Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Alto Mouthpiece Roundup Review (Part 5): Mouthpiece Cafe Espresso, Selmer Soloist, Marantz Scroll Shank Legacy, Phil-Tone Solstice


Alto Mouthpiece Roundup Review Header Photo


In part 5 of this alto mouthpiece roundup review, we'll be taking a look at the Mouthpiece Cafe Espresso, Selmer Soloist, Marantz Scroll Shank Legacy (prototype) the Phil-Tone Solstice. 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 Mouthpiece Cafe Espresso alto saxophone mouthpiece
Click for larger version



All Mouthpiece Cafe models are made from scratch, in house, through a proprietary process refined over several years of R&D, listening to feedback from players and implementing changes until we and our customers were satisfied. Although we are always looking forward, and constantly trying to refine our manufacturing process, we believe we've perfected a process that yields consistently great results.

The rubber composite we use for our line of mouthpieces was developed with the a goal to contribute to a free-blowing quality and to produce a beautiful resonance.

All Mouthpiece Cafe mouthpieces are hand finished by Eric Greiffenhagen and Brian Powell, ensuring that every mouthpiece that leaves our shop plays as best as possible.

Like its tenor counterpart, the Mouthpiece Cafe Espresso for alto delivers a beautiful rich sound that is distinctively different. It combines a slight roll-over baffle, deep floor and a horseshoe chamber that will produce deep lows, powerful mids, and popping highs while never losing its robust characteristics.

Give the Espresso a try. We think you'll find it suitable for any situation!!!

The Espresso is another mouthpiece from the Mouthpiece Cafe company, this time inspired by the great vintage Selmer Soloist.

Finish on this piece is as flawless as on the NYC model. The "Mouthpiece Cafe" logo is again laser engraved on top of the piece while a slanted model name is similarly engraved on the table. There was only one character stamped on the side this time: the "6" tip opening. The shank had a knobby appearance with two protuberances going around the shank.

Side and tip rails looked perfectly straight and most of the machining and tool marks had been buffed to a smooth surface. The Espresso had slightly more visible tool marks at the end of the floor, right before it dropped into the chamber, which itself had a rougher texture than the NYC. It was possible to guess where various tools met with the material but the finishing blended all of these together quite nicely. The inner sidewalls were just slightly concave but could be mistaken for straight sidewalls at first glance. The chamber was the well known horseshoe, or arch shaped, chamber, made famous by the Selmer Soloist. The piece was setup with a baffle that looked similar to an Early Babbitt Otto Link, with its crescent shape, although nowhere near as high. Again, the transition and curves of the baffle were so subtle they were actually hard to see unless you used proper lighting.

The Espresso had a similar feel to the NYC, with just a touch of resistance that was even across the whole range of the horn. I had no problem adjusting back and forth between the NYC and Espresso although they sounded different. The response of this piece also reacted differently to how much air I pushed through and whether I focused it more or less.

The Espresso is a more focused and slightly brighter piece than the NYC. I think a lot of the perceived high harmonics actually come from the fact that the piece is more focused rather than simply brighter. The strong tonal core coming out of the Espresso also contributes to this. I found this focus somewhat harder to modulate although within this constraint I could get a wide range of tonal variety. That isn't really surprising considering the design of this piece is meant to bring a naturally more focused tone. This translated in a piece that has a louder base tone, while remaining fat and never strident. I had the occasion to play a vintage Soloist for a short time a while ago, and I remember it being voiced with a focus that was lower in the frequency spectrum, more mid-rangey. That doesn't mean the Espresso is bright by any stretch of the imagination; it simply has a subtle additional edge. But it also remains more consistent at various dynamics as opposed to the Soloist that I had which could get seriously bright when played more aggressively. Depending on your personal preferences, the Espresso may be easier to deal with as you won't risk sounding too offensive to the ears when you need to get heard over a loud rhythm section.

Again this piece felt slightly smaller than its size and I would advise picking a size up.

The Mouthpiece Cafe Espresso is another high quality offering that would be a great option for saxophonists looking for a thick, slightly brighter and more focused sound in a piece that is effortless to play and is finished by some of the most talented mouthpiece artisans today.





The Mouthpiece Cafe Espresso alto mouthpiece is available for purchase directly on www.mouthpiececafe.com for $250. For more information, use the webform on their website.


Photo montage of the Selmer Soloist alto saxophone mouthpiece
Click for larger version


Directly inspired by the legendary model made during the 50’s, the Soloist embodies all the qualities which originally made it so successful: a rich, easily modulated sound, it remains centered, homogeneous and warm across the spectrum of playing styles. It delivers a high degree of accuracy, particularly in the attack of the low notes and on the highest notes.

These qualities are particularly noted for their stability across all playing styles. The Soloist mouthpiece for Alto Saxophone features a round throat and traditional bead design. Precision tooled from a hard rubber bar, its inner chamber offers a nice direct volume with a warm, centered sound to play both jazz and classical repertoire.

I was provided with two models of the Selmer Soloist with different tip openings: E (0.078") & G (0.092"). Both pieces shipped in a similar packaging to that of the Spirit and Metal Jazz mouthpieces. Both pieces featured the "Henri Selmer Paris" logo on top of the mouthpiece. The E tip opening had it stamped and filled with gold ink while the G tip opening was just printed. There were some other variations between the two models: the model name, "Soloist" was featured on the sides of these mouthpieces but had a slightly different visual appearance and while the tip opening was stamped on the table of the E tip opening, it was simply printed on top of the G tip opening. Both mouthpieces had the iconic scroll shank.

Although the mouthpiece featured in the photo montage is the larger tip opening, I recorded with the smaller one as I was more comfortable with it. Both were well finished, with some visible scratches from the manufacturing process that had been smoothed out some. Both models had a similar interior design: a small rollover baffle right after the tip, a straight floor that drops abruptly in a horseshoe chamber. Sidewalls were straight. I found the tip and side rails were quite fat on both pieces.

The Selmer Soloist had one of the richest, thickest, most complex mid-range in this review. I would characterize the tone naturally coming out of both models as a very resonant, full and all encompassing. Unfortunately, both pieces were quite hard to blow, even after dropping reed sizes. The low end of the horn required some significant extra effort and it was quite a challenge to make every dynamic speak well in this register. Playing softly with a full tone was a challenge in the bell notes. I also had to pay attention not to blow too much air or risk choking the mouthpiece. You can clearly hear me holding back in the second part of the clip. This limited my ability to properly drive and manipulate these pieces.

The Selmer Soloist was definitely not a very loud mouthpiece as a consequence. Reducing air volume and increasing speed helped circumvent the issue to an extent. I also believe the focus provided by the horseshoe chamber and straight sidewalls would help carry across a room.

The Selmer Soloist is a mouthpiece with one of the most full and complex tone I've had the pleasure to come across. Unfortunately, it suffers from a lack of efficiency that will reduce its flexibility as a full-time mouthpiece.





The Selmer Soloist is available for purchase through every major retailers at for $315 MSRP ($170 street price). For more information, check out the product page



Photo montage of the Marantz Scroll Shank Legacy Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece
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The Scroll Shank Legacy alto model pays tribute to the great hard rubber scroll shank mouthpieces of the 50’s and 60’s that many saxophone legends have found their voices on in the past. The current model for review is a prototype for a mouthpiece model that will eventually become available for alto, tenor, and soprano sax by the end of 2015. Although the external design has yet to be completed, the Scroll Shank Legacy model will eventually even feature the external visual look of the originals.

The alto prototype model features straight sidewalls and a medium rollover baffle which slopes down into the smaller, horseshoe type configuration in the chamber. For the prototype under review, we chose more of a double oval shaped chamber that yields similar results, but subsequent production models will feature a more traditional horseshoe shaped chamber found in the original scroll shanks. The Scroll Shank Legacy possesses a dark but lively tone with the familiar instantaneous response found in the East Coast Legacy alto model, but the straight sidewalls and smaller chamber yield a much more focused, more direct alto tone that projects all the way to the back of the room without becoming strident. This is a mouthpiece for the soloist who desires to be heard without sacrificing the warm and pleasing parts of their sax tone’s natural frequency range.

The Scroll Shank Legacy should become available for alto sax by fall 2015. Watch www.marantzcustommouthpieces.com for updates on this model’s availability.

The Marantz Scroll Shank Legacy was not initially meant to be included in this review. Matt wanted to use the occasion of sending me his East Coast Legacy piece to get some feedback on one of his prototypes. I insisted on including it because I felt this was another incredible piece. As a prototype, the Scroll Shank Legacy may still evolve, so please take this into consideration while reading the review.

The exterior appearance of this piece was similar to the East Coast Legacy with a slanted "Marantz" and straight "LEGACY", gilded in gold on top of the piece. Baffle and floor were buffed to a high shine, the side and tip rails looking as amazing as on its counterpart. The chamber was a bit rougher, but Matt had warned me in advance about this and let me know I should expect a similar finish job to his other pieces once the Scroll Shank Legacy gets out of the prototype phase.

The baffle looked somewhat similar to the East Coast Legacy however the inner sidewalls were considerably shallower. The chamber was of course the most obvious difference. Instead of the medium large chamber, the Scroll Shank Legacy uses a double oval shape (instead of the more traditional horseshoe shape). Definitely a rare occurrence.

The Scroll Shank Legacy was a touch less free-blowing than its brother but still gave this incredible Marantz signature feel of extreme efficiency. The low end response of the piece was the most obviously more resistant but even then, it remained one of the most free-blowing experience you can get on an alto mouthpiece. The other ranges were slightly less resistant and even, with the altissimo just popping out thanks to the additional kick this mouthpiece has.

I was somewhat taken aback by how bright the piece could get. Although these high frequency harmonics were balanced by the gorgeous mid-range focus, the Scroll Shank Legacy packs some serious heat. After getting used to it, I felt it actually reflected the experience I had with the vintage Soloist some years back. There is a very wide range of tones that can be shaped through this mouthpiece depending on the ratio between air speed and air volume. The more air you push into it, the brighter it gets; the faster you push air through, the more focused and mid-rangey it becomes.

The free-blowing quality of the Scroll Shank Legacy combined with the mid-range focus and brighter color allowed me to get ridiculously loud without it becoming a strenuous undertaking. My ears were ringing after pushing this mouthpiece for a while in my small practice room. It can truly be manipulated into a raucous beast but this doesn't mean that this mouthpiece is incapable of being played softer, or at a medium dynamic with a more delicate approach.

The Marantz Scroll Shank Legacy alto mouthpiece is a brighter and louder alternative to the traditional Soloist design, with an incredible versatility and one of the most free-blowing response of any mouthpiece made today.





You can reach Matt Marantz by email via the contact form on his website or on the phone at 214-499-5706. The Scroll Shank Legacy mouthpiece will be available for purchase directly on Matt's website, www.marantzcustommouthpieces.com, for $300. If you're in New York City, you can schedule a shop visit for refacing, facing adjustments, custom alterations, or trying one of the Marantz Legacy mouthpieces for alto and tenor.


Photo montage of the Phil-Tone Solstice Alto Saxophone Mouthpiece
Click for larger version


A solstice signals the change in the seasons, just as this mouthpiece marks a departure from the traditional jazz alto setup. The Solstice harkens back to the days of the “West Coast” school of sound, made famous by such greats as Art Pepper, Lee Konitz, and Paul Desmond. The sounds and styles of these greats inspired the creation of this mouthpiece. The Solstice has a rich core and a full harmonic palate, while also possessing a lively and lyrical quality. There have been several modern attempts to approach the West Coast sound but the majority leave the player with a stuffy, dull, and resistant piece. The Solstice plays open, full, and with ease. Its responsive, ringing, centered tone provides a unique avenue towards expression and opens the door to new possibilities. From flowing bossa novas, to the jazz quartet standards, to a beautiful, lyrical, emotional ballad, the Solstice does it all.

This piece was initially commissioned by a customer who wanted a small tip, no baffle, and a Desmond like color. After experimenting with chambers I came up with what I think is an extremely very versatile piece. When you present the piece with softer phrasing you get that Desmond flute like woodiness to the tone. Played straight ahead it is a piece that can be powerful and projecting. Players have used the Solstice for everything from classical to bop.

Played “Straight ahead” The Solstice accepts a strong air stream and projects extremely well. It's time to step away from the Meyer and its countless clones. Explore a new level of depth and color with the most versatile alto mouthpiece available at any price.

The Phil-Tone Solstice will feel the most familiar to those of us used to the Meyer design while bringing a more versatile tonal palette and unique color.

The Solstice was finished similarly to the Aurora and Rift, and the exterior appearance was identical to these two pieces. The interior - although not without some rough finished spots - was well finished and the tip rail, side rails and baffle displayed a great attention to details like the other Phil-Tone mouthpieces.

Upon closer inspection it seemed like the Solstice had almost no baffle. There was just a very subtle baffle shortly after the tip rail. The floor wasn't particularly steep either. The sidewalls were generously concave and opened up into a medium sized chamber.

Playing the Phil-Tone Solstice was instantly gratifying. It blew with less resistance than the Aurora, although there was an even amount to push against at all times. The low end, palm keys and altissimo all spoke very well and I found the mouthpiece the easiest to manipulate due to its middle of the road color. I was met with a bit more resistance than I would have liked when playing the low end of the horn softly with a full sound, although it was totally manageable.

The area where the Solstice really shines is its color. I found it stayed very similar at all dynamics. Playing loudly and pushing a lot of air created more edge but the spread and warm resonance in the medium frequencies remained surprisingly consistent. This translated in a piece that you can push a lot of air through without sacrificing warmth. This color had a lot of texture and character to it which could be described as grittiness. The Aurora in comparison had a more refined and delicate color. However that is not to say you cannot play softly and beautifully on the Solstice. This mouthpiece will have no problem competing for attention in a busier and louder musical context but as soon as I held back, I found I could get a similar delicate quality as with the Aurora. The way the Solstice is voiced, with an emphasis on the medium frequencies, gave a light but present quality to this piece.

Pushing the Phil-Tone Solstice close to its limits in terms of volume transformed the piece in something quite different. Although this spread and warm resonance remained, the piece could get quite bright and dirty. I would definitely be confident bringing this piece to a fusion gig and it would allow me to keep a tonal aesthetics closer to what I strive for as opposed to playing a naturally brighter and louder mouthpiece.

The Phil-Tone Solstice is an extremely versatile mouthpiece that will offer players looking for an alternative to the Meyer design a unique warmth that they will be able to get advantage of in almost any context.




The Phil-Tone Solstice is available directly on Phil-Tone's website for $285. For more information, check out the product page. You can also reach Phil Engleman directly through email or through the webform on his website.









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4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the great reviews and comparable audio clips! For some reason the sound of the Phil-Tone Solstice is sticking out to me as one I should strongly consider getting. When I read the description saying it's a West Coast piece, I'm taken aback because it sounds nothing like Art, Konitz, or Desmond, like they say it should. I understand that we can make pieces sound differently than they're designed to sound but I wouldn't want to fight off a specific sound while I play.

    To my question - I would consider myself more of a Garrett with a hint of Cannonball clone, and do NOT want to sound like the old-school West Coast guys (nothing against them!). So, would you say the Phil-Tone Solstice would best capture that more versatile Garrett/Cannonball sound, like the audio clip suggests, or would you put another mouthpiece on that short list? FYI, I just sent my vintage Long Shank Soloist E off to Adam Niewood to get worked on and will be set with the Garrett only sound but I'd like a second setup with a little more versatility. Any insight on the Solstice or any other mouthpieces would be much appreciated!!

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    1. It's hard to say honestly. Depending on how you blow, a piece will sound drastically different. I don't think the Solstice would be the best choice for what you're after though as you'd have to work quite hard to shape your tone the way you want. I'd probably investigate in mouthpieces with similarities to your Soloist, like the Lebayle Jazz, the Brilharts with straight sidewalls and so on.

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    2. Thanks for that info! After all the reviewing was done, did any of these pieces convince you to make a purchase? If not, did you come up with a top 3 contenders to your current setup?

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    3. I've been playing a Bunte 42 for a year now. James was kind enough to do a few back and forths to adjust the piece until it was perfect for me. His prices are VERY reasonable too. But this choice is more a reflection of my own taste, and how the piece pairs with the dark sounding Selmer Mark VII I play.

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