There are so many mouthpieces on the market that it is ridiculous, each offering to be like vintage, better than vintage, CNC machined, handcrafted, new vintage, new old vintage… you get the point. Like something from Lake Wobegon, every mouthpiece is special for the player. It can be a daunting task to sort through them all. In this forest of mouthpieces, there are a few craftsmen who have survived the gestation period of being the hottest thing on the market to become an established and reliable brand. It is in this category that I would place the work of Aaron Drake.
Aaron Drake has been making mouthpieces since 1990, after attending the famed Eastman School of Music and embarking on a playing career. He first made his mark on the mouthpiece world by crafting ceramic mouthpieces. Today, Drake offers a number of mouthpieces using a variety of substances from marbled hard rubber and metal to ceramic. However, it is his patented "vintage resin mouthpieces that have been the most popular with players. This is proprietary material that combines ceramic with resin to more closely replicate the seasoned sound of a vintage hard rubber.
Unlike many mouthpieces that are machined out of a block of material, Drake mouthpieces are cast. Drake feels this is "the most accurate way to replicate an organic contour and more exact geometry." After a mouthpiece is cast, it is then hand finished by Drake himself. I had the opportunity to try three models of tenor mouthpieces: The Son of Slant, NY Jazz, and the Jerry Bergonzi model from his Master's Series.
Drake mouthpieces are beautifully made pieces and come with a mouthpiece cap, velvet bag, and a Drake VR double rail ligature. Each mouthpiece is banded at the shank with a brass ring for added stability and strength. Aesthetically, it adds a nice touch to the overall look of the mouthpiece. Although the tip and side rails were remarkably narrow on the models I tested, they were precise. I checked each with a heavy piece of jeweler's glass and found no irregularities or variations; everything was spot on. Upon viewing the inner chamber of the mouthpiece, one can see the "organic contour" Drake is referring to. There are no work marks, waves, or blemishes of any kind. Instead, there is a beautifully fluid contour that flows and balances the mouthpieces as a whole.
The NY Jazz
The first piece that I tested was his NY Jazz model. This mouthpiece is designed for the player who craves diversity of sound. Be it the big band or the R & B project, this mouthpiece has the projection, color, and flexibility to excel in a variety of musical situations. I found this to be a wonderfully fun mouthpiece to play. As advertised, it offers a complex, rich, and flexible sound. At times it could perform like a baffled metal mouthpiece and heather out the next to perform a ballad in a small group. The response was immediate, as was the focus of sound and articulation accuracy. I used this mouthpiece in a swing band and was able to compete with the brass and find the vintage sound I was looking for. I had also used this mouthpiece in a horn line behind vocalist Hannah Huston. It had the power and color to handle any contemporary demand asked of it. I was most impressed with how well I was able to lock in the pitch. The altissimo was immediate and I was able to easily find my voicings to replicate the altissimo notes. To use a trumpet term, this mouthpiece slotted very easily.
About the only negative about this mouthpiece is the ligature. I did find the Drake VR ligature (provided) to be a good ligature and it did respond well with the reeds I used. However, if the player wants to try their favorite tenor ligature, you are going to be disappointed. The shape of the NY Jazz mouthpiece is so svelt that it actually uses an alto ligature. So you tenor titans be aware that you may need to shop down the alto aisle. For someone who plays a variety of styles and is looking for a mouthpiece to respond at command, look no further.
Son of Slant
The holy grail of the mouthpiece world is the Otto Link Slant Signature. Every company has their version and Drake is no exception. Having played a number of vintage pieces and over two dozen pieces made in the homage category, I can report that Drake has offered up a very fine mouthpiece in the classic Link style. According to Drake, the Son of Slant incorporates "design elements of a vintage hard rubber Otto Link Slant with specially calibrated modifications for the modern saxophonist." Translation: it is a mouthpiece that has the sound and feel of a classic Otto Link but responds easier and isn't as finicky with reeds. At least that is how I interpreted it.
The Son of Slant has that slight resistance one expects from a Link as well as the nice smokiness in the tone. It was wonderful with a variety of reed brands and sizes. The response was immediate with slightly more resistance than the NY Jazz. I think the best thing I can say about this mouthpiece is that it felt familiar to but responded better than my old Otto Link Slants. The interior sports a slight rollover baffle and comes in a medium or large chamber option. My test mouthpiece was a 7* large chamber and had a core to the sound that could be honed to an edge one minute and spread the next. Pitch was solid, as was the ability to explore a wide range of dynamics. This is the classic jazz tenor sound I would expect from a mouthpiece with this name. And as the name indicates, it has the lineage but not the issues of the older pieces. I was able to use my traditional tenor ligatures on this mouthpiece, although mine was slightly bigger due to being stretched on my regular mouthpiece. Overall, this was a wonderful mouthpiece to play, especially for someone looking for a straight-ahead sound.
The Jerry Bergonzi Master's Series "EB" Tenor Mouthpiece
I don't put a lot of stock into signature mouthpieces. Too often the player whose name is on the mouthpiece has his or her name on a variety of mouthpieces from a host of makers. I remember watching a video of a player touting one company's mouthpieces while across the aisle is a giant poster of said player endorsing another company’s mouthpiece. So let me save you some money. Don't by any mouthpiece because someone you like to listen to plays it. Yes, it gives the product some credibility, but like all things these days, credibility is fleeting.
That being said, the Jerry Bergonzi Master's Series mouthpiece is unique as it is created to the specification enjoyed by master saxophonist, Jerry Bergonzi. These mouthpieces are a copy of Bergonzi's early Babbitt hard rubber mouthpieces with the facing curve, tip, and rail construction Jerry likes. I have had the privilege of playing a few of Bergonzi's personal mouthpieces in his preferred size 10*. Since this size is far removed from what I play, I opted to test this mouthpiece in a size 7*. I can say, based upon my experience, that these mouthpieces feel very similar in character to what Bergonzi has. It sports the classic crescent-shaped baffle, large chamber, and longer-facing curve of Jerry's early Babbitts.
This mouthpiece is dark, spread, and beautiful. It can be husky one minute and diffused the next. I love the tonal flexibility I can achieve without the wild swings in pitch. It is stable, solid, and wonderful. The design of the tip rail allows for a quick response and expression of articulation. If you are a player who is looking for a mouthpiece to guide you toward a sound, this is NOT the mouthpiece for you. However, if you are a musician who is looking for a tool that will allow you to create your own colors, this is a wonderful option. The only negative to this mouthpiece was that the shank of the mouthpiece was noticeably larger than most mouthpieces I have used. I typically had to use some cardstock to shim the mouthpiece into the desired position.
Aaron Drake is one of the most trusted names in mouthpiece making. You can trust that you are going to get a good product made by someone who understands how mouthpieces are supposed to sound and who is ethical in his dealings. I know there are some out there who might have an issue with the resin material. I have to admit that I wondered what these mouthpieces might play like if made of a fine German hard rubber. That being said, I can't say I ever felt anything but a great mouthpiece. When you play them, you will never notice the materials. In fact, they remind me of the classic Brillhart mouthpiece: just a great playing mouthpiece without a thought of the material. In comparison to what is on the market, these mouthpieces are somewhat affordable with the Son of Slant and NY Jazz selling for $325 and the Bergonzi EB selling for $345. Of the three I tested, I could easily use any as my main mouthpiece, as I felt immediately at home playing them. This is a quality product you can trust and enjoy!