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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000127.txt from 2005/04

From: "Clark W Fobes" <>
Subj: [kl] Plastic mouthpieces in reply to Tom Henson
Date: Sat, 09 Apr 2005 07:55:26 -0400

Tom, your observation regarding plastic mouthpieces of Wurlitzer was

"The plastic ones that I tried when at their workshop were very
enlightening in that they played very well. As well as any hard rubber
mouthpiece I have ever played on"

As a person who works in plastic (acrylic in my case) everyday I can
confirm your observation that acrylic mouthpieces can sound better than some
hard rubber mouthpieces. It has been my contention for years that the
acoustical DESIGN of the mouthpiece has a much greater role in the resultant
sound than does the material. It is also true that plastic (and I am
speaking for acrylic) retains its shape much better than hard rubber when
molded. I send out about 600 plastic mouthpieces each month and the only
variation I find is in the facing process. However, the variation is
observed in the thickness of the side and tip rails (very minimal variation
in a run of 400 mouthpieces) and not in the actual facing specs. Acrylic
holds up very well under the facing wheel. It may be that acrylic is
"stiffer" than hard rubber and resists the cutting surface better than hard

I am not familiar with the material called Lexan. Over the years many
different types of plastic have been used for mouthpieces.When I first
started working with J.J. Babbitt on my Debut mouthpiece in 1992 they were
using a softer plastic that seemed closer to ABS. When they switched to
acrylic there was a noticeable difference in the quality of the finished

Much earlier we see advertisements in old magazines for sax mouthpieces
made from a material called "Ebolin". I don't know what the material was,
but it seemed rather brittle.

I have seen quite a variety of plastics used in mouthpieces, but the
material used by Babbit has a nice resistance when I work on it and takes a
nice finish. I have investigated making something with an injection mold and
when I had a meeting with the engineer he wanted to know ultimately what
material we would be shooting, because the mold has to be designed to
accommodate the shrink characteristics of a specific material. Also, certain
materials are "shot' at higher or lower temperatures and the mold may
require more than one "gate" and more or less channels for cooling. Keeping
that in mind, I don't know how much latitude there is in the Babbitt molds
to accommodate other materials.

The only draw back with plastic is that it cannot be worked on heavily
without leaving deep marks that are difficult to bring back to a smooth

As I test my Debut mouthpieces I have played many that I thought sounded
extraordinary, but there is no doubt that a well designed and well finished
hard rubber mouthpiece has an additional inexplicable quality in sound.

"Hardened" rubber comes in quite an array of "stiffness" and "density"
(you material guys may have more appropriate terms). The major component of
rubber mouthpieces is rubber dust, but a lot of other materials are added to
make the rubber bind together.

Every manufacturer has its own formula and there are apparently
chemicals/components used in European rubber that are not allowed in the US
by the EPA. I do not know how Zinner achieves their particular quality of
hard rubber, but I think most of us who make mouthpieces would agree that it
is a beautiful material for making mouthpieces and has a different resonance
than other mouthpiece blanks.

Clark W Fobes

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