I recently received an e-mail from a BTB subscriber named Scott. Scott said he liked reading about the “updates and adventures in learning.”
Well, Scott. Thanks for the title.
Here’s what’s up lately:
I’ve just returned from a safari.
A mouthpiece safari.
(Pretty Scary, Huh?)
And while I’ve never been a true gear-head, every so often I get in it my head I want to play a different mouthpiece.
Usually I convince myself that it’s because I’ve zeroed in on something that could be tweaked and will fix all of my problems.
You know how that goes.
(The Trumpeter’s Internal Dialogue)
See, here’s the deal:
When I’m in it, I’m in it.
I stay faithful to my mouthpieces.
I love them.
We are companions.
Our meld becomes so seamless that I can’t play on anything else1.
1Seriously, I can’t play!
But at a certain point even good things must come to an end…or maybe I just like to feel the rush of spending money!
And staying true to my firmly rooted self-delusion, I move forward with a plan.
A serious plan.
I really hope it works.
One such brilliant passage was downsizing rim sizes to help lead trumpet endurance.
While going through an embouchure change in 2011 I was still attempting to play lead trumpet regularly. Maybe struggling is a better word. And to make matters worse, I was playing lead in the undisputed, all-time hardest blow in southern California2.
2If you’re from around here, you know the one.
During these weekly marathon blood baths, I had the pleasure of sharing the lead duties with a powerhouse trumpet player and all-around gregarious fellow.
He also had seemingly unlimited chops and a huge sound.
He also played a tiny mouthpiece.
And every so often, while I was hunched over gasping for air, he’d pat me on the back, lean over, and say something like, “Dude. Your mouthpiece is huge.”
And I was playing a Reeves 42es!3
3For those of you who are not giant nerds, a 42es is considered a small mouthpiece. But who am I kidding, if you’re reading this you are a giant nerd.
After a while he convinced me to start downsizing rim sizes which I did using Bob Reeves’ system.
It went down a little something like this:
I played the 42 for a while, then once that was comfortable switch to a 41. Was, rinse, repeat until I was comfortable on the 40. After the 40 felt good I made my way to a Jerome Callet Superchops 2 rim4 and had the boys up at Reeve’s shop slap it on the Warburton 7sv cup.
4Discontinued. Current equivalent is Superchops 3.
After a few years I was feeling pretty much functional on a mouthpiece about the size of a 10 ½ E (in Bach terms) and used it for everything.
I mean, sure, I wasn’t getting called to sub in the LA Phil or anything, but I was slaying those Bb blues charts and doing a decent job faking it on the occasional classical gig5.
(Me And My Classical Gig)
During this time I also purchased a Yamaha YTR-8310Z as another “down-size” to lessen the brunt of heavy playing. I made this choice after having the 8335LA suck the life out of me for eight months straight. Ultimately, this turned out to be a great idea, but after owning the horn for a few months I still wasn’t totally comfortable.
So I hopped into my grey, four-door 2006 Toyota Corolla (with manual everything) and drove my ass down to Kanstul. I tried a couple of different back bores and walked out with a copy of a Bach 76.
The funny thing is, after all the mouthpiece shenanigans aimed at improving efficiency for lead trumpet playing, I’m now focusing more on improvising and basic trumpet technique in the practice room.
This is all well and good, except with all the low and middle range practice, I’m beginning to wonder…
Could a new, shinier mouthpiece turn me into a better player?!
Getting My Learn On
At some point this year I did a bit of reading on the effects of back-pressure from the instrument and its influence on pitch tendencies.
Basically, if something is a little too-tight, and has a lot of backpressure, the low range goes sharp and the high range goes flat. The reverse is true of a too-open setting.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I get tired, these low notes go sharp as shit!
And oddly enough, my equipment was feeling tighter by the day. It could have just been in my head, maybe a new awareness, or it could have been something else entirely7.
I do not know.
7Due to a recent obsession with isometrics, my embouchure is much stronger than it has ever been. An increase in strength could lead to an increase in overall resistance. It makes sense. Right!?!
So here I am wanting to open up the blow a bit.
To that end, my first experiment was to get a marginally wider rim. I got my hands on a used Superchops 6, drove up to Reeves’ and threw it on a slightly larger underpart I had laying around the house.
I guess technically they did it for me.
The mouthpiece ended up sounding really nice, but the pitch thing was still happening. I gave it a shot in Holman’s band and by the end of “Woodrow,” I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of adjusting to a wider rim.
I went back to my usual rim.
(A Short Affair)
Back in the Windy City
A few weeks ago I wound up in Chicago and got together with my pal, Justin. He had procured a full array of AR Resonance backbores. We had a #6, #7, #8, #9, and #10 on our hands plus an assortment of tops in the AR Resonance 40 size.
It was a giant nerd fest8.
8You would have loved it.
The #10 gave me the most “even blow” pitch-wise that I was looking for. I’m sure this will be different for everyone. The #9 also felt great, and a little more like home-base, but there was still a minor issue of feel adjustments as I went from low to high.
The #9 had a more compact, sizzle-y kind of sound that I like, but because of the pitch tendencies I ended up walking out with the #10. The open blow and “fanned out” sound took some getting used to in the practice room, but all-in-all life was good.
I also really liked the sound on the E cup, but I like my rim too damn much to leave.
So I played the #10 on some top-40 gigs which was great, played jazz on it at home which was great, even recorded some lead excerpts on it which was great.
But then I brought it into a big band rehearsal and things weren’t so great anymore.
For whatever reason, while I could play very well in-tune with myself, I could not for the life of me get my pitch straight playing all those Holman unisons. I was WAY out and didn’t know where to go.
It was also a sobering reminder of how much I rely on all that extra back-pressure while playing lead.
Again, not thrilled about the idea of an adjustment period, I went back to my original setup.
(Having Fun Yet?)
In some ways I feel like I fell for the oldest trick in the book – thinking what feels the best in the showroom will feel the best on the gig.
Does that ever actually happen?
Still, I’d like to find something a little more suited to jazz playing but in the meantime am content to practice on what I have.
If I do end up sticking with one mouthpiece, it would make more sense to do what I initially did when downsizing the rim and go at it systematically. Rather than grabbing the mouthpiece that’s way out to left-field I could have grabbed the mouthpiece that was one step closer to left-field from where I was starting.
That way I wouldn’t have to sound like a total asshole on all of my gigs between now and the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow9.
9You get it.
That’s it for now folks.
Thanks for reading and have a great week. If you made it this far you might like to check out BTB’s updated e-mail series Making Progress the Easy Way (2017 Ed.).
It’s free. And if at any time you think it’s lame, unsubscribing is super easy.
Did I mention it’s free?
Your spirit animal,
Got any hilarious mouthpiece stories? Leave them in the comments below!