpiece from Phil that I have reviewed previously – The Equinox D is now called the Aurora I believe. If I didn’t already have the comfort of Phil’s other pieces and the sonic spectrum so well covered already I never would have let this mouthpiece go on to the next person in the pass around.

Not a ton of baffle in there and no "unicorn tears"

Not a ton of baffle in there and no “unicorn tears” 🙂

The Clip

I just finished editing the clip – snipping out unwanted sections and converting to MP3. There were no changes other than that…It was recorded direct to Reason on my Mac using a Cascade Fat Head ribbon microphone through a Propellerheads Balance audio interface. I simply normalized everything and then did the snipping. It’s pretty obvious I have a lot of comfort with this mouthpiece and, listening back, I really love the sound of it. As I said, if I didn’t feel like I already had the sonic territory and comfort of this mouthpiece well covered it would not have left my grubby little hands. The clip is a little long but I was having a great time so bonus points if you listen to the whole expanse of mindless noodling. 🙂