I have been a clarinetist for 60 years (almost) and the learning is becoming more and more extensive, deeper and somehow more meangingful. That is to say, if one reads most of what is out there on many aspects concerning the clarinet.
The latest thing which absolutely compels me to write about is blank. Well then, blanks! The expression “shooting with blanks” is well-known and not without humor depending upon context.
But the material from which a mouthpiece is made, the blank as it is called has become a hot topic of conversation and of thought.
Most all of the blanks from which clarinet mouthpieces are made are made of either hard rubber or acrylic with a smattering of other materials thrown in. And all of these materials, whether it be sulphur or whatever, have a particular ring or sound…..did you know that? ( I exclude wooden or paper moouthpieces)Crystal is unique.
And there are many who say that certain makers of blanks make a mouthpiece sound better or differently. They do, and the current controversy is about the blanks made by Zinner, (in the black forest or someplace near there, I think) They are very good, there is no question, however are they the best thing out of which to make a mouthpiece?
I do not know. I have had three mouthpieces made from Zinner blanks and I do not play on any of them.
For years I played and loved fervently a Guigui “minus 1” mouthpiece, made of crystal.
Guigui Efrain was a friend of mine in Boston during the late 50s. He was a fine player, using a one-piece full-boehm instrument and a crystal mouthpiece. I did not particularly like the sound so I had no interest in the mouthpiece. But he did import a mouthpiece with the letters GG on it, from Argenitina where lived one of the Pomarico brothers. The other lived in Italy.
While in Amherst, and playing on my usual Selmer mouthpiece, an HS* no doubt, that I had occasion to try six of these GG mouthpieces. I was still unimpressed until on the 4th one, my wife in another room said, “whats that?” I replied that it was one of the GG mouthpieces. She told me that it had something very special, and it did really; it was simply the best mouthpiece I have ever played, before or since. I have one recording of a concert on it and it still is impressive.(during those years Rosario had broken his mouthpiece and asked me if I had any. I sent him the other GGs.)Needless to say it was broken by a student on that very concert night and the mouthpiece I played on was my GG spare, and it still sounded terrific.
The reasons for that are arguable and manifold.
I have tried perhaps a hundred crystal mouthpieces since and only found one, supplied by an interested friend(GH) that played nearly as well. I do not use that one either.
After the GG break, I switched to virtually every Van Doren mouthpiece ever made and still have many. There is a story there as well.
I was playing on a Selmer mouthpiece, probably an S, trying reeds in the Van Doren Shop on 56 Rue Lepic (yes that is where the name comes from) and I was getting nowhere fast. You could try as many reeds as you could have energy for, then they would take them, mark them and charge you a franc apiece for them.
So after an hour or so, a fellow comes down with a mouthpiece on every finger of his right hand and the thumb. . He introduces himself as Robert Van Doren and suggests I try one of this mouthpieces. I have played on some kind of Van Doren since, not with terrible happiness, I might add. But all the Van Dorens from that day played better than my Selmer, except I might add for the C85, (which has has been said before and was especially good on the Recital set I owned.
I like the way that these commercially made mouthpieces look for most are very even looking, but I have only had one that I have played on for any length and that was an M13, which I still have and sometimes play, but now it is a bit on the bright side. The material of their blank I think is hard rubber. Whatever the sound is or isn’t these are mouthpieces which remain stable through almost anything, although I am not pleased with the sound.
I do not know the actual composition of the Zinner formula for the blanks, however they too do not carry me away.
I am finding out now that there are some custom-made blanks that Zinner makes.
Clark Fobes claims to have an especially made Zinner blank which differs from the norm.
He is an excellent mouthpiece maker and he is a gifted writer as well.
He makes an acrylic mouthpiece which he will send you for nothing. Just put his name into your browser and you will see the free offer.
It is the “debut” and acrylic mouthpiece made basically for students and hand finished. Those are nothing short of excellent especially for a price of 35.00. A free one is even better. They have his facing on them and the similarity between them is remarkable.
He also makes all grade of mouthpieces in hard rubber and with the specially made Zinner blank, in the style of Kaspar. I have yet to get one , however I have 4 Debuts and two Novas and am still trying them.
Ignatius Gennusa is another very important name in mouthpieces. He was the esteemed Principal Clarinet of the Baltimore Symphonby for many years and he produced mouthpieces as well. His was also not made of rubber, or was but had other things as well, and I do like the feel of any Gennusa mouthpiece I have played.
While alive, Gennusa claimed that he had experiented with material used in making the blanks and it does show with the playing of any of the older ones. The current owner and Distributor of the Gennusa mouthpieces is one of his students, Ben Redwine. He will and can also copy your mouthpiece. I recommend Mr. Redwine. Here is a quotation from Ignatius Gennusa:
Ignatius Gennusa 1920 – 2003
�I�ve spent a lot of time in trying to improve this monster called the clarinet mouthpiece. During the period of my symphony career, I discovered many mysteries about the clarinet mouthpiece. These have to do with the measurements of the facing, the baffle, the bore, and so on. Even the type of rubber is important. So I made lots of notations and eventually designed a mouthpiece according to specific measurements that work. I think I�ve come up with a combination of measurements that go together to make an excellent acoustical cavity for the mouthpiece. My mouthpiece design is basically a copy of the Chedeville I played for years.�
It is interesting,his use of the word, “monster”. From a player with the stature of “Iggy” that is quite a comment.
I found a Gennusa mouthpiece packed in with a used clarinet I had purchased . It is a great sounding mouthpiece, a very dark quality compared to my usual brighter sound, so presently I am looking for another Gennusa. I do think from the quality of his blanks, that he was “on to something”.
It is truly amazing the amount of variables we have to look at in playing the clarinet. Next time you are trying mouthpieces see if you differentiate between the variables of materials used in the blank, that is if you can find two mouthpieces of the same facing that play exactly the same.