D’Addario Reserve alto mouthpiece (review)

Reviewed by David Roach


D'Addario reserve alto mouthpiece

To start, I liked the D’Addario Reserve alto pieces. They are made particularly with classical players in mind and achieve a very good, warm, exceptionally consistent sound with great intonation very easily. So I hope D’Addario will forgive my occasional criticism and the -obvious- comparisons with other mouthpiece manufacturers. Classical mouthpieces occupy a much smaller slice of the industry than do jazz mouthpieces, so a newcomer is well worth testing out, especially from D’Addario, who are proving themselves to be a very serious in this area, for a company that is principally into mass production. Having met Kevin Garren, in charge of mouthpiece production, last year, I expected nothing less than an excellent product.

I was slightly put off at first by the thickness of the rails, side and tip. I have come to think that thick rails are the last resort of a mouthpiece maker that is unable get warmth and compactness from a particular blank in any other way, much in the way that Vandoren did with the A20 & T20, first issued in the 1980s. The Vandoren Optimum range gets around this by better design; I find both the AL3 and 4 very easy to make a dark-ish sound on, for instance. The Selmer Concept is more focused, less naturally dark. But both are much better balanced than older classical offerings from those companies.

The Reserve pieces are definitely in the same ball park as the aforementioned pieces, but they really benefit from more ‘thickness’ in the core of the sound and rather better evenness, especially at the top of the instrument. They give the impression of being darker than pretty much anything else on the market, but with some very good clarity in the mid/top of the harmonic spectrum. In other words, ignoring how they look, they have a really good balance of sound for classical playing that is, importantly, very easy to achieve.

All the pieces articulate well, which can be an issue with thick tip rails. They are not as responsive as a lot of the jazz pieces available with thin tip rails, but what you do get from the thick tip rail is a very even tonal response when you articulate. A thin tip rail will enable the sort of explosive articulation that jazz players like, where the attack is fast and edgy, but subsides a bit thereafter into a more rounded tone. In contrast, the Reserve pieces produce a very consistent tone, from initial attack through to the body of the note, enabling a staccato with good body in the sound quite naturally – which is something deeply to be desired from a classical mouthpiece.

The mouthpiece comes in three models:
1) The D145 (1.45mm tip) ‘medium facing’,
2) The D155 (1,50mm tip) ‘medium facing’,
3) The D150 (also a 1.50 tip) which has a medium-long facing.

I’ve been playing them with the D’Addario Reserve reeds. I used 3s on them all. Even the closest tip, the 145, worked well with a 3, showing that you don’t need a hard reed on these pieces. I also used a 3+ on the 145 which felt good too. The 145 is closest to the Optimum AL3, but according to the data available, it’s a bit smaller in the tip, and I would guess it has a slightly shorter facing. Sort of surprising that this piece blows so well, being so small. It has a good resonance.

The 155 works very well with a 3 and is the one I prefer of the three facings, although it can sound a little less flexible than the 150. It gives the impression of being a short-ish facing because of the more open tip. I can get more air down it than the 145 and get some projection going a bit more readily. This one feels most like the AL4.

The 150 is similar to the 155, but with a longer facing. This piece worked best with a 3+ reed for me. The longer facing does give it more flexibility and a greater range of tone, but I felt that with heavily increased breath pressure the tone slightly falls apart, and this I think is the draw-back of a thick tip rail which resists greater vibration. Having said that I know some people will prefer the longer facing and the option for a harder reed. With use I could probably learn how to make this one work for me as well.

I could play any of these pieces for classical/pseudo-classical work. The 145 is a bit more closed than I would normally use, but in a more delicate chamber music surrounding it might be a god-send, making quiet playing and a lighter tone much easier; the 155 is probably the one for Orchestral playing, the 150 for solo – and those are just huge generalisations of course, but might make it easier understand how the different facings work.

In short, I think these are well designed and well-made and will probably sell very well indeed. They are just so easy to get good results on, I’m sure educators, students and professionals alike will pick up on them very quickly.

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