Occasionally I receive correspondence from readers in the form of questions about music, equipment, or other horn-related topics, and I always enjoy getting to follow up with them either through email or a future blog post. Recently I got an email from a reader with a question specifically about Laskey mouthpieces, which I have played on extensively. I sent him a brief email, but looking back at my response I thought I could do a more detailed job in the form of a blog post. He was kind enough to let me reproduce his question here. What follows is an expanded version of my email response.
I have emailed you a couple of times before about things embedded in your blog, but was wondering if I could ask your input on equipment.
I went through a lengthy “mouthpiece safari” in grad school where I wasn’t sure about my set-up…be it the horn itself, or just the mouthpiece. I play on a Yamaha 867KRD and felt like in the end the Laskey 775G was the right mouthpiece. That is until a performance of Beethoven 7 (sigh).
Anyways, I made the switch to a Laskey 725 and loved it for awhile too but found that the smaller size sometimes makes things a little more difficult then is really necessary. Have you played different sizes of these mouthpieces? I saw on your post about your new horn that you play on a 75.
I’d love any ideas you may have about these mouthpieces. I adore the rim and love the sound that they produce, and ultimately, just need to find the right size.
First, let me give a bit of background on the various Laskey mouthpieces I’ve played on over the last few years. Beginning in the fall 0f 2006 I started thinking about other mouthpieces I might try – prior to then I had played on Moosewood mouthpieces pretty exclusively for several years. Many of my colleagues in graduate school had played on Laskeys, and I remembered reading somewhere that they worked particularly well with Geyer-style horns. Not really knowing anything else about them, I ordered a Laskey 70G around November or December of 2006. I immediately liked several things about that mouthpiece, but ultimately the inner diameter seemed a bit too small for me (17 mm). I was having some flexibility problems moving in and out of the low register, and I thought having a bit more room inside the rim would help out with that. So, I tried a 75G, which seemed to work out much better. The wider inner diameter (17.5 mm) made a huge difference, and once I got used to it I was able to do everything that I had been able to do on the 70G. At one point I tried going even bigger, stepping up to first an 80J, and then an 80G, (both 18 mm inner diameters) but that marked a point of diminishing returns. They didn’t really add anything beyond what the 75G had, plus they made other things more difficult. At some point I want to try an 80G again, just to see if anything has changed in the intervening years.
Other than the 75G, the only other model that I’ve played on for an extended period is a 75J, which I used for almost a year. Why the switch? The J cup is marketed as being a bit shallower and differently shaped, so I tried it out to see if I could get some more definition and security in my articulations. The J cup helped, but there were some drawbacks – my sound got brighter than I wanted, and I was having trouble keeping my pitch down. After that year of playing on the 75J I finally got tired of having to compensate, and I decided to go back to the 75G and practice my articulations! The practicing worked (as it tends to do), and I’m now confident on the 75G.
Getting back to Jay’s question, my recommendation when trying new mouthpieces (Laskey or otherwise), would be to not introduce too many variables at one time. If you want to experiment with cup depth or shape, then try to find a mouthpiece with dimensions which are similar to your current model, with the exception of cup depth or shape. Likewise, if you want to vary rim diameter or contour, don’t go for huge changes in cup or bore size at the same time. My reason for this is that it makes it extremely difficult to tell which factors are creating the changes in your playing. By isolating one variable at a time, you at least have a fighting chance of figuring out what works (or doesn’t) on the new mouthpiece. In Jay’s case – not having heard him play – it sounds like the 775G has the right inner diameter, but maybe the cup size is making it difficult to play in the higher range. One suggestion would be to try something with a shallower cup or smaller bore, but keep the same inner diameter. Although Laskey mouthpieces don’t come with screw rims, I have heard of several players sending their mouthpieces to shops to get them converted to a detachable rim. With the screw rim, you can try out different cups and bore sizes all while keeping your original rim. Or, you can keep the same cup and try different rims.
Whew! That’s probably more than you ever wanted to hear about horn mouthpieces… In all seriousness though, mouthpiece choice is a very important topic, and horn players often avoid discussing it – we tend to pick our equipment and stick with it for long periods of time. While there may be nothing inherently wrong with that approach, I also think it’s important to be willing to consider a mouthpiece (or other) change if you aren’t satisfied with your current equipment.