image: Logo and Email-Link to Foglietta

Interesting facts about
a clarinet mouthpiece

have always been among the most important things I wanted to learn during my studies. But who knows about interiors and tone chambers and, who above all imparts that knowledge?
Well, be that as it may, many kind people gave me one or the other hint and even thaught me some secrets. This was I learnt the most important things and I am in the luck position to be able to pass all that useful on to you:


The raw mouthpiece

as well as the property and dimensional accuracy of its interiors and the mouthpiece face are very important for the intonation and sound quality of the whole instrument.

The material

of the mouthpiece itself ( referred to as M. in the following ) has a function and is the basis for a round and uniform sound. Here it is particularly remarkable that neither the tip of the beak can be altered into a lasting shape nor does the M. itself resonate to a high degree while blowing.
Only the clarinet reed is supposed to resonate.
The higher the self-damping of the material, the rounder, darker and fuller the general impression of the tone. Modern synthetic materials such as ABS or acrylates with different additives are developed to that effect. Although in general I'd advise rather against thin-skinned and soft rubber. It is true that you can get very good sound results with M. made from fine wood, however, the dimensional accuracy of the M.-face will not remain in the long run, which rules out this option in general practice.

The bore

of the M. has to match the instrument. If it is too narrow as it often happens with cheap models, the whole intonation of the instrument becomes too high. However the high region from c''' on as well as short notes g' to b flat' become too low. Consequently, the entire sound quality generally tends to be very bright even towards sharp.
The matter is different if the bore is too big: the intonation as a whole is low, the sound quality is dark but therefore less closed and controlable, and the high register as well as short notes are rather high. the latter can often be observed with old wooden mouthpieces.

The tone chamber

as a linking cave between table and bore has the important function of beeing in seam. Here, the vibration of the bottom of the reed hits on the own resonance of the sound tube of the instrument stimulated in each case.
Hence it must, on the one hand, pass the reed vibration to the air column and permit, on the other hand, sufficient feedback with the air column. In order to let the air which is blown in and already vibrating stream without difficulty, the inner walls of this part of the M. should be formed without larger grooves or flutes. The transition of the roof surface on the inner side should ideally pass the bore without any kink or crack. The depth of the tone chamber again influences the sound quality and of course the intonation; because the length of the entire air column is affected at that place of the M.. If the roof is bent stronger and the tone chamber larger, the tone becomes rounder and fuller, but the intonation again lower. The contrary effect happens with a narrower tone chamber and a straight or even inwards vaulted roof: the sound turns out brighter and the intonation has to be corrected downwards by the appropriate measures.

The mouthpiece facing

is the most essential part of a M., the clarinets head and heart. Apart from the fact that the search for a suitable face usually takes quite some time in the life of a professional clarinet player. I first would like to show you the most important features of a face in order to reveal the biggest defects.

The reed table

should either be plane or have a light hollow ( I'm talking about a few hundreth of a millimetere here ).

The two legs

should be absolutely identical and without any interruption in their course to the tip as well as to the table.

The tip rail,

being the last part, should close from the sides and form the final bend of the face. Only if the bottom of the reed can roll off the table symmetrically on both legs and the M. can close tightly at the tip are the blowing conditions really optimal. The whole M. face forms in any way a bent plane and shows no discontinuity or break of any kind in its course.

Now, how do you check the quality
of your mouthpiece in practice?

Well with material, bore and tone chamber, it may be better to follow advice from specialists, who have both proper measuring tools at hand and the required knowledge. In any case, you will be on the safe side if you buy a regular mouthpiece in this respects at a price level from about 80,- EURO on. Of course you can always check the quality of the M. face yourself.
For this purpose take a glass plate of about 120 x 40 x 6 mm, which every glazier will make you for little money, and put it on your M. face. In order to get a better view of the contact points you can pass your finger over the face once or twice with some cork grease, so that a wafer-thin film sticks to the M..
The contact points which become visible now should be on both legs above the table ( contact points at the same height ! ) and the lower end of the reed table.
If you now roll on the M. on the glass plate towards the tip, the contact points of the legs at the left and right should move upwards to the same degree. The final bend should become visible as a whole only at the end of the legs.
If you put the glass plate on the face in a way that the tip of the M. lies approximately in the middle but the edge of the plate projects at the most 1 mm from the top above the table, then you can see whether the contact points run neatly and regularly towards the reed table. There, the contact points turn to one and this is certainly wider and should be visible - like the tip - in one piece. If, while rolling, one contact point moves faster than the other, the M. is off line and worthless. A contact point must not break off or be visible again further up. at the front because this is evidence of a hole or scratch in the M. face.
If the contact points are not yet rolled up to the front and the tip is already visible, the M. will rattle, which is not desirable, either.
If both contact points do not roll neatly onto the reed table it is probable that your instrument as a whole will response badly; and you will not be able to play a round and elegant legato because the vibration of the reed will break off with the smallest resistance of the sound transition between two notes. Moreover, such as an imperfection in the reed table renders your desired and flexible playing with tone colours more difficult.
With that we have reached the end of our little excursion which, of course, does not claim to be complete. The skilled know how and all the little tricks relating to M. could easily fill a whole book which may be allocated within the circle of secundary literature to " ZEN IN THE ART OF ARCHERY " .
For that very reason I urgently advise you against carriyng out any changes on your own M. according to this little description. I myself have produced several shoe boxes full of useless wooden mouthpieces before getting a more or less acceptable M. face which indeed deserves the name. Anyway, there is one thing I can tell you for sure:
Otherwise it could happen that the last door will slam shut behind you and the escape route will remain closed for ever.
Have fun checking out your mouthpiece and even more fun playing.
Peter Przybylla