Welcome to our Mouthpiece Guide. So what are all the letters and numbers on our mouthpieces mean? And more importantly, what effect do they have on our playing? The info on the sizes, cups, specifications, etc. will apply to Cornet and Flugelhorn mouthpieces. For specifics on Trumpet, Cornet, and Flugelhorn Mouthpieces, please check out the links to those posts below.
Have you found the perfect mouthpiece for your horn? Does it help you through difficult passages and make the upper and lower register sound exactly like you want them to? Does it support you when you are tired? Does it help you play with rich solid timbre from below the staff to way above it? Me neither. Surely there is magic in a brass instrument mouthpiece right? It’s how we connect to our horns, how we make the music. Yes, our lips form an embouchure which the mouthpiece turns into a sound that gets changed into a note. But is that all they do?
Jump links for you to go straight to the info
Mouthpieces sizes vary as everyone likes something different. This applies to Cornet and Flugelhorn mouthpieces too. What works for you may or may not work for someone else. Please work with your teacher when making a mouthpiece change. Yes, the right mouthpiece for you will make you the best player you are, now. You and your playing will continue to evolve. So too will your needs. Also, the wrong mouthpiece can hurt your playing. Well, “hurt” isn’t the word that fits there. How about, “can hold you back from playing your best”. Hmmm.
Of course the same size number is consistent from different makers right? Like a “7C” is the same thing from all makers right? Sorry no. Mouthpiece sizes (the first number) are based on the specifications by the maker. The first letter is the cup shape/size. Unfortunately, one makers “Medium” cup is likely very different than others “Medium” cup. Or their “C” cup is different than another “C” cup. To make matters more interesting, our mouthpieces have many different parts. The two that have the most impact on your playing are the cup size and the diameter of the cup. The others are the rim contour, throat, and the back bore. In terms of the sound, a shallower cup will be brighter than a deeper cup. Remember that your leadpipe and taper of your horn’s bell add to the “sound” equation.
Your mouthpiece is a highly personal choice. It is based on the size of your lips, your teeth shape, your jaw position, your facial muscle development, your experience, and the type of music you are playing. And probably a bunch of other things like if you’ve ever had an injury to your lips, cheeks, or muscles in your face. Add to that, the shape of your teeth as they present a surface for your lips. When comparing or looking to make a change, please look up your mouthpiece in the guides posted below or online. Then you know what you have as a starting point. Please remember, this is only relevant to that manufacturer. This is because the cup/rim diameter may say “X” millimeters but where the manufacturer measures that distance differs. Please try to make small changes. Unless you are currently playing something totally wrong for you, then bigger changes may be called for. And the answer to the first question, “Is there magic in a mouthpiece?” Again, sorry no. But, you can find one that best supports your face, teeth, experience, and the music you like to play.
Brass Instrument Mouthpiece Guides
One of the best things I ever heard (other than use sunscreen) was to give any mouthpiece change time. Several weeks or months may be what you need to adjust to a new mouthpiece. The longer you’ve played a given piece, the longer your embouchure may take to adjust to the new one. Patience. Easy to say, hard to do. Maybe that’s why I have so many mouthpieces. But this isn’t about me, let’s move on shall we?
The specifications you’ll see describing a trumpet mouthpiece have 4 main parts. They are listed in the order you may see them. These are guidelines, not hard standards. Like a “Millimeter” is a worldwide agreed upon standard. All the “specifications” below are not. Vincent Bach made some of the first mouthpieces in volume so his naming conventions were adopted by many. Many manufacturers have made their own. That’s the great thing about “Standards”. There are so many to choose from.
For example, a 14A4A has :
- “14” inner rim diameter (this is the number assigned by the manufacturer, not the actual size in millimeters.
- The “A” is the Cup shape/size.
- The “4” is the Rim Contour (inner).
- The last “A” is the backbore.
- The Rim Diameter. This is the inner diameter of the mouthpiece. This is often shown in numbers which may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. It is usually described in their literature in millimeters. These usually range from 5 millimeters to 68 millimeters.
- Cup. This is the half round, inner section of the mouthpiece.
- Cups are described as (Vincent Bach’s version. Others are different. Like Denis Wick is opposite)
- “A” shallow to very shallow. This produces a brighter tone and is often used to support the upper register for lead trumpet playing.
- “C” medium or standard. This will produce solid tones and is the most common.
- “E” deep. This will produce a warm, darker sound. Great for a flugelhorn.
- Cups are described as (Vincent Bach’s version. Others are different. Like Denis Wick is opposite)
- Rim Contour is the rounded part of the rim that touches your upper and lower lip. It’s a general description as there are three areas of the Rim contour that differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. The Inner Rim Contour, the width of the rim, and to a lesser extent, the outer rim contour. These types are usually described as:
- Round. May feel more comfortable. But it may affect your attack and pitch. It may make a mouthpiece feel bigger as more of your lips go into the cup.
- Standard. Is the most common which is a good starting place.
- Wide (often called Flat). This is talking about the width or how flat it feels. May help you play longer, increases your endurance because it distributes the pressure across a larger area. But it also limits your lip movement in the mouthpiece. If you have straight teeth (lucky or had braces) this often works well.
- This overall specification is how a mouthpiece “feels” and is often described as the “bite” when talking about the inner rim contour.
- Some are very rounded and others sharper. Again, this varies by manufacturer.
- How wide a rim feels is a combination of the inner and outer rim shapes. Most don’t feel the outer rim as much. A more rounded outer contour will usually affect how “flat” or wide the rim feels.
- The Backbore and the throat combine to affect your sound. As does your leadpipe, bell taper, and in general, your horn.
- The throat is the narrowest point starting from the hole in the back of the cup. It’s usually measured in millimeters. How far into the mouthpiece affects the tone as the distance from the throat to your receiver can change slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer.
- The Backbore is a little less specific and more descriptive by different makers:
- Narrow or “A” increases the resistance you’ll feel. This may support upper register playing and produce a brighter tone. May help support your airstream.
- Medium, Standard, or “C”. A good place to start to deliver a richer core of sound.
- Wide, Broad, or “E” this may produce a darker sound and reduce the resistance. It allows more air through for a powerful airstream. It takes more air to drive a larger backbore.
- The Throat entrance also differs. A more rounded throat entrance will produce a warmer sound than a sharper edged one. Most manufacturers have only one type of Throat entrance. This has an affect on the sound you get from a mouthpiece.
- Shank. This is the long tube part of the mouthpiece that is inserted into your horn’s receiver. For trumpet, most every manufacturer’s shank will fit most trumpets. There will be slight variances in the “gap” in the receiver. That is the distance between the end of the mouthpiece and the start of the leadpipe that is welded into the trumpet receiver. Same for cornets. Flugelhorns have different shanks and that’s a whole, long conversation. That means you can’t pick just any flugelhorn mouthpiece for your flugelhorn. Please check out the Flugelhorn Mouthpiece post for more info.
- Weight. This can affect the tone. Mouthpieces are made either “standard”, lightweight, or heavyweight. A lightweight model tends to be a bit more responsive as it vibrates more than a standard model. A heavyweight helps focus your tone and may provide a richer sound.
Clear as mud right? This is why most trumpet players have a bunch of different mouthpieces. An example is a Yamaha 14A4a compared to a Schilke 14A4A. The naming is the same. But they are very different mouthpieces when you look at them. Wanna see? Check out our side by side comparison below in the Trumpet Mouthpiece guide. But not yet, keep going through the content below.
What Is a Trumpet Mouthpiece Made of ?
Trumpet mouthpieces, Flugelhorn mouthpieces, and Cornet mouthpieces are all made of brass. Just like our horns. There are also mouthpieces made of exotic materials like solid sterling silver. They are most commonly finished with a silver plating. Many manufacturers offer mouthpieces plated in gold. The silver or gold plating can be shiny, matte, or a combination of the two finishes. The most common part of the mouthpiece to be plated gold is the cup and rim areas since that’s what touches our face. Gold is a softer metal than silver so the plated surface of the rim may help you stay positioned better as it is less slippery. That said, the gold plating is much more expensive, often doubling the price of a given mouthpiece over it’s silver plated partner. Some players say it doesn’t feel any different. Others I’ve talked to say it is less irritating to them. Some say they wouldn’t play anything else. Everyone is different. Guess that’s why there is vanilla, chocolate, and pistachio ice cream. Seriously, pistachio? Really?
There are special, plastic trumpet mouthpieces to use in certain circumstances. Many of us learned this the hard way. It was our first time in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. It was really cold. We were freezing our brass instruments, off. A freezing cold brass mouthpiece connected to a freezing cold trumpet was hard to play. Forget about staying in tune. It felt that when we blew warm air into our mouthpieces and trumpets, they “absorbed” the sound. By the time the song was half way done, our horns had finally warmed up and we could get some notes out. But the first several notes were rough. The entire band felt it unfortunately. We asked other players that played awesome from other bands and they showed us their mouthpieces. Plastic? Really? They said it helps, but you still gotta keep your horn warm. They didn’t reveal their secrets for that. If you know, please share it in the comments . Although, don’t think we’ll be performing in front of the Macy’s in New York again. In The Macy’s Day Parade. On Thanksgiving Day. Yea, those were “once in a lifetime” experiences I think. But maybe it’s in your future?
Making a Trumpet Mouthpiece
Now that you are an expert on what the specifications mean, how they affect your playing, and how they are made. Please go check out the sections above that you are interested. I put of copy of them below so you don’t have to scroll all the way back to the top.
Thanks for playing along !