The Caravan Clarinet Mouthpiece design is fundamentally consistent with most other respected and widely used symphonic clarinet mouthpieces. Subtle but significant differences in the interior specifications include a slightly deeper tone chamber to enhance the “darkness” of the tone, and a slightly narrower diameter in the upper end of the bore (and a concomitant increased degree of bore taper) to improve the potential for a well-centered, focused clarinet tone quality. Side and tip rails are comparatively a bit wider, which helps encourage greater homogeneity of sound register to register and eliminate the common and aggravating “buzz” produced by most mouthpieces on the lowest chalumeau register notes. The facing curve is quite conventional except at a strategic point on the curve where it is a tiny bit more open to enhance responsiveness, while the tip opening would probably considered, in traditional terms, “medium-close” or “close” in measuring about “100” at the inside line of the tip rail (where the baffle/chamber surface begins).
Available for soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones, this mouthpiece represents a more modern manifestation of Adolphe Sax’s original mouthpiece design. The “open chamber” characteristic (no constriction in the tone chamber) provides for considerable tonal depth and darkness in quality for “classical” performance on saxophone, but the tone chamber is also sized to allow for plenty of power and richness compared with older open-chamber designs. The beautifully balanced sound this mouthpiece can produce comes primarily from the deep baffle and round tone chamber that blends smoothly into the bore of the mouthpiece. Somewhat wider side and tip rails provide for greater purity in the tone and greater homogeneity of color throughout the saxophone’s range.
The Caravan Saxophone Mouthpiece has been designed to make it easier for the saxophonist to produce a tone quality that corresponds appropriately to the sounds heard among other woodwind performers in symphonic and classical music in America—an “American” sound representing, more or less, a synthesis of various European “schools.” The sound this mouthpiece encourages is a particularly attractive alternative to the brighter, “brassier” sounds generally associated with the French school and the mouthpieces (French manufacture or French derivative) that produce those results—a sound concept that has generally not found favor among non-saxophonist symphony musicians in the U.S.
The medium-chamber alto saxophone mouthpiece will produce a somewhat “brighter” sound compared with the large-chamber mouthpiece. This is sometimes preferred by players converting from a brighter mouthpiece, such as some of the common French-style mouthpieces or jazz-style mouthpieces. Also, the large-chamber mouthpiece may be found to lack harmonic balance and adequate projection on some modern instruments that are inherently “darker” in sound production (such as some newer Selmer altos), although this issue has been found to differ significantly player to player. In such situations, which tend to be the rare exceptions, the medium-chamber mouthpiece may be the better choice. Although none of these mouthpieces are recommended for jazz, some players have had success using the soprano and medium-chamber alto in certain kinds of jazz chamber music or combo work where significantly less “brightness” is desired.
Because the Caravan Baritone Saxophone mouthpiece is produced from one of the original-type large-body molds, it is large enough, and has a large enough tone chamber, for use on the bass saxophone. The facing curve, however, which is in proper specifications for baritone, is not advantageous for bass, hence using an unaltered Caravan baritone mouthpiece on the bass saxophone will work to a certain extent, but will not easily render deep and responsive results. For this reason, a special facing is offered for bass saxophone, and is available as a separate purchase for those who wish to order a baritone mouthpiece converted for the bass (the bass facing is done by hand, generally upon receipt of an order). A customer who wishes to order this bass saxophone mouthpiece must purchase a baritone saxophone mouthpiece and the special refacing on the same order. (Find the “Specialty Facing” option just below the Baritone Saxophone Mouthpiece upon clicking the “Mouthpieces” tab.) The total cost of this customized mouthpiece, then, is the cost of the baritone mouthpiece plus the discounted refacing fee.
While sound concept is rightly a matter of the player’s preference, and a player’s tone can be a very personal thing and should be appropriately respected, there are some stubborn historical facts about how the modern saxophone mouthpiece evolved that should be understood by every knowledgeable saxophone professional and serious student of the instrument.
The saxophone’s inventor, Adolphe Sax, was as specific about its mouthpiece design as he was about the instrument itself. He included a drawing of the mouthpiece on the patent diagram (1846, Paris), and mouthpieces designed by Sax that—like some of his original instruments—survived the years since their creation, confirm that the tone chamber of his mouthpiece design was much larger than commonly found in modern mouthpieces. Indeed, the chamber is even slightly larger than the entrance to the bore where one joins the other. This large chamber serves to reduce the strength of high partials in the saxophone sound and render a “darker” tone that is most appropriate for “classical” playing—the very kind of playing that Sax himself did, and that so impressed contemporary composers at the time, such as Berlioz.
The original Sax “open-chamber” mouthpiece design was virtually the only chamber style available from the instrument’s invention through the first three decades of the twentieth century. Up to this time, the saxophone had not yet been established in the musical mainstream as a “classical” instrument, and precious few saxophonists were pursuing that ideal. In the meantime, the “jazz era” was in full swing, and as the big-band era began developing through the 1930s, saxophone section players discovered that placing a constriction in the tone chamber of the mouthpiece brightened the sound and enabled them to compete more effectively with the sound projection of the trumpets and trombones. Instrument and instrument-accessory manufacturers were quick to respond to the demand for mouthpieces with smaller tone chambers and straight side-walls (probably borrowed from clarinet-mouthpiece design), and these smaller-chamber mouthpieces (made longer to compensate for the smaller chamber’s higher pitch) soon became the only type of mouthpieces widely available.
Because symphonic style, non-jazz performance on saxophone developed later, most so-called “classical” saxophone players ended up using what was readily available—mouthpieces with constricted tone chambers as originally developed for use in jazz orchestras. Probably owing to the comparatively primitive nature of saxophone pedagogy in the formative decades of “classical” saxophone development, these mouthpieces were accepted without much question by most players and teachers, and few took the initiative to investigate specifics of the instrument’s invention, and what kind of tone concept Sax had intended and nurtured in his class at the Paris Conservatory.
Had the maturation of the “classical” saxophone occurred within the first half century or so of the instrument’s invention, the legacy of the “classical” sound would undoubtedly be very different from what is reflected by the mainstream today. The instrument’s classical persona would have exhibited Sax’s original sound concept and mouthpiece design, and performance and pedagogy would have matured in a manner more in keeping with how the other symphonic woodwinds have progressed—nurturing tone qualities with a more beautiful balance of partials, and producing sounds that could easily blend in any chamber-music setting. Modern “classical” saxophone performers and teachers who remain committed to constricted-chamber mouthpieces, and the substantially brighter sounds these mouthpieces produce, have every right to that preference, of course. But they should, at minimum, be aware that in embracing that concept and corresponding equipment, they are accepting the consequences of a historical anomaly and contradicting the clear intent of the instrument’s inventor.
–Ronald L. Caravan
Syracuse, New York U.S.A