Heavy Metal Devices

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Is heavier better, or is it a gimmick?

Over the years I have experimented with a variety of equipment, including instruments, mouthpieces, leadpipes and bells. One facet in this experimentation has been with equipment and parts that are intentionally made “heavier” — either with extra metal, with alloys, or with manufacturing methods to make the metal more dense.

Here in Phoenix, an excellent mouthpiece maker in the neighborhood is Tom Greer of Moosewood Requisites. My heavy-mouthpiece journey began with his Moosewood-brand stem weights, which attach to the shank of the mouthpiece. It felt right in an indescribable way and my colleagues noticed a small difference.

I eventually graduated to his Moosewood Cartouche mouthpieces (“MegaMoose“) which are practical double, if not triple, the weight of a traditional mouthpiece. When asked about this how this extra weight helps, he had no definitive answers.

“Is it the extra density that keeps overtones from escaping the mouthpiece?” I asked in complete ignorance. “Does that extra weight send more good stuff down into the horn?”

Tom looked at me and shrugged his shoulders. “I dunno,” he casually replied. “Somehow, for you it works. So there!”

For whom the bell tolls

For about 10 years, I used a Lawson “Ambronze” bell. It was a very heavy, unlaquered bell made from a unique combination of metals.

Instead of staining my hand green like some bells do, this one stained it black.

I made the mistake once of not washing my hands after a practice session and went to make a sandwich. At the first bite, something tasted horribly wrong. Some of the black residue had gotten in my mouth. It tasted like a very bitter mouthful of tarnished nickels and pennies.

All bitter taste aside, the Ambronze bell added more security, depth and “weight” to the tone so I stuck with it until I sold it as a package deal with a horn.

Other gadgets

Beyond mouthpieces and bells, there are other gadgets out there including Tone Blobs, the Denis Wick Booster — and the mystery device pictured at right. I do not recall what this thing is called, but it is basically a two-sided wooden clamp that attaches to the horn, holding a heavy bar of solid brass.

It seemed to make a difference for the player using it, but it should be noted that she eventually stopped using it. It’s extra weight was taking a toll on her arms and shoulders.

Gimme that ole time religion

Going back to my conversation with mouthpiece-maker Tom Greer — while I was looking for a more definitive, perhaps even scientific answer from him, his off-the-cuff comment more-or-less summed it up.

If it works for you and feels right, use it.

In a documentary film I saw long ago, horn-maker Steve Lewis made a similar comment. He remarked that the more aesthetically beautiful the horn is crafted, the better it played. Other custom instrument makers profess similar meta-physical properties and procedures, most notably Monet and his unusual trumpet designs.

It’s a bit like the 1992 movie Like Water for Chocolate — if there is balanced love and care in the making of a gourmet dish, that magic carries over to the enjoyment of the meal.

This aside, the bottom line is that if it works for you and if it sounds good in your playing environment, that is good enough. No scientific evidence is really needed.

After all to this day the mythical properties of the legendary Stradivarius violin have not been fully cracked, yet it remains a much sought-after instrument. There was something magical that happened when those instruments were made and, thankfully I believe, those properties remain mostly a secret.

While scientific measures can find general properties and tendencies, there is a bit of faith involved in manufacturing and playing on a “heavy-metal” device. These gadgets — heavy mouthpieces, valve cap weights and bells — are not for everyone, but for myself at least, I am convinced that my MegaMoose makes a huge difference.

University of Horn Matters