It never ceases to amaze me when I see a horn player come into the shop with a new, very expensive instrument, who’s playing it with a mouthpiece that someone gave him or her in high school or a teacher fished out of his junk drawer. It seems almost like an afterthought. It shouldn’t be. The mouthpiece is the interface between the player and their instrument and choosing the right one can make a dramatic difference.
Choosing a new mouthpiece can be a daunting task. But, it doesn’t have to be. Every mouthpiece needs to meet three requirements: 1. It has to suit the player, 2. It has to suit the horn, 3. It has to produce the desired sound and response.
The first step is to find the right rim. It should be comfortable and allow clean articulation and a smooth legato. The inner diameter of the rim can vary to suit thick or thin lips or to accommodate uneven teeth. A wider ID (inner diameter) allows more of the lip to vibrate and can help a stronger player play with greater volume and flexibility. The contour of the rim can be wider or narrower, flatter or more rounded, or have a reverse peak. Generally, wider flatter rims provide better endurance and thinner, more rounded rims allow greater flexibility.
Next, the cup and throat should compliment the instrument. The key here is the venturi, the narrowest point at the beginning of the mouthpipe. Large bell horns like Conn 8D’s have a slower overall taper and the venturi is quite small. Medium bell instruments, like Alexanders, start larger and have a much quicker taper. So, what’s needed is balance. 8D’s work well with large throat mouthpieces that balance the small venturi. Alex’s need smaller throats to perform well. Generally, mouthpiece throats in the 10-16 range work well for most people.
The shape of the cup affects sound quality and response. More curved, cup shaped side walls make a brighter sound and work well with both large bore instruments and some smaller horns, like Alex’s, Paxmans, and Yamahas. Deeper, straighter sided cups have a darker, less focused sound quality and work well with Geyer-style instruments. Shallower, more cup shaped mouthpieces favor higher harmonics, deeper, straight sided mouthpiece favor the lower register.
There just isn’t one mouthpiece that will work for all players, all instruments, all music. When you settle on a mouthpiece be aware of its basic design and dimensions. Then, if you want to make a change, you will be starting from a known quantity and you can be systematic in your search. No mouthpiece is perfect, the question is: “Does this mouthpiece help me move in the direction I want to go?”