Choosing a mouthpiece, practical suggestions

Hello Everyone:
This is a mesage concerning mouthpieces which seems to be in vogue at the present time. Of course, one must remember that this may mean “it is time to buy”. Shall we say a not-so-subtle advertisement by the fleamusicmart. “Hey, its time to buy a 500 dollar Kaspar copy, guaranteed to have been copied from an old warped actual one”. What it implies very strongly is that this thing that you are going to pay a whole bunch of money for is going to make you play just like Daniel Bonade or even Louis Cahuzac. It is the Holy Grail and like Holy Grails everywhere, it doesn’t come cheap. If it did, who would want it?I’ve spent a lifetime playing the clarinet which means also playing the mouthpiece as well and after all of that, I have developed a few rules of absolute necessity in trying mouthpieces. These have served me for more than a half century.

1. One must limit the variables.
We are after all, only human and we truly cannot tell what we are listening to after a certain number of variables have been added. If our ear is the commodity which is testing the mouthpieces, can it be confused by the array of variables?
a. how good and how sensitive is our ear? How is the memory of the ear?
b. What happens if one adds another reed to this mix?
c. Lord, what happens if we add a synthetic reed to this mix?

During a long career, I have endeavored to limit the variables as much as possible.
I try as few reeds as possible, perhaps three to six at a time.

I once heard a very great and world-class teacher say that a mouthpiece must immediately feel better in order to be kept. This gentleman strongly suggested that all students use a “medium” mouthpiece, nothing extreme.(I attribute this last from M. Daniel Bonade.) Mazzeo, my mentor and friend and teacher for six years, never ever gave me a suggestion for a mouthpiece, except for Borbeck, which is OK. He later only played Pomarico on both Bb and Bass clarinet. I once sent him six for Bb after he broke one of his.

In addition I believe that one must have a good reason for trying a new mouthpiece. It is not just for fun and there is no holy grail of a mouthpiece waiting , just out there, over the horizon to bring you the riches of the world of music.(that staccato faster than a speeding bullet, range to a triple high C, and all without moving a muscle… hands even.”)

Finally , a costly mouthpiece, no matter what its provenance , new or old, is simply not worth the money. As far as artist mouthpiece makers, what is the ear with which they are trying their mouthpiece as they make it? (Nay sayers I believe are always out there to justify what they have spent.) One has to be dubious of the craftier craftsmen who speak about their shaping knives and reamers as if they were “from God’)

Will it suit your way of playing , your sensitivity, your embouchure and your ear? And how different can a mouthpiece be? What about those who purposely make asymetric facings? Well, those you have to “get used to”. And you would be surprised how you can accustom yourself to almost everything, but…..why?

With all due respect even more, it just doesn’t happen that way, at least not in my experience.Not after all this time. I did find that after I retired, I wanted to have a smattering of the many mouthpieces out there, so I tried them all, and my feelings are from doubtful to distinctly negative. They are all different, but my word, what a bunch of repeated failure, so-to-speak. Save your money, better yet, sit down and really practice. Slowly. Thoughtfully, Listening.

Play well.

Sherman Friedland


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