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Brass Mouthpieces


The mouthpiece is the sole point of contact with the lips and thus has a key impact on both comfort and sound. Some players simply stick with the mouthpiece their instrument is provided with (usually a middle of the road specification suited for the instrument), whereas others continually experiment, never giving up their search for that elusive "perfect" mouthpiece. One thing is clear, mouthpiece preference is a personal choice and what is right for one player may be completely unsuitable for another.

The following information aims to explain about the various variables of a mouthpiece's shape and how they affect its performance. In addition we've tried to aid selection by giving comparison charts and narrative on which models are the most popular.

The "Geography" of the Mouthpiece


The mouthpiece has various component parts as shown in the diagram:  

the geography of the brass mouthpiece

The dimensions and shape of a mouthpiece has a direct impact on its feel, playability and sound. We have isolated the various variables below and given a brief explanation of their effects on the mouthpieces characteristics.

Cup Diameter (Internal Rim)

In general, a small cup diameter makes it easier to play high notes and can increase endurance, but volume is limited. A larger cup diameter, on the other hand, provides plenty of volume and easy low tones but endurance may be sacrificed.

the internal rim diameter of the brass mouthpiece

Rim Contour

Since this is the part of the mouthpiece that comes into contact with the lips it is a critical parameter for playing comfort. Rim contour also has a large effect on attack and clarity. The majority of players prefer a relatively flat contour with the peak closer to the inner edge.

Rim Thickness


A thick rim provides greater lip contact area for easier high notes and extended endurance but lip movement is limited thus reducing tonal flexibility. A thin rim offers plenty of control over a wide range but can quickly cause fatigue. A medium thick rim is the choice of most players.

 

Rim Bite

The bite of the rim (the sharpness of the inner rim edge) has a large influence on attack, clarity and pitch control. Sharp bites generally make it easier to produce accurate, stable pitch and a rich tone, however if too sharp lip control can become limited, comfort compromised and endurance reduced. A soft bite on the other hand will be comfortable to play at the expense of a clean attack.

Cup Depth

Shallow cups produce a brighter tone and are more controllable in the higher register, at the expense of volume. Deep cups offer a dark tone, easy low notes and plenty of power.

Cup Silhouette

Cup shapes range from "U" shapes to "V'" shapes. The more "U" shaped a cup is the brighter the sound and the easier it is to play in the high register. As the cup approaches the "V"' shape the sound becomes darker and the lower register easier to play.

brass mouthpiece cup shapes range from V to U shape

Some mouthpieces employ a "double cup" design - essentially a combination of the "U" and "V"' shapes - to facilitate playing throughout the instrument's range.

Throat diameter


The throat is the narrowest portion of the mouthpiece bore, and therefore the point of highest sound pressure. The diameter and length of this part of the mouthpiece has a major influence on playing resistance. A narrow, long throat produces high resistance, which contributes to fast response, brilliant tone and enhanced playability in the high register. A wide, short throat is more playable in the low register and is capable of producing great volume - but requires lots of air and can cause fatigue.

Backbore


The "backbore" is the inner section of the mouthpiece that follows the throat. This has a complex flare that can significantly affect high-register pitch. The diameter of the backbore also influences timbre & resistance.

Like most other diameter related parameters, a narrow backbore results in increased resistance, brighter tone, and easier playing in the higher register. A larger backbore decreases resistance for darker tone and easier playing in the lower range.

Shank

The shank is the outside dimensions of the mouthpiece receiver and is of prime importance in determining if a mouthpiece fits into your instrument. In particular small bore trombones and baritones require a small shank mouthpiece, whereas large bore trombones and euphoniums require a large shank mouthpiece.

Weight Some manufactures (notably Vincent Back with their "Mega Tone" range and Denis Wick with the "Heavy Top" models) produce mouthpieces of added mass. These have exactly the same internal dimensions of the standard models but are up to twice the weight due to added mass on the exterior.

This darkens the sound and allows playing at a higher dynamic level without distortion.

Alternatively, adding a mouthpiece "booster" can increase the weight of your favourite mouthpiece.

Material


Mouthpieces are generally machined from Brass and then either silver or gold plated. In the UK silver plated models are by far the most popular (accounting for 99% of our sales). Gold plated mouthpieces are usually requested by players with skin allergies, as are mouthpieces with lucite (plastic) rims.

For the more adventurous, mouthpiece manufacturers have produced models in a variety of other materials - including solid silver and wood!

Model Numbers Explained

The size conventions used by the various manufacturers are not standardised and can make comparison between makes difficult. Here's a brief explanation of the various numbering codes used by the major makers.

Denis Wick


The numbers denote size of cup diameter - 0 large, 12 small (trombone) Suffixes then show cup depth - no suffix = deep, B = medium, E = very shallow (cornet)

Other Suffixes denote other characteristics as follows:


W
Wide rim
X
Large "cushion" rim
N
Narrow rim
L
Large shank (trombones)
S
Small shank (trombone)

Prefixes SM & RW indicate models developed by Steven Mead and Roger Webster respectively.

Thus a cornet model 4BW is a size 4-cup diameter with a medium cup depth and wide rim.

Vincent Bach Like Denis Wick the numbers denote size of cup diameter (the lower the number the larger the mouthpiece), with suffixes then showing cup depth (from A deepest, to F extra shallow).

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Other suffixes include:

V
With "V" throats
W
Wide "cushion" rim

Yamaha

The Yamaha numbering system is slightly different with a model number being for example 14A4a
The first two digits refer to the cup diameter, 5-68 (narrow - broad)
The next capital letter refers to the cup volume & shape, A-E (shallow - deep, C = standard)
The next single digit then indicates the rim contour, 1-5 (flat - round, 3 = standard)
The final letter shows the backbore dimensions, a-e (narrow - broad, c = standard)

Yamaha brass mouthpieces
Yamaha brass mouthpieces
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Choosing the right Mouthpiece

To aid you in making your choice we've included a table comparing various popular models, in addition we've listed all the sizes available from Denis Wick and Vincent Bach, together with each individual mouthpieces particular characteristics.

Apart from this it's down to trial and error!

Recommendations


In an area where personal opinions are so divided we would be foolish to give blanket recommendations. We have however instead below indicated the most popular models for a selection of instruments.

In addition the graphs and pie charts show which Denis Wick mouthpieces are purchased by players for each of the main brass band instruments.

Trumpet


Vincent Bach are firm market leaders here. The 7c is a popular student model, with more experienced players opting for a 1 1/4C or 1 1/2C.

Cornet


For all brass band instruments Denis Wick mouthpieces are very popular. When it comes to cornets the 4 is a firm favourite, with players with stronger embouchures opting for the more demanding 3 or even 2. Of the size 4,s the 4B was most popular and Roger Webster model RW4B.

Trombone/Euphonium/Baritone


Here again Denis Wick is popular, with Vincent Bach also being popular with orchestral trombonists.

Looking at the Denis Wick models there is a clear division of popularity due to the broad nature of the trombone. Small bore trombone and baritone players tend to opt for size 6 mouthpieces, where as the 4 is most popular for large bore trombone and euphonium players.

Tuba


Eb players tend to opt for a 3 (the standard cup being most popular), whereas Bb players often choose a 1 or 2.

Mouthpiece Makes


We've listed (and stock) a good range of the most popular mainstream models. However, the list of different makes and models available is almost never ending.

If you're looking for something special from the realms of the exotic & erotic of mouthpiece design please let us know and we can usually get hold of what you're looking for on a "special order" basis. Makes often supplied include Giardinelli, Jerwyn, Jet Tone, Maurice Benterfa, Zottola and Rudy Muck.


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