July 24, 2015
Clarinet Mouthpieces: A Buying Guide
A huge part of being a successful clarinet student and performer is choosing the right mouthpiece. Whether you’re replacing a damaged mouthpiece or are looking for an upgrade to improve your sound and playing experience, you’ll quickly find that there are a variety of clarinet mouthpieces to choose from. Unfortunately, choosing the wrong mouthpiece can affect your ability to produce quality sound and, in some cases, can even affect your ability to make sound at all. Since there’s an influx of clarinet mouthpieces available on the market, the key to finding the perfect mouthpiece is in understanding the different parts and taking the time to learn about everything clarinet mouthpieces have to offer.
When it comes to clarinet mouthpiece materials, the general rule of thumb is the softer the material, the darker and less projecting the sound is. A harder material typically projects better and has a brighter sound. Typically reserved for student clarinets, plastic mouthpieces are durable and affordable, but the trade-off is that the sound can be overly bright and difficult to focus. If you’re interested in upgrading beyond a plastic mouthpiece, your options are hard rubber, crystal and, though rare, wood.
Hard rubber, or ebony, mouthpieces is a very common mouthpiece material and produces a more focused sound than plastic mouthpieces. It’s the preferred material for classical and jazz musicians who don’t need a great deal of edge and projection, and is a good choice if you’re looking for a rounder tone. Crystal mouthpieces, on the other hand, deliver a bright tone and have very good projection. Ideal for jazz and outdoor performances, special care needs to be taken with crystal mouthpieces- they’re very fragile and a mouthpiece pouch is recommended. Finally, wood is rarely used as it’s less stable than rubber or plastic and is the least projecting of any of the clarinet mouthpiece materials.
When browsing mouthpieces, you should also take the tip of the mouthpiece into consideration. At the tip, the reed meets the end of the mouthpiece and the size of the opening at the tip affects the ease and quality of tone production. In most cases, tips are classified into two categories: closed and open. The narrower the tip is, the harder the reed has to be. A closed tip has the the least resistance and produces the darkest tone, while open tips have a lot of resistance and have a brighter tone. For this reason, beginners should choose a mouthpiece with a medium-sized tip-opening, which works well with a medium-hard reed. Just keep in mind, experimenting with reed firmness is essential each time you get a new mouthpiece, regardless of the tip.
One important thing to keep in mind when shopping for a clarinet mouthpiece is that all mouthpieces are instrument-specific, so you must purchase a mouthpiece that’s designed specifically for the clarinet. For example, a saxophone mouthpiece can’t be used on a clarinet, and an alto sax mouthpiece can’t be used on a tenor sax. Music & Arts makes it easy to shop for clarinet mouthpieces by allowing you to filter your search by specific instrument types. The clarinet mouthpieces we sell on our website include Bb, Eb, bass clarinet, and specialty clarinet mouthpieces.
The ligature is a circular piece of metal or rubber that hold the reed to the mouthpiece. Although every mouthpiece needs a ligature, most sellers don’t automatically include them with every mouthpiece. In most cases, manufacturers do offer replacement ligatures that can be purchased individually. While metal ligatures are adequate in most situations, some band or orchestra teachers prefer the higher quality of rubber ligatures. Other mouthpiece accessories available on the market include mouthpiece caps, which can also be purchased separately. These are a wise investment in the instrument, as they’ll protect the mouthpiece in case anyone accidentally knocks the instrument over.
Used Clarinet Mouthpieces
Although many experts recommend purchasing new mouthpieces for sanitary purposes, purchasing a used clarinet mouthpiece can save money if you’re on a strict budget or aren’t sure if you’re going to stick with the instrument. Regardless of the material, a used mouthpiece shouldn’t have any visible chips or cracks. Slight discoloration is acceptable, unless you’re overly concerned about how your instrument will look. When purchasing a used mouthpiece, make sure it’s in good condition. While sites like eBay are chock full of used mouthpieces, you should proceed with caution- since you can’t see the mouthpiece and you don’t personally know the seller, only purchase from eBay as a last resort.
Buy Clarinet Mouthpieces at M&A
At Music & Arts, we’re dedicated to bringing you one of the largest offerings of marching band and orchestral instruments, products, and accessories in the world. As a one-stop shop for students, parents, and educators, you’ll find clarinet mouthpieces from some of the top manufacturers, including Vandoren and Yamaha. Remember, when selecting a clarinet mouthpiece you should take the musician’s skill level and desired sound into consideration. If your child is a student, a great place to start is by speaking with their music teacher or band instructor.
Need a reed, too? Learn How to Choose a Clarinet Reed.