What the Pros Play – Saxophonist Eric Marienthal
Woodwind & Brasswind Contributing Writer – Greg Vail
Eric Marienthal is an amazing saxophone player with a long list of credits that speak to his creativity and talent. I spoke with Eric and discussed his set up on soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, with the goal of understanding why he uses each product and how these choices shape his sound.
Marienthal is best known as an alto saxophone player. He has played the same Selmer Mark VI alto sax since he was 15 years old. It is 100% original, with the original neck and lacquer, Selmer resonators, and a few minor ergonomic adjustments to fit his hands better: Eb and F palm keys and side E key built up, and an Oleg low Bb extender. In Eric’s own words, “This alto is just ME! It blows free and unrestricted - it is my sound.”
Eric’s mouthpiece setup is a Beechler, metal #7 mouthpiece with a brass, soprano sax Rico H ligature on it. He says the soprano ligature fits the metal Beechler alto mouthpiece pretty well, but it does need a little extra care to get the reed to fit snug. The ligature is in the shape of an H with 4 primary reed contact points at the outer corners. It would appear that the H ligature is a sound driven choice, and that the freedom and tone Eric enjoys offsets the slight size difference between the ligature and mouthpiece.
Flexibility seems to be a reoccurring theme for Marienthal as he talks about his sax gear, commenting a few times, “the flexibility to play any style without needing to change my set up.”
Eric has played Vandoren saxophone reeds for decades now. He prefers the Traditional Vandoren 2½ reed and plays the same on every saxophone. Eric first praised Vandoren for their quality and then added, “The Vandoren reeds give me an open feel that allows me to explore the full dynamic range of the horn.”
I asked Eric how much time he would guess he plays each of the different saxophones and he said, “I think I am on alto about 50% of the time, soprano 30% and tenor 20%.” Most of us know Marienthal as primarily an alto saxophonist but have enjoyed hearing him on soprano sax as well.
Eric has played a Yamaha YSS-62S, silver-plated soprano saxophone for 25-years. He said he got it the same time Dan Higgins purchased his Yamaha soprano, and has played it ever since.
The soprano mouthpiece is a Selmer Super Session H hard rubber that John Reilly modified to smooth and darken the tone a little bit. This mouthpiece is open sounding and blends really great playing with a section. The ligature is a brass Rico H, played with Traditional Vandoren 2 ½ reeds.
Marienthal’s tenor set up includes an old Selmer Mark VI 63xxx with original neck and lacquer. His tenor mouthpiece is a Berg Larson 100 over 2. This mouthpiece is a great mix of, not too bright or too dark a sound. Combined with the Traditional Vandoren 2 ½ reeds and held by the Brancher brass ligature, the tone, blend and dynamic range is just what he wants from a tenor. I believe the Brancher is a single screw ligature with two small bands of metal that attach to a plate over the reed; basic and free while holding the reed securely.
Eric is a passionate and expressive saxophone player that continues to be active wherever great music is being made. There are a few words he used over and over to explain why he liked a particular piece of gear in his set-ups for each saxophone. I believe they are very revealing in defining what is really important in his philosophy of sound. “Free, open, full dynamic range, flexible, unrestricted, one universal set up for any music style, blend for section playing, stand out for lead playing” – Marienthal wants it all, and it seems to all be work great for him.
You can hear some of Eric’s music using the above setups on his website – www.ericmarienthal.com.