All Things Saxophone

Last modified 09/12/08


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Mouthpiece Refacing

When I was in my first years of high school I was playing bari sax in the school jazz band.  I was looking for a bigger sound from my Meyer 6s and my teacher suggested I have the mouthpiece “opened up”.  He was referring to a refacing technique and there was one man in my area who did this work.  I took my mouthpiece to him and he VERY CONSERVATIVELY made some changes to the rails and tip face with fine grade sandpaper, saying all the while that he could only go so far with modifications and that there was no guarantee that the mouthpiece would be better — possibly worse.  The result was very good, there was a definite increase in the brightness of the sound.

That man is no longer with us and there is no one else doing that work now in my hometown.  There is still a demand for that work and there are folks elsewhere in the country that claim to be “mouthpiece doctors”.  I’m using the word “claim” because there are some out there that don’t really know what they are doing.  There is a standing argument in the world of all things saxophone as to whether refacing a mouthpiece is a worthwhile practice.  Here’s my take on the matter.

· Is refacing a valid practice

In my discussions amongst the saxophone community, I have not heard of any formal process or training for mouthpiece refacing.  This technique seems to be more of an alchemy than a chemistry — an art passed down from expert to apprentice much in the style of the middle ages.  Does it work?  In addition to my own positive experience, I have heard many good stories from other players and many horror stories as well.

In light of that, I think it’s fair to say that refacing is a valid practice, but saxophonists (and clarinetists for that matter) must exercise extreme caution when considering a refacing for their mouthpiece.  Here are my suggestions for moving forward with a mouthpiece refacing.

· Get references

There are a lot of good looking websites out there, with well written testimonials, but that doesn’t mean the “mouthpiece doctor” in question really knows the technique.  There is NO SUBSTITUTE for a good old fashioned reference.  And that means a reference from someone you talked to yourself — not a note on a webpage or second hand hearsay.  It would even be better if you can meet the saxophonist who had the work done to look at the mouthpiece that was worked on and listen to them play it.

· Get it done in person

Some mouthpiece doctors offer mail-in services.  I would not recommend this practice.  This is just a way for these folks to make more money doing what they do.  Aside from the player themselves, the mouthpiece is the biggest factor in contributing to the sound produced on the saxophone.  It’s not worth taking chances with this unless you have money to throw away on mouthpieces (and if you’re a musician it’s not likely you do).  If you are there with the person working on the mouthpiece, they can make a change and then have you try it.  That kind of incremental approach to the refacing will work much better for you.

So, a mouthpiece probably can be refaced by a person with enough experience, good references, and with the saxophonist standing right there while the work is done.  Just take it in little steps.  A list of links to people that claim to be mouthpiece doctors can be found here.  I have no recommendation to make for any of these folks either way — you will have to check them out yourself.