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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

 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts
Author: tictactux 2017
Date:   2006-06-05 18:32


great information, thanks - that was what I was looking for, plus a whole lot of other interesting bits.

One question re convex and concave: In optics a convex lens is a "classic" magnifier glass, thicker in the centre, thinner at the rim; a concave lens is one that has a cavity in the middle. So I'd naïvely describe a healthy mouthpiece's facing as convex while a squeaky one might have gone concave. ???

Edit: Or are you referring to concave/convex around the Z (rotational) axis?


Post Edited (2006-06-05 18:45)

 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts
Author: redwine 
Date:   2006-06-05 20:13


I concur with Brad, of course. He's one of the very best. To address Mr. Dow, flattening a table will, in fact, close the facing of a mouthpiece, but it is relatively simple (for someone that knows what they are doing) to open the tip back to where it was before the table flattening. I say it's always worth a refacing (be sure the person you go to knows what they are doing, of course) if the mouthpiece does not play like it used to--not only as a last resort.

Thanks, Brad, for sharing information with everyone. Not enough people know about mouthpieces. Everyone should know more. A lot of people that do know won't share information. It's great that such a top notch mouthpiece like Brad will. I too am more than glad to share any knowledge that I have.

By the way, my main mouthpiece has patina too. I'm not worried about it in the least.

Ben Redwine, DMA
owner, RJ Music Group
Assistant Professor, The Catholic University of America
Selmer Paris artist

 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts
Author: David Spiegelthal 2017
Date:   2006-06-05 20:48

Let's not make too much of this subject. Hard rubber, like any form of plastic, will gradually lose some of its chemical constituents over time, depending on its initial composition and amount of exposure to atmosphere, sunlight. etc. In the space world this also occurs in a vacuum with many materials, and is called "outgassing"; within the atmosphere (like down here on Earth) the same phenomenon is called "offgassing". This is what happens to the dashboard of your car --- the offgassing of plasticizers from the vinyl of the dash leaves a film on your windshield as the vapors condense there; and eventually the plastic of your dash is embrittled by the gradual loss of plasticizer, and will discolor and/or crack. Fortunately, the clarinet mouthpiece is a very low-stressed object (mechanically speaking) so it's in little danger of cracking or breaking from offgassing -- but hypothetically it could (perhaps in a century or two we'll see ancient hard rubber mouthpieces spontaneously cracking?)

Anyway, as long as the interior and facing dimensions remain intact, it really doesn't matter what the outside of the mouthpiece is doing -- it's only cosmetic appearance.

 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts
Author: Gregory Smith 2017
Date:   2006-06-05 21:31

In reference to the "updating" of facings of already fine mouthpieces:

Any time one takes material off of the table or the facing, the reed, to a degree, sits closer to the baffle, either the tip baffle or full baffle. Therefore this process, if even done only in small increments, alters the inner dimensions of the mouthpiece (the reed/baffle relationship).

This may be fine to a point and one can even adjust for that by taking a small bit of material out of the baffle in exactly the right places to compensate. But past at a certain point, the original chamber dimensions will be compromised so that the mouthpiece will not resemble the original.

This may be a good thing but most often I find it to be undesirable and risky past two or three refacings or "touch-ups on average.

Gregory Smith

Post Edited (2006-06-05 21:32)

 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts
Author: Chris Hill 
Date:   2006-06-06 23:09

I agree with Greg: after a few refacings, you are really talking about making a new mouthpiece out of your old one. I kind of like the challenge of resurrecting old favorites. Unfortunately, I don't have as much time to do that anymore.

 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts
Author: Dan Shusta 
Date:   2006-06-07 00:55

This is such a wonderful thread, I hope I don't detract from it in any way.

Concerning the oxidation of mpc's, may I relate the following?

A few years ago, I bid on a really old (now called vintage?) mpc that was badly oxidized over "all" surfaces of the mpc, inside as well as outside. I purchased a mpc oxidation cleaner and soaked it in the bubbly fluid for several minutes. In my enthusiatic endeavor, I removed a lot of brown "gunk" from all surfaces...exterior beak, table area, facing section, baffle area, etc. The more "gunk" I removed, the more I realized that I was changing the entire playing characteristics of the mpc (or so I thought...).

And now for some questions:

1. Are fully oxidized mpcs to be avoided?
2. Does the playing characteristics change much as internal oxidation takes place?
3. Do certain brands of mpcs have a reputation, so to speak, of oxidating faster or slower than others due to their different rubber compositions?
4. As to rail tilt, is there any difference between a closed or open mpc as to how fast the tilt can be formed because of how hard the facing is hit with the reed?
5. Would a very thin tip with thin side walls suffer faster from rail tilt?
6. Since humidity quickens the oxidation process and much has been written about adding humidifiers to clarinet cases to help preserve the wood, does this mean that mpcs should be carried separately, away from the humidified case?
7. How can someone store a mpc when they live in a very humid climate like here in WA where it seems to rain all the time?

Thank you in advance.

 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts
Author: Brad Behn 
Date:   2006-06-07 06:10


Here are some thoughts in response to your questions.

1. Are fully oxidized mpcs to be avoided?

I don’t think so. I have had success working on mouthpieces that have been oxidized to various extents. In fact most old mouthpieces have some oxidation and it rarely is bad enough to be of any concern at all.

I would interpret a “fully oxidized” mouthpiece as one that has had so much exposure to the elements that it is rancid and very soft at its outer surface. Usually a light cleaning accompanied by the handling during refacing, eliminates the mephitic sulfuric acid surface layer. (Soaking the mouthpiece in distilled water for 24-48 hours also helps eliminate the sour taste). The biggest problem is not the color (the mouthpiece’s color is of no consequence to how it plays) but it is the softer surface layer of the mouthpiece. The soft surface is only a concern inside the mouthpiece and where the reed makes contact with the rubber. Usually mouthpieces do not oxidize inside the chamber and bore to the extent that the outside oxidizes…because it is more sheltered from the harmful UV exposure.

2. Does the playing characteristics change much as internal oxidation takes place?

Yes, I have found that as the material inside the mouthpiece oxidizes, it gets softer. Softer hard rubber changes the sound and response. The sound may get a little more covered or darker, the resistance may increase and the response may slow down a little bit.

Because the visco-elastic characteristics of the inside of the mouthpiece surface layer changes with oxidation, the important compression and rebound of the playing experience changes as well. A good mouthpiece has a force that pushes back when you put energy into it. Some call this impedance or working resistance. With a softer surface inside the mouthpiece (and a changed physical structure of the inner surface), the moduli, and therefore the playing experience will change as well.

3. Do certain brands of mpcs have a reputation, so to speak, of oxidating faster or slower than others due to their different rubber compositions?

Yes, I have heard from many people that Vandoren mouthpieces ware out quicker and also oxidize quicker than other brands. I don’t believe it. I think Vandoren (because they are the biggest) receives the most criticism…rarely founded on fact.

I am sure some mouthpieces are made from material that resists the harmful UV rays better than other others, but I don’t know which ones they are.

4. As to rail tilt, is there any difference between a closed or open mpc as to how fast the tilt can be formed because of how hard the facing is hit with the reed?

I don’t know. Interesting.

5. Would a very thin tip with thin side walls suffer faster from rail tilt?

I suspect it would, but rail tilt is most common in my experience toward the bottom of the window (farthest from the tip).

6. Since humidity quickens the oxidation process and much has been written about adding humidifiers to clarinet cases to help preserve the wood, does this mean that mpcs should be carried separately, away from the humidified case?

No. As long as you don’t leave your mouthpiece out in direct sunlight, you shouldn’t be concerned. If your main mouthpiece oxidizes a little and changes color a little…that is normal, but with regular use, I doubt you would get severe oxidation.

I believe the humidity issue is one of creating a conduit for the oxidation to spread from one piece to another. Hard rubber will not oxidize due to direct contact with humidity or saliva or water.

Keep oxidized mouthpieces away from clean ones and you should be fine.

7. How can someone store a mpc when they live in a very humid climate like here in WA where it seems to rain all the time?

I think oxidized mouthpieces are a thing of beauty. They show their history right before us. Celebrate a little discoloration and have fun playing.

The good news is that espresso pours better in your climate…cheers

Brad Behn

 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts
Author: Alseg 
Date:   2006-06-07 13:48

3M Silver protector strips or the bagettes sold by Dr. Henderson will absorb the oxidizing surfuric stuff and keep the mpc from harming the keys.

I have bought and sold many vintage mouthpieces. The biggest "patina" making aspect seems to be leaving the item out and exposed to UV.

Softer blanks DO sound softer. Babbits and Links of the same model are different.
I do not think Vandys "patina" faster than any other.
Bettoneys patina slowly and remain firm. (many are Ched blanks).
Old Selmers patina more quickly and get softer.

-Where the Sound Matters Most(tm)-

 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts
Author: GBK 
Date:   2006-06-07 21:09

The facts about rubbers, plastics, etc...



 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts
Author: David Spiegelthal 2017
Date:   2006-06-08 01:41

Having just hours ago refaced a brand new Vandoren B45, I can tell you that it is made of what I would classify as a very 'soft' hard rubber material -- both from the excessive ease of sanding it, and from the light tan color and strong sulfur smell of the powder. I can't predict its resistance to changing color over time, but I wouldn't expect it to be a very durable mouthpiece in terms of resistance to dents, dings and scratches.

 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts
Author: L. Omar Henderson 
Date:   2006-06-08 13:37

(Disclaimer – I chemically treat mouthpieces to restore black color and have analyzed several examples of rubber structure in “classic” mouthpieces for clients)
Interesting thread and thanks to the mouthpiece makers who have great insight into mouthpiece form and function. The patina or color change seen in older mouthpieces is indeed due to colored sulphur compounds that are the result of interactions with various chemicals in the air and are not easily chemically reversed to native sulphur or chemically changed to black sulphur compounds.. Oxygen per se is not the operative chemistry but oxidation due to ozone accelerates the unbinding (breaking of chemical crosslinks) of polymer chains at the surface of the mouthpiece which is also accelerated by UV radiation and frees molecular sulphur and other impurities in the vulcanized rubber. This unbinding, leading to what we call oxidation, does soften the rubber because it reverses the vulcanization process. Actually, the colored sulphur compounds help protect the surface from further degradation because they are chemically very stable and block further chemical reactions whereas free sulphur is rather chemically active forming sulfides, sulfates, etc..

It all depends on the raw rubber stock, formulation of rubber, sulphur and other catalysts, and vulcanization process parameters – heat, pressure, time, and subsequent “curing” steps as to whether a particular mouthpiece is more or less prone to the effects of oxidation. Old Chedville mouthpieces show a significant amount of variability in their molecular crosslinking patterns, sulphur and impurity content, and susceptibility to oxidation depending on when and where they were produced. The process of vulcanization was also variable from time to time in the same factory and between batches of mouthpieces and also dependant on the machinery available at the time (as detailed by an extensive review of available factory records, texts, and personal communication with factory workers). Aging of vulcanized rubber also leads to a certain degree of unbinding in vulcanized rubber since the catalytic vulcanization process is more or less random and influenced by various impurities in the stock rubber used. Modern spectral analysis techniques can accurately define the molecular and cross polymer chain bonding patterns leading to a “signature” for a particular piece of vulcanized rubber. These techniques have been developed primarily in the tire industry as quality control procedures. The more unstable crosslinks will break more quickly than more stable crosslinking patterns and may lead to an overall aging redefinition of the bonding patterns. For the most part the worst oxidation and discoloration occur in less than 1/10 mm surface depth but can extend deeper depending on the particular rubber mouthpiece.
L. Omar Henderson

 Re: mouthpiece patina, additional thoughts
Author: Brad Behn 
Date:   2006-06-21 21:30

Mouthpieces can be tweaked many times but I too believe mouthpieces are best if refaced as little as possible. I consider refacing as a much more comprehensive approach to mouthpiece work, and tweaking as one ore two very slight adjustments to improve a good mouthpiece. Tweaking can be all that is needed to bring a mouthpiece back to life.

Tweaking mouthpieces does remove material and discretion is advised, but to bring a mouthpiece that has grown tired from many years (five or more) of hard use (hours each day), a little tweak is often all that is necessary.

What is a tweaking? A mouthpiece can be very slightly adjusted to bring it back to spec. This may only require a slight facing pass to remove the rail tilt and a single table pass to close it back to its original facing dimensions. Perhaps the mouthpiece would improve with a thinner tip rail, or thinner rails. This can be done without touching the table or the facing. The possibilities are endless, but on a fine mouthpiece this is often all that is necessary. Sure it fits in the family of refacing, but it generally means that very little material is removed. Tweaking a mouthpiece is what I meant when I suggested that a typical mouthpiece can be brought back to spec dozens or even a hundred times. In my opinion once a mouthpiece has been faced into a good place, less is more.

What is bringing a mouthpiece back to spec? A mouthpiece that is up to spec is one that is at its best. Presumably the original maker of the mouthpiece made it to its optimum performance, and if a mouthpiece changes, bringing it back to spec implies that it should be brought back to its original playing condition/characteristics.

Indeed a mouthpiece may be great to one player and a dog to another player, so bringing a mouthpiece up to spec may not be the best course of action. I look at it this way, the playing experience is a result of ones concept, embouchure, reed, wind and mouthpiece working in combination. Our job as mouthpiece makers is to thread the needle. We must make a mouthpiece that works in harmony with the player’s concept, reed style/strength, embouchure, and wind.

When it comes to any mouthpiece modification the goal is to remove the least amount of material possible while achieving the best playing characteristics. I agree with everyone’s concerns that by refacing, not only valuable material is lost but the geometry of the mouthpiece changes as well.

But a refacer can adjust both the baffle’s shape and the table’s origin (angle that the facing is cut into the body) of an old tired mouthpiece so as to maintain the integrity of the mouthpiece’s original design, feel, response, and sound. Indeed there is a point of no return but that may be farther down the refacing trail than some may believe. I think it is unfortunate for clarinetists to think that they can’t adjust or improve a mouthpiece because of fear that there isn’t enough material.

Caution is advised. I have witnessed what was once an amazing H. Chedeville get refaced so many times (by just about everyone I can think of), that it is practically the size of an Eb mouthpiece now….it still has a sound, but it is not nearly the piece it once was. It was heavily refaced at least a dozen times. Although in its prime that mouthpiece was an amazing player, discretion was lost and the owner (not me) got carried away. I think the moral of the story is this: If you feel compelled to reface a mouthpiece over and over again, perhaps your actions are worth noting….perhaps the mouthpiece’s intrinsic playing characteristics are not for you…perhaps it is best left alone…for someone else to appreciate. I would have loved to be the lucky recipient of that old Henri (in its prime), but it was not meant to be…

On the other hand, assuming a mouthpiece has not been worked on too much, it should have a lot of room/material for adjustment.

How much room? For refacing, clients frequently send me 1970’s vintage “Egyptian” model Chedevilles (with the scrolling at the base) that are marked MO (medium open). Typically they have a very open tip opening at around 126….or 1.26mm…(Artie Shaw’s tip opening was 1.24 for what it is worth). They play terribly. But with a good facing they can be quite nice. I find that a schedule of about 102-104 tip, 5.5, 12, 22, and 35 as a basic facing works quite well for me and for my clients. After I have closed these mouthpieces down nearly a quarter of a millimeter, restored the side rail thickness, reshaped the tip rail to match a reed’s tip shape, and sculpted the baffle for better sonority and response, there is still plenty of material to work with. I should mention that the angle that the facing is cut into the body does grow slacker by between 15-30 minutes, but it plays. That is a lot of material removed and there are dozens of facing possibilities between the open facing and the closed one. I use this example to illustrate that many mouthpieces have lots of material to work with.

On that particular blank, I could then open it back up and then closed it back down once more (not that I ever would)…there is that much material. Indeed it would be a different mouthpiece at that point, and it probably would not be nearly as good as it was earlier on. At that point the angle that the facing is cut into the body would be about five degrees, 30 minutes and much more slack than I prefer. With baffle work, one can maintain the relationship/geometry of the reed to baffle but the baffle to bore relationship/geometry would be irreversibly altered. (Interestingly Zinner mouthpieces are even slacker at 6 degrees 15 minutes! But they play for many clarinetists around the world).

You may be thinking: why does the angle of the facing change in relation to the body? When a mouthpiece is closed down, refacers have the option to torque the table and therefore close the mouthpiece quicker and remove less material. The consequence is that the mouthpiece angle changes a slight amount in your mouth (the angle of the clarinet becomes slightly more horizontal) and the angle that the reed meets the baffle changes by the same amount. Often refacers select this course of action because it removes less material from a mouthpiece.

Weighing the consequences of a slacker facing angle versus much more material removed, becomes the task of the refacer. Either option can prove success, but experience and discretion will usually be the best guide. Similarly a mouthpiece can be opened up by torquing the butt end of the mouthpiece when making a table pass. This allows the entire facing schedule to open up without touching the curve. A mouthpiece can be closed down by working the table without torquing the butt, or the top of the table (nearer the window opening) and this is a good way to maintain the mouthpiece’s geometry. It is important to note that any of these options will change, reduce, or eliminate any concavity in the table. Incidentally, refacers can actually flatten a table without changing the tip opening or facing schedule…it all depends on where and how the table is torqued.

Additionally the table can either be flat or concave and this is another important final step. (When I refer to a concave table, I mean that there is a little dip or hollow in the middle of the table). Some mouthpieces have very large concavities (dips) and others have smaller dips. For example, Zinner blanks come with very large dips and Vandoren mouthpieces are made with moderate dips. In my opinion either a flat table or a slightly concave table is best.

What does the concavity do? Well that is a big question…the table is offers a whole world of discovery. The application of the concavity is an art form all to itself, and there are many points of view. Many refacers today prefer flat tables but the majority of mouthpieces in their original state were made with concave tables. The concavity was developed during the era of wood mouthpieces and it remains in common use today for mouthpieces of all kinds of material. A well made concave table can allow for a very different feel and sound. Because the concavity creates a well defined fulcrum for the reed’s vibration, it will invite a different kind of resonance. Response can be snappier and a wonderful three dimensional sound that allows for the instant and fluid transition from straight tone to vibrato can be one of the greatest results of a well made concave table. Concave tables can tend to make me want to bite more, but when the facing is properly balanced to the table, this feeling is either reduced or eliminated. Often concave tables create a sound that is a little bit less reedy and a bit darker or warmer/deeper. But they can take some of the intense focus that some people prefer out of the sound. Flat tables on the other hand can create a secure playing platform with little or no unnecessary bite. The response is reliable and may have a little more zing in the sound. Flat tables create a lot of tonal center and hold to the feel. Either way, a flat or a concave table must be appropriately balanced to the facing curve and chamber. The table must work in harmony with the rest of the mouthpiece. If making a concave table, it is generally best to start with the table and then apply the facing to balance.

Brad Behn

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