This week I chose to feature two questions because they are connected by a common link. In both cases, the players seem to think of mouthpiece selection as some completely arbitrary process totally unrelated to their needs either physically or application wise. It’s as though I am expected to write back, “Of course, the Studio Master XM10 is the best mouthpiece around. It is used by (fill in the name of some major player here). He plays great on it, so you should be able to play great on it too. If you can’t it’s not my problem. Buy this mouthpiece and go away!”
I hope that over time the Doctor Mouthpiece feature will help to dispel this type of mentality and supply players with a body of knowledge that will help them to begin to think their way through their own playing needs.
From: Aaron Meyer
Sent: Saturday, November 13, 2004 10:01 PM
I am looking to buy a new mouthpiece for my trumpet and Stork
mouthpieces was recommended. I currently play on a Bach 7c. I have a
naturally dark sound and am looking for a mouthpiece that will help with
range, endurance, and give a brighter sound. What would you recommend?
Thank you for your time,
*** This is really scary. This player gave no information about his physical attributes whatsoever, which is (as we are about to point out) the place to start in proper mouthpiece selection.
Dr. Mouthpiece: Hi, and thanks for your inquiry. The most important element in choosing a mouthpiece is to use the proper inner diameter. This will depend on the size of your lips. The basic rule of thumb is as follows:
Thick Lips = large inner diameter. This would be my Vacchiano 1, or 2. The 1.5 is for very thick lips.
Average Lips = Look at the Vacchiano #3 or #4.
Thin lips = small inner diameter. This would be any where from the Vacchiano 5 or 7 to the Studio Master 10’s.
Furthermore, if you don’t have thin lips, and you have been using the 7C, you could have some embouchure flaws that are causing you to have a dark sound in addition to range and endurance problems.
There is really quite a lot that goes into the selection of a mouthpiece. Without more detailed information about you and your playing, I can’t really make a valid recommendation.
I would welcome you to give us a call. We can even arrange for you to receive some pieces on trial for you to play test …
Follow up: The player did call and he did in fact have fleshy lips and many of the accompanying problems that we had suggested. We were able to send him a mouthpiece with a larger inner diameter (Vacchiano#2) with controlled volume (28 bore and a “T” back bore) to help him through the transition time he will experience. Developing….
From: Steven Behnke
Sent: Wednesday, November 17, 2004 12:26 AM
Subject: Getting a darker sound
Hello, my name is Steven Behnke I bought a custom mouthpiece from you
and I am very happy with it, but I am looking for something with a
darker sound. I have a screw off rim so I don’t need a new rim, they
are interchangeable rims correct? What kind of cup would you suggest so
I can get a darker sound?
– Steven Behnke, Ridgefield, NJ
Again, it’s as though I am expected to say: “You need the Vacchiano #1 with a #24 bore and the symphonic back bore. This is what symphonic players use. Just buy this and learn how to use it.” Wow! You guys can be really frightening!
Thank you for your inquiry. Getting a darker sound is all about slowing down the air. The answer to your question depends on what cup you are using now. Whatever that is, you will need to add more volume somewhere in order to get a darker sound. If sound is all you care about, it’s very easy, you are basically free to put the volume anywhere. If you hope to use this mouthpiece for more than a specific application which requires a dark sound, then you have to be a bit cagier about how much volume you add and where you decide to put it. To make these decisions, one needs to have an idea of where your strengths and weaknesses are so that volumes can be shifted based on the Robin Hood Principle (rob the rich and give to the poor). This approach allows one to maintain as much efficiency as possible while moving the sound in the preferred direction. The player is in charge of finding the compromise point that he/she feels comfortable with.
Follow up: Well, it’s a very good thing I didn’t suggest a Vacchiano piece because this player happened to be using one of our custom David Jolley (french horn) pieces! Steven is currently a student at the Mannes School of Music in Manhattan. He felt that his upper register was his strong suit, so we did have some leeway here. Knowing the design of this mouthpiece intimately, we were able to isolate the cup as the most likely element to be modified. The Jolley cup is a very tight modified “V” shape, quick and responsive for a soloist or someone who wears all the different hats that Mr. Jolley does in a given week. Even though the cup is on the tight side, the bore is still quite large (#8 or 5.1m.). With this information, and some knowledge of the player’s strengths, we did not hesitate to recommend adding volume to the cup. In fact, we were able to recommend a stock cup (the C8) as the solution. It satisfied all the requirements…and costs a lot less than a custom copy!
Using a mouthpiece for a specific application is something that many of the finest musicians will do. I remember when I was studying with Gerard Schwarz, he owned somewhere between 20 and 30 trumpets, some of which he had earmarked as the perfect instrument for a single musical work. One of my favorite illustrations of this type of selective equipment use is a Vacchiano story, as many of my favorite stories are. It seems that he had finished a concert late one evening and was finally at home chilling out watching the “Late, Late, Late” show. As was the custom in the day, when the station finally signed off for the evening, they played a recording of taps. Vacchiano was so taken by the quality of sound that the player was getting that he immediately called the station to find out who it was that was playing. After much ado, he was able to find out, to his great shock and amazement, that it was him playing! He suddenly recalled a recording session that he had done quite some time ago, where he had been asked to play taps and had plunked in the biggest darkest mouthpiece he had on him (a copy of a Georges Mager model: Principal Trumpet with the Boston Symphony Orchestra circa 1920 – 1950). I can still see the look of wonder on Vacchiano’s face as he would tell this story, as many times as I had the privilege to hear it. He had managed to accomplish what he had set out to, and had far exceeded his own expectations. Fantastic!