Gottsu is a small, Japanese mouthpiece company that has made itself known among mouthpiece aficionados in recent years, most notably with their Sepia Tone model. The Hibiki is their newest metal offering and like we have come to expect with their other pieces, this one does not disappoint. Hallmarks of a Gottsu mouthpiece include a beautiful design, quality materials, and meticulous craftsmanship.
The Hibiki is offered in raw brass. I am not sure why the company designed this piece without plating (although I understand you can special order it in gold or silver plate). Perhaps it was to capitalize on the resonant properties of raw brass. We have certainly seen a number of instrument makers follow this trend. Perhaps this has somehow influenced the mouthpiece market.
Before I get into the review, it is probably a good thing to talk about the lack of plating. Like one would expect with raw brass, the metal will oxidize and turn to a dark patina over time. If kept clean, one can minimize the effects of degeneration. Some readers might have cause for concern regarding something called "brass poisoning." The fact is, after talking to colleagues in the sciences, there really isn't anything called brass poisoning. Naturally, there are toxic metals such as lead or zinc (if one is overexposed), but most people have little to no sensitivity to brass. That being said, one will notice that family sulfur smell as this mouthpiece develops its patina. If you don't like that odor, don't consider this mouthpiece.
On its merits, the Hibiki is actually one hell of a good mouthpiece. It offers a classic tenor sound reminiscent of Dexter Gordon in the 1950s. It has the edge, depth, and richness associated with the classic era of tenor saxophone playing. The response is quick with just the right amount of resistance, and the Hibiki is equally at home in large and small situations as it allows the player tremendous tonal flexibility.
It sports a long, flat, table baffle, that drops sharply before the beginning of the window. The chamber is what I would call a medium-large chamber as the flair isn't a great as some typical large chamber pieces. The rails and tip are remarkably thin and precise. Where the table is smooth and somewhat polished, the interior table baffle is rather rough, almost like a metal nail file. I can see no sonic befit for this and I am sure it will pick up dirt and calcium build up over time. The mouthpiece does not have an inlay tooth guard, but rather a rubber tooth patch that can be removed or replaced. I am not sure why it is designed this way. It is not like we haven't seen this before with other makers.
Visually the mouthpiece looks like a cross between an old Otto Link Tone Master and a Hollywood Dukoff from the late 1940s. It comes in a felt pouch and sells for just under $300. This price is certainly on the modest side for a boutique mouthpiece from Japan. However, I don't imagine many people would pay more for a raw brass mouthpiece. I really didn't notice anything tastewise, while playing mouthpiece. However, my hands did smell after handling it. The player would be wise to keep the felt bag for storage and wipe the piece down thoroughly after each use. Acids from your hands will leave fingerprints and discolor the mouthpiece over time. If this aged look bothers you, one can use a metal cleaner such as Brasso, or Tarnex and remove all evidence of wear. But, for $300 I question why a player would purposely choose a raw brass mouthpiece. I have played other pieces, with similar characters, and the plating didn't hinder their performance. So, this one is a head-scratcher for me.
Nevertheless, on its playing merits, this mouthpiece will have you coming out smelling like roses even if your hands end up smelling like rotten eggs.