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Gold Vs. Silver

So You Want a New Mouthpiece

A Question About Mouthpiece Weight

A Product of My Past

 

The Debate: Gold vs Silver

As long as I have been in the business of making mouthpieces, (almost 40 years now) I am often asked about the differences between gold and silver when it comes to the plating of mouthpieces. From some musicians I hear, “I love the feel of gold and therefore I want it on my mouthpiece when I play”. Some players love the feel of gold-plate, but find out they play better on silver-plate. Sometimes, the opposite is true. To others, it does not matter. So the question has to be asked, “What are the differences?”

40 years ago I worked for a company named Schilke where for the most part I made all the custom mouthpieces for over 20 years. While there, I had the opportunity to audition for the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and got in for their summer season (which is no longer). Naturally I was quite proud of my accomplishment and decided I would take my prized mouthpiece, that I had made myself, and have it gold-plated. I carefully polished and prepped it for the plating. I drove the mouthpiece to the platers and watched them put it through the cleaning and then the gold tank. It looked spectacular as they pulled it from the gold bath. When I got home and began to practice, it felt so smooth and slick and soft on my face. That had to be a plus as we all suffer from the dreaded problem of “too much pressure” when we play.

In any case, within a couple weeks of diligent practice, I noticed a few things happening to my playing. I was losing range, endurance, articulation and flexibility. Naturally I began to wonder what was happening. So I went to Renold Schilke, my boss and teacher at the time, and asked him what was going on. He then asked if I had made any changes. I told him about the plating on the mouthpiece and he just smiled and said, “study the materials”. As this was pre-internet, I actually had to go to a library for research. I then called a couple metallurgists and was able to piece together a picture as to what was happening. One of the things I learned was that the grain structure of gold is much tighter than that of silver. When you get a little bit of moisture on the rim, it becomes slick and almost glass like against the face.

About a year ago, a question was posted in one of the Facebook forums about the differences between gold and silver-plated mouthpieces. A number of contributors were able to post the numbers and scientific data that essentially confirmed what I had experienced. I suspect that this slickness of moisture on the rim was the “soft feeling” many who play gold rave about. It is not that the gold is softer against the face; after all it is still a metal that is much harder than the flesh of our lip. The difference would be something like being hit in the lip with either a steel or brass hammer. Both would be an equally unpleasant experience. So in many ways, while the slick feeling felt good, the sliding around of the mouthpiece on my face was not giving me the sense of security that I need when I play. Being a “wet” player (someone who licks his/her lips before placing the mouthpiece up against them), I found that with the gold, my embouchure was ever so slightly spreading apart as I was playing the extreme fortissimos. And unless I had the ultimate control of my corners, I was in a sense blowing myself out of the mouthpiece.

While it is not my role to tell you what to play on, I find that in most cases, wet players tend to play better on silver-plate. For dry player, it makes little or no difference. In order to see the difference themselves, some musicians for whom I have done some work, would order two mouthpieces in gold and two in silver. In most cases, they loved the feel of the gold, but ended up on the silver-plate.

With this said, I have also known some dry or slightly wet players who find that with the gold, there is enough “grip” along with the smoothness they like to feel against their face when playing.

I have worked with some gold-plate players who began to notice slight changes or difficulties over time. One trumpet player who is known for his high ability to play in the upper register, was having trouble locking in the Eb over double high C (something many of us trumpet players experience, I suspect). He had played gold for many years, but while watching him play, I noticed a VERY slight movement of his lip when he reached that register. A new rim was made and silver-plated. This seemed to solve the problem. The silver helped keep his embouchure in position. This does not mean that the use of silver is a crutch to his playing as we all react differently to things. In this case, with the pressure created in playing in the extreme upper register, being able to secure the embouchure made a difference.

So, should “wet players” always choose silver? There have been some musicians who have had successful careers on gold-plate while being a wet. As a rule of thumb, I usually recommend that when buying a mouthpiece, go with silver-plate unless you know your reaction to gold-plate does not negatively affect your playing. Unfortunately, it is difficult to try a gold plated mouthpiece from a music store or a manufacturer. The moment you put a gold plated mouthpiece into an instrument the shank is scratched and it makes it difficult to sell as a new mouthpiece. And to be honest, a day or two on the mouthpiece is not really enough time to tell the difference.

The purpose of this article is not to tell you what to play or what to buy, that is totally your decision. I hope that this may offer a guideline when it comes time to experimenting with the difference between silver-plate and gold-plated mouthpieces.

 

 

 

So You Want a New Mouthpiece?

A new mouthpiece is the equivalent of about 300 hours of practice, is it not?

Being realistic about this, the two things you cannot “purchase” are range and endurance. For example, range is determined by how fast you vibrate your lips at a given frequency. No mouthpiece will let you vibrate the lips faster than you are capable. Your air speed is not increased beyond your ability. If you do not do studies to increase your range, do not expect a mouthpiece to do it for you.

Endurance is a process that is built up over time. I often get calls from students looking to lengthen the ability to play, especially in the upper register.

I will ask them what do they practice. “I play everything out of the Arban’s book”

“How often do you practice?”

“Three hours every day”, starts the reply. Followed by, “but, of course I don’t do it all at once. I was told I should rest as long as I play, so I practice for 15 minutes; then rest for 15 minutes, then I play 15 minutes and then rest 15 minutes until I get my three hours in.”

Doesn’t this make them able to play for only 15 minutes before they begin to feel endurance issues? Endurance and range are made and not bought.

My teacher always taught me that it was much more effective to correct the player than try to fix an issue with the player’s equipment. The player is far more important than the mouthpiece. But, with that said, there are times when a new mouthpiece can help open a pathway to improvement. I feel that a mouthpiece cannot be designed to help you do something you are not physically capable of doing. You must practice to improve your skills. The mouthpiece either makes it easier to accomplish those skills or will make it more difficult.

So, if you feel that it is time for a change, what is the best approach to trying out a new mouthpiece?

Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

1.) Go into the process prepared and with a plan. Know which aspects of your playing you may wish to change. Cleaner attack, greater degree of flexibility, a change in tone, a better match to the instrument are viable examples.

2.) If you have not practiced in two weeks, you are not ready to make a decision.

3.) If you are fortunate to bring people with you, who actually know how your instrument is supposed to sound, trust their ears and their judgement. Many times the people working in the music store will be excellent judges as many of them are musicians.

4.) Play and listen. Record yourself when possible if you do not have someone with you that you trust. While tone will be questionable on the playback, you can listen back for the quality of the articulation and intonation.

5.) Bring in music that you know. Do not bring in things you are “working on” because you will not know if what you are doing is a result of the mouthpiece getting in your way or you just not yet having the skill-set to play the piece.

6.) Trust your ears more than your “feel”. Something that “feels good” is usually something with which we are familiar. Vincent Bach wrote some years back that the rim that feels the best to you will often times not be the rim that allows you to play your best. Remember it is all about how well you play, not how you feel when you are playing. And if your colleagues or band director tells you how much better you are sounding, it is amazing how good that mouthpiece will feel to you in a short time.

7.) Going into the process with a preconceived idea as to what you can or cannot play will only limit your options.

8.) Worry more about the middle range of the horn than the extreme upper register. Doc Severensen once told me that 95% of all the money made on trumpet is between low C and high C. This is where your focus should be.

In a later article I will address the issue of mouthpiece size, cup depths and shapes, along with throat sizes. But for the purpose of this article, focusing more on student needs, I suggest moderate cup depths.

I guess now would be a good time to bring up the “three-week rule”.

When I was primarily doing only custom mouthpiece work, I noticed that musicians who stayed with the mouthpiece for three weeks, usually ended up playing on it for a significant period of time. Those who questioned the change would then go back and forth to their old mouthpiece and eventually remain on their old piece.

Those who know me, know I used to be an avid golfer, and it was through this I read an article about changing the golf swing. The article basically said, if you want to make a change in your swing, it requires 60 conscientious repetitions a day for 21 days in a row to begin to eliminate old muscle memory and begin to establish new muscle memory.

As we are dealing with muscles when we play our instrument, the same rules apply here as well. Once you make a mouthpiece change, stay with it. Play it every day without going back to the old piece to make a comparison. There may be days when you LOVE the change. And, there will be days when you question the change.

But, as a rule, how it played when you first tried it out will essentially be how it is going to play after this 21-day period.

Once you make the change in mouthpiece, stick with it.

 

 

A Question about Mouthpiece Weight

Recently a question came to me through Facebook asking me the difference between heavyweight and standard weight mouthpieces.

Heavy mouthpieces are not new to our industry. I remember a line of mouthpieces made by C.G. Conn called the All Star. Made originally in the late 1930’s, they were essentially Conn mouthpieces manufactured in a heavy mass mouthpiece blank. As there seem to be so few of them around anymore, I can only surmise that they were not a big success back then and didn’t last.

There are now many manufacturers who make heavy walled mouthpieces. They are made with the throat size larger to give it a more “open” feel. As an example, the Vincent Bach Company makes a line of mouthpieces called the MegaTone. They are the same mouthpieces as in their regular production line, just cut into a heavy wall blank, but they make them with one size larger throat to give it the same open feel as their regular weight mouthpiece.

From my experience and experimenting over the past 40 years, I believe that just adding weight to a mouthpiece results in a perceived concentration of the sound, but at the same time there is a loss in the ability to create color in the sound.

Here’s why
To me, as a total product, the mouthpiece has three functions when it is played.
1) As you buzz your lips, it has to reflect/refract the energy you are transmitting through it and into the instrument.
Along with this:

2) As you buzz your lips and create energy, some of that energy is being absorbed by the mouthpiece and is transmitting the energy into the instrument, which is also vibrating as you play.
And in conjunction with this:
3) As you are inducing energy into the mouthpiece and it is being absorbed by the mouthpiece, there is to varying degrees a loss of energy through the wall of the mouthpiece.

You may ask “Isn’t any energy loss a bad thing?” “Doesn’t that make the mouthpiece inefficient and less productive?”

In working with musicians, I came to realize that the radiant energy loss creates a certain feel for the musician. The “feel” that creates the ability to add color to the sound when we play.

But are we losing anything in the total sound when the mouthpiece is vibrating along with the instrument? Are we being less efficient?

Rex Martin, professor of tuba at Northwestern University used a decibel meter to test the volume of two mouthpieces: one a heavy wall and the other a more traditional wall mouthpiece. It was his findings that the regular wall mouthpiece was able to play louder than the heavier walled mouthpiece.

So, does this mean that there is no advantage in using a heavy mouthpiece in our industry?

I think it is important to understand that it is not the weight of the mouthpiece that is important, but the mass and its location on the mouthpiece. It is one thing to have a heavy mouthpiece, but where the mass is located plays a far more important part in the design.

Back in 1978, a customer called me and was having difficulty keeping the sound intense in his upper register. The solution to his problem was to add mass to the exterior of his mouthpiece. As a performer, he loved the results and it got me thinking about mass and its distribution in the mouthpiece.

The next time I made a heavy mouthpiece was a couple of months later, for the trumpet player, Jon Faddis. Those of you who know Jon know of his range and accuracy along with his incredible ability to make music. He and I talked about adding stability to his upper register (as though he needed it). So, as an experiment, I made him a mouthpiece in an exterior shape that Lew Soloff named the CO2 mouthpiece as it resembled a CO2 cartridge stuck into a trumpet. Jon seemed pleased with the results.

Because of Jon’s popularity, I began to see other mouthpiece companies coming out with their own version of the CO2 mouthpiece.

When you look at what musicians in symphony orchestras are using today, there are very few added mass mouthpieces. I feel that this is because the sound tends to be a bit more monochromatic. There is less variance in the color of sound available. This is not to say that they are not present in classical music, but not as prevalent as they were for a while when re-introduced to the industry in the early 1980’s.

You will see more of them used in commercial music and big bands because they give the sense of a more concentrated sound and center to the note. But even there I am seeing a return to a more traditional mouthpiece mass. Jon Faddis is no longer using the CO2 mouthpiece, but is on more of a “crossover” design, not quite as large of a blank as he used to play.
As a result of the experiments I have made, I have made changes to my mouthpieces over the years. All the changes were made to the exterior shape of the mouthpiece, decreasing the weight and making areas smaller in diameter. Many musicians, including Phil Smith felt these changes dramatically improved the performance balance of the mouthpiece.

As it always should be, the mouthpiece design you use is selected by you because you feel it best for you and your ability to make music. There is no right answer other than to say that we select our mouthpiece and instrument on two levels: feel and sound.

Musicians have always had to make the decision between what plays the best and what sounds the best. To date, I have never had a conductor ask me if I was feeling good when I played.

 

 

A Product of My Past

Like all of us, I am a product of my past and so I would like to begin this post by thanking the late Renold O. Schilke, my trumpet teacher, my employer, and my mentor. Forty-three years ago, he gave me the opportunity to learn about brass playing and the equipment that we as brass players use to make music. It began with private trumpet lessons from him at 529 S. Wabash in Chicago. (Many forget that he was a former principal trumpet with the Chicago Symphony). His lessons were not just about how to play. Without me knowing at the time, I was also learning some of the basics of instrument and mouthpiece design. This evolved into me doing clinics, representing the instruments and mouthpieces while I was still in college. Within a year or so I was given the job of making the custom mouthpieces and eventually designing instruments.

I was fortunate to work with some of the world’s best brass players. To list them all would take up the entire page, but people like Bud Herseth, William Scarlett, George Vosburgh, Phil Smith, Charles Geyer, Barb Butler, Dale Clevenger, Gail Williams, Frank Crisafulli, Ed Kleinhammer, and Arnold Jacobs were regulars from Chicago who frequently were up there with us on the 8th floor. Back then, whenever visiting bands or orchestras passed through town, Schilke’s was the place to be. Musicians like Jon Faddis, Lew Soloff, The Canadian Brass, Armando Ghitalla, Thomas Stevens, Roger Bobo and so many others from around the world came through that shop.

I was able to pick their brains as to how they got to be where they are. I learned what skill sets they used to achieve, the level of ability they possessed and the needs they had for their equipment. With this knowledge I was able to craft mouthpieces that had the look and feel they were after as well as produce the sound they desired. Sometimes, it was just a matter of making a simple modification to their existing mouthpiece.

I learned that all sorts of variables contributed to the final product. I learned that taking as little as .005” from the outside diameter of a rim affected not only the feel to the performer, but the intonation and color of the sound. I learned that not only was the size of the throat important, but the shape of the throat was probably more important than the size. I learned that while the depth of the cup was important, even more so was the shape and the volume of the cup. I also learned that the greatest variables are the performers and their history….who they studied with, who they listen to, all helped in my design of mouthpieces. Even after 40 plus years, I am still learning.

With the passing of Renold Schilke in 1982, I began to think about forming my own company. I talked it over with many of my friends who offered encouragement. But with a wife, son and new home, was it the right time?

Late one evening I received a call from Bud Herseth. He was calling to let me know he had heard about what I was thinking of doing and wanted to let me know he was behind me 100%. Any help I needed, he was there for me. Over the next couple of days I received calls from others who wanted to let me know they were with Bud in supporting me and my new venture.

With the encouragement from many of these brass professionals, as well as my family, I knew it was time to develop a line of mouthpieces incorporating these designs which would be available to everyone. The Laskey Company was formed in 1998 and we opened our doors in 1999.

You will see our mouthpieces used by musicians in notable orchestras around the world. Chicago Symphony, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Boston, Concertgebouw, Dallas are just a few. In addition, my mouthpieces have been used on many recordings by leading commercial players throughout the years.

 

 

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