Choosing a French Horn Mouthpiece (III): Weight, Plating and Shopping Tips

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Other choices, a general checklist and a few related links.

In addition to rim and underparts, other mouthpiece options include plating, weight, and shank seating.

» Plating

The most commonly used brass instrument mouthpieces are created on a lathe from a block of brass alloy. An extra layer of plating is needed in order to protect the lips from raw brass surface.

Raw brass on the lips can be an irritant. Besides leaving a residue on the lips that is extremely unpleasant to the taste if accidentally digested, it may cause mild swelling or at worst, an allergic rash.

This being said, a minority of players actually prefer the sensation of raw brass on the lips and will use an unplated mouthpiece regardless of any potential side effects.

The two most common choices for mouthpiece plating are gold and silver. On brass instruments other than the French horn — trumpet, trombone, tuba, etc. — most players it seems choose a silver-plated mouthpiece.

Horn players might go with either type of plating; sometimes on the entire mouthpiece or with a mix of gold and silver plating in a mouthpiece/screw-rim combination. Myself, I have a gold rim with a silver underpart.

The choice of whether to go with silver or gold plating is personal, based solely on tactile sensation. One plating — silver or gold — is no more superior in performance than another.

In broad terms, silver-plated rims may feel somewhat stickier, while gold-plated rims feel more slippery and supple. Beyond this, as far as the technical aspects of playing are concerned there is not a discernible difference.

In rare cases, some people will have allergies to gold and silver plating. For those individuals there are a few options: platinum, nickel or steel plating, or a plastic rim made of Delrin or Lexan. Famed horn virtuoso Barry Tuckwell, for example, used a plastic rim for many years.

» Weight and Annealing

About ten years ago, I switched to Moosewood “Cartouche” mouthpieces – a.k.a. the “MegaMoose.”

The sound and feel of this heavy-wall, annealed mouthpiece feels right for me. Its weight and mass is much heavier and denser than that of a standard weight mouthpiece.

From the Moosewood web site:

The added mass enhances projection without dampening tone color. The Megamoose is especially recommended for orchestral and wind ensemble performance, as loud dynamics are easily managed without overblowing. Stability or “slotting” of tones is enhanced with the use of the Megamoose underpart; ease of slurring is not affected.

Heavy-wall mouthpieces are a bit more expensive than the standard weight models but for myself at least, it was worth the extra expense.

For quite a few years already, horn makers have been annealing bells. The process involves heating the metal for a certain time, at a certain temperature. It can improve the resonant properties of the metal.

Mr. Greer anneals his MegaMoose mouthpieces. I am not sure what of exactly it does, but I do notice an improvement in overall tone quality.

» Shank seating

I once had a teacher that insisted that I get the shank of my mouthpiece filed down so that it would sit very deep into the leadpipe. His basic idea was that the closer the bore was to the lead pipe, the better the high notes would be.

In time this particular method proved to be faulty — other aspects of my playing suffered — but nevertheless how deeply and securely a mouthpiece sets into the leadpipe is important.

If the mouthpiece does not sit securely, if it rocks back and forth in the least, get this fixed or consider a different mouthpiece in the same model.

I cannot speak with any authority on exactly how deep the shank should go into the leadpipe, but when working Mr. Greer on my current mouthpiece choices, he paid particular attention to this detail.

See Mr. Greer’s page “Fit of Your Mouthpiece Stem” for more details.

John Ericson concurs:

Be sure, as also noted in the above article, that any mouthpiece you use is properly sized for your horn leadpipe inlet. There is a distance that a mouthpiece should fit into the receiver; if it goes in too little or too far things really will not work as well as they should. The reason I emphasize this point is because I found a stock B-12 very good on my big Paxman horn but the smaller shanked B-12Y to be even better. It fits maybe 1/16 of an inch further into the leadpipe than the stock B-12.

» A few shopping tips

Shopping for new mouthpiece can be a fool’s paradise. The grass can many times appear to be greener on the other side of the pasture.

Here are a few tips that I hope you may find useful:

  1. Avoid radical changes unless absolutely necessary.
  2. Focus first on the rim and how it feels on the lips.
  3. With underparts, focus at first only on the depth and shape of the cup, and the size of the bore hole.
  4. Audition the new mouthpiece with a teacher or colleague listening at a distance. Switch between it and the old mouthpiece. Ask for feedback.
  5. If possible, give a new mouthpiece an extended trial period.Some merchandisers — like Moosewood — will allow for such a trial period. A more definitive decision can be made over a few days or weeks rather than in just a few minutes.

Related reading:

University of Horn Matters