With a nearly constant stream of new products coming to market, it can be nearly impossible to stay up-to-date on the latest musical equipment innovations and designs. This can also present challenges in terms of figuring out what equipment to recommend to your beginning and advancing saxophone students. With this in mind, these following reviews of woodwind mouthpieces, ligatures, reeds, and neck-straps for the beginning and advancing students should help provide a starting point as woodwind students consider upgrading their gear.
The J&D Hite Premiere mouthpiece for tenor and alto saxophone is an affordable alternative to the stock mouthpiece that comes with many student saxophones. This mouthpiece is free-blowing, reed-friendly, and overall very easy to achieve a full sound on. Some advancing musicians use this mouthpiece to perform on or as a backup. This mouthpiece typically ranges between $20-$40.
Although the Yamaha 4C is a stock mouthpiece that comes with most Yamaha 23 and now Yamaha 26 student saxophones, the Yamaha 4C mouthpiece is still a great mouthpiece for beginning students. These mouthpieces are free-blowing, reed-friendly, and if something ever happened to it, it could be easily replaced by going to your local music store or shopping online. I found this mouthpiece to range between $25-$30, depending on whether it is for an alto, tenor, or soprano.
The Meyer mouthpiece (especially for alto saxophone) is among the most recommended for advancing students by both music educators and music store representatives. The Meyer mouthpiece is very popular because it is free-blowing, does not lean too dark or too bright, and has a round, focused sound that is very easy to tune. The Meyer comes with a stock ligature and cap. You can find many jazz musicians using this mouthpiece because it is so versatile. This is a great mouthpiece to consider. It typically retails for less than $150 dollars and will last for years.
The Vandoren V16 hard rubber mouthpiece from soprano to baritone sax reminded me most of the popular vintage mouthpieces that so many players (including myself) have played or have been searching for. One characteristic that I have noticed while trying this model is the consistency from mouthpiece to mouthpiece. I found the V16 to play neutral throughout the entire range of the horn and found great stability when playing down to the low BH, as well as playing up to high F#. The V1 also has a focused core and nice edge if you push a lot of air through the mouthpiece. The sound does not seem to thin out when playing very soft or very loud. If you are recommending that your students invest in a hard rubber mouthpiece in addition to a metal mouthpiece or when upgrading from their current hard rubber mouthpiece, the Vandoren V16 is reasonably priced option to consider.
Otto Link Metal Tenor Mouthpiece
The Otto Link metal mouthpiece (especially for tenor saxophone) is one of the most popular options for players who are looking to play a metal mouthpiece, but not wanting to spend a fortune to own one. The metal Otto Link mouthpiece comes with a metal ligature and metal cap. In terms of the overall sound, it can vary, but many players find the metal Otto Links to cut when playing in a big band, and to produce a big sound when a lot of air is pushed thru the mouthpiece. A recommendation I would make for students looking to pick up a metal Otto Link is to make sure they find the tip opening that suits them. A bigger tip opening is not necessarily better; the tip opening that feels comfortable is the right choice. This mouthpiece retails for over $200 dollars, but many players who find one they like tend to stick with it for a long time.
Jody Jazz HR* Hard Rubber
The Jody Jazz HR* Hard Rubber Mouthpiece for alto and tenor has little resistance, great intonation, even scale, and a warm, bright sound. It is similar to the characteristics you would find in a Meyer mouthpiece, but I would say a bit brighter in comparison. The Jody Jazz HR* is popular among many young players because they find it easy to blend within their section. This mouthpiece has a selection of facings to fit students’ needs and comes with a Rico H-ligature and cap. It retails for around $180.
D’Addario Select Jazz
The new D’Addario Select Jazz mouthpiece is 100-percent CNC machined using solid rod rubber. This mouthpiece will remind players of the classic vintage sound of the Meyer Bros. and N.Y. Meyer mouthpieces, but with today’s latest innovations. The D’Addario Select Jazz mouthpiece comes in a medium chamber with available tip openings of 5, 6, and 7. This is a great option to consider when looking for a jazz hard rubber mouthpiece. It ranges between $125-$150.
There are many different types of Rovner ligatures. From the Dark to the Versa X, each ligature has its own unique attributes in regards to making the sound brighter, darker, edgier, more focused, resonant, and so on. The Rovner Dark ligature can be considered a step-up, but I would also recommend it for beginners due to its affordability. I find the screw and leather to be durable and long lasting. What many players, and especially beginners, will enjoy about the Rovner ligature is how easy it is to put on the mouthpiece and to make adjustments. The Rovner ligature is enjoyed by both classical and jazz musicians, and has been around since 1974 as Rovner’s bestselling product.
The Rico H-ligature is based on the popular Harrison ligature, which was used by famous alto saxophonist David Sanborn. The Rico H-ligature has four points where it touches the reed. The aim of this design is to allow the reed to vibrate more than your average stock ligature. I found that this resulted in a sound that was a bit darker in comparison to various Rovner ligature models. It was very easy to put on and adjust, and the cap that it comes with is one of the best designed protective caps on the market. The Rico H-ligature is a great addition to the line of accessories Rico offers, and is an excellent and most cost-effective options for any saxophonist looking to upgrade from a stock ligature. I recommend trying the Rico H-ligature before ordering one to make sure it fits your mouthpiece.
In the Francois Louis line of ligatures, the brass model is designed to open up your sound and resonate the most, the silver offers a bit more resistance and will give darker sound, and finally the gold ligature possesses a more polished and elegant sound. Many advancing students will find the Francois Louis ligatures will open up their sound and allow them to focus their efforts on attaining a darker or brighter sound, depending on tone preference. These ligatures fit great on many mouthpieces and are very easy to adjust. The Francois Louis ligature starts around $60 and increases based on the type of material you want (the silver and gold are both more expensive than the standard brass ligature).
I believe the Vandoren Optimum ligature is one of the best currently on the market because it is durable, easy to adjust, made of solid materials, and has the option to switch between three bite plates based on your reed combination to find which plate responds best with your setup. Overall, the Vandoren Optimum ligature keeps the reed where it needs to be and is very easy to adjust. I would recommend it to all saxophone players playing in any style. It is priced similarly to the Francois Louis ligatures, with many different packages depending on whether you just buy it with one pressure plate or without the cap.
One of Vandoren’s newest ligatures, the Vandoren M/O combines characteristics of Vandoren’s existing ligatures to give the musician an option that allows the reed to vibrate even more and is easy to adjust. This ligature comes in various finishes, from gold lacquer to aged gold and gold-plated finish. I understand that everyone has different preferences in terms of sound and comfort and that is why I recommend checking out all three finishes, if you can. I also recommend that students test play the Vandoren Optimum and the Vandoren M/O to see which one suits them best.
Rovner Versa X
The Rovner Versa X is different from the traditional Rovner ligature in terms of having a metal plate installed at the bottom of the ligature so the reed rests on the metal plate instead of resting on leather. I found the Versa X enhanced the overall timbre of the horn. This ligature was very easy to put on and take off, but I recommend reviewing the spec sheets on the website to figure out which size would best fit your mouthpiece. The Versa X reminded me of the François Louis ligature in regards to enhancing the overall sound, but what makes it unique is the repositionable flaps under the metal plate that you can adjust based on your sound preference.
Rico Orange Box
Probably the first box of reeds many musicians start on, the Rico Orange box gives the beginning musician reeds that are easy to play. The Rico Orange box reeds respond well and seem to last for a decent amount of time depending on how much you practice. I recommend students start out on these because they are affordable and most music stores carry them.
Juno is a brand of reeds made by Vandoren specifically for students. The Juno reeds, like those in the Rico Orange box, respond well and are easy to play. Each Juno reed comes in a unique flow pack or wrapping, like Vandoren’s Blue Box, V16, ZZ, Java, and so on. This packaging makes sure the reeds stays fresh and limit the chances of warping.
Vandoren Blue Box
The Vandoren Blue Box is Vandoren’s Traditional cane, which has the thinnest tip and thickest heart, resulting in a darker sound with great articulation. The Vandoren Blue Box is used by many classical players, but many jazz musicians will use it for its ease of play. Of all the different Vandoren reeds, the Blue Box is the most popular and is recommended for players looking to try Vandoren.
I found the V16 reed to be the most neutral of the Vandoren line. This cut has actually been one of my favorites from Vandoren due to its consistency out of the box, as well as its neutral timbre, which gave me the most freedom to shape the sound the way I wanted. I found the V16 to have more resistance than the ZZ, Java Red, or the Java. If you are not a big fan of some resistance, I would recommend the ZZ or Java, but this reed has a very warm sound.
What I noticed about the Java was its instant response and bright sound, especially when played in the upper register. I find these reeds to be very free blowing and brighter overall when compared with the ZZ and V16.
Vandoren Java Red
The Vandoren Java Red is one of the newest additions to the Vandoren line up. The best way to describe the sound of this reed is that it has the characteristics of the Java in regards to the brighter upper register, with the neutral mid-range of the V16 reed, and the edge and free blowing characteristics of the Vandoren ZZ.
The Rigotti Gold is high quality French cane that comes in various reed strengths, similar to Rico Jazz Select. I have found the Rigotti gold reeds to be incredibly consistent from box to box and to produce a warm and resonant sound, overall, that I believe any advancing student would enjoy. These reeds come in boxes of 10 and are some of the most affordable and best cane you can purchase on the market today.
Rico Select Jazz
While I was playing through the Rico Select Jazz reeds, I was able to get a very clean upper register sound that was clear and full, especially in the palm keys. The bottom end down to the low BH was very powerful, but I could also get a nice sub-tone that I could keep in tune. The Jazz Selects allow many musicians to add an additional edge and focus to their sound all throughout the entire range of the horn. I would recommend the Rico Select Jazz unfiled or filed reeds for anyone looking for a bit more edge in their sound.
When I first saw the Rico Reserve reeds for saxophone, I thought they were meant for the classical saxophonist. But after speaking with jazz saxophonists like Seamus Blake, I knew I had to try them. I notice these reeds tend to play on the hard side. According to Rico, “The Reserve reeds are filed and feature a thicker spine and blank, allowing for ease of register changes. The Reserve reed is ideally suited for solo and chamber performance. Reserve reeds are made from lower-internode cane, which comes from the first four tubes of the cane stalk, yielding greater consistency from reed to reed.” I can see why many classical saxophonists would enjoy playing on them due to the full yet delicate sound they produce, but I also believe that many jazz saxophonists should give them a try. I liked the Reserves because they seem to last over a long period of constant playing, as well as the fact that they produced a very rich and full sound without sounding too thin or harsh. My recommendation would be to review Rico’s reed comparison chart to find the right strength before trying these Rico Reserve reeds.
When looking at purchasing a new neck strap, I would consider the comfort, support, and overall value. The first neck strap I ever used was the Neotech Classic Strap. The foam-like cloth that wraps around your neck is very comfortable and seems to hold up over a long period of time. In terms of support, Neotech’s website states that this neck strap will make the horn feel 50 percent lighter and make playing 100 percent more comfortable. I found that the Neotech strap is pretty elastic so you find yourself having to pull it up a bit further to compensate for the fact that it will stretch down a bit overtime. The Neotech is overall a great value, and the soft sax strap sells for around $20.
BG Yoke Strap
The BG strap is made out of leather and a cushion-like cloth underneath which felt comfortable on my neck and shoulders. These materials added to the support and durability offered by this product. The support the BG strap offered was incredible and one of the only neck straps that I have used so far that distributed pressure evenly between my shoulders and neck. The BG yoke covered not just my neck but my shoulders as well, which has allowed me to practice longer while not having to adjust the neck strap constantly to alleviate pressure on my neck. Of the many neck straps out on the market, the BG Yoke Saxophone Strap retails in the mid-$60 range. Although the price might seem on the higher side, the materials are of top-notch quality and the additional support has increased the amount of time I practice.
The Saxholder by Jazzlab is designed to transfer the weight of the sax evenly to both shoulders, with no stress on your neck. Upon playing my horn with it, this strap feels stable while standing up or sitting down and fits soprano, alto, tenor, and bari saxophone, as well as bass clarinet. Overall, this strap is definitely unlike anything else on the market and will remove pressure from your neck. I would recommend the Saxholder to any student or advanced saxophonist looking to relieve pressure from his or her neck. The Saxholder retails for $50-$70 depending on your local music retailer and availability.
There are more and more products on the market than there was when I started playing saxophone over 10 years ago. This list is a starting point and should help you point your students in the right direction – from beginning to advanced – as they begin looking to get more out of their equipment.