Friday, November 25, 2016

CE Winds Pure Vintage Alto Mouthpieces Review



Today we'll be looking at two alto mouthpieces from CE Winds, part of their Pure Vintage line, the M BROS and NYM 6M.

But first, I will let Brian Seltz (one of two CE Winds co-founder and president, along with Mark Wigginton) introduce the Pure Vintage line of mouthpieces in his own words:


Our company CE Winds, was officially established in 2007, but had been buying, selling and trading saxophones and mouthpieces for many years prior to that.

We introduced our own line of products in 2008, using manufacturers overseas, working on marketing and distributing their international brands in the United States. We decided to start making our own products from a desire to be more self-sufficient. Mouthpieces, we felt, were the way to go. Our idea from the start was to recreate the great originals that we collected throughout the years, mouthpieces that we really consider the best of the best of the best.

The idea came up in 2010 and we actually began the process in 2011. In theory it seemed pretty easy, but the reality was that it was a lot more difficult than we anticipated. As we learned more about making great mouthpieces, we started fine tuning the processes, through trial and error, which allowed us to finally replicate the originals as close as we know is possible. So, after 5 years, the Pure Vintage mouthpieces were released.

Using specifically chosen high grade materials, and manufacturing processes that we have developed over several years of making CE Winds mouthpieces, we are able to replicate these great vintage mouthpieces that are no longer being made due to industry changes in technology and manufacturing. These mouthpieces look, feel, play, and respond just like the original design that they are modeled from. 



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PACKAGING

The two Pure Vintage mouthpieces came in identical packaging: a black drawstring pouch wedged securely in place by two foam blocks inside a colorful cardboard box. No other accessory is included with the purchase of a Pure Vintage mouthpiece. Considering the price of these alto mouthpieces ($179 ATOW), and the fact that most saxophonists will use their favorite third party ligature anyways, the basic packaging is more than adequate (CE Winds offers their own Legend Ligature as a separate $35 purchase).




VISUALS

My biggest concern about the mouthpieces, before seeing them in person, was the color. Indeed, the photos on the listing page of www.cewinds.com looked a bit, let say, "exotic".

Thankfully, these mouthpieces look much better in in real life, and I've tried to convey this by paying extra attention to color reproduction when shooting and editing the photos included in this review (except the animated gif).

Take a look for yourself:






The color reminds of vintage computers, and although it is definitely an unusual color for a mouthpiece, it is not shocking or in poor taste, and does not look out of place on a saxophone neck.






Worth noting is the fact that, other than from a desire to stand out, the choice of color was also an attempt to prevent these mouthpieces being sold as originals by unscrupulous third parties.

The M BROS and NYM 6M were not exactly the same shade of color, the latter being lighter than the former. When I asked Brian about it, I was told that the material used to manufacture the Pure Vintage mouthpieces comes out in 3 to 4 different shades of the same cream color. It's good to know, and worth mentioning for the sake of writing a thorough review, but far from being something that really matters.





FINISH

Let's start with finishing details before delving deeper into materials and manufacturing method.

The shank of both mouthpieces were quite rough. They were rough enough to leave some marks on my neck cork when I put them on and took them off the first time. When I mentioned this roughness, Brian told me he was aware of it, and that the manufacturing department was working on mitigating the issue. I was also told that, in an effort to keep these pieces as close to the masters, and also to keep prices down, the goal was to remove as little material as possible once the Pure Vintage mouthpieces come out of their mold.

Smoothing out the sharp edges where the mouthpieces meet with cork would definitely be welcomed, but using plenty of cork grease - which you should anyways - fixed the problem.






The table and rails of both the Pure Vintage M BROS and NYM 6M weren't perfectly smooth, instead displaying a slight texture. It is greatly enhanced in the shot below, through the use of shooting angle and lighting position, and is hardly noticeable with the naked eye, or in the other shots for that matter.




Model names are stamped on top of each mouthpiece. While the M BROS keeps none of the stamps found on the original Meyer it is modeled after, the NYM 6M's model name is stamped over what remains of the original Meyer mouthpiece markings, and the table stamp found on the original is also carried over.

On both mouthpieces, these stamps looked rather nonchalantly executed but, again, one can only expect so much in terms of finishing at this price point, and it does not affect how the pieces play or sound.






Little imperfections remained from the molding process, mostly in the form of trapped air bubbles leaving shallow pin sized holes here and there in the body of both mouthpieces. The NYM also had a couple of very shallow chips in one of the side rails, possibly because of air bubbles again. This was hardly noticeable with the naked eye though, but worth mentioning as they do show in the photos.





CONSTRUCTION

So how exactly are these mouthpieces made? I'll let Brian explain it all in detail:


The material that we use it is a food safe proprietary resin that was chosen for its durability and response. This material was picked among over 14 different candidates. 

(A/N: Many companies - Mouthpiece Cafe, Ted Klum, Drake, Aizen, just to name a few - have adopted the use of resin instead of hard rubber which is often more economical and easier to manufacture consistently). 

Another reason for choosing this material instead of hard rubber, is that it allowed to exactly replicate all dimensions of the great original mouthpieces the Pure Vintage M BROS and NYM 6M are based on. The traditional manufacturing process using hard rubber involves heat, and material shrinkage, which are hard to control. Instead, the use of injection molding allows the mouthpieces to come out close to ready.

Minimal hand finishing is involved in making Pure Vintage mouthpieces, in an effort to keep them as close as possible to the original masters. With the exception of removing seams, the mouthpieces are left virtually untouched.

After coming out of the injection molding machine, every Pure Vintage mouthpiece goes through quality control to make sure that each mouthpiece is as close a replica as possible. This QC process consists of a 10-12 point  measuring system using glass gauge and feelers to ensure that the curve is accurate and matches up to the original, as well as a few other steps to make sure there has been no shrinkage in the mold or error in the process.

Occasionally some build up from the rail or tip rail may need to be cleaned up, but it doesn't alter the Pure Vintage mouthpieces from the original masters (it is mostly just to make sure that the facing will allow the reed to maintain a proper seal).

Although advanced measuring technology, like digital scanning may be able to identify minute differences between the original masters and production models, tolerances are as tight as any mouthpiece artisan currently uses.


Photo courtesy of ramonwodkowski.wordpress.com


As you may have noticed by now, CE Winds set out to replicate the great original mouthpieces they use as masters as closely as possible.

This means that each Pure Vintage model is offered in one tip opening size only. Indeed, opening or closing down the tip would force an adjustment in the facing curve and length, as well as alter the distance between the reed and floor of the mouthpieces. The Pure Vintage M BROS is offered in a 0.070" tip opening (which is very close to a modern Meyer 5M) while the NYM 6M measures out at 0.076".

Another aspect of the original masters that is carried over to the Pure Vintage alto mouthpieces is the fact that their tables feature a concavity instead of being flat. The original Meyer mouthpieces that were used as models were chosen by CE Winds because they were the best they've encountered. Whether or not the concave table has anything to do with it is anyone's guess.

The subject of table flatness is quite controversial, and I have no intention of discussing the theoretical merits of each approach. However, as someone who has been using mouthpieces with flat tables for the longest time, I will be sharing my experience of dealing with the concavity in the next section.

It is hard to tell from the photos, or with a naked eye, but it seems like the chamber of the M BROS is slightly smaller than the NYM 6M's - or at least the table is not undercut as deeply - but Brian told me it actually is very slightly larger. He also let me know that there is a little more squeeze in throat of the NYM 6M.

When looking at the baffles of both mouthpieces, it also seems like the one in the M BROS is slightly higher but the drop into the floor isn't as sharp. The NYM 6M's baffle seems slightly longer as well. Take a look:


Pure Vintage M BROS


Pure Vintage NYM 6M


Pure Vintage NYM 6M on the left, M BROS on the right 





FEEL & SOUND

My point of reference for how the Pure Vintage M BROS and NYM 6M feel and sound was the mouthpiece that I've been playing exclusively for more than a year now: a custom Bunte Model 42. This mouthpiece features a higher baffle, smaller chamber and shallower inner side walls than both Pure Vintage mouthpieces. I also had James customize the facing curve of this Model 42 for maximum air efficiency. Compared to most Meyer inspired, or current production Meyer alto mouthpieces, the 42 is a totally different beast.

As a consequence, it took me a good while to get used to the different feel of the mouthpieces reviewed today. Indeed, both the NYM 6M and M BROS felt quite resistant initially compared to by main piece. This is probably due to the different facing curve, as well as the tip opening of the smaller piece. They were also both quieter and darker. After a few back and forths between the 3 mouthpieces, it became clear that I would have to dedicate a few days at a time to each of the Pure Vintage mouthpieces, in order to get the best out of them.

What it took to make these mouthpieces speak, was to significantly relax the bottom of my embouchure, while tightening up the sides, blowing more air volume while remaining relaxed in the throat and speeding up my air stream with a higher tongue position.

Even after spending what I would consider a very significant amount of time exclusively on both the M BROS and NYM 6M, my Model 42 remained a noticeably louder, more focused, and much more free blowing piece. But it also felt hard to control: without the resistance that let me relax by giving me a point of reference to work with, the Model 42 had a tendency to bark, as well as squeak in the high range.

Although my concept of tone production and embouchure is constantly evolving, I have to say that spending the time to adapt to the Pure Vintage mouthpieces have definitely made me reconsider many aspects involved in producing a sound on the saxophone.

So, how do these mouthpieces sound? I'd say that the most striking aspect of these Pure Vintage alto mouthpieces, and where they really shine, is the fantastic room filling resonance they produce. It is a bit counter-intuitive, but despite the fact that both of these pieces are quieter and darker than my Model 42, their presence is more encompassing and authoritative when recorded or heard from across a room. The alterations to the mechanics of tone production I had to perform in order to get the best out of this mouthpieces further enhanced this resonant quality.

Listen to the audio samples below, recorded from about 6/7 feet away, through a pair of Artur Fisher RM-5 ribbon microphones:


PURE VINTAGE M BROS



PURE VINTAGE NYM 6M




In comparison, the Bunte is definitely not as present or resonant, although it is brighter and has more "pop".


BUNTE MODEL 42




I can also hear that I'm more comfortable on this mouthpiece as I've been playing it for so long. The Bunte Model 42 is so free blowing and naturally bright that I think it got me into the habit of being a little tense, just because that did not significantly deteriorate the output. With the Pure Vintage mouthpieces, I have to be relaxed, otherwise they just don't deliver. The result is that embouchure control requires the use of a different set of muscles that I haven't developed enough (this would call for practicing long tones). But I think the effort to transition to a slightly different embouchure would be worth it for the added depth and presence of the projected tone.

The M BROS and NYM 6M have a very similar character, although I'd say that the latter is a "dryer" type of sound. The smaller of the two mouthpieces emphasizes low and high frequencies, while its brother has a very noticeable resonance in the medium low, and medium frequencies. Depending on how you hear things, you may say that one is brighter or darker than the other, but I'd say that their tonal presentation is just different.

The mid frequencies presence of the NYM 6M can come across equally as warmth, or as "dryness" like I mentioned earlier. The low and high frequencies are more blended in. The M BROS, in comparison, has a slightly recessed presentation of the medium frequencies, which lets the lows breathe and makes high frequencies more apparent. The M BROS appears slightly more buzzy as a consequence, but also smoother due to less present medium frequencies.

Listen to close up recordings of a Bb major scale on all mouthpieces:


PURE VINTAGE M BROS



PURE VINTAGE NYM 6M



BUNTE MODEL 42



Just keep in mind that you'll sound very different than I do obviously. I naturally have a darker tone so you will most likely sound brighter on them.

Both Pure Vintage mouthpieces are very sensitive to ligature and reed placement. How much of this is due to the facing, table or tip rail profile will remain a mystery. What I can tell you is that this can be both a blessing and a curse.

As moving the reed or ligature just a millimeter to the side, or further up or down the table, changes response and tone significantly, these mouthpieces can accommodate a wide variety of reed profiles and strengths, as well as alleviate some issues caused by reeds that come out less than perfect out of the box. An unbalanced reed can easily be dealt with by placing it, or the ligature, slightly "off" compared to a standard position. However, this also means that when you take a reed off the mouthpiece and put it back on the following day, it may not respond or sound exactly as it did the day before due to small variations in ligature placement or reed position.

In comparison, my Model 42 is much more consistent in the way it interacts with reeds: ligature placement has close to no effect on either response and tone, while I would have to move the reed much more to start feeling and hearing it. 

As far as dynamics go, I had a tendency to overblow on both mouthpieces at first, but once I had adjusted my air stream and embouchure, as well as understood that the way these Pure Vintage mouthpieces project is different than my main piece, this issue disappeared. Playing quietly was extremely easy from the start thanks to the resistance giving a clear point of reference to blow against.

As I had to alter tone production significantly for the Pure Vintage mouthpieces, intonation was obviously a challenge (which you can hear in the audio clips). But I believe that with enough time this issue would disappear as well. Worth nothing is that the M BROS was naturally easier for me to play in tune, probably due to the fact that small tip openings tend to limit pitch variation.

Another thing to note regarding intonation, is that the slightly larger chamber and more rounded inner side walls of the Pure Vintage mouthpieces have helped alleviate the slightly flat middle C# of my Selmer SeleS Axos. Considering this horn is a close cousin of the Series II altos (which have a similar problem), you may want to consider switching to larger chamber mouthpiece in order to make your life easier if you're playing either horns.

Finally, articulation was not a problem on either of the Pure Vintage mouthpieces. I used a Rigotti Gold 2.5 Strong in the sound clips, and due to the fact that this strength felt slightly too soft on the M BROS I had to pay attention not to tongue too heavily. It wouldn't a problem with a heavier reed though. If anything, the Pure Vintage mouthpieces are more forgiving when it comes to articulation than my Bunte Model 42, without lacking precision either.



CONCLUSION


Priced at $179 ATOW, which is only $50 more than a modern stock Meyer, the Pure Vintage M BROS and NYM 6M alto mouthpieces represent an incredible value, and you'd be hard pressed to find anything that comes close in this price range.

Having a stock Meyer refaced will set you back at least another $100 on top of the retail price, while most Meyer inspired custom mouthpieces will leave you in the $250 to $600 range. Original untouched Meyer Bros or Meyer NY mouthpieces have been known to fetch upwards of $2.5K!

I believe that the Pure Vintage alto mouthpieces are definitely worth considering if you're looking for the authentic feel and sound of the great Meyers of the past whether or not you're on a budget. Add to this the 30 Day Money Back Guarantee that CE Winds offers on these mouthpieces and this becomes a no-brainer.

The Pure Vintage M BROS is available for purchase HERE, while the NYM 6M can be found HERE.

For more information, or questions, use the webform on the company's website




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