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Clarinet and Saxophone Mouthpieces

Clarinet and Saxophone Mouthpieces

The mouthpiece of a woodwind instrument is placed in the player's mouth. In the case of the single reed instrument such as the clarinet and saxophone it is usually separate to the instrument and there are many, many permutations. Again, in the case of the single reed woodwind instrument (clarinet & saxophone) the chief purpose of the mouthpiece is to provide an opening through which the instrument can be "blown". In reality what happens is that air enters the instrument via the mouthpiece (via the mouth) and one end of the air chamber vibrates via the combination of the air stream (formed by our own breath) and the reed.

Single-reed instrument mouthpieces (clarinet and saxophone) are "wedge-shaped" - the single reed is placed against the table of the mouthpiece in contact with the player's bottom lip. When blown, the reed vibrates,causing the air column inside the instrument to do likewise. The shape of the inside of the mouthpiece has a huge affect on the sound of the instrument. As a basic and general rule, mouthpieces with a large rounded chamber sound very different to ones with a small or square chamber.

TIP OPENING: The distance between the tip of the mouthpiece and the tip of the reed.

FACING: The curved section that leaves the "table" and continues to the tip of the mouthpiece. The length of a facing is defined as the distance from the tip of the mouthpiece to the point where the reed and mouthpiece meet. See image above.

The different elements of a mouthpiece (facing length, tip opening and chamber size) all have a different effect on the sound produced. Short facings on a mouthpiece tend to be linked with a wider tip opening (Jazz players sometimes use this combination) also with a softer reed - volume is increased with this arrangement. Long facings combined with narrower tip openings and harder reeds make pianoissimo playing easier but make volume less easy to obtain.

The mouthpiece chamber or interior space has more effect on the tone of the instrument. Eg the size of baffle and shape of the chamber will affect whether the tone is clean or buzzy, mellow or bright. But it should be stressed that all these characteristics will alter depending on the way the instrument is blown and the embouchure of the player. Playing style counts for a lot. You may buy a jazz mouthpiece (or one that is meant to sound right for a jazz musician) but that does not necessarily make you a jazz player....

Clarinet Mouthpieces - Vandoren, Yamaha, Selmer, David Hite, Pomarico

Clarinet Mouthpieces - Vandoren, Yamaha, Selmer, David Hite, Pomarico

The clarinet mouthpiece is in many ways similar to the saxophone one. There are as many variations, perhaps, but somewhat fewer arguments about baffle, facing and tip opening, and the interior of the mouthpiece tends to the narrow with a square cross section visible through the throat. Unlike the saxophone mouthpiece, it has a cork ringed tenon at the base which fits into rather than over the barrel of the clarinet. The smallest clarinet is the Eb, then Bb and A (which can usually use the same mouthpieces as they are very similar in size), the alto and bass clarinet and even the contra-bass clarinet for which I'm afraid at present we don't really cater. Most students begin on the Bb (B flat) clarinet. Even a new clarinet will benefit from an upgraded mouthpiece right from the start, as most student clarinet do not come with a very good mouthpiece. Changing to a Yamaha mouthpiece, for instance, may be with a 1R Rovner ligature will create a better response and easier playing almost immediately.

Go to Clarinet Mouthpieces. See sections left for links to all instrument mouthpieces.

Saxophone Mouthpieces - Otto Link, Vandoren, Yamaha, Meyer, Selmer

Saxophone Mouthpieces - Otto Link, Vandoren, Yamaha, Meyer, Selmer

The saxophone mouthpiece is much like the clarinet mouthpiece, but the saxophone's crook has a ring of cork glued to it instead of having a tenon like the clarinet mouthpiece. The saxophone mouthpiece is then fitted over this cork, usually with about a quarter inch showing. As stated, there are a great many mouthpieces available, making choosing the right one incredibly difficult. You may borrow a friend's mouthpiece, decide you like it, buy the exact same one and yet not achieve the same result from it... Some of the mouthpieces we supply are: Meyer, Selmer, Vandoren, Otto Link, Yamaha, David Hite there are many more. Please contact us if you can't find the one you want. There is information about the "creation" of the saxophone in the "Saxophone" Section. When inventing the instrument, Adolphe Sax stipulated that the mouthpiece have a "large and round" interior, and so it was until about the 1930s when Jazz musicians began to experiment with sound, and so with the interior and exterior shape of their mouthpieces in order to alter and personalise the specific sounds they wanted.

Changes to the design were often to a narrower chamber for a brighter tone, especially for classically inclined musicians. Some purists felt the Sax's design should not be altered, but by the 1970s the narrower chamber was pretty much the norm for "classical" players. Large chambered mouthpieces virtually ceased to be, and for a while only old versions existed.

Mouthpieces are usually made of hard (vulcanised) rubber or brass (sometimes gold or silver plated to prevent tarninshing and occasionally human reaction to the metal). Other materials include stainless steel, bronze, plastic, crystal and wood (rarely). The chief difference is between metal and rubber although some argue that it is the specification - shape of the mouthpiece that affects tone rather than the material. Either way, the facing and tip opening on a mouthpiece may be altered, but is an extremely specialised process and not one undertaken lightly. We are talking fractions of a millimetre. Too much and the mouthpiece is rendered useless.

Brass Mouthpieces - Rims, Shanks and Chambers

Brass Mouthpieces - Rims, Shanks and Chambers

Denis Wick and Vincent Bach Brass Mouthpieces - A Brief Guide to Brass Mouthpieces

Mouthpieces come in many different shapes and sizes and can present a minefield to any player wanting to change mouthpiece or buy for the first time.

Brass Mouthpieces - General

Brass Mouthpieces - General

The physical shape of the brass mouthpiece has always been of great interest; manufacturers and players claim that the various parts - rim, cup, throat, backbore and shank - affect tone and playability. However, factors such as the shape and size of players’ mouths, their embouchure, and perception of sound should also be taken into account.

According to Vincent Bach, the "selection of a satisfactory mouthpiece presents to the average player an immeasurably greater problem than the choice of an instrument".

The mouthpieces of brass instruments have a "rounded" section that fits against the lips (the rim), an "enclosed volume of air" (cup diameter and depth), a narrow constriction (throat and shank), and a taper that widens out to meet the bore of the body of the instrument (the back bore). The enclosed volume may be approximately conical, as in many horn mouthpieces, or cup shaped, as in most other brass instruments (see left and below).

Brass Mouthpiece Parts Labelled

Brass Mouthpiece Parts Labelled

It is useful to know, especially when ordering, what the letters and numbers ascribed to each mouthpiece mean, how they affect play and to whom they are suited. This again is a minefield, as neither manufacturer nor player seem to agree on what is best generally for any player. They do seem to agree on what the separate parts of the mouthpiece achieve.

Brass Mouthpiece - Rims

Brass Mouthpiece - Rims

Generally, a wide rim increases endurance, a narrow one improves flexibility and range, and a round one improves comfort. While a sharp rim (the sharpness of the inner rim), advocated by most sellers and players, increases "brilliance and precision of attack", a thick rim creates more lip contact and may make high notes easier to reach, and increase endurance. A sharp "bite" may make playing pitch more accurate, but lip control may be limited as may comfort and endurance. A soft bite will make up for this, but may lessen the "clarity of attack".

In both Denis Wick and Vincent Bach mouthpieces a "W" in the name implies a wider cushion rim on the cup. "X" usually signifies a large "cushion" rim. For Denis Wick, "N" (trombone and French horn) means a narrower rim.

Brass Mouthpieces - Throats

Brass Mouthpieces - Throats

A large throat is thought to increase blowing "freedom", volume and tone. It may also sharpen the higher register, and lower register. A smaller size may increase resistance, endurance and brilliance, but flatten the higher register. All standard Bach mouthpieces are made with medium-sized throats No 27 (3.66 mm). Special throat sizes are available. The lower the number assigned, the larger the throat.

Brass Mouthpieces - Cups

Brass Mouthpieces - Cups

A larger cup diameter may increase volume and control, while a smaller one may help to relieve fatigue and weakness. A deep cup may darken tone, while a shallow one may help to brighten it. A large cup will also lower the pitch - thus the importance of matching the cup of the mouthpiece with the pitch of the instrument.

VBI trumpet, cornet and flugel horn mouthpieces are numbered from the largest to the smallest diameters, and from the deepest to the most shallow cup. Numbers progress from 1 (largest cup diameter) to 20 (smallest). Cup depths are notated with letters: "A" is the deepest, standard cups have no letter, and "F" is the shallowest. "V" models, as the letter suggests, have "V" style cups - for these, cup depth is notated with "S" shallow or "M" medium. So 5MV is medium deep V style cup.

Denis Wick mouthpieces work in a similar way: the lower the number, the larger the cup diameter and vice-versa. The lettering system is more idiosyncratic. Generally speaking, "B" is medium depth, "C" is shallow, "E" is very shallow. For flugel horn, "F" is very deep. For trombone, Euphonium and baritone, "A" is deep. For tuba, "S" is shallow cup. So 5BFL flugel horn, is medium-deep cup, large fitting.

Back Bores - Trumpet Mouthpieces

Back Bores - Trumpet Mouthpieces

Backbores vary in size and taper, and can help adjust tone and pitch depending on how these combine, and what sort of cup and throat the mouthpiece possesses. If the backbore of a mouthpiece is too small, the higher registers may be flat; if too large, the mouthpiece will make the player suffer and exhaust their embouchure. Size alone is not a very accurate way of gauging backbore, as taper and shape also change.

For Denis Wick trombone, "L" is large bore and "S" is medium bore. For tuba, "L" is large fitting (S is shallow cup). Generally, the first letter suffix applies to cup depth, and the second (if there are two) to bore/fitting. So tuba 2SL is shallow cup/large fitting, and trombone 4BL is medium cup large bore/fitting.

VBI mouthpiece backbores are assigned numbers, although these apply to factory parts, not to the size and shape of the backbore. Trumpet and cornet "C" mouthpieces have a No10 back bore as do mouthpieces with no letter. This can probably be considered medium, however, VBI claim that backbores cannot be considered in terms of "large or small" because of the variation in size and taper. They attribute different qualities to each style of backbore.

Buying a Brass Mouthpiece

The difficulty when buying a brass mouthpiece is well documented. Denis Wick has the following to say on the subject:

"The brass player’s mouthpiece is the most important piece of equipment he or she possesses. It is as personal as shoes and should be fitted as carefully. Instruments need mouthpieces which bring out their best characteristics and players need mouthpieces that will help them realise their full potential. There is no easy answer to this complex requirement. No two players are alike and their requirements from the same instrument can be wildly different. Care taken in choosing the right mouthpiece for instrument, type of music and player can make the difference between steady progress, leading to ultimate success and wasted effort leading to constant frustration. Brass instruments are hardly ever made with really accurate keyboard-precise intonation. Manufacturers usually try to find the best intonation compromise by the intricate matching of the internal tapers. The natural harmonics of any tube are governed by natural laws and can never be perfectly in tune as western man hears the notes. A well designed mouthpiece should assist the compromise and make the instrument more usable. The perfect match can give perfect results. The best players can, with careful training, produce intonation which transcends the narrow confines of equal temperament."

Vincent Bach thinks along a similar line:

"Choosing the perfect mouthpiece is often more difficult than choosing the perfect instrument. Your success as a musician depends on the choice of equipment that will do justice to your capabilities."

He has the following to say about choosing a mouthpiece:

"Selecting a Mouthpiece When selecting a mouthpiece, a brass instrumentalist should choose one with a solid, compact tone of large volume. A carefully selected Bach mouthpiece can help improve a player's embouchure, attack, tonguing and endurance. Professional musicians and advanced students prefer the musical results of large mouthpieces, such as the Bach 1B, 1C, 11.4C, 11.2B, 11.2C, 21.2C, 3C, which provide a maximum volume of tone with the least amount of effort. By opening up the lips so that they do not touch, the larger mouthpiece produces a clearer, purer tone. The large cup diameter also allows a greater portion of the lip to vibrate, producing a larger volume of tone, and keeps a player from forcing high tones by encouraging the correct functioning of the lip muscles. However, a student may find a medium-sized mouthpiece suitable. Do not select a certain mouthpiece because another player uses it. Because no two players have the same lip or tooth formation, what is perfect for one may be entirely unsuitable for the other. Bach produces many different models so that each player can find the best mouthpiece for their individual embouchure."

Mouthpiece Testing by Mail

Up to three mouthpieces can be taken at one time. All three must be paid for.
Protection must be used to prevent bitemarks on mouthpiece. Damaged mouthpieces cannot be returned.
If you do not possess mouthpiece patches (and wish to try woodwind mouthpieces) please order from the site.
Mouthpieces not required must be returned within 7 days of receiving them.
20% surcharge for cost of mouthpieces if this service is used.

SAXOPHONE MOUTHPIECES
Sopranino Sax Mouthpieces
Soprano Sax Mouthpieces
Alto Sax Mouthpieces
Tenor Sax Mouthpieces
Baritone Sax Mouthpieces
Mouthpiece Caps & Crooks
Saxophone Mouthpieces
CLARINET MOUTHPIECES
Bb Clarinet Mouthpieces
Eb Clarinet Mouthpieces
Bass Clarinet Mouthpieces
Alto Clarinet Mouthpieces
Clarinet Mouthpieces
TRUMPET MOUTHPIECES
Embouchure Improvers
Arnolds & Sons Mouthpieces
Vincent Bach & VBI Megatone
Denis Wick & DW Heavytop
& Trumpet Mouthpiece Pouches
Trumpet Mouthpieces
CORNET MOUTHPIECES
Embouchure Improvers
Arnold & Sons Mouthpieces
Vincent Bach & VBI Megatone
Denis Wick & DW Heavytop
Denis Wick Heritage Mouthpiece Pouches
Cornet Mouthpieces
TROMBONE MOUTHPIECES
Embouchure Improvers
Arnolds & Sons Mouthpieces
Vincent Bach Mouthpieces
Denis Wick & DW Heavy Top
DW Heritage Mouthpieces
Mouthpiece Pouches
Trombone Mouthpieces
FLUGELHORN MOUTHPIECES
Vincent Bach Flugelhorn Mouthpieces
Denis Wick Flugelhorn Mouthpieces
Mouthpiece Pouches
Flugelhorn Mouthpieces
TENOR HORN MOUTHPIECES
Vincent Bach Tenor Horn Mouthpieces
Denis Wick Tenor Horn Mouthpieces
Mouthpiece Pouches
Tenor Horn Mouthpieces
BARITONE HORN MOUTHPIECES
Denis Wick Baritone Horn Mouthpieces
Vincent Bach Baritone Horn Mouthpieces
Mouthpiece Pouches
Baritone Horn Mouthpieces
EUPHONIUM MOUTHPIECES
Denis Wick Euphonium Mouthpieces
Vincent Bach Euphonium Mouthpieces
Mouthpiece Pouches
Euphonium Mouthpieces
FRENCH HORN MOUTHPIECES
Denis Wick Mouthpieces
Denis Wick Heavytop Mouthpieces
Vincent Bach Mouthpieces
Mouthpiece Pouches
French Horn Mouthpieces
TUBA MOUTHPIECES
Arnolds & Sons Mouthpieces
Denis Wick Tuba Mouthpieces
Vincent Bach Tuba Mouthpieces
Mouthpiece Pouches
Tuba Mouthpieces

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