8 Best Saxophone Mouthpieces for Alto, Soprano & Tenor Sax
The saxophone is an amazing instrument, difficult to master but one that can have an amazing impact on the melody.
I found that one of the reasons why many tend to quit learning it is because they don’t have access to the best saxophone mouthpieces for their alto, soprano, or tenor sax, and thus they don’t get to experience a clean and powerful sound.
8 Best Soprano, Alto & Tenor Sax Mouthpieces
I’ve always carried a fascination for wind instruments. Therefore, I took the liberty to create this selection of what I feel are some of the best mouthpieces beginners and professionals can get their hands on, for any type of saxophone.
Table of Contents
- 8 Best Soprano, Alto & Tenor Sax Mouthpieces
- 1. Selmer S-80 C* S402C1 Alto Mouthpiece
- 2. Yamaha YAC-1286 Alto 4C Sax Mouthpiece
- 3. Vandoren Optimum Series SM711 AL3
- 4. Yamaha YAC 1292 5C Tenor Sax Mouthpiece
- 5. Vandoren SM823E T7 V16 Tenor Mouthpiece
- 6. Yamaha YAC 1281 4C Soprano Mouthpiece
- 7. D’Addario Select Jazz D6M Alto Mouthpiece
- 8. Vandoren SM833 B7 V16 Baritone Mouthpiece
- Tip Openings
- Materials Matter
- Baffle Shapes and What to Make of Them
- Reeds Mater Too
The Selmer S-80 C is an alto mouthpiece of excellent craftsmanship. Its chamber features a square cross section that improves the sax response. This piece is suitable for just about any genre that needs an alto saxophonist.
The tip opening is 1.70mm while the facing length is 22mm. This mouthpiece may be a bit pricey but it’s also ideal if you want your solos to cut through the instrument ensemble. It can help you produce a piercing tone, get good note separation. and most importantly, instrument separation.
By all accounts, the durability of the mouthpiece is nothing short of impressive and the smooth glossy finish makes it an eye-catching accessory too. The mouthpiece will require the purchase of a ligature. There are many options on the market but it seems like a Vandoren LC07P or LC57AP would each make a great fit.
The Yamaha YAC-1286 is a reliable alto mouthpiece that may interest anyone shopping with a restricted budget. This mouthpiece’s trademark is its impressive consistency and good sustain. Equally impressive is its ease of use, which makes it beginner-friendly too.
For professionals, the YAC-1286 obviously offers more value. Once you know what you’re doing, this mouthpiece can be used to obtain a very clear and balanced sound across all octaves.
The YAC-1286 is part of Yamaha’s Standard Series of mouthpieces. This 4C model features a tip opening of 1.6mm and a facing length of 23mm. As such, it will have a superior response in both the high and low registers, especially when used by an accomplished player.
The Vandoren SM711 AL3 alto mouthpiece is perhaps the most popular and most used mouthpiece in the Optimum Series. It’s also the cheapest option to not sacrifice too much sound clarity.
To get the most out of this mouthpiece, you should try pairing it with Vandoren reeds in the 2.5 to 4 range. The mouthpiece has a medium long facing and a tip opening of 1.52mm. The build has a classical feel to it and the rounded design gives it an eye-catching style.
The SM711 AL3 can be a modern saxophonist’s most trusted accessory. However, this is a more beginner-friendly piece. Unlike the AL4 or AL5 models which are a bit bigger and better suited for professional players with sound breathing techniques and experience.
For a standard tenor mouthpiece, the Yamaha YAC 1292 5C mouthpiece is quite resilient and high-performance. Its design comes straight from Yamaha’s famed Custom Series and the hard phenol resin construction makes this a long-lasting mouthpiece, to say the least.
Seeing as this is a Yamaha 5C mouthpiece, you should know that it’s not that beginner-friendly. Professional players may get more value out of the YAC 1292. The tone will be rich and a lot more versatile.
The note sustain is not the easiest to maintain, unless you have some experience. Some might argue that the 5C strikes a great balance between ensemble and solo playing. The Yamaha 1292 5C has a 1.8mm tip opening and a 24.mm facing length.
Although both the Standard Series 5C and the Custom Series 5CM feature the same dimensions, remember that the design is Custom Series-inspired. There will be some design differences, mostly regarding interior chamber spacing.
The Vandoren SM823E is a mouthpiece for tenor saxophones. This particular T7 V16 version has a medium-sized chamber. This makes the sound warmer and very expressive. It’s not the best fit for solo play but it can do wonders for section playing in an ensemble or band.
Don’t get me wrong, the mouthpiece is still versatile and can help you cut through the mix given you have the proper technique. But the roundness of the tone makes it a better fit for section playing.
The SM823E comes with a long facing length and a 2.7mm tip opening, pretty much the standard for most tenor mouthpieces. Per the manufacturer’s recommendation, you should be able to get the most value out of the SM823E mouthpiece if you pair it with the V16 or JAVA reeds.
This may be a plastic mouthpiece but if you’re looking for an affordable soprano mouthpiece, you can’t go wrong with the Yamaha YAC 1281. This is the 4C model, or size, if you will.
The 4C is part of the Yamaha Standard Series and as such, it has the following dimensions: 1.2mm tip opening and 19mm facing length. It’s small, easy to play, and quite a versatile accessory.
One thing that impressed me a lot was the great cross-brand compatibility of the YAC 1281 4C mouthpiece with multiple soprano saxophones and various ligatures. And no, this mouthpiece doesn’t come with a ligature.
As is the case with all 4C Yamaha mouthpieces, the YAC 1281 offers plenty of versatility and can be equally beneficial for beginners and professional players. It’s not a bad soloing mouthpiece either.
If you’re not shopping on a tight budget and you’re looking for a top-of-the-line alto mouthpiece, then perhaps the D’Addario D6M might be of interest to you. This is part of the D’Addario Select Jazz series, which means that the mouthpiece is not molded but milled.
This makes it perfectly calibrated as the computer-controlled process eliminates the risk of production errors. As a result, you can expect the D6M to give you a balanced response and even intonation across all registers.
The design features a medium facing length of 20mm and a medium chamber. You can also find this design in three different tip openings: 5, 6, and 7. The tip opening for this one in question is 1.98mm.
It can be an ideal fit for a jazz player. The wider tip opening is known to allow for a richer sound and loads of volume, as well as more accurate attacks. While it may require more experience to control, piercing an ensemble with your solos should be very easy if you know what you’re doing.
The world of saxophones extends beyond alto, soprano, and tenor saxophones. Baritone saxophones may be tougher to master but they can play a huge role too. That’s why I thought enough to include at least one baritone mouthpiece in this article.
I obviously went with the Vandoren SM833 B7 baritone mouthpiece. It seemed like the logical choice for its popularity, unique properties, and very impressive build quality. The SM833 B7 is a strong and eye-catching ebony mouthpiece.
This model has a 2.75mm tip opening and a medium long facing. It has been designed for 2 to 3.5 Vandoren V16 reeds. Although also compatible with JAVA or ZZ reeds, going full Vandoren on this mouthpiece should give you a superior configuration.
One of the most consistent things about the SM833 is the projection across all registers. The sound may be slightly edgy but not too piercing, as the whole point of the SM833 is to provide an even tone across baritone sax range.
It’s said that narrow tip openings are ideal for most beginners. They are more forgiving than wide tips and they also facilitate an easier manipulation of the tone for professional players. But this is not necessarily the most ideal classical setup.
Different tip openings and reed combinations will result in specific sounds. For example, stiff reeds and narrow tip openings tend to darken the sound. That’s why depending on what type of saxophone you play (alto, tenor, soprano, etc.) there are specific tip opening ranges that most manufacturers follow to the tee.
And, there’s one more thing to consider here. Not all players will benefit equally from one specific type of opening. The saxophonist’s embouchure or lipping will also play a role in selecting the ideal saxophone mouthpiece.
Without a strong embouchure, blowing into a narrow tip makes little sense as you won’t be able to exercise enough control over the sound.
It’s always great if you can afford to buy durable instruments and accessories. But, it’s highly unlikely that if you’re careful, you’ll ever damage a saxophone mouthpiece to the point it will need replacing.
That said, let me tell you that materials still matter. For example, plastic mouthpieces tend to be cheaper. At the same time, plastic is considered a soft material. Therefore, they may have less projection and a slightly darker tone than wood or metal mouthpieces.
The good news is that depending on what reeds and ligature you use, different materials can give you very different results. And that’s the beauty of the saxophone. The amount of customization you can pull off to get a unique tone unlike anyone else’s is almost as complex as what you can achieve on an electric guitar through the use of complex pedal effect rigs.
Baffle Shapes and What to Make of Them
There are three baffle shapes when it comes to saxophone mouthpieces: flat, rollover, and step. A flat or straight baffle limits the projection because it slows down the air flow. This type of baffle shape is associated with tenor and alto mouthpieces.
A rollover baffle can give your saxophone a more edgy tone. But the edginess can be controlled. Therefore, you can also achieve a darker tone similar to that of a straight baffle-shaped mouthpiece. This is arguably a more difficult shape to master.
The step baffle has a faster airflow and can add more brightness to your sound. Of course, most saxophonists will use it strictly for the ease of projection, which makes it easier to cut through an ensemble and stand out.
There is however a slight problem. You may find that some manufacturers will see the baffle shapes as less important to specify. Many assume that every player should know what an alto mouthpiece will be shaped like and so on. Some more research on your part may be necessary to find the exact baffle shape of a mass-produced mouthpiece.
Reeds Mater Too
Before you jump the gun, consider the importance of the reeds. Simply upgrading your mouthpiece might not make a significant impact if you’re using the wrong reeds with it.
While most manufacturers make reed recommendations, it’s important not to feel constrained by those recommendations. As already mentioned, there’s a lot of customization possible with a saxophone. As such, some experimentation wouldn’t hurt.
But, also consider the following. Not all mouthpieces will work with any reeds.
Time to Show Your Level of Commitment
You shouldn’t hesitate to get the best saxophone mouthpiece right off the bat. As a general rule of thumb, almost anything on the market would be an upgrade over the stock mouthpiece.
The mouthpieces in this article are not just popular but also impressive. And, as you can see, there are enough options for any style of play, level of experience, and musical genre.