Alto and Tenor Saxophone Mouthpieces, ca. 1920s

from the University Bands Collection

These four saxophone mouthpieces were manufactured by some of the country’s leading instrument makers during the 1920s (unidentified, C.G. Conn Company, Frank Holton Music Instrument Company, and the Buescher Music Instrument Company). The unidentified translucent alto saxophone mouthpiece was developed largely as a teaching tool for beginner saxophonists, enabling music instructors to view their students’ embouchures (i.e., specifically the placement of their teeth, jaw, lips, and tongue) as they played their horns.  It is quite likely that Tom Brown’s music students would have used similar mouthpieces during the 1920s and 1930s.   The Conn tenor mouthpiece utilized a specialized micro-tuning mechanism, located at the base of the mouthpiece that enabled players to adjust the tuning of their instrument without moving the mouthpiece.  The Holton tenor mouthpiece is Bakelite with a nickel-silver core.  The Buescher alto mouthpiece is made of hard plastic. A saxophonist’s tonal quality always begins with the mouthpiece and embouchure.  Saxophone mouthpieces come in a variety of sizes and shapes, and frequently are made of wood, steel, glass, plastic, and ebonite.  While musicians believed the type of material used to produce a mouthpiece significantly affects its tonal quality, in reality it is the mouthpiece’s internal cavity, the type of ligature used to hold the reed to the mouthpiece, and the player’s embouchure that has the most effect on the saxophonist’s sound.