Re: What can a mouthpiece do?

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Posted by Jay Bertolet on July 26, 2002 at 15:31:20:

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

As Rick stated below, I do have a story along the same lines as your question. Several(!) very well known and very well respected tuba players advised me against buying the Nirschl York copy CC tuba that I now own. They did so, primarily, for one reason. That being that the intonation on the horn was unmanageable. To their credit, when I got the horn for a trial, I experienced those issues when trying all the mouthpieces on my shelf with the horn. Then it was suggested to me to try another mouthpiece that I didn't have, one that was specifically designed with this type of horn in mind. I ordered one, plugged it in, and all the intonation problems went away.

I can't prove why that happened because I'm not well versed enough in acoustical theory. What I can say is that I have personally experienced this phenomenon many times. I've played many different horns and they all had issues that clashed with a given mouthpiece. It took me many years to reach a conclusion on each of the horns I now own about which mouthpiece works best and what kinds of things to look for. To answer your question, I firmly believe that there are better and worse matches with specific tubas and specific mouthpieces. Because the player is one of the variables (tuba, mouthpiece, & player), nobody can tell you with any authority that a specific mouthpiece will work for you. The best advice folks can give is which mouthpieces seem to work for a large number of players with a given horn. Even with this information, the player variable can still scuttle success, though I usually have better luck when following these types of recommendations than not.

Advice? 1) Take your time! Everyone knows about the placebo effect. Try any mouthpieces you consider for at least a few months, if not years. Give yourself time to acclimate to the setup. Very often, first impressions are wrong. Make sure, through lots of first-hand experience, that a given mouthpiece matches both you and the horn. Put the setup through all the types of playing that you'll expect it to do and repeat this process many times. To this day, I am still testing my setups regularly to see if I still feel the same way about them as I did before. 2) Test everything out there. Don't assume that any mouthpiece won't work for you. When I search for a mouthpiece, I first determine what cup diameter I can live with. I have this dimension in both maximum and minimum. Then I start checking references from other folks who use the same horn. Then I assemble that crop and start plugging them in, one by one. Be meticulous! Try them all and really be thorough. If you decide one of those choices is a good one, go to step #1 above. Repeat as necessary.

If you can't find just the right mouthpiece for you, you should strongly consider someone like Doug Elliott. He can mate rims, cups, and shanks specifically to match you and your equipment. Don't assume that the perfect mouthpiece for you and your horn is being produced by some manufacturer. In fact, it may not be the case. For example, the mouthpiece I use on my cimbasso is a custom made one. It is a Doug Elliott cimbasso mouthpiece and Doug had to make a special cup that would accommodate the rim I wanted. It may take that kind of effort to get what you're looking for.

Whatever the mouthpiece, I don't believe it will fix flaws in how anyone plays. To be effective in trying out mouthpieces, you have to be good enough as a player to know how well you're playing and be able to discern which problems you encounter are because of you and which are the equipment. For me, the best match of player, mouthpiece, and tuba is the one that gives me the least amount of problems to deal with while allowing me to produce the sound I want. If your equipment feels like it is getting in the way of your playing, it might be time to reevaluate your setup. New ideas and designs are coming along all the time. You never know if some new mouthpiece might work really well for you unless you try it out.

My opinion for what it's worth...

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