Mouthpiece selection for vintage saxophones
Let me preface this by saying I am not an expert on saxophones. The contents of this article is for the most part from sources on the internet and e-mail conversations I have had with various people.
Some considerations in playing a vintage saxophone
If you are reading this article it is my guess that you have a fondness for vintage wind instruments and/or are convinced that they simply sound different than modern equipment. If you want to replicate the sound and feel of days gone by, playing vintage equipment helps considerably. However, there are some considerations, things that it helps to understand before venturing onto the vintage saxophone scene or judging such an instrument.
One very important part of the vintage saxophone is the choice of the mouthpiece. There has been, and still is, quite a bit of discussion in the saxophone community as to whether a vintage saxophone can or should be played with a modern mouthpiece. Respected people seem to differ on this.
On the one hand are those who say vintage saxophones work just fine with modern mouthpieces. For example, Cybersax's Barry "Bear" Wilson in his article Vintage Saxophone Mouthpiece Issues.
He appears to be supported in this opinion by Pete Thomas in this discussion: Conn 30M tuning woes: "These [10M and 30M] have superb intonation and are very mouthpiece friendly. This is not just my opinion, but also that of many players I know who have/had 10Ms and 30Ms. I've never heard of any common knowledge that they are sharp."
On the other hand, there are those who say it can make a great deal of difference with respect to among other things intonation. As I said in the introduction, I am no saxophone expert. However, I spoken to some people who are, and have come across some articles on the internet by people who appear to know what they are talking about. In a 2008 conversation I had with professional saxophonist Bert Brandsma, I said I had heard that vintage saxophones can play quite poorly with modern mouthpieces and do much better with vintage mouthpieces and I asked him what his own experience was in that respect. He told me he agrees with that statement: "You shouldn't use a modern Selmer bass saxophone mouthpiece on these bass saxophones [Bert Brandsma owns several 1920's - 1940's Conn 14M bass saxophones]. Doesn't work well at all. I do have a 1950's Selmer mouthpiece with a round chamber that does work well".
This also seems to agree with these two interesting articles by Bob Ackerman: Great Horns of America and A Perspective on Modern Saxophone Playing. The abbreviated version: Generally mouthpiece designs do not work on horns that pre-date their invention.
More evidence is presented by members of various saxophone related forums. For example:
Flat & Sharp
Conn 12M fussy with mouthpieces?
My 12M and a Berg ss
Classical mouthpiece for chu tenor
Best mouthpiece for transitional Conn
Conn 18M soprano
Early Conn soprano vs. 18M
The upshot of the above articles appears to be that the 6M is generally quite forgiving with respect to mouthpieces. The 10M and 12M really do need a large round chamber mouthpiece to play in tune. The 18M has its own problems in needing a type of mouthpiece that isn't made anymore these days.