Re: What can a mouthpiece do?

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Posted by Rick Denney on July 26, 2002 at 09:29:47:

In Reply to: What can a mouthpiece do? posted by Leland on July 25, 2002 at 21:59:48:

When it comes to solving problems, it seems to me that a mouthpiece is one of many influences. Certainly the intonation of the instrument is affected by the mouthpiece--this has been well documented both in the acoustics literature as well as anecdotally from people who should know. If the intonation tendencies of a horn are not far off, then perhaps a mouthpiece with just the right shape can solve the problem.

Jay Bertolet tells the story of finding just the right mouthpiece for his Nirschl, and that it alone perfected the intonation on that instrument. That's an anecdote that is hard to ignore.

In my own case, I made two changes at the same time: Reaming the receiver for a proper taper, and changing the mouthpiece. It is therefore hard to be sure which had the effect. The instrument still has the intonation tendencies it has always had, but they are much closer to the mark and much easier to control. Of course, my anecdotes don't carry the weight of Jay's.

My clear impression from the time I spent with Doug Elliott trying different combinations was that the rim primarily influences comfort, the cup influences sound, and the throat and backbore influences intonation. These seemed to be primary influences in a system that is interconnected and interdependent, so they should not be taken out of that context.

Since that time, I've refined my view based on some reading and talking. The notion now seems to be the relationship between the throat and cup that has the controlling effect. A bigger cup with a bigger throat might have the same intonation influences as a smaller cup with a smaller throat, for example. So, it's even more interconnected that I first thought.

I've heard it said that the volume of the mouthpiece with respect to the instrument is so small that it could not have much effect on the intonation. I disagree with this notion--the mouthpiece may be small but it is the source point for all the sound. The lips are small, too. But I agree to the extent that a mouthpiece may never solve gross intonation flaws in an instrument that has not been properly designed.

In another of my anecdotes, the 3G bass trombone mouthpiece in my Besson euphonium was noticeably and uncontrollably flat, while the even larger SM3 and SM4 mouthpieces are up to pitch. The instrument still has intonation problems, but at least they surround the correct pitches instead of all being below them.

But to answer your question directly, if it is possible for a mouthpiece to be a disaster on an instrument, then it is possible for a mouthpiece to be optimal. If the instrument is excellent when the mouthpiece is optimal, we will see that as a good fit. If the instrument is still a dog with an optimal mouthpiece, we might be tempted to blame the mouthpiece, thinking we haven't found optimal yet. It might be in that second situation that the mouthpiece has worked the greater miracle, but that the horn's limitations mask that miracle. Unfortunately, the only way to know for sure is to try every mouthpiece made, heh, heh.

Rick "who owns a lot of mouthpieces but who only uses a couple of them" Denney

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