Idiosyncratic crystal mouthpieces?

Dear Mr. Friedland,

Question #1:

After spending almost two years now being unable, virtually, to find a reed that really responds well on my mouthpiece, it occurs to me that perhaps my mouthpiece is worn out, or misshapen, or warped or some combination of all of these.

I’ve been playing professionally (jazz) for about thirty years, practically full-time.  Until three or four years ago I always used crystals.  I broke the one I liked, and haven’t found one that even comes close to being what I want (especially any new crystal mouthpieces).

The best luck I’ve had has been with a Vandoren 5JB (profile 88).  Not only have I used it the past couple of years with fairly good results, but I experimented with it now and then for ten or fifteen years before that (the very same mouthpiece).  So, I’ve had this mouthpiece about fifteen to seventeen years.  I always use a swab (silk), and sometimes I’ll rinse it out with warm water.

Is it common that hard rubber mouthpieces will change dramatically over time, to the extent that it’s nearly impossible to find a reed that will work well on it?  Is a new mouthpiece (same kind) often the answer?

Question #2:

After having purchased most clarinet accessories via the mail from big discount companies for many years, I wonder if there is a difference in quality depending on the source from whom one purchases a mouthpiece.  I don’t mind paying more, if that results in better quality. In other words, might there be companies that sell “seconds”?  How would someone know?

I would value and appreciate any thoughts you may offer concerning these two questions.


Dear Lynn:

thank you for your question concerning mouthpieces and variances. First and foremost, be advised that each and every mouthpiece that you try is different, sometimes only a bit, and sometimes widely in variance with the first one you tried. These mouthpiece are mass produced and so they cannot be exact duplicates of one another, and are not. Consider each as fingerprints, for each is different. I happen to be playing on a Richard Hawkins mouthpiece at present and find it very suitable for my needs. Now,Professor Hawkins of Oberlin uses mostly the Zinner blank which is made in German and is currently very popular with many clarinetists,  Hawkins puts on his own facing, and while I find him the most sensitive of all the mouthpiece craftsman, each mouthpiece of the same facing he makes is slightly different.
I have to insert a personal story concerned with crystal mouthpieces, from which I have drawn a rule: If you have a great one and you drop it, it is going to be very difficult to find another with the same characteristics. This happened to me, and I was never ever able to duplicate the response, tuning and general sound of that crystal.Never. Hawkins comes the closest for an ideal to me, but it’s only close, hence my rule, or admonition, if you will.I will never forget that crystal, which was a Pomarico, made in Argentina, and called a Guigui, after the Argentnian clarinetist who imported them. It was an -1.Guigui and I knew each other and played together in the Boston University Symphony Orchestra. There was or is another Pomarico brother who lives and works on mouthpieces  in Italy. So, that is parhaps a reason why other mouthpiece have not been satisfying.The greater the pleasure of the crystal, the more you suffer trying to replace. And yes, it can last for years.For me, it has been irreplaceable.(perhaps unspellable)
The Van Doren 5JB mouthpiece is known as being a Jazz mouthpiece as it is very open, but I have known classical players who also prefer this mouthpiece for classical playing, the late Jack Brymer being one of note.
Yes, mouthpieces can become warped or damaged or out of tune or not in tune to begin with, and yes, thay can change over time, but it is not their inclination. Big box companies tend to have more stringent rules for selling mouthpieces and will frequently sell what they call ‘blemished”
for less money, these usually having a scratch or something similar on the mouthpiece usually caused by sometone trying same and sending it back. They are however, always marked as such.
I recently bought a Fobes San Fransico mouthpiece, labeled blemished, which only had a scratch on the table and plays rather well, on a Zinner blank, but not as good as my Hawkins. They are always discounted and marked so, if they are blemished. These larger companies tend to be more stringent in their care of equipment and charge less because they are able to buy in large volume. I have no fear of them or of their equipment. A 45 days trial period is nothing to fear. Their merchandise is always reliable has been my finding.
I hope I have been helpful.
Good luck.

One Response to Idiosyncratic crystal mouthpieces?

  1. bpimentel says:

    “These mouthpiece are massed produced and so they cannot be exact duplicates of one another, and are not.”

    I have to agree with this, though it seems like an odd phenomenon: we expect something produced on an assembly line to be inconsistent, and something made individually by hand to be consistent.

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