The market for saxophone mouthpieces has undergone a sea change in the last ten years. Technological advances have made the barrier for market entry easier than ever before. Whether that’s good or bad is entirely up to the folks buying up these pieces. I have seen an equal number of people praise and bash all kinds of up and coming folks with bold ideas. I have been equally as guilty of this, but I don’t think healthy skepticism is unwarranted. Mouthpieces are not cheap and the snake oil factor is high.
One such maker that caught my eye was Arnold Montgomery. Based out of Alabama, his company AM Mouthpieces offers a wide variety of hand made pieces to suit a variety of styles and players. His pieces are visually appealing (let’s not kid ourselves, that does matter to us) and I have to give him credit for making pieces for the FULL complement of saxophones, soprano through baritone. Often times I have tested a new piece (usually tenor for jazz, alto for classical) and had to wait months or even years for the other versions to come out. And as someone who plays a lot of baritone, I’m still waiting on the bari version of the Concept…I have been interested in trying these pieces for a while, and so was eagerly anticipating putting this tenor piece through its paces.
From the AM Mouthpieces website:
“The Ankh was created out of our search for the perfect balance of all things musical. From a concert setting to a small jazz combo, This mouthpiece can do it all! The Ankh incorporates a medium-high rollover baffle that produces just enough edge while maintaining a thick rich core throughout the entire range of the horn. From low Bb to Altissimo D, this mouthpieces maintains that thick Bell/Bow resonance we ALL search for in a saxophone mouthpiece. The Ankh comes in Gold Plated brass or Red Marbled Hard Rubber. Includes Ligature and cap.”
Let’s start with the aesthetics first. The ANKH I play-tested was the red marbled hard rubber version with a 7 facing. The marbling is quite beautiful, on par with the other folks dipping their toes in this design choice (Klimt, D’addario, etc.). It is a very slender mouthpiece; if you’re used to hard rubber Selmer or Otto Link pieces, this is much slimmer. More along the lines of a Berg Larsen. As a result, the piece I tested came with an alto ligature, standard two-screw that does the job. If you’re looking to upgrade your ligature game though, a standard HR tenor ligature is not going to cut it. The bite plate is a serious angry red and matches with the marbling very well.
One thing I noticed that struck me as peculiar – the tip of the mouthpiece is thicker than most I’ve seen on any piece, jazz or classical. I can’t say whether or not that affected how it played. I think it probably did, in ways I will explain below, but I don’t have the science together to make that a definitive claim.
My first impression playing this mouthpiece was that I hated it. It sounded neither like jazz nor classical nor anything crossover. I was giving it the first run through after a long rehearsal on a red that was pretty well seasoned. The whole thing was just dead. I was ready to describe this piece as a crossover that crosses nothing, and that made me rather sad. I’ve been following
Arnold’s posts on various social media groups and really dug his pieces!
I made the decision to wait and fully playtest the piece on some new reeds I had coming (or as I call them, a fresh shipment of Stockholm Syndrome). I have a love/hate relationship with reeds, as we all do, and even a reed that is playing lights out I don’t trust. The efficacy of modern cane reeds is outside the scope of this review; needless to say bourbon sales at the grocery store by my house are healthy.
I used two brands of reeds in this review – Legere (Signature 2.25 and 2.5) and Vandoren JAVA Red (3). The Legeres are my primary classical reed – I typically play harder strengths on my other saxophones and pieces but I play very little classical tenor and I find Legeres to be more true to form when it comes to strength. Thus, on the rare classical tenor moments I have, I use the softer Legeres so I can switch them out between my jazz pieces. The Vandoren Red boxes are my primary jazz reed and have been for some time. Although I used them both, I played both styles of reeds in an attempt to simulate what a real crossover player might be using. A
saxophonist in a pit orchestra is unlikely to be swapping reeds from the grand Mozartian overture to the jazzy dance number (though I know such, shall we say, sadists).
Needless to say, I had been let down by the reed in my initial playing. With fresh reeds, this mouthpiece played much better. The first thing I’ll say about the ANKH is that it is flexible in concept but not in timbre. It is a mouthpiece you can use for both jazz and classical. If we view sound concepts on the saxophone from dark to bright, the ANKH really does straddle the line without going too far in either
direction. I could easily get it to play Bach with a rich, dark classical sound, but there was no escaping the hint of brightness. It’s going to be a shade brighter than your standard classical pieces.
I could also push it and get some decent edge in the sound when I improvised, but the tone was still pretty dark. It would not be the ideal mouthpiece for a funk gig but only because it requires a lot of very focused air to get that edge. It will produce the sound you want to be sure, but get ready to push a lot of air through it. If you prefer less edge it does that well also; the sound is somewhat husky and not as defined. The ANKH plays beautifully from top to bottom. Low Bb popped out with minimal effort and altissimo was easy to hit. It is a rich mouthpiece with a lot of possibilities for color but within a limited timbre. It really is a crossover piece – I could easily see using it in both jazz and classical settings with ease. Does it get the complete classical sound I want? It gets pretty close. Could I do jazz gigs with it? I could, easily. I guess that’s a long way of saying that a mouthpiece thatcan do both is going to have to sacrifice a little on both ends but the sacrifice is worth it. Different reed choices will make a huge difference with this piece. My Selmer Soloist is going to sound fairly dark and rich even with a JAVA on it, but the ANKH really does become a different piece depending on the reed. I highly encourage folks who need a mouthpiece that can do both to
check this one out.
The ANKH is priced at $289.99 for the hard rubber version and $499.99 for the metal version. The hard rubber price point is attractive for those not wanting to drop that amount on both a jazz and classical piece. College students, doublers, players who do very little on tenor – all could benefit from a crossover piece such as this. I would be highly interested to try the other versions, as my hunch is the soprano and baritone versions might be a little more forgiving in terms of timbre.
If you were curious, as I was, about the pieces Arnold Montgomery makes then I highly recommend you try them out. They are beautifully made and have a unique quality to them. I know there are players out there who will get a lot out of them. Take the leap and try one!