I’ve noticed some colleagues over the past couple of years trying out stainless steel mouthpieces, and I’m getting kind of curious about them. It’s a bit difficult sorting out promotional material from factual information about new products, but stainless steel (and also titanium) horn mouthpieces do seem to have a few potential benefits. Quoting from the Wikipedia article titled “Mouthpiece (brass)”
Two more recent additions to the mouthpiece world are stainless steel and titanium. They are relatively rare, being produced by very few manufacturers. Stainless steel and titanium mouthpieces hold many advantages to the classic brass mouthpiece, including, anecdotally, a much more centered feel and sound, as stainless steel and titanium do not absorb as many vibrations as brass; they require much less care; etc., but they are much more expensive (titanium mouthpieces run up to about $400 each).
As you can see, there isn’t a lot of documented information on how and why exactly these mouthpieces differ from their traditional counterparts, but apparently the density of the material has something to do with making the vibrations more efficient, as well as feeling more comfortable on the embouchure. Going even further, Houser Mouthpieces, a well known manufacturer, makes the following statement on their website.
The next best solution is to consider a stainless steel rim, top, or complete mouthpiece. Stainless has excellent wetting properties and doesn’t grab or stick to the skin like silver. Arguably, it allows for freer lip vibration than gold plate. The H-Kote coatings enhance these properties and have about 1/2 the coefficient of friction of polished stainless. Endurance degrades far less quickly after long hours of playing because you are not “fighting” the metal or shifting the embouchure. Swelling, bruising and tenderness are vastly reduced.
This material gets into the science of things a little bit, which I like, and goes on to mention some of the other potential benefits.
Clarity/Core: When you A/B [not sure what this abbreviation means] stainless and brass mouthpieces, there is noticeable clarity and core to the sound with the stainless piece. Stainless is an efficient transmitter of vibration into the instrument. Notes center more easily than on brass mouthpieces and do not brake up or lose center when playing loud. Stainless is an ideal solution when you need to project or cut through.
Durability/Hypo-allergenic: Much harder than brass-superior resistance to scratches and dents. Unlike plated brass, stainless has nothing to wear off. The player can’t be exposed to zinc which is responsible for many allergic reactions to brass even with the plating in tact.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? The stainless steel option would certainly be a good choice for players with metal allergies, but I would like to get some more reviews from other players. One low brass player I spoke to liked the stainless steel, but mentioned that the mouthpiece did “stick” a bit more than his normal equipment, especially in slurred passages. Notice that this is contrary to one of the advertised advantages of stainless steel. Giddings and Webster also manufactures stainless steel horn mouthpieces, but they take a slightly different marketing angle.
Why is naked better?
Plays the extremes (loud, quiet, high, and low) with ease
No dangerous chemicals
No plating to wear out
No lead exposure
No zinc exposure
No Nickel exposure
Naked mouthpieces have no plating to wear through, meaning they will last forever
The ease of playability of stainless steel improves endurance, response, and feels great while you are playing
The longevity of our mouthpieces means less waste in land fills, and less pollution in the environment
Naked mouthpieces are better for the environment. No dangerous chemicals are used unlike gold and silver plated mouthpieces. The chemicals in the plating process can be very harmful to the environment
Stainless steel is about three times harder than brass making the extremes (loud, soft, high low) easier
Solid stainless steel means you are never exposed to nickel, lead, or zinc. All three are present in raw brass mouthpieces. All of the materials we use have been approved by the nickel institute, and are used in the medical and food preparation industries
Do yourself and the environment a favor…
They have a number of endorsements from low brass players, but none yet from horn players. Looking further at their website, they have a variety of horn mouthpieces, and the prices are actually quite comparable to custom mouthpieces made from traditional materials. One drawback however is their numbering system – it doesn’t really give a clear picture of bore size, inner diameter, and cup depth – pretty important information as far as I’m concerned when looking at mouthpieces. Despite some unanswered questions, I would still be interested in talking more with horn players who use stainless steel mouthpieces, and possibly trying one out in the future. If I do, I’ll be sure to write up some sort of a review for this blog.
“The longevity of our mouthpieces means less waste in land fills, and less pollution in the environment.”
O.K. So how many mouthpieces does the average brass player discard into landfill in a lifetime?
Good point! It sure does make for a good marketing campaign though – green mouthpieces. I don’t think I’ve ever thrown a mouthpiece away.
This is a really timely post, I just had a student asking about these recently. At some point I will have to try one.
Yes, there seem to be more and more horn players trying them. Two members of the section in an orchestra I play with are using Giddings and Webster mouthpieces, but I haven’t really had a chance to pick their brains about it yet.
very interesting! my 14yr old son asked for a gold plated tuba mouthpiece for Christmas and I found this blog post while researching them. I definitely would like him to read this before I buy as they do not come cheap!!!
Thanks for reading! If your son is taking private lessons he should definitely consult with his teacher (or band director) before making any mouthpiece decisions.