Thomas Stevens

Some Old Dead Guys' Ideas About Mouthpieces

  • For Trumpeters Only

A few comments concerning trumpet mouthpieces from the past.

The influential mouthpiece designer, Vincent Bach, the person generally credited with the standardization of twentieth century mouthpiece terminology, posited that brass players with thick fleshy lips should use mouthpieces with wide rounded rims (sometimes called "cushion" rims). According to Mr. Bach, such mouthpieces would feel comfortable to the player and aid in the prevention of lip injuries.

The equally prominent Russian-American trumpet professor and contemporary of Mr. Bach, Max Schlossberg, teacher of many players/teachers, including Stamp and Vacchiano, espoused the exact opposite: players with thick fleshy lips should use mouthpieces
with narrow flat rims since such mouthpieces would feel comfortable to the
player and would also aid in the prevention of lip injuries.

Renold Schilke, in Montreux, Switzerland, 1976, stated his belief that brass players should use mouthpieces with very wide cup diameters to maximize how much of the lip's surface would be "working" in the production
of the sound. He further believed that if the crowns (high points) of the mouthpiece rims were close to the mouthpiece cups, the mouthpieces would not feel so large as they actually were.

Some of Schilke's esteemed contemporaries disagreed, arguing that average sized mouthpieces with the rim crowns placed towards the outsides of the rims would provide the "feel" and freedom of movement associated with large mouthpieces while retaining the flexibility and responsiveness of mouthpieces with average cup diameters.

These disparate mouthpiece theories seem like dated (very-middle-of-the-last-century) remnants from the past when compared to the knowledge and technical skills of today's top mouthpiece makers. There
is, however, one thing about mouthpieces that has remained the same for countless generations of brass players: the prevailing reason for their choices of mouthpieces is how the mouthpieces feel on their lips. This leads one to recall a comment concerning mouthpieces that was offered decades
ago in a radio interview (later in print) by the legendary jazz tenor saxophonist, Lester Young*. In the opinion of this writer, it remains
one of the most insightful and relevant musings ever offered on the subject.

Mr. Young, who was also known by the nickname, "Pres," or "Prez," [for president] which was given to him by the great jazz singer, Billie Holiday, was quoted, in 1947, as saying, "I know how a mouthpiece feels in [on] my mouth - I don't know how a mouthpiece feels in [on] somebody else's mouth.*

So, the next time some "expert" tells you what mouthpiece you should be using.............

*This was originally published as a Backstage article in the Brass Bulletin. The source (a book about jazz) for the Lester Young quote is currently located in a storage facility that houses most of this writer’s library of books about music. When those materials are eventually retrieved, the source will be posted here.