We recently received an email from a customer with some mouthpiece questions. I thought it was interesting enough to pass on. Here it is, along with out answers.
“Hi Mr. Osmun,
I don’t know if you remember me, but I bought an Engelbert Schmid from you guys about a year and a half ago. I am a senior horn performance major. I am currently taking a horn pedagogy class.
As part of the requirements for the performance major, we have take a pedagogy class about our particular instrument (looking at the different aspects of our instruments and discussing ways to the best teacher possible).
Anyways, a few weeks ago we talked about specific kinds of mouthpieces and what makes them different. To be honest, there is not much information in major sources that I am using (such as Farkas, Rider, Reynolds, Schuller, etc.) about the specifics of each kind of mouthpiece. You are the first person that we thought of to talk to about specifics regarding mouthpieces since you have such a wide collection of them/the molds for them in your store.
I’ve compiled a list of 5 questions and was wondering if you’d consider taking the time to answer some of them. I completely understand if you’re too busy, but it would be EXTREMELY helpful to have this information for my horn class if at all possible!
1. Who are the top 10 mouthpiece brands (used by both students and professionals)?
2. Is there a way that you formalize the approach to selecting a mouthpiece for horn players?
3. What are some of the main differences (i. e. exact measurements) of the top 10 mouthpieces listed above (i. e. inside diameter of the rim, cup size, shape of the cup, bore size)?
4. Do the top 10 mouthpieces work better for different kinds of horns?
5. Does metal make a difference in the sound/tone quality of these mouthpieces? (i. e. gold rim vs. silver rim)
In my research thus far I’ve basically encountered statements like “a bigger mouthpiece produces a darker tone” but no book I’ve encountered seems to have any answers suggesting why this would be the case. I guess the gist of what Dr. Iltis and I are trying to boil down to in this part of the pedagogy class is “how do I pick the right mouthpiece for my student?” Is there any way to beat the general “it just sounds better” and get down to specifics? These are just a few of the questions I’ve been wrestling with.
Thank you SO MUCH Mr. Osmun! Any suggestions for further reading/answers would be GREATLY APPRECIATED! 🙂
Thanks for your note. I hope you are enjoying your Schmid horn. They’re the best out there.
I guess you’re finding out that there is not a lot of really useful mouthpiece information out there. Every maker has different specifications and provides different amounts on information about their products. Because no one agrees on which specs are important or has a uniform way of measuring curved surfaces it can be almost impossible to compare across product lines. In our range of mouthpieces we are trying to systematize some of this material so that players can make an informed choice, at least among our products. When other makers provide the same sort of information players may be able to make the same kind of comparisons of their products.
To answer your questions fully would require a doctoral dissertation. What I have tried to do is to provide brief answers and observations that I hope will clarify things a little and help you narrow your focus.
1. Question: Who are the top 10 mouthpiece brands (used by both students and professionals)?
Answer: The mouthpieces we see most commonly are (in no particular order): our own (Osmun), Moosewood, Stork, Schilke, Laskey, Holton, Schmid, Halstead-Chidell (Paxman), Giardinelli, Marcinkiewicz. Giardinelli mouthpieces were for many years almost as pervasive as Bach mouthpieces are in the trumpet world, but, with the repeated selling of the business and its current decline to that of a brand name for Musician’s Friend, Inc., they have fallen out of general use, although there are still a lot of the old ones around.
2. Question: Is there a way that you formalize the approach to selecting a mouthpiece for horn players?
Answer: First of all, we don’t select mouthpieces for players. The most important factor in any mouthpiece is that the player like it, feel comfortable with it, and fell it helps him or her closer approach the desired musical end. That being said, we have organized our line into what we call “sound families”. They are mouthpieces whose basic design reflects the type of mouthpiece, and thus the characteristic sound, prevalent in certain geographic areas. Once we know what kind of sound the player is looking for we can suggest equipment to facilitate it. We will suggest rims based on the customers needs, i.e. narrow rims for flexibility, wide rims for endurance. Our printed and online literature provides accurate drawings of cup and rim contours and numerical measurements of features like bite radius so that the player can make informed choices.
3. Question: What are some of the main differences (i. e. exact measurements) of the top 10 mouthpieces listed above (i. e. inside diameter of the rim, cup size, shape of the cup, bore size)?
Answer: There are about a million chances for different measurements among the various makers. Interestingly, there is almost no variation at all of the inner diameter of the cup. Almost everyone makes their mouthpieces to measure .650-660″ at the point where the cup and rim meet. Halsted-Chidell mouthpieces measure 17.5mm (.689) at the joint. Our own mouthpieces are available in three different inside diameters. Since there is no standard way of measuring the “bite” of the rim you really can’t make a direct comparison between different makers rims.
4. Question: Do the top 10 mouthpieces work better for different kinds of horns?
Answer: In my experience the biggest determinant of whether an mouthpiece will work with a particular horn is the relative size of the mouthpiece throat as compared with the venturi of the horn. What’s needed is balance. Large bell horns tend to have smaller venturis (the narrowest point in the mouthpipe). Small belled instrument have larger venturis. So, a mouthpiece with a four or eight bore might be a good choice for a Conn 8D while an Alexander 103 might require a fourteen or sixteen throat. In practice we find that most mouthpieces with throats in the range ten-to-fourteen work well for most players in most instruments.
5. Question: Does metal make a difference in the sound/tone quality of these mouthpieces? (i. e. gold rim vs. silver rim)
Answer: Yes the metal does make a difference. The example you give is not of the metal, but of the plated finish. Most mouthpieces are made of what’s called “free cutting brass” rod. “Free cutting” means that a small amount of lead is included in the alloy to facilitate turning on the lathe. So, in order to prevent adverse reactions or allergies, the base metal is usually plated. Silver is the most common plating because it’s easy to apply and inexpensive. We prefer gold plating because it’s hypo-allergenic and feels more slippery on the lips. a feeling preferred by most players who use a wet embouchure. We also make rims from delrin, a plastic that is not temperature sensitive and is a little “grippier” that the metal rims. Mouthpiece are also sometimes made of bronze, sterling silver, or stainless steel.
I hope some of this information is useful to you. Best of luck on your project.