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. ūüôā

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” ūüôā

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. ūüôā

Phil-Tone Theo Wanne Tribute Review

The Tribute

The Tribute

Introduction

I’ve talked before about mouthpieces from Phil Engleman. I wrote a review about one of his Equinox Dark mouthpieces and one of his original Custom mouthpieces has been my main piece for several years with the exception of a brief foray with a Phil Barone Super New York. Earlier this year, I saw Phil was talking on Sax on the Web Forum about an exciting new project he wanted to work on. I emailed him and found out he was working with Theo Wanne to make an exact copy of the old Florida metal Otto Link mouthpieces. These have long been regarded as some of the most versatile and best-playing mouthpieces out there but you can’t get them any more unless you want to spend a lot of money to get a used vintage one. Phil and Theo wanted to find an excellent example and use modern technology like laser mapping, 3D printing, and CNC milling to make something that was not only great playing and affordable but also consistent – something that even Florida era Otto Links were not.

pt-1-logoThis idea was exciting to me because I had an excellent Florida Link that was my main mouthpiece for many years to the point that I had to stop playing it because I had used up the bite plate and it had taken a fall and the tip had some issues. Several years ago I started my association with Phil by having him restore this mouthpiece for me. Fast forward to this year and there was actually a good chance that my mouthpiece might be used as the “blank” to get them a starting point. Unfortunately my piece is an 8* and Phil and Theo were looking for a 7* as that was what they wanted to base the line on (it’s one of the most commonly used tip openings especially in Links). Still I was very excited to get my hands on the mouthpiece but several uncontrollable factors like summer vacations and my wife’s illness kept it out of my hands until this holiday season.

Appearance

The first thing you will notice about the Tribute is just how precise and lovingly crafted it is. The tip and rails are absolutely pristine – a hallmark of Phil’s work and the overall look of the mouthpiece is very attractive with a bead-blasted finish and excellent logo work. I’ve never played a Theo Wanne mouthpiece but I believe this level of build quality is something he is known for as well. There is a gentle rollover baffle, the sidewalls are scooped out and the chamber is large. It ships with a Theo Wanne Enlightened ligature with two pressure plates but the version I tried had no ligature. I ended up using a Francois Louis Ultimate although a Rico H fit just fine also.

Another view

Another view

How Does it Play?

Playing the Tribute was easy and fun. As I said, I’m very comfortable with a Florida Link after years of playing one and this was as comfortable as an old friend pretty much from the start. I used Rigotti Gold 3 Strong reeds and they seemed like a pretty good fit. It’s possible I would eventually go with a 3 Medium but I probably wouldn’t go stronger for fear of the mouthpiece sounding too tubby. The best words to describe the sound I got would be full, round, and velvety. It makes you want to play ballads especially ones that feature the low end of the horn because the low notes are absolutely stellar. It subtones like a dream and the sound just filled up my little practice room/studio. You can easily transition from soft to loud and, like other Links, it picks up some pleasing brightness when pushed. Pitch was generally very good and the tone remained centered and even throughout the range of the horn. The only problem for me was that the upper register seemed like it didn’t want to brighten up enough for the kind of music I usually get called to play. Sometimes I could blow harder and it would open and brighten up enough and other times it sounded a little pinched to my ears. This could be the result of the fact that I am used to playing a hard rubber mouthpiece with a much bigger beak as I am much more comfortable with that these days. One thing to keep in mind is that Florida Links don’t all play the same as I mentioned above. Some are darker and some are brighter. My Link is a little brighter than this but it’s also a bigger tip opening. I think this piece tends to be darker than some other Florida Links.

My original intention was to take it out on a gig I had with a soul, R&B band I play with out of DC and Northern VA but I ended up not using it on that gig for several reasons. First off, I could tell that there would be issues with the monitoring situation on stage and I didn’t want to get lost in the mix. If I’m on my usual setup I can find myself sonically even in bad situations but I didn’t have confidence I could do that with the Tribute in this situation. Also, there was another tenor player on the gig and he wan’t just any tenor player. He’s a legend in the area named Al Williams and he’s a flat out player who’s been around with the likes of Stanley Clarke and Mongo Santamaria. I didn’t want to do anything that would potentially keep me from being my absolute best that night. Because of that I couldn’t take the mouthpiece on the gig

Conclusion

I really loved this mouthpiece and under certain circumstances I think I could easily make this my main piece except for two things. First, I don’t really get to play in those types of situations as much anymore. If I was playing more straight ahead jazz in smaller rooms then yes but I tend to play funk, soul, and R&B in loud bars and theaters. Second, I have come to the conclusion over the years that I am just more comfortable on mouthpieces with bigger beaks so that my jaw is naturally opened wider. Metal mouthpieces just don’t have those kinds of beaks and I tend to get fatigued much quicker on them these days as a result. I’m told Phil might be working on a more in-your-face version of this mouthpiece called the Mosaic and that might make me think hard about going back to a metal mouthpiece again but we’ll see.

Clips and a Different Kind of Tribute

If you’ve been reading my blog at all then you know that I haven’t been posting much lately. In my last post I explained that my wife, Sue, was having some rather serious health issues. I won’t go into all of the details here but she finally succumbed to a terrible illness called Fatal Familial Insomnia on December 18th so I now find myself a single dad to my two boys. I miss her very much and that’s reflected in these clips. Both are single-take “moments in time” that I recorded on the evening my wife’s funeral and the following evening. I thought about going back and re-recording or “fixing” some things or even adding some reverb or EQ but ultimately decided that they should stay as raw and original as possible to remain as a record of what I was feeling those nights and many nights since her diagnosis in July. The first is some noodling and then When I Fall in Love and the second one is My One and Only Love – a song I’ve dedicated to her many times over the years. You get to hear them warts and all:

I love you Sue and I miss you more than you can know.

Review: Jazzlab Sax Harness

Pretty Girl Not Included

Pretty Girl Not Included

One of the big problems I’ve had the last few years when playing bari is ending up with a very sore back. It had gotten to the point where I would take the bari off the strap anytime I had any decent amount of rest and then re-hang it before the next entrance. I’m talking about as little as six bars rest. That technique got me through the gig and kept me from being in terrible pain the next day.

While playing bari always seemed to affect my lower back the most, playing tenor with a normal neck strap always made my neck sore although not nearly as much as bari affected my back. I never liked harness style straps because I didn’t like the way the horn hung – it seemed to be too close to my body with that style of strap. Because of the way it hung, it always felt like the angle of the horn was wrong for me. I think it would be fine for sitting down but I spend most of my gigs standing up and I like the horn to be more out front than angled to my side. I started hearing a lot of great things about the Jazzlab Sax Holder and I finally took the plunge to try it out. My experience with it so far is over three gigs and several practice sessions but I believe I have a good feel for what it does and how that affects me.

How Did It Do?

There’s no doubt the weight is much better distributed with the Sax Holder. The weight of the horn was moved from my neck (with a pull on my lower back) to my shoulders. The strap adjusts fairly easily to the contours of my shoulders and the weight is further distributed to a brace that rests on the body. This brace is adjustable both for height as well as thickness and I think this is the part that saves my back while the shoulder straps save my neck. The strap works like a marching tether for drummers in many ways.

The first time I used it I had a gig on bari and alto and the strap arrived during the day of the gig while I was at work. So like any rational person I decided to try it on the gig without any test. To make matters worse, traffic going to the gig was terrible so I didn’t even make sound check so I was only able to try the strap for a few minutes before I went on. I did have a regular strap on stage just in case…I’m not totally nuts…but I didn’t need it because the Sax Holder worked like a champ. It was effortless to hold the bari while playing and I didn’t take it off at all while playing the bari songs. I also felt very comfortable playing alto. The angle of both horns was right where I wanted them to be. The Sax Holder has a longer strap portion that acts more like a traditional strap and that makes it much better than a harness for me.

The second gig I used it on was just tenor and I once again didn’t have much time to adjust it (it was an outdoor wedding and you probably know how those go). Again, I appreciated how well the pressure on my neck and back was alleviated but this time I felt like maybe having more time to tweak the adjustable shoulder braces would have helped me a lot. The seemed to dig in a little bit more than they should the whole night. On the other hand, the strap works really well with a tux or a suit as it hides well under the jacket, doesn’t mess up your bow tie, and actually keeps a traditional tie in place without a tie clip.

The third time I used it, was a outdoor concert and I was dressed MUCH more casually than the other two gigs. In this case, it actually interfered with my open collar shirt more than I wanted it to. Plus, the guys in the section were giving me grief about it a little it (“Oh I thought you were wearing a brace because you broke your sternum”). Ultimately, I decided not to finish out the gig with it that night even though it was still very comfortable for me. I think I can better plan my clothing in the future when I want to use it.

Pros

Really does protect both my neck and my lower back

Works well under a suit jacket and with ties

Horns hang at a good angle for me

Easily adjustable when switching horns

Lightweight

Comes with a soft bag and stores comfortably in the bell when in the case

Cons

Sometimes it’s awkward to have on when you aren’t playing. Walking up and down steps feels weird if you try to look down

Doesn’t work well over an open collar shirt

Can look a little strange when you aren’t hanging a horn on it

Verdict

For bari this is a no-brainer. It makes playing one pain free for the first time since I was much younger. I was able to feel comfortable without removing the horn and I was even able to move freely and do dance moves with the section. For the tenor, where I don’t have as much lower back trouble but I do have neck strain, it’s something that I can and will use under the right circumstance. Even if the guys give me grief, it’s well worth being pain free after the gig. For alto it’s really not necessary but I am often playing alto in conjunction with either the tenor or bari so it will get used especially since it is so adjustable. Overall, I think this strap is a winner and money well spent. I actually ordered mine through a store connected to Amazon but I don’t think they have them all the time. I’ve also heard that there is a model 2 coming out but I will probably wait on that until I hear more as this one works fine.

Book Review – A Complete Approach to Sound for the Modern Saxophonist by Ben Britton

Ben Britton is a wonderful saxophonist who I met online a year or so ago. I listened to some of his sound samples and reached out to him because I loved what I heard.¬†He’s a jazz musician,¬†an educator, a blogger, and now an author. With this book, Ben is bringing many years of personal experience as well as a lifetime of lessons from such wonderful players and teachers as George Garzone, Chris Potter, Walt Weiskopf and others. If you are willing to put the work in you could end up with the sound you’ve always heard in your head (or on recordings).

When I was in college I think my sax teacher was more of a Larry Teal guy as opposed to a Joe Allard or Sigurd Rascher guy (the approach that Ben presents). So I was taught to take a lot less mouthpiece than what I do now and my embouchure shape was different although it should be noted my teacher did recognize that I didn’t fully fit into his approach. He liked my sound anyway so he let me go on many things. In the intervening years as I have played more and more in many varied situations I have learned a lot from talking to numerous people and my approach is much closer to what is in this book but there are definitely things I was unaware of and things I have lapsed on that could be better.

The book starts off simply enough with a discussion of air support and embouchure and their importance as a foundation for everything else that you will be adding as you go through the book. There are two chapters dedicated to these important concepts and the stage is set for future chapters as the exercises go from easy to challenging. You can do as much as you are comfortable with and then add more advanced exercises as you feel your progression warrants it. There’s some really interesting stuff in these chapters that I think I’ve always done but no one ever explained to me what was going on or why it was important. The exercises start with mouthpiece only and progress through the expected long tones but then they get pretty advanced with the introduction of bends and sub-tones. I was really excited by the description of how the vocal chords can restrict volume without losing support…I use my vocal chords a lot but I was never sure if it was right. ¬†Now I know that I wasn’t far off and I know how to make sure I am using them correctly in the future.

The book really starts to take off (at least for me) in chapters 3 and 4 where you learn much more about embouchure and air support. One of the key things for me was his discussion of rolling the lip out for more flexibility and a full tone. It’s something I used to do all the time but I discovered that I had lapsed into a more tucked lip especially as my chops started to get tired on a gig. It’s going to be a process to change back but the included exercises once again will help build muscle memory and endurance. Another area I’ve always struggled with is tongue position. I have a tendency to have a lazy (usually positioned too low) tongue but truthfully I never knew exactly where it should be either (or had forgotten). The tongue bend exercises in chapter 4 actually do a great job of showing me where it should be by having me take it where it isn’t supposed to be in the bend.

Chapter 4 is also notable for the grueling overtone exercises Ben includes at the end of the chapter. This is a section you will want to ease into because it’s easy to get tired out very quickly and Ben points out that you should concentrate on tone quality above all else so you should stop when tone is being sacrificed. Don’t worry, playing these exercises as part of a daily regimen will build endurance and facility so there will always be new territory to chart. The exercises are divided into two parts with the second part much more challenging than the first.

Chapter 5 is dedicated to articulation and includes many exercises to make you pick apart what you are doing and get a feel for the correct way to do it. Chapter 6 is a very helpful discussion on incorporating all of the concepts into a daily warm up and practice regimen. Finally, there is a glossary for any terms you may not be familiar with.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, Ben also has numerous audio clips on his website demonstrating many of he key concepts from the book. You can download the whole package as a zip file. It’s very helpful to hear a great player demonstrate the difference between rolling your lip in or out or what the overtone exercises are supposed to sound like. I think having these examples really sets this book apart from other similar offerings on the market.

I think this is a book that anyone could benefit from whether you are just getting started or you’re a seasoned pro. For beginners it provides a great start and an excellent progression and it’s the kind of thing you can take to a lesson to discuss. For advanced players it’s a chance to look critically at your fundamentals and make sure you’re where you want to be. The book is not expensive but the information is incredibly valuable so do yourself a favor and buy it.¬†I’m hoping to see more books from Ben in the future.

Ben has some sample exercises, the zip file of audio examples, and a pdf of the table of contents here. You can buy it at Amazon¬†(best price), CreateSpace, or a less expensive digital version at Payhip. ¬†It’s the Christmas season so put it on your list or treat yourself to something nice. I think you will be happy you did.

Pete Thomas PPT Metal Tenor Mouthpiece Review

Pretty!

Pretty!

I recently had the chance to try one of these mouthpieces thanks to a pass-around that Pete put together through Sax on the Web Forum. I had practically forgotten that I was supposed to be in it until I started seeing posts from Pete on the forum and I thought I was going to see it almost 2 months ago but the trail went cold. I finally got to see it about two weeks ago but unfortunately I only really had one night with it because I was traveling for a family function and I didn’t want to hold up the pass around. I think I would have obviously been somewhat more comfortable with it given more time but I think my impressions of it as a viable mouthpiece are still valid.

Look at those rails!

Look at those rails!

The first two things I noticed about the mouthpiece when I pulled it out of the box were how ¬†precise it looked and how hefty it was. Everything about this mouthpiece just says precise when you look at it. ¬†The rails and tip are sharp, defined, and even. It’s obvious that a lot of care went into fashioning this mouthpiece. I was also stuck by just how solid it was in my hand. This is one precision hunk of solid metal. ¬†It’s also beautiful with a brushed bronze finish and a pleasing shape.

It’s an 8* but it has a rather pronounced baffle so that helps offset the tip opening. Still, 8* is bigger than I like to play these days. I tried it with one of my Rigotti Gold 3 1/2 M reeds that’s already broken in and I really liked the control I had but I think the sound was a little stuffier than I would want. I also tried it with an old Java (green) 3 I had in a box and it was much brighter and probably more commercial sounding but it was VERY hard to control. I think I could get used to either approach given more time but for this night I felt more comfortable with the harder reed. I used the included Rovner ligature although it also came with a Marc Jean ligature but I didn’t want to scratch it up since it wasn’t mine.

I absolutely loved this mouthpiece in the lower register and up into the about C3 but I felt it was a little more resistant than I wanted to be in the upper register and it seemed to have a tendency to thin out. This is pretty obvious in the recordings but it was certainly less resistant up there with the softer reed. The registers I liked were thick with lots of pleasing lower overtones but the mouthpiece also has a crispness that made it feel very accurate. It’s definitely a mouthpiece that can get loud when you put air into it – in fact it can take a lot of air without balking. On the other hand it also does a nice job with sub tones. On Pete’s website he talks about trying to create a mouthpiece that could work in many varied musical situations and I think he succeeded in that regard. I can definitely appreciate having one go-to mouthpiece that can be smoky or raucous depending on the needs of a situation. If I was going to hazard a guess I would say that this mouthpiece has a shorter facing length than I am used to but I didn’t¬†measure¬†it or anything – it’s just a thought because it felt like some Beechler’s I’ve tried and they have a shorter facing as well.

One minor complaint I had was the bore of the shank. I played it on my new Cannonball tenor since my Mark VI is in dire need of repair right now. I went to put it on and I could tell instantly that it was much narrower than my other pieces. I tried greasing up the cork really well (I use Doctor’s Products cork grease – something I should probably write about in the future I guess) but it really didn’t help. To make matters worse I really had to crank this puppy on there to get it in tune. I don’t think I got it all the way in to be completely in tune but it was actually shredding the cork in places and I just had to stop. You can probably hear some of the resulting intonation issues in the recording. Part of the problem is the narrowness of the bore but I think the sharp edge was also a problem. Maybe if it had some taper at the end and the edges were more rounded it wouldn’t be so problematic.

In the recording I am playing on the Rigotti Gold 3 1/2 M but I also play a little at the end with the Green Box Java 3. You can hear how it brightens up but what I left on the cutting room floor was how wild and woolly it was with that configuration. It was really very hard to control. ¬†I would have loved to have had at least one more night to play on it and I could see myself being happy with this mouthpiece if I wasn’t already pretty well set in that regard. One thing to take into consideration is that all of Pete’s profits on the things he sells on his website go to charity and I think that’s a wonderful thing. If you’re looking for a mouthpiece that will get you through many styles and handle them all well then this might be the one you’re looking for.

http://barrycaudill.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/PPT-Test.mp3

Phil-Tone Equinox D Review

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.

Always two there are

Always two there are

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:

http://barrycaudill.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/Equinox-D-Test.mp3

While writing this I was listening to If Dreams Come True by Carolyn Leonhart and Wayne Escoffery.  Great album!