Mouthpiece for clarinet, an endless quest

Dear sir-
First, thank you for your time devoted to these Q/A posts. I have found so many answers applicable. After reading many of your suggestions, I understand your ambivalence toward direct mouthpiece recommendations. So please indulge my own vintage mouthpiece question.
I currently play on an R13, vintage Harrison ligature, Zonda 3.5 married to a Stowell Wells and Schneider mouthpiece, stamped B2. This mouthpiece was suggested to me in highschool as a mate to my pre-R13 by Ron Sadler, Sadler Music, Aurora IL. It was love at first play! To this day, nothing else comes close in ease of play, full sound in concert and w/ the right reed, the ability to “growl.” A tighter embouchure makes it sing; loosen and “choke up on the bat” and it’ll honk. If I had a dollar for every player who wanted to trade me on the spot for that mouthpiece, I could buy another horn!
Over the years, I have tried other mouthpieces, but not yet found an equal to my favorite. In my quest to collect mouthpieces (truth in jest), I’ve acquired 2 other SWS mouthpieces. The first, also stamped B2, itself played like a dream and had a great “southern drawl” but was warped and while great on its own, couldn’t hold tune with a group. I traded it to a guy in New Orleans, LA in 1990 for a Bobby Dukoff alto mouthpiece; sassy, loud and could it bend a note!
The second SWS mouthpiece has no stamp. It’s facing is MUCH more open and I have yet to find a reed setup that works without a LOT of breath. It’s just no fun to play. Additionally, it has some scrapes in the bore. While I don’t think they really affect the playability, they are ugly.
My question is thus. Should I invest in a reface/refurbish job? I do love the play of my favorite SWS. The thought of having an alternate is seductive. (Obviously, I recognize the likelihood of effort and cash to no avail.)
If I do go the refacing route, to whom should I turn? Ideally, I’d mail both my SWS mouthpieces in hopes that my favorite could be duplicated.
Walter Grabner lives close to me (< 1 hour) and refaces for $100. Vytas Krass offers a vintage reface for $85. (One of his reworked SWS is currently listed on Ebay for $300!) Behn's website looks techno-cool and refacing is $75. DT Woodwinds advertises a vintage HR refacing (Don't know what a Harold Wright facing is) for only $55. Finally, Richard Hawkins (respected by you, I know) refaces, but has no price listed on his website.
Or, should I leave this piece of Chicago mouthpiece history unaltered for another player to enjoy its original character? I've visions of one of those guys sitting in a tiny workroom in a Chicago highrise, scraping and sanding until he got the sound "just right" for his customer.
Am I being overly reverent or am I trying to put AC in a Model A?
Thank you for your perspective.
sincerely DL

Dear DL:

The mouthpiece phase,is a time wherein we try clarinet mouthpieces for a period of time, or indeed, forever. Mouthpieces can be a simple route from you, the reed and your mouth, to the sound of the clarinet, or it can be long dark alley, grabbing one by the throat relentlessly ,and with endless variation, until you are forced to either resort to practice, or simply try another mouthpiece(s) until you are “taken away”. One may wish to ask whether one starts with the concept, the reed, a particular blank, a Zinner perhaps, or another of the many.On occasion, one may be directed toward an aged”famous” mouthpiece, the measurement of which were used by any number of great and late clarinetists. This is a huge cottage industry, with thousands being spent. What is one receiving for the hundreds of dollars? Will it be any better than your 65 dollar Van Doren, or yor Stowell, or whatever it is you thought about initially?Or, your Rico? With regard to all mouthpieces, all those who are mouthpiece craftsmen, and in general, to all who feel that each mouthpiece has a special ability to impart a certain individual response, let me suggest that, I would respectfully remind you of the wonderful story by Hans Christian Anderson called the Emporers New Clothes.

(“The Emperor’s New Clothes” (Danish: Kejserens nye Klæder) is a short tale by Hans Christian Andersen about two weavers who promise an Emperor a new suit of clothes that is invisible to those unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent. When the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, a child cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” The tale has been translated into over a hundred languages.)

Searching for the elusive quality hidden within a new mouthpiece, a refaced mouthpiece almost immediately distorts your original idea of change, and dilutes what it is for which you may be looking . Or, it may lead to an entire lifelong quest, for something which is either, not there, or completely distorted by your search. It is terribly easy to be deterred by a certain quality you think you may feel from the mouthpiece, but then realize that for what you have gained, there is an equal loss in another area.

I have related the story of a student who, upon entering a university music department, was teased about his mouthpiece, not being one of repute. “Why don’t you get a real mouthpiece”? The real mouthpiece was never defined as such. but was truly part of a hazing routine given to many a clarinetist in a Music Department . Daniel Bonade espoused a medium reed on a medium mouthpiece, a wonderful idea which did not separate a student from his ideal which was of course, the music, and always the music, the original endless quest.

Let me conclude with a true story. While studying for some degree, somewhere in a galaxy far away, I was given 6 crystal mouthpieces to try. When hearing the price,$6.00, I bought them all. They were labeled GG; AND i found that GG stood for Guigui Efrain, a very nice guy whom I had known at another University,(another galaxy, but I forgot)He was a prince of a fellow from South America, was rather small, and played on a full Boehm one-piece Buffet, which he held on his knee with a small velvet cushion. Naturally, I thought his sound was unclear and fuzzy,(which I thought about everyone, somehow). But he played very very well. The GG stood for his name, but the mouthpieces were made by Pomarico, the one who stayed in Argentina, not the brother who went to Italy, forming the other Pomarico mouthpiece company. At 36 dollars for six, it didn’t matter at the time.

I took them home and tried them, and for some reason, they seemed all stuffy and fuzzy. Then, on the third mouthpiece, labeled "-1", I heard a voice from the next room, "what's that"? It was my wife, who happens to have the most sensitive ear I have ever known, and she thought the mouthpiece had a special quality. And truthfully, upon further investigation, it did. It had a lovely covered sound, was capable of producing or reproducing anything I heard or was given to play, and it became mine, so-to-speak. I really achieved rather marked success with this mouthpiece, and was simply attached to it, very happily. Reeds were a bit difficult to choose, but played beautifully after I got the knack. I played on this crystal mouthpiece for 5 or ten years until, during the intermission of a chamber music concert, a student, who happened to play in the second violin section of my orchestra, came back to congratulate me and his raincoat brushed across my clarinet,which fell on the floor, mouthpiece first. It broke, and I simply, without tears, drove quickly home, and got a spare crystal, one of the six I had gotten, came back, finished the concert with success, at least, no problem. I still have the recording and it is wonderful. But, after that concert, I was unable to find a mouthpiece that played anywhere near to the original GG crystal. Rosario Mazzeo had a mouthpiece problem and I sent him the other four, which he played and liked.
So then, it was Van Doren for a number of years, then another Van Doren, an excellent mouthpiece, and as you know, they don't shatter and ruin your life. As the crystal did mine. You are left to your own life to ruin your life, which you will or may.
Crystal is a truly superb material with which to make a mouthpiece, but you must keep it in a vault, lined with padding, and never leave. If you do, your mouthpiece may fall, may break, or what have you. At the time, it seemed a heart-breaking story, but I did finish the concert and it sounded terrific. Something however, had changed with the broken mouthpiece, and I never got over it.
Stay well, practice, and if you play on crystal, live in a padded cell.



One Response to Mouthpiece for clarinet, an endless quest

  1. Marten King says:

    I love your comment about the Emperor’s New Clothes. I have an acquaintance who’s presently going through a phase thinking a better mouthpiece will make him a better player. I thought he was getting the cart before the horse, so to speak.

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