Author: Max S-D
Date: 2019-04-17 10:27
I ordered one of these in the H facing when they were announced and received it yesterday. I've only had a few hours on it and spent most of that time A/B-ing it with some other mouthpieces I've been using lately to get a feel for it.
For a bit of background, I have been moving towards softer reeds and more open tips for the last couple of years after finding absolute joy in a Vandoren B50 (and later a very special Fobes 10K) on the bass clarinet. So after 8 years on a very close-tipped Hawkins and 2 on a Fobes CF, I've been down the rabbit hole of trying to find the right balance for tone and resistance. This has led me to try the Vandoren B40, B45, B45 Dot, B45 Lyre, the D'Addario Reserve X10, the Selmer Concept and a Fobes 10K 4L (Blue FWIW). Of those, only the Fobes, the B45 and the Concept worked well enough for me to play in public.
Reading that back, it's clear to me that I've gotten a little carried away here. Moving on...
I had the Vocalise shipped to my work, so I had a chance to ogle it a bit before I could actually play it. Here's what struck me on my initial visual inspection:
- The engraved branding and facing information on the satin exterior finish looks great to my eyes. I like to know about how things are made and that's a cool reminder that this was machined. It reminds me of the engraving on my Lamberson tenor sax mouthpiece. No bearing whatsoever on how it plays, but hey, I like it. It's different.
- The tip rail is not thin, if you're into that. It's about the same as on my Concept, thicker than the Fobes 4L. Not as thick as a B40. Nowhere near the extremely thin tip rails on my Fobes San Francisco or older Hawkins.
- The baffle falls away immediately behind the tip rail. My Concept and Fobes both have a fair bit of material right there.
- The floor is visibly concave side-to-side starting right behind the tip rail.
- The transition at the throat of the mouthpiece to the bore isn't completely smooth. There is a line there, but I can't tell if it's a step or just a hard corner. Not a negative, just interesting. My Selmer has a pretty pronounced step from the bore into the throat and I think that gives it some of its character.
So, now on to actual playing impressions. For reference, I compared it to the current mouthpieces that I play on, a Selmer Concept and a Vandoren B45. For me, the Selmer is what I have been reaching for anything classical or that calls for that clear, pure, ringing sound. It lives in my R13 case. The B45 is a bit warmer, a bit less focused and a bit more flexible, pitch-wise, with less of the glassy ring that the Selmer has. It lives in my 1948 Buffet's case.
I find both have comparable resistance and use a V12 #3 on both, with the Selmer being a hair more resistant. I also messed around a bit with a B40 and my Fobes 4L for other reference points, but not as extensively.
For me, getting that elusive "ring" in the sound is something I feel like I can do when the resistance is just right. I like a fairly resistant mouthpiece that I can pair with a softer reed, which is why I chose the open, long facing. This one is comparable in resistance to the Selmer. To dive deeper into subjective resistance feel, I feel like what I have been looking for is resistance that I can shape with my air, which puts the sensation of pressure low and back in my mouth instead of higher and more forward. For me, the Vocalise puts this pressure in just the right place, just like the Selmer does. I'm not sure if that makes sense. In terms of totally subjective feel, this one felt very natural and comfortable for me almost right away.
Where it really differs from the Selmer is in the tone that it naturally seems to want to produce. For me, the Vocalise has a bit of a thicker tone than the Selmer or the B45, in a way that feels rather forgiving. It's probably a bit on the "darker" side of things, but with a nice clarity to the sound. It's thick almost like the B40, but with what feels like a lot more definition to the sound. To me, the B40 is easy to make sound pretty in the upper clarion, where that dark tone means the notes don't thin out, but the long B and C can get pretty woolly and undefined. The Vocalise doesn't seem to do that. The tone stays clear through those notes and response is even throughout the range of the instrument.
While I love the Selmer's clarity, focus, and ring, it does have a tendency to get a bit brassy or even a little harsh. When I play it, I tend to walk a bit of a line between "focused and glassy" and "harsh and hard." The Vocalise isn't as focused and gives a bit wider landing pad, if that makes sense. It's definitely darker and warmer than the Selmer, but it doesn't come across overly woolly or covered to my ear, which most "dark" mouthpieces tend to do for me. So far, I haven't quite figured out how to get as much color into the tone as I think I want, but I do appreciate that this one makes it easy to get a pleasant sound, where the Selmer can be a bit shrill if I'm having a bad day. These days, that is probably more common than I wish it were.
A few other notes:
- I don't know what this "pitch locking" that Hawkins/Backun refer to in the promo video is, but intonation is fine. I don't really know what to say other than I had no trouble playing in tune. I don't have trouble playing in tune on any of the mouthpieces listed above.
- I found it handled wide leaps quite nicely. I am not going to pretend that I will ever play the Copland Concerto in public, but the opening page has some tricky intervals that give a good chance to really test how comfortable you really are on a mouthpiece. The Vocalise did very well on these. Response is predictable and that's what matters for me.
- I don't know what "articulation management" is (also referenced in the promo video), but I can confirm that I was able to articulate. Nothing was stopping me.
- I tried this mouthpiece with Vandoren Traditional #2.5 and #3, V12 #3, Peter Leuthner #3 and Legere European Signature #3.25 reeds. I still don't like Legeres, but it did work fine with all of those, though I found the Blue Box #3 and the Leuthner #3 were a bit stiffer than I really wanted. The V12 #3 was the sweet spot for me. The assertion that one might like this with a #4.5 reed seems crazy to me, but hey, maybe some of you are just tougher than I am.
- Dynaically, it has the quality of getting louder without changing the tone very much. A FF sounds like a MF, but louder. On my Selmer and my Fobes, the tone picks up a bit more edge at higher volumes. I think it's a matter of taste. Dynamic range seems good, though.
Overall, I'm quite interested in the possibilities that this mouthpiece has to offer. I thought the marketing was a bit heavy-handed, but the price is reasonable and the names behind it do have a solid reputation for making good products, so I took a swing. I think this one will be a keeper. It's still too early to say if it will take the place of my Selmer, but I'd certainly be comfortable playing it in public.
With this one, Walter Grabner's new 3D printed mouthpiece, Clark Fobes and Brad Behn's existing CNC-machined mouthpieces, D'Addario's Reserve line and Wes Rice now selling a CNC-ed mouthpiece, it looks like the Zinner shutdown might have sparked a lot of creativity amongst established mouthpiece makers. I haven't tried all of these (though I'd like to), but maybe we'll see some real variation in production mouthpieces in the coming years.
Exciting times to be a clarinet geek.