Experimenting With Clarinet Mouthpieces

Vandoren, Yamaha, Pomarico, Zinner, Selmer, Rico, Viotto, Clark W Fobes, etc. We all know how vast the number of clarinet mouthpieces available is nowadays. Not only regarding brands but also models within the same brand. The purpose of this post is not learning how to try mouthpieces (please check here to read more on that subject). I have recently done a small experiment trying some new mouthpieces and this article focuses on that.

I also focus completely on mouthpieces for the Boehm system (or French system). We can say that Vandoren and Yamaha mouthpieces – in their immense variety of models – followed by Pomarico are the most common ones in the market.

MATERIALS

Clarinet mouthpieces can be made out of several materials. As a general rule the harder the material the brighter and more projecting the sound will be, and viceversa. Below a brief explanation about each of them.
Plastic – Student mouthpieces tend to be made out of plastic, as this material is more durable and affordable. The sound could be brighter and a bit uncontrolled.
Ebonite (hard rubber) – It is the most standard material for clarinet mouthpieces. Ebonite offers a warmer, better focused sound than plastic.
Crystal – This material is very fragile, it is characterized as having very good projection and a bright sound.
Wood – Rarely used, wood is the warmest but least projecting of clarinet mouthpiece materials. It can also be less stable than rubber or plastic because is an organic material.

As an experiment, I ordered three clarinet mouthpieces that I have never had the chance to try before. The following chart gives a few more details about each of them:

CLARINET MOUTHPIECE

Material

Tip opening

Facing length

Manufacturer

Pomarico ‘Ruby’

Crystal

109mm

18mm

Made in Italy (from Tuscany)

Pomarico ‘Sapphire’

Crystal

115mm

20mm

Made in Italy (from Tuscany)

Vandoren ‘Black Diamond 5’

Ebonite

113mm

Medium – long

Made in France

Please find a clearer explanation about mouthpiece parts in the following picture:

clar mouthpiece parts

Each of the qualities shown in this picture have a degree of effect over how the mouthpiece will sound or feel to play. It is normal to focus on the size of the tip opening and the facing length (the distance from the tip and the base of the window). The beak affects how the mouthpiece feels in your mouth and may aid or hinder your embouchure. Vandoren Profile 88 mouthpieces have a longer beak angle.

My first intention was to test them myself and then let my students try them too, in order for them to realise about how relevant clarinet equipment is for their playing. After testing these mouthpieces myself, I had a very strong and clear opinion about them. However, everything became much more interesting when some of my students tried them.

The mouthpiece that suited me better was the Vandoren Black Diamond 5, whereas hardly any of my students was able to blow into this one. On the other hand, both Pomarico mouthpieces didn’t really fit my equipment and way of playing, while my students felt much more comfortable on these two. These crystal mouthpieces made their sound become clearer and more projected without being uncontrolled.
I have to admit I was quite amazed by the outstanding reaction of these crystal mouthpieces on two of my students, to the point I felt the need to recommend these Pomarico mouthpieces to them.

Expanding a bit more our choices, I asked one of these students to order what I thought would suit her better for her equipment and way of playing. These three more ‘standard’ mouthpieces (if I may say) were a Vandoren B40 lyra and two Vandoren M30. I have always been aware that there aren’t two equal mouthpieces in the market – even of the same model. When she tried those they all sounded different. But what stroke me the most is that from those three mouthpieces, one of the M30 was clearly the worst out of the three, whereas the other M30 was the best of them!

The truth is that some players go to the music shop to buy a mouthpiece as if they were going to buy a pair of socks. The music shop will recommend them one of their best-sold mouthpieces without knowing the way that particular player blows into the instrument, the equipment he/she uses, or even the kind of playing he/she is pursuing (orchestra, wind band, chamber music…). To those players I would recommend them to listen to their teachers’ suggestions or any other advices they may get from other professional clarinet players.

Most of you reading this post may be aware of all these tiny differences, even have their own experiences (if so, please feel free to comment them below!). But for those who aren’t aware and are thinking of buying a new mouthpiece I would definitely recommend them to try a few different brands and models, with different tip openings and facing length. You will be surprised of how much difference it makes!

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