Review: Giardinelli Horn Mouthpieces Through the Ages

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One of the classic, old standard brands of mouthpieces in the United States has been the series produced by Giardinelli. Giardinelli Band Instrument Company was located in New York City and produced some of the best horn mouthpieces available. However, over the years the production standards changed as the company itself changed hands.

giardinelli3On the left in the photo is the oldest Giardinelli horn mouthpiece I own. It is marked a 2C but in the terminology we are more used to it would be a C-2. The C signifies it has a Chambers cup (as in James Chambers, longtime Principal Horn of the New York Philharmonic) with a number 2 bore. [This number being the size of drill used to make the hole in a numbered drill set; 1 is the largest of these numbered drills and horn mouthpieces are rarely made with a bore smaller than number 18.] I believe this mouthpiece to date from sometime around 1950.

This style of Chambers cup was superseded by type in the middle, which is the classic style for Giardinelli horn mouthpieces [UPDATE: but also see comment number 3, below]. This one dates to sometime in the 70s or 80s. The mouthpiece blank is slightly shorter and the rim is the classic “cookie cutter” type shipped out with this model. It has always puzzled me why this was made with such a narrow, reverse peak rim as the stock rim. It is a rather extreme design and it is actually sharper in contour than on the older mouthpiece on the left. Fortunately, better Giardinelli mouthpieces from this era have screw rims which could be made in shapes that better suit the average player. In this era their quality control was good which is another part of why they became such standard models. I have had periods in my own playing where I have used Giardinelli B and C cup mouthpieces from this production era. The C series cup was their most popular model, the C-1 being the quintessential New York style mouthpiece but with a bore around #8 being more common among players.

Fast forward to closer to today; the mouthpiece on the right is an example. Note the shape is different, the blank it was made from is longer, and if you could see it the rim is yet different. Giardinelli was purchased Musician’s Friend during the 1990s. If you go to www.giardinelli.com today you actually get redirected to Woodwind & Brasswind, which is also owned by Musician’s Friend. There you will see that Giardinelli horn mouthpieces are no longer for sale, only accessories.

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Classic Giardinelli mouthpieces still see some professional use. To play these now you have two options. One is to luck into a great old classic that has been stored in a cigar box for thirty years. The other is to look into other makers who produce mouthpieces that are close copies inspired by the best of these classic mouthpieces. Perhaps the best known of these are the series produced by Stork; John Stork actually was a mouthpiece maker at Giardinelli in their classic production era. Of this he recalls,

It was the fall of 1980. I had just completed a 6 year hitch with the Air Force Band, followed by a cross country tour with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. I found myself in New York, alone and without work. I walked into the Giardinelli Band Instrument Company, located at 46th street just off Broadway. I was looking for a job that day. What I found was a career.

Giardinelli’s in the 1980’s was not just a band instrument company it was an International Brass Center. There was nothing like it anywhere else in the world. Mr. Giardinelli didn’t rely on high speed computerized machines. In fact, the machines he had were antiquated even for their time. Instead, he relied on craftsmanship, skill and experience. He was a firm believer in the old saw, “It’s not the gun, it’s the gunner!” Bob Giardinelli had gathered a team of the finest craftsmen in the field of instrument repair and fabrication, to work with the finest musicians in the world…who just happened to be his everyday clientele.

Mr. Giardinelli was himself the quintessential artisan. There was not one job in that shop that he couldn’t do. He had learned the art of instrument manufacturing from his father in Sicily, who had been taught by his father and so on for many generations. The instinct didn’t just run in his family, it galloped! From repairing a horn to repairing a lathe, from scratch building a clarinet, to making the tools to do it with, his skills set the standard.

I began working in this fertile environment learning the basic skills of mouthpiece manufacturing by hand, one skill at a time. After two years of back boring, polishing, hand stamping and buffing the unexpected happened; the man doing the custom work was suddenly let go. Within minutes Mr. Giardinelli called me into his office and told me, “You are now my custom mouthpiece maker. Come with me, young fellow!”

Besides Stork, there are other options as well for those that still prefer the classic C series mouthpiece including Moosewood and Greg Black. But the Giardinelli store recalled above is long gone, an era has ended.

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