Searching for Saxophone Mouthpiece Nirvana

I have been playing saxophone since the day I heard the beautiful sound of a live saxophone played by the band director in my 5th grade classroom.  In reading an online saxophone forum discussion about favorite saxophone mouthpieces, I noticed there were several posts by people raving about the Theo Wanne GAIA mouthpiece.  Researching further, I was impressed by the testimonials from the top saxophone names in the world, and intrigued by Jan Garbarek’s testimonial about the Theo Wanne GAIA soprano mouthpiece:

“And there it is! The soprano piece I´ve been longing for all these years! It sings in all registers, pp - ff, in tune, open yet focused, and fat sounding like a sax should be.”

Could this testimonial from a saxophone legend be true?  Could it be the mouthpiece that I, too, have been longing for all these years? 

I have had the good fortune to travel the world for business over the years and have tested mouthpieces at The Saxophone Shop in Chicago, Rayburn Music in Boston (home of Emilio Lyons, the famous repair person), the Yanagisawa factory in Japan, and many others.  I was delighted to discover that Theo Wanne is located in Bellingham, Washington, only an hour and a half drive north of where I live in Seattle, and I immediately scheduled a visit. 

My Soprano mouthpiece stable includes a Selmer S80 C*, a 60’s vintage Selmer D Metal, an Otto Link 7* from the 80’s, and currently I use a Yanagisawa 5 hard rubber.  Even with all these great mouthpiece options, I have always wondered if there wasn’t something better out there.

My Alto mouthpiece is a Meyer 6M hard rubber, purchased new in 1972.  I have tested many Meyer mouthpiece copies through the years and have never found anything better than my 6M.  I have always worried that I might damage or lose my 6M and never be able to recapture the magical sound of that mouthpiece.  I have always been on the lookout for a near-Meyer like replacement/backup mouthpiece to assuage my fears.

My tenor mouthpiece is a Yanagisawa 5 Metal and while I have found it to be a very good mouthpiece, I was curious to see what Theo Wanne might have that would compare.

When I arrived at the Theo Wanne factory, I was pleased to be met by Bryan, who had thoughtfully prepared mouthpiece selections for me based on the email I had sent him describing the mouthpieces I am currently using.  What I discovered over the course of the next three hours was simply stunning. 

I found the GAIA 7 Soprano mouthpiece was everything I had hoped!  The large chamber hard rubber mouthpiece was free blowing and articulate.  It had a large, clear, clean sound from top to bottom, just as Jan Garbarek had described!  It was clearly in a class of its own, above everything else I have ever tried.  I also tested the Soprano Mantra metal mouthpiece and found it equally wonderful although just a little too much edge for the sound I was looking to capture.

On to the Alto!  I worked my way through the various Theo Wanne models, testing the NY Bros, GAIA, Mantra, and Durga models of Alto mouthpieces.   I felt as if I was test driving beautiful cars, going from Mercedes, to Audi, to BMW, to Porsche.  Each model had its own subtle but distinctive character that was unmistakable from dark to light and from softer to edgier.  I was impressed by the nuance of the feel and sound of each mouthpiece and how Theo had captured that particular character so precisely whether in Metal or Hard Rubber.  Of the four models I tried, I found the Alto GAIA 7 was a near perfect replacement for my old Meyer 6M!     

The Tenor experience was similar to the Alto.  The Ambika, GAIA, Mantra, Durga, and Shiva models offered an array of sensations and sounds that were a delight to experience.   Testing the Shiva, or Destroyer, as it is aptly nicknamed, was like driving a supercharged Porsche race car and took my breath away!  What a blast!  Ultimately, I found the Mantra 6* metal to be the perfect mouthpiece for me.   It was clear from top to bottom, silky smooth, with a large, full-bodied sound that offered me a big Dexter Gordon kind of sound that was robust, and yet beautifully delicate at the same time.   

In all my years of testing saxophone mouthpieces, I have never experienced such a varied and high quality selection of mouthpieces.  I am used to testing mouthpieces for hours and working through disappointment after disappointment, finally finding one marginally satisfactory candidate to purchase in hopes that it might improve as I acclimate to it.  The Theo Wanne mouthpiece experience of being able to “dial-in” the saxophone sound by selecting the model and then the tip opening was astounding to me.  I was able to finally capture the sound I had been hearing in my head for years.  In fact, I could easily choose a couple of different models depending on the playing situation, ranging from Classical, to Jazz, to Rock! 

My new Theo Wanne mouthpieces give me access to a part of the saxophone sound I have not been able to touch before now.  They have enabled me to unlock the true spirit and soul of the saxophone sound.   I have finally found “saxophone mouthpiece Nirvana” in Theo Wanne.  What more could a saxophonist want?