Today, I’m going to review and play test 5 different premium Theo Wanne Tenor Saxophone mouthpieces.
Theo Wanne is known for making some of the world’s best mouthpieces and his designs are played by some of the top saxophone players out there.
If you’re thinking about picking one of these up or just curious about them, I hope you find this helpful.
One thing that’s very interesting is I’ll be play testing two versions of the same exact mouthpiece one is gold plated brass, and the other is hard rubber. So I’m really looking forward to reading your comments on how they sound different and which model you prefer.
Ambika 3 Gold-plated
We are going to go through these in order from darkest to brightest so the first mouthpiece up is the Ambika 3.
In the first clip, I’m playing it over a backing track for the tune Autumn Leaves from my newest website BetterTrax.com.
The Ambika is the darkest Theo Wanne mouthpiece and compared to the others it is definitely quite dark, but this mouthpiece has power, a nice edge and there are some of the higher frequencies in the sound.
It is not as dark as some other “dark” mouthpieces out there. It still has a bit of punch to the sound and responds very well in all registers. The altissimo and low end are very easy. Plus, I like the amount of resistance I get playing the Ambika.
If you play mainly jazz and don’t need to cut through and compete with other very loud instruments, the Ambika is a great choice.
It’s also great for sub-tone and soft playing, while offering a full dynamic range.
Here I’m playing a number 3 reed on a 7* tip opening. This setup gives me the right amount of resistance to get the best results for my tastes. I found when I played softer reeds, the sound did become a bit brighter and in certain situations I would choose to go in that direction.
The gold plated Ambika I have here sells for $775 and comes with this great ligature that’s integrated into the mouthpiece.
One minor gripe I have with these, is that they don’t come with mouthpiece caps. However, they do come with a different tool which does an excellent job of protecting your tip, rails and table when you’re not playing it.
Gaia 3 Hard Rubber & Gold Plated
Moving on to the Gaia 3, which I have in both the metal and hard rubber versions. The design is identical, only the material is different
One thing I love about the Theo Wanne hard rubber pieces is the shape, they are like metal pieces made from HR. I think this is pretty hard to do and that’s why it’s not all that common. With HR pieces you are generally limited as to how thin you can make the walls so it’s really impressive to see this ultra sleek HR design.
I do know that some people prefer their HR pieces to have the traditional shape to them, but I really like this design. The Ambika, Gaia and Durga models are all available in HR versions.
Let’s contrast that back to back with the metal version of the Gaia 3.
Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on all of these pieces but I’m especially interested in any differences you perceive when we just change the material of the mouthpiece. I recorded these one after the other using the same reed.
For me listening back, I don’t hear as much of a difference as I feel when playing them. The HR feels warmer to play and more mellow, while the metal Gaia 3 feels brighter and more punchy. I think this does come out in the recording a bit as well.
Personally, I love both of these mouthpieces but I think if I had to choose one it would be the HR because it balances out the brightness of the Gaia. I think it’s a great compromise if you want more versatility than the Ambika offers but still want something on the darker end of the spectrum.
The Gaia is a mouthpiece that can work very well in a wide variety of styles. It has the power and punch when you need it as well as the dynamic range and depth of sound you want for expressive playing.
The HR Gaia 3 sells for $675 and comes with an “Enlightened ligature” which is great. However, I prefer the ligatures on the metal versions since they are integrated into the mouthpiece and don’t move.
The Gold plated metal Gaia 3 sells for $775
For what it’s worth, the Gaia 3 is my favorite Theo Wanne mouthpiece model out of all of these, and it’s my favorite on alto as well.
I could happily use either of these on any of the gigs or recordings I normally do. But the Gaia offers the most versatility for me, and it’s closest to my mouthpiece comfort zone.
But we are all different and a lot of players are looking for a more powerful, bright, and cutting sound… That’s where the next mouthpieces come in.
Durga 4 Gold-Plated
The Durga 4 is a step baffle piece that’s powerful and bright.
This is the one in the group that I feel the least comfortable on. I have an 8 tip opening here, so I used a softer 2.5 reed. I know the Durga is very popular with a lot of players but for me and my sound concept and playing style it’s not a good match. However, I do like the alto version of the Durga 4 very much.
Despite being well outside of my mouthpiece comfort zone you can still hear a bit of what this mouthpiece can do in a more expressive setting.
I know a lot of people go for high baffle mouthpieces like this because they want to make the altissimo easier.
My experience is that you can play altissimo on really any mouthpiece. I don’t go up that high though I think in the first clip I went up to an altissimo C. Maybe for players who go up to the crazy high notes you want more baffle, but I can play altissimo as easy on the Ambika as on the Durga. I prefer the rounder less harsh tone I get with a lower baffle piece.
That brings us to the last mouthpiece, the Shiva 3, which is supposed to be even brighter and more powerful than the Durga.
I’m not sure why, but I feel much more comfortable on the Shiva than the Durga. Yes, it is deafeningly loud. I have never heard my saxophone so loud as with this mouthpiece. It’s the loudest mouthpiece I’ve ever played. it’s also very easy to play and it’s a lot more versatile than you would think. Of course its namesake is Shiva aka “The Destroyer” and this mouthpiece certainly lives up to that. But for me, it also has a surprising sweetness and flexibility to it.
So if I were looking for a loud, powerful, and cutting mouthpiece – the Shiva would be my choice over the Durga.
The Shiva is only available in the metal version and sells for $775
Saxophone Mouthpiece Buying Advice
Now let me give you some of my thoughts on things you should keep in mind if you’re thinking about buying a new mouthpiece
The mouthpiece is arguably the most important part of your saxophone and it’s also the most customizable part.
That’s why there are so many different designs out there.
Each saxophone player is different. We all hear things differently. If you read the comments on any of my mouthpiece comparison videos you will see a wide variety of impressions and opinions on the same sound clips.
We also are different physically, so what feels right for me may not feel right for you.
There is no such thing as the “best” mouthpiece. There is only the best mouthpiece for YOU at each particular stage in your development.
Do you need to spend several hundred dollars to get a good sound? Absolutely not, but if you find a mouthpiece that matches exactly what you’re looking for and makes playing the saxophone more fun and easier, it can be a worthwhile investment.
In the end a good sound is like love, you can’t buy it. Consistent practice on any old mouthpiece will get you a much better sound, than no practice will on a very expensive one.
Don’t forget the Coupon code BETTERSAX15 to save 15% on the Theo Wanne website. If you’ve been wanting to treat yourself to one of these premium mouthpieces, now’s the time to do it!
Interested in other Theo Wanne mouthpiece reviews? Check out the “New Theo Wanne Alto Sax Mouthpieces – Play Test & Review.”