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Mouthpieces Mouthpiece Material

Pete Thomas

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(also posted on SOTW)

Some may think this is flogging the same old dead horse, but I think this sheds some new light on the debate and I believe is useful info. This carries on from points raised in a thread about Meyer copies and is covered in more depth in this article here along with the sound comparisons I made a few years ago.

All of the observations below are based on a great deal of experimentation and discussion with Dr Edward Pillinger. I mention here his doctorate (The Effects of Design on the Tone and Response of Clarinet Mouthpieces) as his previous PhD research gives some authority to these new theories, albeit they are not so rigorously tested . Note that in his doctorate he went the extra mile toward what is often suggested for this type of test, and built an artificial embouchure, something that the following theories may benefit from at some stage. The theories here are based on based on trial, observation and customer feedback.

Unlike with the instrument body itself, the mouthpiece material can make a difference to the sound.

However it’s not that simple. It does and it doesn’t.



  1. Different materials can sound the same.
  2. Any difference may pertain primarily to the area of the mouthpiece around the beak.
  3. Depending on the design, there may or may not be a noticeable difference


Point 1 is because this theory proposes that the material per se is not what can cause a difference, but certain characteristics of the material (that could pertain to one material or be shared amongst several). So we don't say "metal has this sound" or "HR has that sound"

Point 2. So why only at the beak?

If the material at the beak is thin enough, and the material has certain properties, then there can by sympathetic vibrations there that act in less very much like the second reed in a double reed instrument such as an oboe, but in a less obvious way of course. A pseudo double reed.

Looking at these two points together:

What Dr. Pillinger has discovered, is that the big factors are the density and hardness, not the material per se, that affects sound. So if he makes a other composite with the same density as grenadilla, then it will have the sound characteristics of grenadilla, if not exactly the same then extremely close.

The theory is that although the material can make a difference, it doesn’t always. (ie I don't attribute any sound differences on metal, rubber, wood, plastic) but what can make a difference is the density of the material and the stiffness (ie flexibility or lack thereof)

Well, you might think, that is more or less the same as pinning it down to the actual material isn't it? Well we can say that, for example, HR sounds like HR (if it’s the same formula of HR) and that bronze sounds like bronze. But we can also find another material with the same density and hardness that will also sound the same. And bear in mind when I say “sound the same” there has not yet been any scientific tests done, so we have to think sound significantly similar rather than exactly the same.

Point 3. But this difference doesn’t always happen does it? Many people swear blind the are differences they can hear, and many swear blind there are no differences

This is because for the difference to manifest, the beak itself must be thin enough to allow the sympathetic vibrations.

So if the beak is quite thick, as it is with high baffle mouthpieces for example, then you probably won’t hear a difference between two mouthpieces of different material (with different density etc.) because the beak is too think for it to act like that double reed.

Beyond the tip of the mouthpiece, the density and hardness of the material has much less (more likely absolutely no) effect - just as scientific studies and accepted acoustic knowledge is that the material of the instrument itself has no significant effect on the sound of a woodwind instrument, as the only vibrations associated with sound are those of the air column not the walls of the instrument, unlike many stringed or percussion instruments which rely on the resonance of the body of the instrument for the sound quality.

Other properties

We also need to consider other factors, such as the cellular structure and its impact on vibrations. We can make a composite that has the same density and hardness as grenadilla, but it will have a different stucture to wood. Because we know how vibrations vary with different woods or other materials in the consctruction of resonant instruments such as guitars, we still can't assume that this applies to our theory of the pseudo double reed. We know for example, that hugely different reed materials can still sound very simar (see the cane vs synthetic reeds comparisons that many people find indistinguishable)

Flexibility.

More research to be done on this, but here is another possible factor that we need to think about. The degree of flexibility of the mouthpiece material, its flexural strength and elasticity along with its density and hardness, will have an effect on the reed excitation and the establishment of the primary wave. But then we have to think at what point would you decide the flexibility of a material is so much that it cannot retain it’s geometrical integrity, for example if you made a mouthpiece from something too bendy or soft that it just distorts or collapses. (BTW, I still want to make a mouthpiece from cheese)

Meanwhile along with Dr. Pillinger I am experimenting now with composites of different hardness and density, using such materials as stone powder, metal powder (including bronze and silver), ebonite (HR) powder and various other that I won’t be mentioning.
 

Jeanette

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(BTW, I still want to make a mouthpiece from cheese)

So presumably a mouthpiece from Leerdammer might sound differently to one from cheddar :)

Don't forget the wine though.

Joking aside, interesting post Pete, keep us updated with your experiments

Jx
 

Wonko

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Nice to see that someone is putting in the effort to determine the basics of what makes the sound characteristics of a mouthpiece.
I thought it was much more of an artisan approach in making a good mouthpiece. And it probably is, to a large extent.
....
Can you get mouthpieces made out of wood? What are their characteristics?
 

Pete Thomas

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Nice to see that someone is putting in the effort to determine the basics of what makes the sound characteristics of a mouthpiece.
I thought it was much more of an artisan approach in making a good mouthpiece. And it probably is, to a large extent.
....
Can you get mouthpieces made out of wood? What are their characteristics?

Indeed, The one I thoroughly recommend is the Brancher.
 
Last edited:

altissimo

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leicester
an interesting hypothesis, but tricky to make acoustic measurements accurate enough to determine any effect...
Beak resonance may well remove energy over a band of frequencies from the reed vibration and have a filtering effect and this may be compounded by any phase difference between the reed and beak vibrations.
I'm not sure what practical purpose this might achieve since the differences between one reed and another or one player and another would potentially outweigh any effect of mouthpiece material. But the pursuit of knowledge is an end in itself. Good luck!
 
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