Theo Wanne Gaia Mouthpiece review- by Michael Conley

Review of Theo Wanne's Gaia Mouthpiece for alto saxophone-

 The first thing one notices about the Wanne Gaia mouthpiece is the careful packaging, including a zippered case for the mouthpiece packed inside, and an oversize box. The box includes a screwdriver with a tiny Phillips head for changing the pressure plates on the finely wrought ligature. The mouthpiece is very nicely made, and fine craftsmanship is evident in the elegant design, with a gold embossed logo, a gold-plated brass ring around the shank and the gold metal ligature. For me the rubber on the Gaia felt a little harder than that of other pieces, with a slight pebbling of the exterior surface. I tried the two mouthpieces Theo sent me, a #6 and a #7, with the included Wanne ligature, but also with the Rovner light ligature that I currently use. I used a Rigotti Gold 3.5 strong reed on the Wanne pieces as well as on a borrowed NY Meyer 7 and a Drake NY Jazz #6, which I played for comparison, on my Mark VI alto.

    The Wanne mouthpiece boasts a " precision crafted True Large Chamber". Photos and text on the Wanne website illuminate what is meant by this, explaining the machining innovations which allow for precise cutting of unusual inside shapes before only obtainable by molding material. These Gaia pieces have a slight baffle, described as a "Medium Roll-Over Baffle", which was evident in the sound, imparting a brighter sound than anticipated by the promotional materials, which compare it to  "The sound of a vintage Meyer Bros. mouthpiece, just better". Of course that is a tall claim, and while I did not have one of those legendary pieces to try for comparison, I believe they would have a darker sound than the Gaia, as did the "New York" Meyer that I had available, and the Drake as well. That said, I did find the Gaia to be a very nice mouthpiece, free-blowing and easy to play, and also very even from bottom to top. One thing I noticed was that the altissimo was very strong. I usually play as high as E4, but when I got up there I found that I could easily keep  going higher. Several minutes later, playing in D minor, I effortlessly nailed an F4 without thinking about it. I was able to produce even higher notes that would require some woodshedding to get under control, and that was a nice feeling- wow!  That characteristic alone would be a decisive factor for some players. I also experimented with some multi-phonics and was able  to get them to speak consistently, as I do on other mouthpieces I like. The Gaia has plenty of volume and projects well in all registers.   

     I was wondering if the extra pressure plate included would indeed have an effect on the sound. How much effect could a different type of metal on this tiny part have on the overall sound? I was pleasantly surprised to get a noticeably darker sound when I switched from the gold to the "heavy copper". I was able to compare instantly as I had two ligs, one with the original gold, and the other changed to the copper plate. Wanne offers several other materials for this tiny component, and I can imagine some players would want to experiment to fine tune the sound to taste. I personally found that the Rovner ligature responded fine on the Gaia and was easier for me to compare and evaluate since I am used to it. The Wanne ligature does have it's good points, which include a certain clarity in the tone. I found the cap awkward, as I usually put a cap on during the set when I put down one horn for another instrument. The Wanne cap requires the player to loosen the ligature screw and insert it between the reed and ligature's pressure plate.  So it will protect the tip, but it is not really a "cap". On his company's website, Wanne notes that another maker's cap will fit his ligatures in situations like I described.

    My second test took place at Casa Valdez Studio across town. I wanted David Carlos Valdez to help me evaluate the qualities of the mouthpiece and for him to try them as well. Valdez found the #6 to be darker and more to his liking. I thought he sounded great on it, but then again, he is one of those guys who sound great no matter what!  When I was playing  he was easily able to distinguish the Gaia by sound alone from the Meyer and the Drake. He also noticed the difference in the pressure plates by listening alone. David plays a vintage Link, and is unlikely to switch to a new product, but he agreed that the Gaia is very even and easy to play, and we both believe that it is well suited to players going for a contemporary sound with a bit of brightness at the core.

Michael Conley

    Another thing I did at Casa Valdez was try the Gaia using David's keyless alto to test the harmonics and overtones. Again, here the Gaia was ready to speak in the altissimo.

    There are many parameters to mouthpiece making and adjustment, and Theo Wanne is definitely on to something with his innovations. His website is packed with technical details beyond the scope of this review, and I do recommend that interested players take a look to learn more about what goes into his process. The site includes a very thorough Mouthpiece Glossary. I am interested in trying his saxes as well, and some of the other accessories coming out later.  I appreciate the energy and research he is devoting to bringing us new options for refining our playing.-

Note from David Valdez:
I wished these pieces were darker. They kind of blow like vintage Meyer pieces, except that they are way brighter. They response well and have a nice feel, but they seem like more of a contemporary piece rather than a warm vintage style piece. Theo's site says, "due to its True Large Chamber, it has an even bigger, fuller sound than the vintage mouthpieces", which did not seem to be true to me. The Gaia has a long flat baffle that drops into what I would describe as a bullet Berg-like chamber, so there is no way these puppies are going to really sound like a vintage Meyer. Personally, I want a really warm dark alto sound and unfortunately the Gaia did not do it for me.  

The Theo Wanne piece retails for $499
Theo Wanne's Gaia

Micheal 'Shoehorn' Conley website

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