I guess Bach-ify is a silly word. Maybe I should have said Bach-sounding, or Bach-like. Whatever version of the term you like, it is a pretty standard concept. You know, the tone color, the attack, that sort of thing. Bach rules in the orchestral world. The Storks, Terry Warburton, Schilke, Monette, and others have made wonderful contributions in that area, but Bach still wins, by a mile. A large part of the renowned Bach sound & response characteristics is due to the backbore. Many a player has thought to himself ‘what would my mouthpiece play like with a Bach backbore?’ Given the popularity of the Bach sound, that is a very reasonable question. It is a question that is best answered by the player’s own experience.”
Phyllis Stork Response:
Getting back to this “Bach sound” thing, I guess I’m just not as impressed with it as you seem to be. Take a Bach mouthpiece and put it on something other than a Bach trumpet and you get a completely different result. To quote “the tone the attack, that sort of thing” . . . well, it all changes.
“Bach rules in the orchestral world” – I’d *love* to look at this a little more closely. Is this really a question of startling superiority in the Bach design or more a question of who has managed to saturate the mouthpiece market most effectively over the last 50 years? Which mouthpiece were you given when you first started playing? If you expected to have a career in an orchestra you were given a Bach mouthpiece. It was somewhere between a #1 and a 1-1/2C. That’s the way it was. This process turned into a kind of natural “selecting out” of all those players that these few models would just never work for. Only those players that fit a certain physical mold were able to flourish on these pieces. They went on to become the principle players of the day, who went on to perpetuate the same ritualistic sacrificing of everyone who was not like them. I’d like to go further into detail about the other players and the paths that they took, but maybe another day.
I will say that European orchestras are not overloaded with the Bach mouthpiece (world marketing is a little more difficult, especially back then). I think it’s pretty ethnocentric to talk about what rules the “orchestral world” solely in terms of the U.S. (Brumo Tilz happens to be the European equivalent of Bach). I think that the guys in Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam (Concertgebow), Rotterdam, London, and even the Asian orchestras would probably be pretty sore about this one.
But to continue, “A large part of the Bach sound and response characteristics is due to the backbore.” Hmmmm . . . That’s really quite a claim. Maybe a little historic background will shed some light on this topic.
When Vincent Bach was in the process of developing his mouthpiece line, it was his practice to use different backbores for different cup depths and inner diameters. Bach was *the* custom mouthpiece man in New York at the time. He understood the importance of achieving a balance between *all* the different aspects of a mouthpiece in order to gain optimum results. Apart from having learned of this fact from many old time New York musicians, this has also been documented by a fellow named Stephen Ickes.
Every different cup depth had its own backbore to go with it when the line was new. It wasn’t until they started mass producing these things that they decided to use one backbore only. This was done for reasons of convenience, not because they had found a magic backbore. In fact, they took the backbore that they thought would be the least objectionable (with a mind on mass market student use) and it was done.
How many of the orchestral musicians today use the standard Bach backbore. Being in a position of having modified a good percentage of these backbores, I’d be shocked to find it’s more than 25%.
I think backbores take on this mystical quality because people view it as more of an unknown than those aspects of the mouthpiece that they can see. They feel that they can see the cup, so there can’t be anything awe inspiring about that. Nevertheless, I would tend to believe that the cup design of a Bach mouthpiece has at least as much to do with any kind of “typical” responses that we might see, as does the backbore. Altering the cup of the typical orchestral Bach model (again 1 – 1-1/2C) is *much* more rare than alterations to the backbore!
As someone who has studied and documented the inside, outside, top to bottom, wall depth etc., of every major backbore out there (and then some), and all the major manufacturers versions of each of the same, I think of the backbore in the same way that I do any other facet of the mouthpiece, as a series of profiles and tapers. Yes, where these various arcs occur can have a significant impact on the quality of sound to be produced. It’s part of our job to know where to adjust these contours and how to go about doing it. But, have I experienced any revelations upon dissecting an intact vintage Mount Vernon backbore? Nahh . . . not really. Even when I’ve been told that this piece originally belonged to so and so, and we all know he had the best sound on earth . . . yadda, yadda, yadda. Well, again, that’s how these things start. Of course, if that backbore really had magic properties of its own, it wouldn’t have wound up on the chopping block to begin with. Why? Because the next person who played it would have rocketed to stardom with it, of course! What did happen, in reality, was that the next player who tried it was a completely different individual, and so were all the other players who gave it a ‘whack’ in between.
The long and short of it is, I’m sure that there is no relic Bach #24 backbore reamer sitting in a glass case in a vault somewhere in the Bach shop, kept under lock and key just to keep the number of great trumpet players down to a humbling few. Neither is there any great import in the differences between Schilke’s version, as opposed to any vintage Bach version (they have changed over time) Giardinelli’s version or any of the rest of us. What I have said before and will say again, the difference lies in matching an individual player.
Here at Stork Custom Mouthpieces, we like to think of ourselves as the ‘Burger King’ of mouthpiece makers. You know, “have it your way!” We’ve all heard the stories about mouthpiece makers who know only one thing and therefore do only one thing. I think this kind of approach comes from lack of knowledge, not a profusion of it. As full service custom mouthpiece makers, we do it all. Bach parts, Schilke parts, whoever, whatever, that just goes along with the gig.
The difference here is that I feel a responsibility to let people know if I think that they are headed in the wrong direction. Of course it would be much easier for me to just say, “Okay, if that’s what you want, you got it!” Charge ’em and send them off. After all, I did just what they asked, didn’t I? That’s not how Stork Custom Mouthpieces does business. We prefer to try to offer the advice and LET THEM MAKE AN INFORMED DECISION. If they go in the other direction from what I’ve advised, at least my conscience is clear, and they will know that I told them square, to the best of my ability.
No, I can’t always predict exactly what will happen. Sometimes you’ve just got to put that line in the water and see if anything will bite. In most cases we provide materials, free of charge, so that we can establish any theories BEFORE getting players to invest their hard earned money on a whim and notion. As I’ve said before, experimentation can be a great thing, but I wouldn’t want a brain surgeon doing it on me . . . not at those prices!
Yes, most professionals have “tried everything” as you put it. That’s the point exactly. Blind experimentation is not only haphazard in the results it yields; it can also get to be very expensive! Knowledge is power. Knowing how to manipulate the variables of a mouthpiece is what is important, not the dials on the latest computerized equipment – should we all reveal our tax forms to demonstrate who really makes the best equipment based on the cost of our computerized lathes? It seems to me that Phil Smith, James Thompson, Rolf Smedvig, Charlie Schluetter, and all the rest do pretty well on all those tired old backbores that they have.
Well, it’s been fun, but I’ve really gotta’ get back to work!