Mouthpiece Tales

In August of this year I switched mouthpieces. At the time I wasn’t really sure how it was going to work out, but in the back of my mind I fully expected to end up returning to the same model I’d been playing for the last several years, a Laskey 75 (both J and G cups). I’ve been around the “Mouthpiece Wheel of Doom” a few times, so I wasn’t expecting any dramatic changes. Over the last few months, though, I’ve really grown to like the new mouthpiece, a Houser Standley GS12 model in silver, with a stainless steel rim (Model E, with H-Kote).

In short, I feel like my sound, endurance, flexibility, and overall approach to the instrument have gotten better – not entirely due to the new mouthpiece, to be sure – but certainly helped along by it. Since trading up my Yamaha 667v for an Englebert Schmid a few years ago, I’ve been looking for a mouthpiece that fit the instrument a bit better. The Laskey wasn’t terrible by any means, but I always felt like I could be getting a little more efficiency and warmth of sound out of the instrument. Attacks seem more secure now, and there’s more of an envelope (not sure if that’s the right term) around the core sound, “more golden” as one former student put it. There are a couple of factors contributing to this, I think. One of them is the dimensions of the mouthpiece and cup shape. The Standley has a slightly larger, more V-shaped cup, less bowl-shaped than the Laskey, and for whatever reason this works better for me on this particular horn (how’s that for a qualified statement!) The second is the stainless steel rim with H-Kote, a titanium coating that imparts a similar feeling as gold plate, but is much more durable and long lasting (read Bruce Hembd’s review of his H-Kote rim). Flexibility is noticeably improved for me on this rim, compared to the silver plated rims I’ve played on in the past. Endurance – both long and short term – seems better as well, but this is only partially due to the new rim I suspect. In addition to the mouthpiece change I’ve also stepped up my practice regimen this semester in preparation for an audition, a recital in late November, and a recording session in December. The most gratifying thing about this experience has been getting some positive feedback on the difference in my playing. Recently I received the following email from a reader.

I wanted to comment on your fine effort with the latest Kop. study – #40.  In reviewing the earlier studies I cannot help but notice a change in your playing which I suppose might come from more experience and confidence in doing more of these studies.  But I also wondered to what degree your change in equipment has also influenced matters – new mp rim, new horn – of what I can see.  I am quite convinced that your sound has changed; changes of various positions in your studio and perhaps better use of the recording equipment notwithstanding.
What I hear is a warmer, concentrated sound, with more liquid slurs, more compact attacks, and what also seems to be less effort reflected in a more pronounced sense of musicality (not that your previous efforts were not musical!).
Needless to say I was flattered to receive this message, but it also confirmed some of the things I’ve been noticing myself. I plan to continue playing the Houser for the foreseeable future – I am going to try the stainless version of the cup as well just to see if there is any distinguishable difference – but that doesn’t mean I’m committed to it for the rest of my career. Sometimes little changes, like a new mouthpiece or rim – can make a big difference. For another mouthpiece tale, check out Travis Bennett’s blog. To close out this post I’ll leave you with a picture of the various mouthpieces I’ve played over the last 15 years.
From left to right they are: Giardinelli C10, Yamaha 30C4, Moosewood B12, Moosewood Megamoose, Laskey 75J, Laskey 75G, and Houser Standley GS12. Why hang on to them, you might ask? Well, other than sentimental value (not much of that, except for the Giardinelli, the first mouthpiece I ever bought), I keep them because you never know when a particular mouthpiece might work really well for a student. Having extra mouthpieces around allows me to loan them out and let students try them before deciding to purchase their own. Other than the instrument itself, the mouthpiece is the most crucial piece of  equipment you will buy, and worth close consideration.

Stainless Steel Mouthpieces

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,[citation needed] as stainless steel and titanium do not absorb as many vibrations as brass;[citation needed] 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?

Faster response!
Plays the extremes (loud, quiet, high, and low) with ease
Improves endurance
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.

%d bloggers like this: