[This is a continually evolving post, which has been edited at least three times. The Mouthpiece Wheel of Doom continues to turn!] In part two of this equipment update (see Part 1 here), I’ll share some information about trying different mouthpieces on a new horn. In Part 1, I discussed my switch to a Yamaha 671 double from an Engelbert Schmid double. For many years I’ve used a Houser GS12 mouthpiece in silver plate with a Houser E rim in H Kote. For more information on what all of that means, you can check out the Houser website, but in short it is a very middle of the road mouthpiece, with a slightly smaller-than-average size cup and bore. The rim has a 17.5mm inner diameter, with a fairly rounded profile (similar to a Laskey rim). It worked very well on the Schmid, and I have been quite happy with it overall. However, after a month or so with the Yamaha, I decided it was time to try out some different mouthpieces to see how they worked with the new horn. Though not an extreme mouthpiece collector (I own less than a hundred) my stable of mouthpieces is representative of many of the most common brands today. One of the main reasons for maintaining a robust collection is so that both I and my students can readily try out different rim and cup combinations. Plus, sometimes it’s just fun to try out a new mouthpiece for a while to see what happens! I usually end up coming right back to where I started, but in some cases a switch turns out to be the right move.
What am I looking for in a mouthpiece? Here’s my short list:
- A comfortable rim – I tend to prefer rounded rims, with not too much “bite” on the inside edge
- 17.5 mm Inner Diameter (Not interested in trying a wider ID at this point)
- Enough room in the cup to allow my embouchure to function properly, but not so big that endurance and range become difficult
- A clear, distinct front to articulations
- Compatible with my personal sound concept and style of playing
Of course I realize that a mouthpiece alone will not solve all of one’s playing issues. There are very few, if any, magic bullets, but sometimes it’s worth trying new equipment, even if you end up right back where you started. As of this update I have narrowed my choices down from four options, all of which I’ve played on previously with my Schmid: My current Houser Mouthpiece (described above); a Balumusik/Malestrom Le Mezzo Meow cup in stainless steel with my Houser E Rim, a Laskey 75G in Silver Plate, and a Houghton Horns/Houser H1 one-piece stainless with a 17.5mm rim. All four mouthpieces are high quality models, and can be easily found online. The Balu mouthpiece was very easy to play on, with great intonation and crisp, distinct articulations. However, there was just a little too much edge or sizzle in the sound for my taste. More promising was the Houghton H1, which had the same nice articulations and other characteristics as the Balu, but with a rounder, mellower sound overall, similar to the Houser. One drawback to the Houghton that wasn’t immediately noticeable at first but became more apparent after a week or so was the stickier feel of the polished stainless steel rim. Perhaps I’ve just gotten very attached to my H-Kote rim, but for whatever reason the Houghton didn’t settle in and start to feel good. The Houghton rim also has a more defined inner edge, which got great articulations, but wasn’t helpful for endurance. After two weeks on the Houghton, I decided to try something else. Right now I am liking the Laskey 75G the best in terms of sound, response, and overall feel on the Yamaha. It might also be worth mentioning that the Laskey worked very well on my previous Yamaha, a 667V. Perhaps after some time I will give the Houghton, Balu, or Houser another try, but for right now the Laskey seems to be the best option.
Many horn players shy away from experimenting with equipment, and prefer to stay on the same trusted horns and/or mouthpieces they’ve been using for years. I understand and respect this approach, but if you’re curious about other equipment you shouldn’t feel stuck. Now more than ever there are so many great options out there that it really can be worth trying out some different gear from time to time. Most mouthpiece makers will allow you to order several models on trial, so you need not spend big bucks building a mouthpiece collection unless you want to.