Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Alto Mouthpiece Roundup Review (Part 4): James Bunte Model 42, Vandoren V16, Kessler NY Short Shank, Selmer Spirit


Alto Mouthpiece Roundup Review Header Photo


In part 4 of this alto mouthpiece roundup review, we'll be taking a look at the James Bunte Model 42, Vandoren V16, Kessler NY Short ShankSelmer Spirit. Make sure you read Alto Mouthpiece Roundup Review - Part 1: Introduction first or use the navigation drop-down menu to jump around.








Photo montage of the James Bunte Model 42 alto saxophone mouthpiece
Click for larger version



The Model 42 is a mouthpiece designed and hand finished by James Bunte of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. The goal with this mouthpiece was to offer a very high quality, yet affordable instrument. The Model 42 is meant to be as an alternative to both the Meyer design and high priced professional level mouthpieces.

The Model 42 starts as a medium chamber, high quality hard rubber blank. It is then hand finished with a modern facing, straighter sidewalls than a Meyer and a medium high rollover baffle for improved projection. The design of the piece is meant to offer less resistant than the traditional design, a slightly brighter sonority, and a mouthpiece that is easier to play in all registers of the horn.

Every Model 42 is hand finished and extensively play tested by Dr. Bunte to ensure it meets the high standards set for this mouthpiece.

Dr. Bunte believes it is very important to provide progressive students and professionals with a more affordable option when it comes to a quality hand finished mouthpiece. This price is a reflection of Dr. Bunte’s philosophy and not the quality of the mouthpiece itself.

The Model 42 ships in a simple, small square tubing. No ligature, no cap, no accessory of any kind. The mouthpiece itself looks quite generic. There's no inlaid bite plate, no shank ring, no branding except from the number "42" engraved and gilded in gold on the shank between two lines, and a hand scratched signature and tip opening. This is a bare bones package. You get a mouthpiece with no fancy feature and nothing else.

Upon taking a closer look at the Model 42, the first thing that stands out is the highly polished, low but quite long crescent shaped baffle. It transitions to a straighter inner floor then finally dips into a medium sized chamber. The inner sidewalls are sculpted but not quite as deep as a Meyer or most Meyer clones. They aren't straight sidewalls but being shallow will naturally focus air coming through the mouthpiece. It is probably fair to say they could be considered a hybrid between flat and concave sidewalls. Playing the mouthpiece reinforced the observation as you will see in a little while. While you can tell where the mouthpiece was worked on from a few tool marks and scratches - most obviously on the inner sidewalls and chamber - these were all smoothed out and blended into each other. Table, baffle, tip rail, side rails were all flawless. Speaking of the side rails, they seemed quite fat to me before I started testing the mouthpiece, but any reservation I could have had vanished when I started spending some time with it.

I found the Model 42 quite bright when I first tried a few reeds on it. Coming from playing a Meyer, I interpreted the focus this piece has in the upper mid frequencies as brightness and although it is slightly on the brighter side, after a while I realized it just has a more focused core while preserving a full sounding gritty quality around its edge. This is something you can clearly hear in the sound clip. The perceived brightness comes from an emphasis on the high-mid frequencies rather than the extreme highs, which would result in a buzzy mouthpiece which the 42 is not. It also keeps a warmer, more spread bottom end.

While not the absolute most free-blowing piece in this review, the Model 42 makes navigating all ranges a breeze. The low end speaks out clearly, even playing softly, and it's easy to modulate between sub and full tone in this range. The altissimo register is effortless. The low resistance of this piece is very even across the range, which contributes to how easy it is to get around it. It seems a lot of folks prefer having some significant resistance built into a mouthpiece, and I was one of them for a long time, but I have come to think it is a crutch in the long run and it is always easy to play with reed strength to bring in a slight amount of resistance if needed It is not as easy to achieve the other way without sacrificing playability. Intonation was not an issue.

One of the most striking aspect of playing the Model 42 is how resonant this piece gets as soon as you start pushing a slightly more focused air stream through it. It gives you great feedback you can use to shape your air stream and helps with hearing yourself behind the horn.

The more I played this piece, the better it got, and the more amazed I was by what was coming out of a mouthpiece costing a fraction of what boutique mouthpieces usually go for. I actually had to check I remembered the price correctly. Honestly, I doubt these will stay at this price once the word gets out. Although I'm sure they will stay within a reasonable range, as one of the goal of the Model 42 is bringing to the market a world-class but affordable mouthpiece, the value & quality of the Model 42 is far above the price it sells for.

A mature saxophonist could take the Model 42 in any stylistic direction. With no barrier to sound production built into the design, I felt free to explore a wide range of tonal territories. That's not to say a beginner or student would not benefit from playing the Model 42. Quite on the contrary, I feel that the flexibility, rather neutral voicing and free-blowing quality of this mouthpiece makes it one of the best options, especially at this price.

The Model 42 doesn't have the bells and whistles than some other mouthpieces have, and I get the impression it's been "flying under the radar" so to speak but it's a mouthpiece with a premium construction that's flexible, very free-blowing and has a beautiful, complex, slightly more focused core tone.





The Model 42 is available for purchase at Saxquest and Tenor Madness for $180. For more information, and custom work, contact James Bunte directly via email.


Photo montage of the Vandoren V16 alto saxophone mouthpiece
Click for larger version


There have been many discussions regarding the “American” jazz sound and Vandoren decided to recreate a sound similar to the glory days of jazz and jazz mouthpieces. The Vandoren V16 was designed through a number of years of research with American players. After working trough a number of prototypes that were tested here in the U.S., we released the V16 alto sax mouthpiece.

Our ebonite mouthpieces, like the V16, are molded to ensure that every chamber is exactly the same. One of the most important characteristics is the chamber design and our technique makes sure each chamber is the same. The facing is cut on with a diamond blade using computer controlled machines so that the accuracy of our facing is measured in microns. We hand finish all our mouthpieces so the tone window and chamber is seamlessly connected for maximum airflow.

The consistency of the high grade ebonite that we use and its ability to hold a facing ensures that we can produce consistent high quality mouthpieces.

Vandoren has experience in both the medium and the message. We understand the materials we use and have spend years researching and perfecting the materials them. The message is the music. We have always believed that musicians are the most help when designing. Between the 30+ musicians working with these mouthpieces and our worldwide artist roster, we work diligently to create the best sounding and responding mouthpiece we can.

The Vandoren V16 is a beautifully crafted mouthpiece designed after the classic alto sound of the past that has been a favorite of saxophonists for years.

I was provided with two models of the Vandoren V16 with different tip openings: A5M (0.074") & A6M (0.077"). Both were shipped in a branded, silver colored cardboard box with a foam piece at each end to protect the mouthpieces. The mouthpiece model, size, as well as a graphic representation of the chamber and floor geometry were printed on the box.

The V16 is a classy looking mouthpiece with a deep black polished exterior. The top of the mouthpiece is branded with the "Vandoren Paris" logo as well as the tip opening. The side features the model name and chamber size, all of the above in gold. The shank of the V16 has a gilded brass ring positioned at 3/4 of the shank's length. The table has some visible machining lines, although this area feels smooth to the touch. This finish is actually achieved through the use of fine diamond tipped blades that cut with such precision - with a tolerance measured in microns - that Vandoren does not polish this area afterwards. This manufacturing technique prevents altering the fine accuracy with which the table and facing are machined. The baffle, floor and inner sidewall areas display many scratches from finishing which have also been smoothed to a rather even surface. The generously concave inner sidewalls open up into a medium chamber with a slight U shape. The rails on both V16 pieces weren't exactly straight. The sides facing the window were, but the other sides, facing the exterior of the piece were not, as seen in the pictures. However, they seemed to be symmetrically curved.

The A5M is the tip opening I will be focusing on here, as it was for me the easiest to play. It had a visibly higher baffle and the floor sat lower inside the mouthpiece than the A6M. This resulted in the latter being notably more resistant as well as darker sounding.

The A5M played beautifully with a medium amount of resistance that was very even throughout the range of the horn, except in the altissimo register where it became slightly more free-blowing. The low end of the horn spoke easily, at all dynamics. I would say the Vandoren V16 had a classic sound although slightly dryer, more lively and more focused. It was very easy to get a projecting sound on this piece, although pushing hard made the piece progressively brighter. I found myself wishing the V16 had just a touch more resonance to balance the liveliness of this piece. When holding back, it was easy to tame the high frequency focus of this piece and bring more warm spread in the sound but, again, playing loudly made controlling this color a challenge. It is not necessarily a bad thing if this is the sound you are looking for - if you would like to liven up a dark horn for example - but more flexibility in this department would have been a welcomed addition.

The Vandoren V16 is a worthy contender in the huge of pool of mouthpieces in the lineage of the great Meyers of the past. With a dry, focused sound and a medium amount of resistance, this affordable mouthpiece would be worth looking into for anyone, students and pros alike.





Vandoren V16 mouthpieces are available through a wide variety of retailers for $232.99 MSRP ($119 street price). For more information, check out the product page on Vandoren's website or the datasheet in pdf format.



Photo montage of the Kessler New York Short Shank Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece
Click for larger version



The New York Short Shank mouthpiece is part of the Kessler Custom line of instruments which was born to fulfill our desire to provide younger musicians with better quality products at affordable prices. As the word spread about our student and intermediate mouthpieces we just couldn't ignore the demand for a reasonably priced, true high caliber mouthpiece.

The New York Short Shank starts as custom designed, injection molded blank made by JJ Babbitt from traditional hard rubber. Babbitt have been a reliable partner, providing use with consistent blanks to work with. All facing work is done by hand here in Las Vegas. Its facing is based on a Meyer Bros 5M (closer to a 7 tip opening in today's standard) and we offer the piece in only one size to helps us keep the cost down. The medium to medium-small chamber provides a solid core and great response. The end result is a mouthpiece that plays easily, evenly and with great response while maintaining a rich overall tone.

A few years ago, through a partnership with D’Addario, we started including the Rico H-Ligature (a re-creation of the vintage Harrison) in gold plate with every one of our mouthpieces at no additional cost to the customer. We wanted to make sure players could properly evaluate our mouthpieces with a great performing ligature and also simply increase the value of our mouthpiece.

Nowadays, the modern saxophonist has more great choices to choose from than ever before, from all ends of the spectrum, and we’re happy the to be able to provide this great quality mouthpiece at a price anyone can afford.

The Kessler New York Short Shank is a simple mouthpiece with a classic exterior design. The "Kessler Custom LAS VEGAS" logo is stamped and filled with a gold colored paint on top of the mouthpiece. It comes in the most basic packaging: a small plastic bag. However, you get a Rico H and cap as described in the preface above which sweetens the deal.

The NY Short Shank is setup with a small rollover baffle and medium chamber while the sidewalls are generously carved out. Although the floor was smoothed out, a few tool marks remained, and the inside of the chamber had a slight texture to it, most probably coming from the molding process. The side rails on this piece did not look very even. Not only were they not quite straight, but they looked quite different from one side to the other. The tip rail was also not as defined as on other pieces.

The first thing that struck me about this piece is how resistant it is. Although playing softly required close to no effort, as soon as I started to push or focus my air, I felt I had to work against its design. I had to hold back on how much air I pushed through the NY Short Shank. The mouthpiece felt like playing a significantly smaller tip opening, although a medium strength reed felt just right on it. Consequently, I had some trouble reaching a comfort zone where I felt confident the extreme registers would speak well at any dynamic. Also worth mentioning is the fact that, in order to get a familiar feel, I had to play closer to the tip than I usually do because of the beak angle. The mouthpiece also responded and sounded better when my lips were in this position.

This factors contributed to the round, warm tone I got on this piece. It brightened up a little when pushed but as it felt restrictive, I feel I wasn't able to get the best out of it. In a way these limitations could very well be a feature of the Kessler New York Short Shank. The fact that you have to blow less and seek projection otherwise forces you to focus your air in a way that brings a touch of lyricism to your tone. It also forces you to open up your throat.

No surprise regarding the Rico H: the BG DUO provided a richer, fuller sound and was easier to deal with.

The Kessler New York Short Shank is an affordable mouthpiece with a slightly more understated voice that will appeal to players who prefer having a significant resistance to work with and play mostly in small acoustic ensembles.





The Kessler NY Short Shank mouthpiece is available for purchase directly on kesslermusic.com for $149.95. For more information, contact Kessler Music through email or use the following toll free number: 1-888-830-0474. Mouthpieces are also available though one of the three Las Vegas Valley locations.


Photo montage of the Selmer Spirit Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece
Click for larger version


Designed in partnership with Pierrick Pedron, the new SELMER Paris Spirit Alto Jazz mouthpiece offers a full spectrum of sounds. It has a low register rich in harmonics with the ability to cut through when needed. A well-balanced tuning and easy control provide a rarely reached playing comfort on a Jazz mouthpiece.

Greatly inspired by benchmark mouthpieces dating back to the end of the 40s, which Cannonball Adderley played among others, the Spirit is a perfect balance between ease of blowing and articulation. Experience a never before seen feel of comfort and consistency. The qualities of the Spirit alto mouthpiece make it the perfect match for our Référence alto.

The Spirit alto saxophone mouthpiece features a large and warm tone, an ease of blowing in all registers and a texture enabling saxophonists to navigate all music styles.
The Selmer Spirit was definitely a nice surprise of this roundup for me. I had not heard of this mouthpiece beforehand, and playing it made me wonder why it isn't more popular.

I was provided with two models of the Selmer Spirit with different tip openings: 184 (0.072") & 210 (0.082"). Both ship in a matte black cardboard box with tasteful branding and stylized drawings of mouthpieces. The "Henri Selmer Paris" logo is embossed in silver. The packaging gives off an understated classy look. The mouthpiece is protected inside a drawstring pouch made of some type of felt. A note about this pouch is that it "sheds" quite a lot and if you're going to store your mouthpiece in it, you will have to wipe some fibers before playing it.

The Selmer Spirit comes in a classy and understated polished finish. The shank has two inset bands but otherwise no marking of any kind. The table on both mouthpieces had their tip opening stamped onto it, and the top of the mouthpiece features a printed Selmer logo, "MADE IN FRANCE" and the "Spirit" model name in a handwritten font in gold. The 184 was better finished inside the mouthpiece than the 210 model. The latter also had a visible dip in the side rail (which is clearly visible in the photos). These may be indications that the Selmer Spirit suffers from small inconsistencies. Both mouthpieces had a reasonable amount of tool marks that were smoothed before leaving the factory. This would indicate consistency may not be great and I would advise to try a few of the Selmer Spirits before buying.

The 184 had a more even tone and resistance across the whole range of the horn. The 210 had a more hollow sound and slightly increased resistance in the extreme ranges. As such, I clearly preferred the 184 and focused on playing this model for the review.

I felt immediately at ease with the Selmer Spirit and its medium bright tone. It instantly struck me as a very balanced mouthpiece with a slight tendency towards brightness, a spread mid-range and very resonant low end. This resonance extended into the low-mid frequencies and provided a rather unique and very satisfactory playing experience. The tone was thick, fat while remaining cutting and gritty. I would say this prominent low and low-mid range is what balances the brightness that naturally comes out of the Selmer Spirit. With this said, the low end of the piece is so huge that it can feel unbalanced and I had to control my air consciously not to blast these low notes.

Resistance was homogeneous throughout the range of the horn and in the altissimo. I would have liked a little less of it though. I could get a good projecting sound on the Spirit, the resonance and slight edge of the piece helping out in this department, but I felt I reached a ceiling where I just couldn't get any louder without making the piece unfocused and ugly. Still, the piece would carry over a loud band and across a room, but you would be flirting with the limits of the Spirit rather than having some reserve. Playing at normal and softer dynamics is where the Spirit really shined. As the piece naturally resonates a lot, you don't need to blow a lot of air to get a wide, full sound that will fill a room.

The Selmer Spirit is a fantastic Meyer-inspired mouthpiece, with an amazing resonance and grittiness that would shine in various settings thanks to its versatility.





The Selmer Spirit is available for purchase through every major retailers for $229 MSRP ($150 street price). For more information, check out the product page.









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3 comments:

  1. Hello, this is a great resource! Could you please give me some indication as to which reed you used for the recording of the Vandoren V15 A5M? Many thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi! It's been a while, but most likely a D'Addario Select Jazz Unfiled 3S.

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  2. Thanks for the info! (and PS, sorry, of course that should have read above Vandoren V16 A5M!)

    ReplyDelete

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