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The Mouthpiece: For Beginners


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Created by me for me, mostly. Because I see too many terms I have no clue about being tossed around.

FWIW, these terms are great to KNOW, but in practice, you're not going to need them, much: a good mouthpiece is one that plays good for you. If you need a suggestion, I'd recommend a Selmer Soloist (now that they make 'em again) C* hard rubber for sax and a Selmer C85 hard rubber for clarinet. Or Vandoren equivalents (V5 and B40/45, respectively -- and IIRC). However, my suggestions are just that. SteveSklar's got a nice review thread going for clarinet mouthpieces and Ed's played more sax mouthpieces than any 5 other people you know.


What Mouthpieces are Made of:

http://www.clarinetmouthpiece.com/nomenclature.asp said:
Wood was used before the advent of hard rubber and was plagued with problems. As a wood mouthpiece warms up, the dimensions would change causing intonation problems. The mouthpiece can ?warp? causing an ineffective relationship between the reed and facing. Wood can create a variety of tone shapes and colors (depending on the density) but is usually responsible for a colorful warm sound, easy response and good blow-through. A good wood mouthpiece can sound very pleasing?when it works properly.

Ivory was used in the ?old days? in an attempt to find a material that sounds good but is more stable than wood. Ivory is more dense than wood and has a more resistant feel. The sound has depth and point, but the response is not as quick.

Hard rubber, also known as Ebonite, Vulcanite, and sometimes known as India rubber, Steel Ebonite, and Caoutchouc, replaced wood and ivory as the new wonder material. Hard rubber is stable and has a wonderful acoustic range. Depending on its density, the sound, response, and resistance can be modified to suit most tonal concepts. Since its inception, rubber has remained the chosen material for clarinet mouthpieces.

Glass {ed. "crystal"} creates a very different playing experience. It is very resistant to the blow-through and it can create a dark but colorful flute like sound. Usually, when playing on glass mouthpieces it is necessary to play on softer and very vibrant reeds.

Metal in the form of brass, bronze or aluminum is usually plated gold or silver and is used much more in saxophone mouthpieces for its quick to resonate sound. It is often paired with a higher baffle for added brightness and volume.

Plastic is commonly used in student mouthpieces for its ease of manufacturing and therefore low cost. As there are many types of plastics, there are many ranges of sounds, but generally it is understood that plastic is not capable of producing the depth and range of sounds that rubber can produce.
A note on this: I've found that metal mouthpieces are made out of just about any kind of metal, including sterling silver. The other mouthpiece luminaries on this 'board can probably say which metals can't be used because they're too difficult to work with, etc.

A nice review of crystal clarinet mouthpieces is at http://clarinet.cc/archives/2004/05/cry ... hpi_1.html

I own a 1920's wooden clarinet mouthpiece. I've seen a vintage 1880-ish wooden bari sax mouthpiece. I've talked with Peter Ponzol, in the past, regarding wooden mouthpieces. A summary is, "Skip 'em."

For a more technical essay, check out http://hal9000.ps.uci.edu/does%20saxoph ... er.doc.pdf


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
"Rod" is a term I've seen a bit of.

A "rod" is essentially ... a chunk ... of rubber or plastic that's taken to be made into a mouthpiece (see, for instance, http://www.nyh.de/english/technischeformartikel.php and http://www.clarinetmouthpiece.com/story_rubber.asp).

The interesting thing is that there are different rubber formulae that have different acoustic properties (again, see the above links). While this brings to mind the agonizing "material makes no difference in the tone" argument for the sax, there does appear to be a difference in tone quality with the quality of the rod rubber or plastic.


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member

The mystery of mysteries!

A "blank" is a billet that has had all of its external dimensions (mostly) finished. It looks like a mouthpiece, in other words. Some people use "billet" and "blank" interchangeably. They're not interchangeable.

(Again, I've taken this definition from reading http://test.woodwind.org/Databases/Klar ... 000097.txt and http://www.clarinetmouthpiece.com/story ... turing.asp. There is no written definition I could find, elsewhere.)

I'll try to add more, tomorrow. If any other worthies wish to comment, please do so and I'll fold your comments into the above.

Carl H.

Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
pete said:

A "billet" appears to be an unfinished mouthpiece that is "cut" to the right length/height of a mouthpiece -- but it essentially looks like a dowel, not a mouthpiece.

I base this definition on:
- http://www.windinstrumentshop.com/catal ... eqint4.pdf, page 7.
- http://test.woodwind.org/Databases/Klar ... 000097.txt.

Billet refers to a cast semi finished product. It is also referred to as ingot, particularly for smaller sizes. A billet is typically cast to a rectangular, hexagonal or round cross section compatible with secondary processing, e.g. forging. It can be produced either as coil or cut lengths. Ingots and billets are collectively known as barstock.


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Questions: does this information negate the definition I posted, or is it just an enhancement? It seems to imply that a billet does have a hollow core. Does that mean a core that has a full "chamber" cut?


Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
To see how a mouthpiece is manufactuered from the beginning "rod" material (a long pole of rubber) to the finished product go to


then select "Manufacturing" in the horizontal menu near the top

then click on the "Mouthpieces" on the far right

The "Intro" will show you the evolution of a mpc in production

After the Intro
then click on each pic in the upper right. This scrolls to the right. some pics, if you notice below will show you video of that segment of manufacturing, otherwise it just gives information below it.

Selmer, from my knowledge, manufacturers all of it's mouthpieces in-house in Paris (or whereever around Paris their manufacturing facility(s) are)


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
SteveSklar said:
To see how a mouthpiece is manufactuered from the beginning "rod" material (a long pole of rubber) to the finished product go to http://www.selmer.fr/
Shiny. Don't care for the Flash, but it's still shiny.


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Continuing onwards:

Finishing. This refers to making your blank into a usable mouthpiece. This can mean excavating the chamber and tweaking different parts of the mouthpiece.

http://www.clarinetmouthpiece.com/nomenclature.asp said:


The design of a mouthpiece consists of the chamber, bore, and facing.

Chamber consists of the baffle, sidewalls, and throat. The chamber must work in harmony with the natural resonance characteristics of the hard rubber and should be constructed in a manner to best suit the tonal concepts of the player. The chamber can allow for lots of variation as long as the total volume of the mouthpiece is correct.

  • Baffle is one of the most important parts of a mouthpiece’s design. It is the ramp that slopes down into the bore. A baffle’s depth and shape are crucial and affect pitch sound and response. Baffles usually have concavities on two axes, and their radii are very important. Baffles with a straight or very slight radius down into the bore will create a more resonant, focused sound, and quicker response. Baffles with a deeper more swooped shape will create a mellower, slower responding mouthpiece. The concavity that runs across the baffle from either sidewall is important in creating a multi-dimensional sound. Baffles that are flat tend to create sounds with limited scope.

    Sidewalls greatly affect the mouthpieces playability. The distance between sidewalls influences a mouthpieces tonal character and resistance level. Sidewalls that are closer together can create a more stable playing platform, but the danger is that if the sidewalls are too close together, the sound becomes tight and inflexible. If the sidewalls are too far apart, the important working-resistance is reduced and the sound becomes washed out.

    Throat is in part responsible for the sound’s concentration. The sidewalls run down the chamber to the narrowest point at the throat. This is at the juncture between the chamber and the bore. A narrow throat creates a more concentrated sound and a wide throat creates a broader sound.

Bore serves the chamber. Indeed the bore influences the sound, but its primary role is to balance the chamber to create the perfect total volume. Volume affects pitch and this is the bores greatest role. If a bore is too big, the pitch can go flat and the sound can become diffused. If the bore is smaller, pitch will rise and the sound can become more resonant. If the bore is too small the mouthpiece may lack depth and size of sound and the pitch will most likely be very sharp.

Facing has influence over everything. The facing is the curve that the reed vibrates against. A facing’s length, opening, nature, efficiency, and symmetry will affect the playability of the mouthpiece.

{Ed. I like THIS article on facings.}

  • Length refers to the point where the curve departs from the table. It is the part of the curve that is farthest from the tip. Generally, a facing with a long length feels more close and free and a facing with a short curve will feel more open and resistant.

    Opening is the gap between the tip of the reed and the tip of the mouthpiece. An open mouthpiece is usually fitted with a flatter curve to reduce resistance. A close mouthpiece is usually fitted with a more extreme nature to the curve to create the correct amount of working resistance. Generally, more open mouthpieces require more embouchure pressure and maintenance to function. More close mouthpieces require less embouchure pressure and tend to have more hold. Often people seeking a very dark sound prefer more open facings.

    Nature refers to the type of curve. Curves can vary substantially, as some are nearly flat and others have a more extreme nature. Curves that are flatter tend to be free blowing and curves that are more extreme tend to have more resistance. The key is to match the nature of the curve to the tip opening and length.

    Efficiency occurs when the mouthpiece holds the sound with the least amount of embouchure pressure. When the length, nature of curve and tip opening are all working together the facing becomes efficient. An efficient curve creates a fluid and resonant playing experience.

    Symmetry refers to the balance between side rails. If a facing is not balanced, the mouthpiece is effectively detuned and loses resonance. A facing that is balanced is more likely to respond reliably, sound clear and project easily.
You can also take a look at
http://www.woodwind.org/clarinet/Equipm ... piece.html

I'll probably find more, later. Saxophone and clarinet mouthpieces are virtually identical in their nomenclature.

I also found THIS interesting.


Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
"Chedeville" Mouthpiece Explained

http://clarinet.cc/archives/2004/05/chedeville_mout.html said:
Chedeville mouthpieces used to be all the rage in special clarinet mouthpieces. But most of what I know concerns my own experience in playing on them. They were a rod rubber mouthpiece with a steel or a sterling silver insert. Quite an interesting look and most played well, though they had no particular secret of which I am aware.

I spent an hour or so with David Glazer, a wonderful and interesting player who played a Chedeville. This was many years ago. He was the clarinetist with the New York Woodwind Quintet and really added much to that excellent ensemble. He also played as soloist in many European orchestras. His sound was dark -- [but] frankly I thought that he sounded "stuffy", though I myself played at the time with a very "bright" sound, or one that could be calle[d] "bright".

Well after an hour or so, he sounded like me, much brighter, and I like him, much darker ... or so I remember. Then after a bit more time, we sounded on each other['s] mouthpiece as we did on our own. TRUE. All of these adjectives mean nothing, or much, depending upon who uses them and how.

I think you should use a mouthpiece that 1. gives the closest approximation of the sound you have in your head, and 2, the mouthpiece that plays the most reeds.

Good luck in all of your work. Come and take a couple of lessons.

This is an a[dd]endum to the article on Chedeville mouthpieces and adds that this mouthpiece is or was actually the model which many outstanding players used as their goal toward find a great mouthpiece.

There were two brothers who produced mouthpieces of very high quality, excellent sound and intonation. And then there are the mouthpiece artisans, those who get these older mouthpieces and then after finding what they consider to be superior, they simply copy it to the best of their ability and their ability to hear and to make mouthpieces.

After this we find all of the various makers who make mouthpieces, and we get the Zinner blanks from Germany, which most swear on, as having extremely beautiful sound qualities.
I have purchase several of these mouthpieces and after all of the searching and trying I have found that it is completely subjective in nature.

I purchased a beautifully priced Chedeville copy made by a noted maker, and found it insufficient to my need.

It is said that Robert Macellus, one of the most beautiful sounding players played on such a mouthpiece. To listen to the old Cleveland Orchestra recording, one is really taken with his deep and, lovely quality of sound.

Then of course, a mouthpiece was made supposedly according to his specifications, put out in huge numbers, and the thing plays terribly.

One might be moved to say, "so what" , but there are others for whom it is absolutely necessary to play a "handmade" Chedeville or Kaspar mouthpiece. And finally if one gets a good one, great but is that THE mouthpiece.

Gino Cioffi, one of my teachers played a gorgeous crystal mouthpiece. He sold them to his students. He wanted me to buy one and when I asked if the mouthpiece I was to buy would play as his does, he said, "of course, they all play the same" We know that not to be the case. Do we not?
Possibly a better article is at http://www.sterkel.org/clarinet/chedevi ... hpiece.htm