My approach to mouthpieces

I remember finding it very difficult to "get into" using period mouthpieces.

For starters it was pretty tricky to get hold of them, and expensive as well. It felt like one could spend a lot of money on getting something at the risk of it not "suiting" me. Probably typical for any professional brass player I now have a box FULL of mouthpieces which means I've got several options open to me.

My first step was I got a PHC (Paxman/Halstead/Chidell) model 30 with a screw rim. PHC describe the model 30 as a "Very deep Viennese-style funnel cup"so this was as close to a period mouthpiece as I could get from my local horn shop (Paxmans). I also got a thinnish rim, the thinking being that as it was a detachable rim I could experiment.

A while later I was lent a Tom Greer/Moosewood LGC (a copy of a Courtois mouthpiece belonging to Lowell Greer). I liked this mouthpiece so ordered one again with a detachable rim made with a PHC, so if I didn't like it, or wanted to tinker further I could. NB! Before anyone goes hunting - these mouthpieces aren't currently available.

This mouthpiece worked brilliantly on my Jungwirth Lausmann copy but when I later got an original Marcel Auguste Raoux it was frustrating as the instrument and this mouthpiece really didn't work well together. Again, it was a chance conversation with a colleague who had a mouthpiece from Olifant that she wasn't using that brought their mouthpieces to my attention. This was what they now call their “Jean Joseph Rodolphe” model and it tends to be my most frequently used mouthpiece. NB! The Olifant website seems to hide the existence of these mouthpieces, it's easier just to email them about them rather than try and find the information on their website.

I also have a couple of original mouthpieces which I use. The best ones of these were bought in a job lot at an auction - I ended up with gazillions of old trompe de chasse mouthpieces, one bright purple plastic modern mouthpiece but two really good originals. If anyone wants to buy a trompe de chasse mouthpiece...

Also circulating in my "bag of tricks" is the big, flat HBJ-3 baroque mouthpiece by Egger, the Winkings model by Seraphinoff, the Olifant "Gallay" mouthpiece and a couple of mouthpieces by Geert van der Heide. All their details and many more can be found on this blog.

Period mouthpieces tend to have slim stems and tend to be slimmer than the lead pipe on many natural horns. Whilst they are almost always too slender for modern natural horn copies they don't don't always fit originals either. There are three solutions:

  • Some mouthpiece makers (for example Egger) make a little metal adaptor (Egger call it an "adapter for baroque shank" or a "tuning bit"). 
  • Cheaper alternative (but a bit fiddly) is copy woodwind players and use thin thread to wrap around the end of the mouthpiece.
  • Stil cheap but more flexible is to use PTFE tape. Wonderful stuff, and useful to have to hand in general!

I tend to use different mouthpieces for many of my horns, it would be nonsensical to think that one mouthpiece could work with all of them. So I use different mouthpieces depending on the instrument, the repertoire, the range, the ensemble size and sometimes also depending on the hall.

To my mind swapping mouthpieces does not make things more confusing but instead I find that the physical differences between them concentrate my mind and my playing as to the instrument I have in my hands. My suspicion is that if I was to use the same mouthpiece for all my instruments would I not be lulled into approaching my playing of these instruments all in the same way?