Dog vs. Tech.
While each mouthpiece repair is unique, established patterns often emerge. The player wants more projection, less resistance, a brighter sound, a darker sound, more tip opening, improved altissimo, and so on.
Recently I received a request for something a little more unusual:
Hello, I have a metal mouthpiece that was bitten by my dog. I would like to know if you can fix it.
Sight unseen, I couldn’t guarantee any outcome, but asked him to send in the mouthpiece. My policy in these cases is to give a free estimate; I only ask that the prospective customer cover the return shipping (usually a Priority Mail flat rate box works perfectly at $5.80).
A while later, the mouthpiece – a metal Dukoff “Super Power Chamber” D7 for alto sax – arrived at the shop. Sure enough, teeth marks inside and out, along with a worn out bite plate. The mouthpiece, in its current state, was unplayable.
The first step was to measure and plot the facing, so I could visualize that aspect of the mouthpiece. I use a program I developed specifically for this purpose; right now it’s in beta testing but is essentially done. Stay tuned for the official release of this app.
From the plot, it can be seen that the tip measured .065″. The black curve represents the actual measurements taken from the mouthpiece, and the gray curve is an ideal facing for the ellipse defined by those measurements. This mouthpiece was stamped “D7,” which has a facing of .080″. So somewhere along the line, the mouthpiece was dropped or hit. Or perhaps the tip got bent during the dog attack.
The client wanted the mouthpiece to be more open, if possible, so I carefully hammered the tip back, going just past .080″. The rest of the tip change was going to be executed as the teeth marks were removed.
Next, I removed the old bite plate. These usually come apart pretty quickly with a rotary tool, and this one was no exception. Following that, I took a fairly coarse file and roughed out the bite marks on the outside beak, along with the bite marks inside the baffle. At this point, the basic shape of the mouthpiece was restored, and could be best described as a semi-finished blank.
After the preliminary work was done, I did a full reface (flatten the table and reconstruct the entire curve), making it as open as possible without making the tip too thin. We had targeted a D9 facing, which is .090″, and there was enough material remaining to achieve that. Based on the client’s desired tone concept and reed preference, I lengthened the facing slightly to improve the low note response.
After the refacing, it was time to play-test the mouthpiece. I always try to use the same reed brand and strength the client is going to use. This accomplishes two things: 1) I can shape the tip’s curve to match the reed and 2) I can tweak the mouthpiece based on how that type of reed will respond.
Sax mouthpieces, especially ones that have been opened up to any degree, can chirp if the baffle near the tip is too high. This one was a little bit chirpy, so I lowered the front part of the baffle, checking frequently, because if you remove too much, it’s difficult to undo. I wanted to take away the chirp, not the brightness, volume, or edge the client wanted from this mouthpiece.
Once I was satisfied with how the piece played, it was time to construct a new bite plate.
The final result was successful; the mouthpiece was restored and customized beyond the original facing spec to match the player’s desired tip opening and resistance.
I do all kinds of mouthpiece refacing and modification, but also handle extreme damage repair. Cracked shanks, deformed tips, crooked facings, and yes, even dog bites.
If you’ve checked with another mouthpiece tech and they don’t want to take on your damaged mouthpiece, I’ll do my best to turn your dog’s new toy back into a mouthpiece you can actually use again.