Classical Mouthpieces

Review by Paul Haar

It’s funny how life works. I have been playing the saxophone for over 35 years and had never bothered to try anything from Yanagisawa. Sure, I was familiar with the brand, but I never spent any time exploring their products.  That all changed in 2018 when, after a lifetime spent playing Selmer, I switched to the WO line of saxophones.  Well, better late than never as they say.  


Having been impressed with the unsurpassed quality of their saxophones, I kept a keen eye out for other accessories they offered.  When I learned the company was launching a new ligature and new line of classical saxophone mouthpieces, I coveted the opportunity to test them for thesaxophonist.org.


For those unfamiliar with Yanagisawa, it is a relatively small family company offering products are designed for the professional.  They offer no student or intermediate instruments and they are world renowned for their craftsmanship and quality.  I offer my thanks to Emma Doddi and Scott Campbell for sending me a complete line of Yanagisawa mouthpiece from soprano to baritone.


After testing these mouthpieces for three weeks I can say they are a force of nature and will serve notice to more established mouthpiece makers like Selmer, D’Addario, and Vandoren that there is a new kid on the mouthpiece block.  Meticulously crafted from German bar stock hard rubber the Yanagisawa mouthpieces offer a colorful and expressive option for the saxophonist. I was immediately taken back by how effortless these mouthpieces play.  From soprano to baritone the player will enjoy the quick response and fluidity of tone throughout the range of the saxophone.


Designed with a round chamber and medium rails, the Yanagisawa mouthpiece is full, slightly dark but with a wonderful core.  Like their saxophones, the mouthpiece is unique in feel and sound.  Those coming from the Vandoren Optimum will enjoy the same ease of play in the low register (if not better) and Selmer players will like the core and color it offers. Those using D’Addario users will find a similar body to the sound yet with a full high end and ease of play in the low register. Simply stated, the Yanagisawa mouthpieces offer the best of everything.  


On soprano, I played both the 120 and 130 models.  I enjoyed both but found the 120 really paired well with my WO 10 soprano.  The tone it offered was wonderfully expressive and full, yet with a nice blend of edge and color.  Movement into the upper register was outstanding as was the articulation, particularly in the extreme registers.  I have played the Selmer Concept since it first came on the market and have been very happy with the mouthpiece.  However, the Yanagisawa blends the ease of the Concept with the woodiness and core of my vintage Selmer Soloist. 


On alto I found the tone to be a bit more spread and open in comparison to my Selmer Concept.  It was the alto mouthpiece that really impressed me, particularly with how the tone changed when paired with various sizes and brands of reeds.  I found that I was able to use slightly harder reeds than normal.  When paired with Rigotti and Vandoren reeds (especially vintage) I found the 140 to have a wonderfully complex yet subtle sound that had a good amount of power when pushed. In contrast, the 150 is a full, articulate and expressive vehicle for the player, yet allows for hushed tones with very little effort. 


For my neglected brothers and sisters of the tenor and baritone saxophone, please know you have not been forsaken.  As impressed as I was with the performance of the Chedeville tenor and baritone mouthpieces, I found the Yanagisawa mouthpiece to be superior.  As a born and bred tenor player I feel most mouthpiece companies have missed the mark with their tenor saxophone mouthpieces, either making them dark and unfocused or bright and edgy.  


Yanagisawa really nailed the bullseyes with both the 170 and 180 models.  The 170 offered a smooth and velvety tone that offers a tremendous response in the low register, yet enough heft and body to create a quality tenor sound. The 180 is a soloist dream.  If you enjoy old Selmer Soloist and C * mouthpieces, you will find all the power and color, yet with greater response and ease of play.


Last but not least, the baritone mouthpiece.  I test both the 200 and 220 models and have to say this is one of the finest classical baritone saxophone mouthpieces on the market.  The 220 had a wonderful edge and body that makes it an excellent mouthpiece, especially for large ensemble work.  For me, the 200 was a dream.  I instantly connected with this mouthpiece as it made the baritone saxophone, an instrument I’ve often struggled with, immediately accessible.  I was not only capable of creating a rich and expressive sound, but I was also able to shape and model a variety of tone colors from it.  I actually craved playing the baritone using this mouthpiece.


As unique as each model was, I found there were similarities throughout the line.  I was very impressed with the ease of play, particularly in the low registers, that each mouthpiece offered.  Like there saxophones, the character remains throughout the line of mouthpieces.  What changes is the accessibility to colors and timbres.  Likewise, each mouthpiece was meticulously crafted.  Esthetically, these mouthpieces are simple, bordering on the pedestrian.  But what they lack in flash they more than make up in consistency and balance.  I tested each mouthpiece with gauges and jewelers glass and not once did I find the tip opening to be incorrect, the rails to be out of balance or the table to be anything but flat.  


I tested these mouthpieces using reeds from Vandoren, Rigotti, Marca, D’Addario, and Legere.  I was impressed that both cane and synthetics worked well on these mouthpieces.  I have been impressed with the paring of Legere and Selmer Concept in the past.  Those Legere users will be pleased to know they work well on these mouthpieces (although I found I had to move up a half size in most cases). 


Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of these mouthpieces is the freedom they offer the performer.  I don’t want a mouthpiece to lock me into a sound, however, I don’t want something that is going to force me to hunt for the perfect reed. The Yangasiwa mouthpiece allows me access to a variety of tone colors and timbres and allowed me to better connect to my instrument.  The Yanagisawa mouthpieces are a welcome addition to the market and serious contender for the modern saxophonist.