Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Soprano Mouthpieces: Help!

Finding the right mouthpiece for your soprano can be a frustrating and daunting task. There are three main issues you're having to deal with: (1) you don't play the instrument that often, so you don't know if it's the equipment or you, (2) by design the instrument is inherently out of tune, so even when you have a great mouthpiece, you're using it to play an instrument that may be out of wack , and (3) let's face it, many of the sopranos and soprano mouthpieces are horribly made.

That being said, here are a few mouthpieces that I’ve come across that seem to get the job done: the Bari, Selmer, and Vandoren.

Bari mouthpieces are pretty good if you’re looking for something nice and easy blowing. They are especially good if you’re looking to double. You can really push them as far as the volume. So if you’re coming to the soprano from the tenor or baritone saxophones, this might be the mouthpiece for you. They tend to get a little sharp in the higher register, but nothing a tuner and some long tones won’t take care of. The actual sound of the Bari mouthpieces, however, is somewhat built in, so it’s hard to really personalize—which is fine if you want something to get you through the gig.

When I first began looking for a set-up to play on, I tried hard rubber and the metal Selmers of various sizes. Selmers are probably the most consistent mouthpieces I’ve played. The sound is pretty uniform from the lowest register of the horn to the highest. In some ways they are just the opposite of the Bari’s because they can be difficult to push. I eventually gave up on them because I couldn’t find one that could stand up to the kind of intensity I wanted to play at. But they worked well for Lacy and Coltrane. Another thing. If you are in an acoustic situation that doesn’t require you to blow very hard, like a sax quartet or a recording with softer sounding instruments, this could the mouthpiece of choice. But if you’re going to play a two set gig, with no mic, and a loud drummer, this may not work very well.

I find the Vandoren to be somewhere in between the Bari and Selmer. It’s not quite as easy blowing as the Bari, which is good. If the mouthpiece is too easy blowing, it ends up calling the shots more than you. It took me a while to really learn how to project over a rhythm section, but when I did, it was more because of my ability, and less having to do with the mouthpiece. Vandoren’s also have a very dark sound, similar to the Selmer, which is good since sopranos tend to run a little on the bright and harsh side. And let me say, there’s nothing worse than hearing a lovely ballad being destroyed by a bright, loud, and harsh soprano sound. Lastly, Vandoren’s don’t sound as uniform throughout the entire register of the instrument like Selmers. But that’s OK. It’s the little imperfections that give your sound character. We want our sound to be in-tune and consistent, but we don’t want to sound like a midi file either.

Now all of the things mentioned are what worked or didn’t work for me. Everyone has a different sound that they’re hearing as well as different needs.

I’d be very curious to hear what you guys are playing on.


  1. hey sam,

    i use a selmer "e" (a hand-me-down from branford). it definitely has enough presence (with the right reed setup) to hold it's own, even in a big band, but youre right - if i had to cut through for an hour or two, i'd probably be hurting...

  2. Hey Chad,
    As far as hurting, that will happen with any set-up, until you build up the endurance. I was speaking more of having the flexibility to be able to play a gig with many dynamic levels and not just play loudly, or maxing out the horn, which is what found myself doing for the first 10 years or so. It took a while before I developed a developed a nice subtone. Then you learn to develop different personalities on the instrument. When people play the soprano it tends to be one sound,all the time. Which is fine for a tune of two. But when you play exclusively, that one sound starts to wear then.

    But I appreciate your response.

  3. Hello Mr Newsome,

    thank you for your blog it is really giving me a lot to think about and to try out.

    I just got myself a soprano saxophone as I could never really relate to the alto I was playing for the past 2.5 years which is also for how long I have been playing a saxophone.

    My sax teacher basically suggested the same mouth pieces as you do and from what I read it seems that the Bari are quite close to the alto Meyer which is what I am currently playing.

    Would you suggest that I wait before picking a mouthpiece until my embouchure is more solid?
    Should I pick the Bari which is probably the easiest way for me or should I pick one that would take me longer getting used to but would ultimately be mine then?

    I really like the soprano saxophone as it is the most artistic one for me so my vision is to be able to do something like this at some point:

    Thanks again.

  4. hello Mr Newsome, I"m a soprano saxplayer from Argentine, what do you think about selmer soloist mouthpiece?

  5. What soprano sax do you recommend for best intonationa nand soulful sounds

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