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Meet Your Makers: And Insider’s Telling of the Story of JodyJazz Mouthpieces

Mike Lawson • • September 15, 2015

In 1999 Professional NYC Musician and Jazz educator Jody Espina, met legendary saxophonist and mouthpiece maker Santy Runyon. Recognizing Runyon’s vast knowledge of the saxophone, not to mention his unique energy and spirit, Espina began to spend more and more time with him. When Santy specially customized a mouthpiece for him, Espina was astounded by the incredible difference it made to his sound and to his playing and it was at that moment that Espina became enlightened as to the tremendous significance of mouthpiece design and its effect and impact on saxophone sound. 

Others soon heard Jody’s customized mouthpiece and wanted to know how they could get one. Santy Runyon suggested that he produce a mouthpiece for Jody to his specifications and it was also his idea to call it the JodyJazz mouthpiece. Requests started to pour in and although he was still very much occupied as a player and teacher in New York City, Jody saw the potential in a real business in mouthpieces. Over the next several years he would travel regularly to the Runyon factory in Louisiana developing a full range of models including his first metal mouthpieces. He also began to travel extensively outside the USA as the word about JodyJazz mouthpieces spread among saxophonists across the globe. 

Eventually the business reached such a size that Espina could invest in his own manufacturing operation and in 2008, the company relocated to Savannah, GA, moving to its current premises in 2011. Now recognized as one of the world’s preeminent saxophone mouthpiece makers, JodyJazz mouthpieces are the choice of many of the world’s leading players including George Garzone, Jeff Coffin, Tom Scott and Andy Snitzer and are sold in every major market around the world. Most recently the company completed a major expansion of its premises including additional factory space, a showroom, performance area and new offices. 

As a teacher and player in New York, Espina saw first-hand how much difference a mouthpiece can make in a players life. But it was the effect of a good mouthpiece on a students’ abilities, overall confidence and rate of progression that registered most deeply with him. “Of course professionals should have the best equipment that they can get,” says Espina, “but we think it’s just as important for students to have great playing mouthpieces so that they can make the most progress and not be discouraged or hindered by a poor performing mouthpiece.”

In order to create innovative, great playing mouthpieces and then produce them in a quantity whilst maintaining absolute consistency, Espina learned early on that he had to control the entire process. To that end JodyJazz recently completed its largest expansion to date. “To realize my dream of producing the most consistent and sought after mouthpieces in the world, we have tripled our square footage and purchased state of the art CNC equipment,” said Espina. 

“From day one we have gauged and play-tested every mouthpiece we make which separated us from many of our competitors and helped us to gain a great reputation early on. We have designated ‘benchmark’ mouthpieces for every model in each series,” he continued. “These are what I consider to be the very best piece I have ever made in that series and we use them as the standard when testing the mouthpieces coming through production. I am somewhat obsessively committed to ensuring that we deliver the ‘benchmark’ sound to everyone and with our techniques now in place I am very proud to say we can do that. 
 
JodyJazz uses several different types of material dependent upon the particular series. The HR* Series features a genuine Hard Rubber formula and the DV Series features finest quality bell-brass. The innovative GIANT Tenors are constructed from Aluminum. The brand new JET Series is made from a proprietary polycarbonate alloy, a hi-tech, expensive material, not like the plastic material used in other saxophone mouthpieces. Sourced as the perfect blend for the sound target of the JET, the secret formula contains synthetic rubber, which enables it to produce the warm overtones that hard rubber mouthpieces can produce while allowing a certain brighter aural response. 

Unlike most other mouthpiece companies, JodyJazz makes its own ‘blanks’. That means they start with the raw material and turn them in to the individual ingots from which each mouthpiece is crafted. Most other mouthpiece companies buy in their ‘blanks’ from another company and they may or may not do some customization. JodyJazz truly starts ‘from scratch’ which is a round bar of the material which is then turned on a lathe to make the bore and the basic cylindrical shape of the mouthpiece. At this stage this is referred to as a ‘blank’. 

Broadly speaking there are two ‘paths’ of manufacturing; one for the hard rubber and polycarbonate of the ‘HR*’ and ‘JET’ Series, and the other for the metal DV Series which includes the ‘DV’, the ‘DV NY’ and the ‘DV CHI’. 

HR* and JET Series

The rod of raw material is turned on the lathe to make the ‘blank’. The ‘blank’ is then sanded, and the JET polished to a gloss finish and the HR* is sand-blasted to a matt finish. The ‘blank’ then goes on to the mill where the ‘facing curve’, ‘table’, ‘chamber’ and ‘beak’ are all formed. The next stage requires extensive hand-work; the ‘baffle’ is carefully filed by hand and then the ‘beak’ is sanded and buffed also by hand to ensure absolute perfection. To be deemed qualified to perform this level of handwork, the staff at JodyJazz undergo a rigorous apprenticeship program and are required to be in training for no less than 6 months. Finally the JodyJazz logo, model identifications and tip opening designation are applied.

DV, DV NY & DV CHI Series

The rods of purest bell brass are turned on the Lathe to create the ‘blanks’. Next, these then go to the mill where the ‘facing curve’, ‘table’, ‘chamber’ and ‘beak’, and for the DV Series, the recess for the exclusive bite patch, are all formed. Next comes a series of careful hand-working steps. The ‘baffle’ and ‘chamber’ are hand filed and sanded to make our beautiful thin symmetrical tip rails and the baffle profile that makes the mouthpiece sing for the player. Next the characteristic DV bite patch is created. The exterior is then sanded and buffed to a ‘glass’ finish and then the mouthpieces are engraved with the JodyJazz logo, ‘Phi’ symbol and the tip opening designation. Each mouthpiece then undergoes a round of careful human inspection and refinement to ensure a perfect design and finally. Lastly the mouthpieces are 24kt gold plated or in the case of the DV CHI, silver-plated.

The GIANT Tenor combines the outside shape of a hard rubber mouthpiece with the precision of Aluminum. Its manufacturing process combines elements of both hard rubber and metal mouthpiece manufacturing and ultimately ends with an Aerospace grade black adonization procedure. 

Espina speaks passionately about the distinction between those aspects of the manufacturing process where hand-working is essential and those where machine control can create a better result. “After many years and thousands of prototypes I have determined that the two most critical parts of a mouthpiece are the baffle and the facing curve,” he said. “And we have also determined what the CNC machine can do better than us and what we can do by hand better than the machine.” 

The ‘baffle’ is where the air first enters the mouthpiece and consequently it is extremely important to the feel, response and sound of the mouthpiece. After spending exhaustive amounts of time attempting to program the CNC machines to create the perfect ‘baffle’, Espina decided that the skilled JodyJazz craftsman could always hand-file the ‘baffle’ better that the CNC machine. With this handwork the mouthpiece simply comes alive and sings. 

This contrasts entirely with the ‘facing curve’. Though it is extraordinarily difficult when developing a new model to get the perfect facing curve with 3D modeling and the CNC machine, once the right curve has finally been found on the CNC, it is locked in and the repeatability and consistency is a manufacturer’s dream. “It might take hundreds upon hundreds of prototypes until we finally get it right and the mouthpiece is responding and blowing with the freedom that I am looking for,” says Espina. “But once we have that dialed in, then I can make it perfectly the same every time and I am convinced that this is the way to make the most consistently great mouthpiece.” Espina disagrees with others who say they can make a better facing curve by hand. “Perhaps they have tried on the CNC and given up or have not seen our results. I can understand that because trying to find the right curve takes A LOT of hard work and dedication. It’s a lot of trial and error and is incredibly time-consuming, I’ve almost given up myself a few times.” 

JodyJazz currently uses 4 different ‘facing curve’ designs in its mouthpiece series. The ‘DV’, ‘DV NY’ and ‘DV CHI’ all share the same curve. The ‘HR*’, ‘JET’ and ‘GIANT’ each have their own unique curve made to bring out the best in that particular series. 

“At JodyJazz everything we do is so our customers can realize their musical dreams and goals,” says Espina. “We want our mouthpiece to be the best mouthpiece you will ever play.”  jodyjazz.com

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