October 2008

François Louis “Spectruoso” Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

Amidst the deluge of mouthpiece makers and soundsmiths, no one person has emerged with more respect and gurulike mysticism than the Belgian acoustician François Louis. His client list is impressive, with names like Lovano, Sanchez, Berg, Reis and Potter all bearing witness to his genius. The recent unveiling of his double soprano, the Aulochrome, gives him that “mad scientist” element. Yet common saxophonists have had only two options if they’ve wanted to experience his work firsthand: settle for one of his “ultimate” ligatures (commonly available in stores) or seek an audience with Louis in his Belgian workshop. That is, until now. Due to the increased demand for his work, Louis has introduced his first mouthpiece line available to the public, the Spectruoso.

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François Louis “Spectruoso” Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

As a self-proclaimed equipment junkie, having the opportunity to review this mouthpiece was like receiving the ultimate fix. The Spectruoso is currently only available for tenor saxophone (plans include models for the other saxophones) and available at Roberto’s Woodwind Shop in New York (robertoswinds.com).

I feel I should preface this review with a disclaimer. One might expect this mouthpiece to be special. It is! Just playing it, I experienced true craftsmanship and design of a very unique nature. But it’s not for everyone. It is common, when discussing mouthpieces, to compare them to vintage mouthpieces. For those players wanting to find Louis’ version of the Otto Link, move on. This mouthpiece is not for someone who is trying to copy somebody’s sound. This mouthpiece is for the artist who is looking to craft his or her own unique voice.

The Spectruoso is made of a composite material called “The Grounds.” It resembles the material that Buffet used in their Green Line clarinets. The composite matches the resonance of wood with the flexibility of hard rubber. The saxophonist can choose from two models, the SP and the ML. I tested both models in the T285 size (relates to an 8-8* Otto Link or 112). Both performed well using a variety of reeds from sizes 2 through 4 (I found a filed Rico 3S worked the best for me).

The SP model is a replica of the original François Louis (FL) models he is famous for. The spherelike chamber has inner curves between the beak and the body of the mouthpiece and the shank and the body of the mouthpiece. The catalog describes it as having it all: highs, mids and low overtones, with a nice balance of darkness and edge. I found this description to be very accurate.

Playing the SP for the first time is an unusual experience. The sound it produces is so unique it took me a few minutes to acclimate. At first I simply recognized the high overtones. Then, as I adjusted to the piece I was able to notice the wonderful huskiness and complexity of the sound. I found the sound to be somewhat dryer than I like, with a woody quality. Projection is not an issue with either mouthpiece but the SP will cut more than the ML. I played it in a big band and found that it blends well and carries in a large room without amplification. The harder the reed you use, the greater the edge and projection of the sound. Those who admire Joe Lovano’s sound would be inclined to try this model.

Louis describes the ML as an “Ogval.” This is just a fancy way of saying a traditional chamber. This mouthpiece has a familiar feel with a clearer separation between the high and low overtones. I found this model to be airy, but according to the description, this is exactly what one can expect. Where I preferred this model to the FL, I wondered how flexible this piece would be. I think the person who is searching for an intimate, heathery sound will love this mouthpiece.

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the saxophonist is choosing the correct size. Unlike other mouthpieces that offer one sound with a variety of sizes, the FL Spectruoso offers sizes 92/00 through 137/00, each promising a unique tonal experience. So one should expect to try a few different sizes before finding the perfect fit. Each mouthpiece comes with a FL Ultimate ligature and cap. The price of $395 is right in line with the custom mouthpiece market.

Again, this mouthpiece is not for the tame. This is a serious mouthpiece for serious players who view sound to be the ultimate expression of one’s creativity. Where I feel I have a good idea of how these two mouthpieces play, I leave them more intrigued than satisfied. And knowing that leads me to feel that this mouthpiece is something different, something very special.

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