Unlike their cousins in the jazz idiom, classical saxophonists have had very few mouthpiece options. Aside from a few brands like Caravan, Fobes, and Rousseau, most classical players have gravitated to either, Vandoren or Selmer. For generations, Selmer held court offering theSoloist, S-80 C*and S-90mouthpieces. But the new millennium ushered a change as well as the return to the popularity of the round-chambered mouthpiece. Vandoren made its impact with the Optimumfollowed by Selmer with the Concept. Despite the growth and increased interest in classical saxophone, worldwide, few new companies have ventured into the world of classical saxophone mouthpiece production. That changed in 2019 when Jody Espina (Owner of Jody Jazz mouthpieces) threw his hat in the ring with his new company, Chedeville. His new line of classical mouthpieces for clarinet and saxophone were introduced in early 2019 but had been under development for years prior.
If you know anything about clarinet history, you will recognize the name Chedeville as one of the iconic names in mouthpiece making. In the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, they were pioneers in the creation of hard rubber mouthpieces for clarinet and today are some of the rarest and most sought-after mouthpieces on the market. Espina purchased Chedeville in 2018, and with it came an infatuation with designing a classical mouthpiece that could meet the demands of today’s player.
The Chedeville saxophone mouthpiece is available for soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones, each in a variety of sizes to tailor to the needs of the decerning player. They are made from a “proprietary Chedeville rubber," which is softer than what is typically used in today's mouthpiece production. The result is a mouthpiece with a more vibrant, warmer sound.
Espina was kind enough to send me one test sample for each saxophone in sizes that correspond to what I typically play (Selmer Concepton soprano and alto, Selmer S80-C*on Tenor, and Selmer Soloiston Baritone).
The Chedeville mouthpieces are exceptionally well made. I expected nothing less from Jody Espina. Long recognized for his quality and high standards with his jazz mouthpieces he has continued, with the Chedeville, to show an eye for the details. At first glance, you get a sense of dejevu, as the design on the mouthpieces harkens back to the classic hard rubber pieces from France in the 1920s and 1930s. From the flare of the body to the gently rolled edge on the shank these pieces scream vintage!
But this exterior homage is where all reference to the past stops. While taking inspiration from the classic Chedeville facing curves, Espina has managed to craft a classical mouthpiece that has depth, projection, and response without being raspy or overly bright. I enjoyed the richness of the tone, which for me, was a bit darker than I produce. As I have stated in the past, I am not overly fond of round-chambered mouthpieces. They tend to be either too spread or tubby sounding. Espina has captured the quick response and dynamic control of a classic round-chambered mouthpiece and added the power, projection, and color of a modern mouthpiece.
The soprano mouthpiece offers a massive, full sound, with great pitch and response. There were times, however, when I felt as if it might be too big of a tone for the soprano. The openness of the Chedeville differs significantly from my Concept and thus took me about a week to adjust to. Since I do the majority of my classical playing on the alto saxophone, it was here that I turned my most critical eye. Like the soprano mouthpiece, the Chedeville alto mouthpiece offers a full, dark, and powerful sound. Coming from the smaller Selmer Concept mouthpiece, it took some time for my ear to adjust to the tone.
The sound was more spread than my Selmer, yet it didn’t lack a center. I was very impressed with how well the mouthpiece performed in the extreme registers. I was testing this mouthpiece while getting ready to give the Nebraska premiere of Stacy Garrop’s Quicksilver. I could think of no more appropriate testing ground for a mouthpiece than that concerto. I am happy to say that it performed wonderfully. So much so, that I almost considered using it for the performance. However, common sense prevailed as I remembered the old saying "you never switch horses mid-stream.” All in all, the Chedeville alto mouthpiece is an impressive offering.
Despite the quality of the soprano and alto offerings it is the tenor mouthpiece that stood out. I have been playing on the same classical tenor saxophone mouthpiece, an early Selmer S-80 C*for the majority of my career. The Chedeville is the only modern tenor mouthpiece I have played that made me think I might be willing to switch. It has everything a classical tenor player needs: response, pitch, articulation, and most important, core and depth. I am not a fan of the modern tenor mouthpieces currently on the market. For this player, Vandoren and Selmer missed the mark with their Optimum and Concept offerings for tenor. Both are good but lack the color and depth a real classical soloist demands. Where they may have missed the mark, Chedeville hit it dead-center.
Like the tenor model, I was equally impressed with the baritone offering. It had the power and depth of a great vintage Selmer Soloist but with greater depth and control. With each model, I was able to get a complex sound with tremendous response, and quality articulation. The tone on each was flexable, which I feel is the hallmark of a great mouthpiece.
You might be asking, “Were there any issues that I had with these mouthpieces?” Yes, a few. I found that finding a ligature wasn't difficult, but the flair of the design was just enough that I had some issues with the more elastic ligatures, like the Silverstein or the thinner ligatures like the Vandoren MO. The slippage wasn't a lot, but enough for me to tighten the ligatures more than I commonly do. The shanks of the mouthpieces seemed to fit my instruments well except for the soprano. On my test model, the shank was overly large and required me to shim with a great deal of paper.
One thing I noticed isn't a fault of the Chedeville per se, pieces but could affect their performance. If you are interested in getting the most out of the Chedeville mouthpiece, you should plan on having a variety of reed brands and sizes on hand to try. I found the Chedeville mouthpiece shine when paired with a reed that had both heart and quality of cane. Therefore I tested these mouthpieces using a variety of reed brands. I used Marca, Vandoren (both new and vintage), D’Addario, Alexandre, and Rigotti, in a variety of sizes, and found that the stronger the cane, the more colorful the palet. I gravitated toward Vandoren and Rigotti and found them to work the best on alto and tenor (sizes 3.5-5). Rigotti and D’Addario worked best on the soprano while vintage blue, plastic-box Vandoren worked best pnm tenor and baritone. In fact they worked so well it made me long for the old days. Again, this isn't a fault of the mouthpiece but could be a challenge given today's state of reed production.
Lastly, and perhaps most glaring is the price. It has never been my place to say if I think a mouthpiece is worth its price, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention it. At $450 for soprano and alto, $475 for tenor, and $495 for baritone these are, to my knowledge, the most expensive classical saxophone mouthpieces (non-vintage) on the market. Now, jazz players have been paying prices this high, if not higher, for a modern mouthpiece for years. But I don't think there is one player who wouldn't like to go back in time and stop Dave Guardala for sending the market in that direction. I found these mouthpieces to be excellent and could even see myself playing them. But the price is more of a factor than I would typically expect. A full set of Chedeville mouthpieces, soprano thru baritone, will set you back over $1,800. Such prices all but take these mouthpieces out of consideration for many college students and might be the tipping point for some professionals as well. With changing tax laws, you might not get the deduction you would like.
To what lengths will one go to pay for craftsmanship, quality, and consistency? How many of us have uttered the phrase, “If they would just make a great __________, I would pay anything”? There is so much that goes into the design, creation, and production of a mouthpiece, that most of us wouldn’t understand, and could never put a value on. And value is in the eye, or in this case the ear, of the beholder. After all, a man doesn't need to have a silk and mohair suit. But if such an item pleases the buyer and they are willing to pay for it, God's speed (and please learn how to tie a Windsor knot!).
Aside from price, the Chedeville classical saxophone mouthpieces are a beautiful offering for the discerning classical saxophonist. If you have an opportunity to test one, it will be well worth your time. I believe you will enjoy your playtest as much as I did.