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 mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts
Author: Brad Behn 
Date:   2006-06-05 18:09

Here are some rambling thoughts…I hope they may be of some help.

Hard rubber will show its patina over time due to its exposure to oxygen and light (UV rays). Old mouthpieces that have been stored wrapped up in a dark container may look as good as new, and newer mouthpieces that have been sitting in direct sunlight may begin turning green/brown/gray in just a few days.

If you have ever seen mouthpieces at a pawn shop that were attached to a clarinet in the display window, you can clearly see where the ligature was fastened and where it was exposed to direct light. I have seen mouthpieces completely change color in just a couple of months under these conditions. When the mouthpiece changes color and has not been handled it will develop a very soft surface layer (where the sulfur blooms to the surface) and it can taste mephitic.

Some observations:

1. Keep mouthpieces that are oxidized away from other mouthpieces…this seems to accelerate the oxidation process on “clean” pieces.

2. Storing mouthpieces that are protected with foam rubber can accelerate the oxidation process.

3. Keep all mouthpieces away from the light whenever possible.

4. Store mouthpieces that you are not using wrapped in tissue paper and then place them in a dark and dry environment.

5. Humidity can quicken the oxidation process.

Some thoughts:

If your mouthpiece has a patina, celebrate it. It is part of being a clarinetist. In my experience working with professional clarinetists, not one of them has asked me to remove the tarnish of time.

If you use your mouthpiece regularly, a mouthpiece that is discolored is of no concern. But when a mouthpiece that shows a healthy patina is not used, its discoloration will continue to grow more pronounced and the composition of its surface layer will continue to change (softer as sulfur blooms to the surface).

The changing nature of hard rubber is responsible for much legend and folklore. Do mouthpieces get better over time? Were the old greats not as good back when they were first made?

I remember asking Iggie Gennusa at the ICA conference in Belgium the above questions and he replied: “Those old mouthpieces were great then and they are great today, they played the same back then as they do today. Good rubber is good rubber.”

I think Iggie was a great source of information on this subject for the following reasons:

1. He was well known for his beautiful sound and tonal concept.

2. He knew a lot about mouthpieces.

3. Because he had been around for a long time, he had first hand experience with great vintage mouthpieces when they were almost new.

4. He owned and played an excellent Charles Chedeville mouthpiece that he kept in his pocket!

5. I played that mouthpiece in 2002 at the ICA conference in OK… (yes I was a little bit alarmed that he pulled it out of his pocket for me to try, but I couldn’t resist) and it was a great sounding and feeling mouthpiece.

6. He told me that that Charles Chedeville sounded great fifty years earlier as well.

7. That Charles Chedeville mouthpiece had a pronounced brownish patina, but the facing and table were black.

I agree with Iggie. In my experience, even though a mouthpiece may change in appearance, it will remain a great player as long as its surface layer is not too soft (especially the facing and table). For what it is worth, I have found that the old great vintage mouthpieces were made from rubber that was of equal or very similar hardness to modern mouthpieces, but they were less chalk-like than many commonly used hard rubber compositions today.

How do you know if the surface layer is too soft? Try scraping it with your fingernail (don’t scrape the facing please). If it leaves scuff marks, you may want it refaced. But be aware that the body of the mouthpiece may be softer because it is more exposed to harmful environmental conditions. Generally a well played mouthpiece may oxidize around the body and beak but remain black on its facing….this scenario is fine. You can play a mouthpiece like that for generations and have nothing to worry about (although occasional refacings to keep it up to spec would be required).

Why would one have to reface occasionally? As a mouthpiece is played the reed is clamped down by the ligature and this can cause pressure on the mouthpiece and eventually warp the table. Suggestion: don’t store a mouthpiece with a wet reed and ligature tightened because this may cause the warp to occur more quickly.

What is a warped mouthpiece? For some reason we have adopted the strange term “warp” to describe a facing that is no longer true. The most common problem is when the table changes and is no longer flat or concave as per the original manufacturing specs. The table can become convex or it can twist and therefore move off axis in relation to the facing. This will result in an uneven or asymmetrical facing. Additionally another problem can arise due to much use…this problem is commonly grouped in with the “warped” term, but is also referred to as “rail-tilt.” “Rail-tilt” occurs when the rails bevel in, toward the window opening. It is caused from the reed’s vibration acting as an abrasion force over the course of time. Some mouthpieces with a very slight rail tilt can be fine players but eventually they too will need refacing to bring them back to spec.
How do you know when it is time to reface your mouthpiece to bring it back to spec? I find that mouthpieces can play quite well with warped tables and rail tilt and all sorts of problems. But usually a mouthpiece can be improved when it suffers from those conditions. The biggest factor is in finding reeds. If you are suffering a much more difficult time finding good reeds than you used to, and your mouthpiece has been used a lot for the past five years or so, it may be time to have your favorite refacer evaluate it for you.

How many times can you reface a mouthpiece? This depends on how much material the mouthpiece has to work with and how much material is removed each time you get it refaced. I have found that the average mouthpiece can be brought back to spec dozens of times…maybe even a hundred times, but when opening the mouthpiece .10 mm and then closing it back down several times, you only have a handful of refacings before the mouthpiece is compromised.

Brad Behn

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 Topics Author  Date
 mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts  new
Brad Behn 2006-06-05 18:09 
 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts  new
tictactux 2006-06-05 18:32 
 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts  new
redwine 2006-06-05 20:13 
 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts  new
David Spiegelthal 2006-06-05 20:48 
 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts  new
Gregory Smith 2006-06-05 21:31 
 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts  new
Chris Hill 2006-06-06 23:09 
 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts  new
Dan Shusta 2006-06-07 00:55 
 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts  new
Brad Behn 2006-06-07 06:10 
 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts  new
Alseg 2006-06-07 13:48 
 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts  new
GBK 2006-06-07 21:09 
 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts  new
David Spiegelthal 2006-06-08 01:41 
 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts  new
L. Omar Henderson 2006-06-08 13:37 
 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts  new
Brad Behn 2006-06-21 21:30 

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