Anyone who knows me well knows that (unlike some friends I can think of!), new-fangled clarinet gadgets aren't really my thing... Normally reeds - and maybe ligatures - are as technical as I get, and those can be stressful enough! To be honest I'm firmly in the Leon Russianoff camp – who prefaced his famous 'Clarinet Method' with the following:
'I am concerned with neither the science of clarinet playing nor with our traditional obsession about reeds, facings, baffles, chambers, mouthpieces, reed holders, and mouthpiece cushions. […] It is my deep conviction that endless preoccupation with the reed-mouthpiece syndrome is diversionary: it distracts us from our artistic purposes and shifts attention away from an artists realities.'
And so it was with a great deal of trepidation that I decided to search for a second mouthpiece... I've been happy with my Brad Behn for the last six years or so but a recent 'near miss' (thanks to my gorgeous smallest person), persuaded me that it was a good idea to try out a few others. After a quick phone call to Howarths, some new blood was on its way!
They sent me three Grabners, 2 K13*s (in the 'Kaspar' style), and a 'Virtuoso' – his newest mouthpiece and what the maker himself describes as:
'the very best mouthpiece I know how to make '
Hannah at Howarths also sent over a Backun MoBa PRT.
All four of these mouthpieces were created from Zinner ebonite (hard rubber) blanks.
I tested them out using my Buffet R13 Prestige clarinets, a 66mm barrel and a Vandoren V12 reed, strength 3.
I tried the K13*s first... The maker describes these as having a:
'Closer tip than the K13 and an enhanced facing curve.... a higher level of focus and clarity. Dark, warm ringing CORE tone, for maximum precision.'
These mouthpieces have a medium/ closed tip opening measuring between 1.03 – 1.05 and I found they gave a focused and dark sound, just as described. One of the two was markedly better than the other though, and had a depth to the sound which made it feel like a strong contender from the start! The intonation was also great. This mouthpiece definitely feels like it's in the Kaspar tradition and it allowed me to find a 'stillness' in the sound, something which I find very appealing. Without a doubt it's a great mouthpiece for the money.
So on to the Virtuoso... For someone who has played on a fairly close lay for a good length of time, the wider tip opening of the Virtuoso (1.1) did take a little bit of getting used to, but once I found the right set up I was very taken with this mouthpiece. It has a huge dynamic range, and centres the air really well making even large leaps a breeze... The altissimo register plays with incredible ease and resonance. The Virtuoso is bright and lively with a creamy tone – as the maker says it is very 'free blowing'. If I were to nit-pick I might say that *I* found it a bit harder to focus the sound in quieter dynamics, however in all likelihood that was down to me & I feel sure it is something that would come in time. I felt invited to explore new possibilities on the Virtuoso and I was finding it really hard to put this one away. I ended up spending the next TWO DAYS pretty much going between it and the K13*!
Just when I thought 'THAT'S IT, THIS IS THE ONE!', I would change my mind again....
Lastly I tried the Backun MoBa PRT (Philadelphia).
This has the widest of all the tip openings I tried and so I probably *should* have found it an even bigger leap from what I normally play on, but funnily enough I didn't... The MoBa PRT was designed in collaboration with Ricardo Morales of the Philadelphia Orchestra (hence the name!) and according to the makers description it is designed:
'To fill the largest halls, the PRT has a wider tip opening and requires a very strong embouchure and reed setup. Tip opening of 1.15'.
The PRT has a focused, dark sound which offers the 'stillness' I value, but alongside the flexibility and power of a more modern mouthpiece. If you 'gie it laldy' (to quote a friend) it doesn't become over-focused or shouty and 'holds' the sound, and at the other end of the spectrum you can still create a really introverted , calm atmosphere. The intonation is excellent and the throat notes are a joy!
Of course we played the mouthpieces too, but the decision remained the same. Incidentally, playing for someone else (so therefore under a small degree of pressure), in an acoustic you're not used to is well worth trying when you're looking at mouthpieces. It really does show where to go.
Michael Wayne of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a Vandoren Artist, has the following three criteria for selecting a mouthpiece:
1/ That it helps you to create a beautiful sound
2/ That it has good intonation
3/ That it is 'reed friendly'.
Those seem like pretty sensible criteria to me...
What do YOU look for in a mouthpiece? Let me know in comments, I'd love to hear from you!