By Isaac Bonnell
Theo Wanne has spent most of his life and most of his life’s fortune searching for the perfect saxophone mouthpiece. Now 43, Theo is making the perfect mouthpiece here in Bellingham, his hometown.
For musicians, the mouthpiece is the gateway to creating the perfect sound — that fine blend of power and tone. Theo learned how to create that fine balance by refurbishing thousands of vintage mouthpieces and systematically testing each one to figure out what design characteristics created certain sound qualities.
Before launching Theo Wanne Classic Mouthpieces, Theo owned a company called Saxophone Mouthpiece Heaven in Philadelphia where he refurbished vintage mouthpieces and made custom alterations for clients.
“I got very good at figuring out what people wanted and being able to create that for them,” he said. “People left beaming.”
After several years of customizing mouthpieces, Theo noticed a trend: Most clients were requesting similar modifications and designs that weren’t available on the market. So he decided to take his expertise and design his own mouthpiece — one with a true large chamber where the inside cavity of the mouthpiece is larger than the opening that attaches to the saxophone. That gave him the sound he was looking for.
So he contacted his fraternal twin brother, Tom, about joining forces to launch a new company, Theo Wanne Classic Mouthpieces. After earning his Master of Business Administration degree, Tom spent 10 years as a financial planner in Bellingham — but he craved entrepreneurship. Joining his brother to launch a startup business was a perfect chance to test his skills, he said.
The challenges started immediately. Designing the mouthpiece was one thing, but actually making the mouthpiece proved much harder.
“There’s a reason nobody has done this before,” Theo said, adding that manufacturing the true large chamber requires very complex machinery. “Nobody was making what I wanted. We lost a lot of time — years — and money trying to find someone to make these mouthpieces.”
The Wannes eventually partnered with Pro CNC, a Bellingham precision machine shop that also manufactures aerospace parts, to produce the first mouthpiece in 2007. Since that first tenor sax mouthpiece, the company has created 26 different models for all types of saxophones and has quickly become known worldwide for its quality.
“Now we’ve got two things working for us: the best saxophone mouthpiece designs and the best precision manufacturer in the country,” Theo said.
The company now produces about 200 mouthpieces per month and ships a majority of them worldwide, mostly to Europe and Asia, Tom said.
The Wanne brothers have big plans for growing their young business. They already manufacture mouthpieces for two other companies and have four more contracts in the works. And they won’t stop with just saxophones: designs are in the works for other woodwind mouthpieces as well.