Merry Xmas, and a Couf’y New Year…

  Having spent most of my active musical life playing alto and tenor sax with metal mouthpieces – initially stainless steel Bergs on both, but latterly a Lawton 8*BB tenor piece, and a bronze alto Berg – I now find myself reverting back to rubber in search of a more subtle sound…

I’ve also always had a few ebonite Links and Bergs in the arsenal, but often found them to be relatively inflexible in the overall range of sounds – anything that could provide a lush sound, couldn’t always come up with the power and edge when pushed, and vice-versa.  I know modern pieces like RPC do address this, but I’m coming at the problem from a slightly more economical angle.  It all started years back when I picked up a handful of vintage fat Couf Artist’s on eBay (the two in the centre of the pics are all that’s left of them, as I stupidly sold a couple), and ever since I’ve been picking up the odd streamline tenor and alto version until I’ve finally acquired the six here – all excellent players I might add..  It’s good to have a pair of each – as mouthpiece quality can vary, although not noticeable in any of these so far.

As a real bonus, the slimmer ‘Streamline’ tenor Couf’s seem to have quite good intonation and sound on C-Melody – a bonus indeed !  I suspect the chamber is just that little bit smaller than on the fat tenor Couf’s.  And they all (well, the four tenor ones) have big wedge baffles, so no lack of edge when needed.  One of the alto Couf’s has an ‘after’ baffle, less substantial than the tenor ones, and the other alto Couf will doubtless be the subject of some experimentation with epoxy putty.  I look forward to concentrating on just these six for the foreseeable future, I’ve already found great potential with a couple – it would be great to also find one of the relatively rare soprano Couf’s (not just the Couf badged Runyon), but my soprano Meyer – with the heavily wedge baffled Metalite M11 soprano in reserve -  suits me just fine.  Interesting times ahead.

For further info on Couf mouthpieces, click here, and also here – all the ones shown here are ‘Artist’ models.

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25 Responses to Merry Xmas, and a Couf’y New Year…

  1. Mal-2 says:

    If you want a mellower sound but prefer the shape and feel of metal, look at Meyer pieces. The “M” chamber in particular is just as large as most hard rubber mouthpieces (except for Meyer!), but the outside is very slim. I find the 7M tenor piece very pleasant, but lacking the brilliance I need on stage. The 5M alto piece is a little too close for my taste, even with Fibracell #4 reeds. Also, I have a Conn Steelay (which has no metal in spite of the name) that is just huge inside, and that is my preferred “mellow” alto piece after opening it up a bit.

    I won both the alto and tenor Meyer pieces in a single auction, and the price I paid was fair for the tenor piece alone, so I’m not complaining. I think the tenor piece will be more useful for me with a removable wedge, and I have to get around to making one. (Emphasis on “removable” because it’s a wonderful ballad piece as is.)

  2. lewis Pelham says:

    Neither am I convinced that the material is a factor in sound. Aware that exceptions do not prove rules, my brightest piece is an RPC HR piece & the mellowest is a metal Jody Jazz EXP….even when fitted with the removable wedge “spoiler”.
    Without doubt, HR feels softer & I wonder if this is a subliminal factor in the sound produced.

  3. JonF says:

    I’d always gone for metal on tenor as well, mostly Lawtons, but also a good range of Bergs, Links, a Dukoff (awful) and various others. However, I recently bought an ebonite RPC – used, as I can’t face the endless delays in gettng a new one. For me, it’s just perfect, and I haven’t had much desire to try new tenor pieces for a while. I doubt that it’s down to it being ebonite, more a matter of clever design and excellent execution. On the other hand, I am very keen to try some different soprano ones, and have a Runyon Smoothbore in its way soon. Fun fun fun.

  4. lewis Pelham says:

    Jon.
    I believe that my RPC is the main reason that I was not blown away by my Lawton…the RPC is just so good. Not however, my favourite mouthpiece on my favourite horn; an R1 Rampone & Cazzani tenor.
    The RPC (115B) is on and off the R&C like a whore’s drawers on boat race night, but the piece which brings out absolutely everything on that horn is a Jody Jazz ESP.
    Humble Link STM for the Buescher & the JJ for the R&C. As much as I like the RPC it is sometimes just too much “in your face”….horses for courses.

  5. alan says:

    I was lucky enough to have ‘matching’ ebonite and stainless steel Bergs at one stage (110-0 SMS) when I was playing in a very competitive Soul horn section, and the stainless definitely had a stronger sound, with more clarity – especially when blown at the ‘maximum welly’ setting.  But now that sort of power isn’t needed, and I’m definitely finding that rubber/ebonite feels more natural in the mouth.  Only downside on the vintage rubber is the slight initial ‘sulphur’ taste, but after a while my saliva seems to reduce/negate that – and as a pipe smoker I’m well used to the similar off-taste of pipe stems !

    Now it’s a different scenario, where rubber/ebonite seems to offer a wider response, but still (well, at least with the baffled Couf) plenty of penetration and a reserve of power.  I particularly like the streamline Coufs, because they feel less bulky in the mouth (one of the reasons why I found tenor Metalites, despite the useful sound, just too much of a mouthful.  If I keep the ‘fat Coufs’ for tenor, and use the streamline/slim ones on C-Mel, it really does lead to a much different playing ‘feel’ between the horns, as well as a good intonation compromise.

    I notice that Pete Thomas, another RPC fan, has developed the PPT –  an interesting tenor mouthpiece in connjunction with Ed Pillinger – which seems to allow transition from smokey to funky, via anything in-between… Couple of nicely contrasting sound samples on that page (in the blue box) which I assume were from the PPT.

    Mal – the Couf Artist has been described as “Meyer’ish”, and they’ve been (more and more) the mouthpiece I’ve been reverting to as a comparison point.  So I think I’ll give in, and give them the good try that they do deserve.
     

  6. lewis Pelham says:

    Alan
    That is a formidable arsenal of Coufs….possibly the largest collection in private hands. That huge & immediate step baffle is similar to the RPC, so a similar response should be available. Do they also have hollowed side walls &  large circular chambers? Neither are they dissimilar to the Metalites, which, as diecastings, must be the most consistent mouthpieces ever.
    With your collection of C Melodies, and now cornering the market in Coufs, all the scantlings are in place for you to join the ranks of the Compleat English Eccentric. 😀
    I too noticed that Pete Thomas had stopped recommending nothing other than RPCs since his collaboration with Doc. Pillinger. This bothers me, as, in all probability I will have to try one…where will it all end? Recently I was forced to transfer my mouthpieces to another, larger, case. Just when I was happy with the “final solution”, Jon’s posting will necessitate trying the RPC again in the morning. There are times when I really envy Johnny Marshall who has just one.

  7. alan says:

    Lewis – I’ll try and take some internal pics of the Coufs later, but yes, from the side-rails there is a definite ‘scoop’ effect into a big round chamber – it’s like a combination of big chamber for big sound, plus a stonking great wedge baffle for added edge/presence on the ‘J/Jazz’ models.  The wedge baffle does also have a final rounded slope (unlike that the sharp drop in e.g. the Metalites) which seems to remove most of the ‘instant hiss’ that big baffle mouthpieces can suffer from.  But I must be careful, don’t want to start a ‘run’ on them – I want them all for me…  😆
    With the impact of the recent financial nose-dive on the pension fund etc., 2009’ll definitely be a selling (rather than buying) year – lets hope that people can still dig deep, I suspect enthusiasts like us will still try and buy good stuff at a sensible price (e.g. on ebay, usually…)   🙄
     

  8. lewis Pelham says:

    This mouthpiece obsession, from which many of us suffer, could be indicative of an endemic mental problem. Perhaps “Mouthpieces Anonymous” should be set up!
    I am not sure that it exists in other circles of reed instruments, such as the Shawm Society….probably Owen, or one of his exceedingly knowledgeable chums could tell us.
    The only person I know who plays any reed instrument other than saxophone, is my brother, who’s only clarinet, a metal 19th century Albert System, still has the the mouthpiece which was fitted when he bought it…in the 50s:
    regarded by him as an endemic part of that particular clarinet….I envy his lack of “perfection seeking”.
    Your description of the Couf could also define the RPC. Be aware that there is a long waiting list for the latter, so potential, and impatient,  RPC buyers could be seen by you as a marketing base for your Coufs…..By Jove how the money rolls in.  😀

  9. alan says:

    By Jove how the money rolls in. ”
    Lewis – I just wish that were the case, at the moment it’s gushing out on a one-way street with no speed limit…
    I think the only real thing the Couf has (apart from price difference), is that endearing taste of sulphur – there’s probably now a world-wide ban on high sulphur content.  Replaced by a modern tasteless (and therefore considered safe) cancer inducing agent of untested proportions.
    I also have a modern ‘custom’ Saxscape alto mouthpiece with a high baffle – the response speed on that one is frightening, seems almost an instantaneous response – it’s so free blowing.  Pity it has such a narrow tonal response, from quite bright to ultra-bright  😯

  10. lewis Pelham says:

    Alan.
    Yet another dimension with regard to mouthpiece choice reared it’s ugly head the other day. When playing my Buescher, my wife asked why I did not use one of my silver coloured pieces, to match the horn colour; but she is an artist!

    I always believed that response speed was inversely proportional to the thickness of the rails; yet my old JJ ESP, although very fast, with rails so narrow that there is a risk of cut fingers when changing a reed, is no faster than the Colletto, whose rails are as wide as railway sleepers.
    There is more to this mouthpiece mystique than meets the eye.

  11. JonF says:

    Mouthpieces anonymous. Hmm, must have been through 40 tenor pieces. Never had the problem quite so bad with the others, even the C Mel, which I mostly now play through a tenor Lawton. Alas, I am now, despite the near-perfection of the RPC, also somewhat tempted by the new PPT. However, the guy I bought my baritone off has just got one, and my spending twitch is on hold until I at least hear from him what he thinks.

    Incidentally, RPCs, although seemingly consistently good, are very variable in construction. Possibly unique, as the way they are made depends on the initial brief. Some have steep stepped baffles, some more smoothed, some (like mine) have a bullet, and so on and so on. I guess the only way to be certain you get what you want is to order one new, but then you become mired in the demi-monde of endless delays and broken promises about delivery dates. A bit pricy at the moment, as well, with the exchange rate being what it is.

  12. lewis Pelham says:

    Yes, JonF, you have hit it. The RPC will be made to exactly what you want…tailored to your individual needs…your taste personified. Why therefore is there so much variation between them?
    No-one surely wants a mouthpiece with a hollow low end with a weak high register. Therefore, a mouthpiece with a lush, sonorous low, with a searing, solid top is pretty well everyone’s ideal….a Link low end combined with the high register of a Dukoff, ease of playing, reed friendly and instant response.  Everything is a trade off between these absolutes & it seems that nothing quite hits the mark. In my case the RPC falls short in the slight lack of a lush low end and the “not quite perfect” control.
    Had I bought the piece new, could Ron C have built this ideal piece, just for me….I doubt it.
    Rather like the perfect car… the reliability of Honda, the performance of  Ferrari, the handling of Lotus, the comfort of Bentley with maintenance costs of  Ford. It cannot happen, so we all have to compromise….now, if only my ESP were a little louder.  😦

  13. alan says:

    And, regardless of how the Couf’s fare – although I do expect the Couf association to be a long and happy one –  the old faithful metal tenor Lawton 8*BB will probably never ever be left out of the case, let alone sold, because if I ultimately need to really cut through (e.g. even soloing in a big-band section) and there’s ever any doubt about what I’m using, it’ll be back on the neck in a flash, complete with a Rico Plasticover – ‘back in the old routine’…  Nothing, but nothing, would come close for pure power and presence.
    Psychological insurance, silly, isn’t it ?
     

  14. lewis Pelham says:

    Apparently, in the 1970s, Dexter Gordon had a new mouthpiece….he claimed that it would take two or three years to really learn it.    Is that a lesson for us?

  15. Helen says:

    This post got me thinking about my long neglected Couf pieces. I dug them out just now & was amazed at how many I had… 5 in total: 2 tenor, 2 alto, & 1 soprano.

    For tenor I have 1 Herbert Couf Artist 9* hard rubber model with that big wedge baffle you mention, & a H. Couf 4* Special in plastic, which happened to be the one that came with my Conn straight neck C melody.

    My alto pieces are 2 H. Couf Artist ones. One is a 3*R and the other a 5*R.

    My soprano piece is a slim H. Couf Superba II, which I got with my curvy soprano when I bought it from Vintagesax.com. It does look like a Runyon piece. (I play Runyon Customs on my sopranos, and in a side by side comparison, they do look very much alike.)

    I should try playing my 9* tenor piece again. It was always my favourite one for many years. I bought it in high school at the recommendation of my band teacher (also a sax player) who bought one.

  16. lewis Pelham says:

    Thanks mainly to Jon, I have been concentrating on my RPC mouthpiece. Quite a remarkable bit of kit. The extraordinary thing is, that it simply flies on the Buescher, but the R&C simply hates it. I would not have believed that two tenors could be so choosy about “their” choice of mouthpieces.    🙄

  17. JonF says:

    Hi Lewis

    I’ll have to break out my old Buescher (not the greatest, a late 1960s Aristocrat) to see whether my RPC is much different on it compared to my Yanagisawa.

    On the C Mel I’m being fickle again. Have dumped the Lawton and gone back to the Berg Duckbill. It’s just such a monster sound from the supposedly ‘polite’ C Mel that I can’t resist it.

    Jon

  18. lewis Pelham says:

    Our problem is surely that we have too many very good mouthpieces from which to choose. I do not even wish to try a Couf in case it also also swells the ranks.
    By normal standards it seems that Lawton is highly regarded, but I do not like my 8*B tenor piece; I do not like it’s sound, or the way it plays…no room for error whatsoever….totally unforgiving.
    Obviously there are those who hold Lawtons in very high esteem….Saxquest currently have a couple on offer with a BIN price of £360. My Lawton soprano piece is faultless, so perhaps my tenor piece is flawed.
    The RPC also works well on my old Grassi tenor, so perhaps the R&C is behaving like a pretentious Prima Donna.
    A baritone RPC on eBay claims to be fitted with a “power ring”…a sleeve slipped over the reduced section of the shank….any idea what that’s all about?  😕

  19. Ross says:

    It seems a “given” that anyone who takes tenor seriously has a large – and sometimes growing – collection of mouthpieces.
    Living in the Antipodes mine is not as exotic as some but still represents a substantial investment in money and expectation – and expectation may be the key!
    I think we all “try and buy” with a sound concept in our heads of what we believe will give lush lows, rounded highs and effortless altissimo with unlimited power and presence when required.
    Almost monthly there is a new mouthpiece maker on the block with a new concept on how we can all achieve this!
    Much of this market must be generated by the prevalence of Asian instruments over quality vintage or European horns – and not all of these are neccessarily good!
    I owned a Mark 6 for over 40 years from new! Over the last 10-12 years I became increasingly dissatisfied with the core sound of the horn. I thought it was me but the reaction of others who blew it, usually politely expressed,
    finally convinced me to sell it! I now have a SA Series1 which  does have a solid core sound and is very mouthpiece-friendly!
    Most of the Bergs, Links and sundry others in the box play well and certainly better than than on  the Mark6. My mpc of choice is now a refaced and reworked old Dukoff. Not as loud as some but very warm and friendly!
    Perhaps we all need to find a mpc technician, like our dentist or GP, who understands our needs and adapt and modify rather than speculate on a new purchase!

  20. lewis Pelham says:

    Ross.
    A very good analysis. It is also refreshing to learn that Mk 6s are not necessarily the paradigms that we are led to believe…I now do not feel deprived in not owning one! Once I owned a Selmer BA…it was good, but not outstanding.
    Half the problem with mouthpieces is, I believe, that we are attempting to find the performance that we seek, already packaged. The fact that we fall short of our expectations is not due to the mouthpiece…it is that we do not practice for six hours every day. We waste time looking for the Holy Grail…..the instant performance, for £265 + VAT!
    Now, I wonder how the Big B would sound with a Couf.   🙄

  21. JonF says:

    Wel, I gave the RPC a blast on the Buescher last night. No real difference in how it played compared to the Yanagisawa. The only thing I got from it really was an appreciation of just how much better the Yanagisawa is than the Buescher.

    I used to have well over 20 tenor mouthpieces. I reduced this drmatically, and made a load of cash into the bargain, but now I feel temptation again. Funny thing is, I only get this problem with the tenor. Dunno why.

  22. Mal-2 says:

    > We waste time looking for the Holy Grail…..the instant performance, for £265 + VAT!

    That reminds me of a line from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas…

    “We are all wired into a survival trip now. No more of the speed that fueled that 60’s. That was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary’s trip. He crashed around America selling “consciousness expansion” without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him seriously… All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit.”

    No VAT on LSD, of course… 😯

  23. Ross says:

    Lewis,
    The Mark6 hype did well for me!
    As well as the tenor I sold a Mk6 soprano of similar vintage which was the embodiment of every criticism the model.
    However, the funds released enabled me to purchase the SA80 tenor, have my alto
    repadded (with smart black roo pads), have a mouthpiece refaced and buy one of Steve’s Metalpro C mel mpcs! – and I still have change for the next experiment.
    If you know of anyone who is looking for an almost new Van Doren V16 alto
    mpc . . . . !

  24. Alan says:

    Well, I nearly had another tenor Couf (J10*S) in my greasy mitts tonight – little bugger sat there at $49.99 with no bids until the last couple of minutes.  It was obvious that the other bidder wanted to win it (two consecutive bids when he was in the lead anyway, racking up the dosh…), so I graciously deferred…
    Never mind there’s a tasty soprano Couf – a real Couf, not the slimline Runyon clone – out there that I’ve put my mark on, think I’ll give it a serious punt, as I’ve just come into a little dosh.  Don’t have any soprano Coufs yet  😆

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