To tease the conclusion first, I was very pleasantly surprised by the plastic (Lexan) Kelly MC horn mouthpiece.
Why a plastic mouthpiece?
This past fall I was riding in the car with my new tuba colleague Deanna Swoboda and noted that she had a Kelly tuba mouthpiece in her car. She kept it there for buzzing on. That gave me an idea, at the least their horn mouthpiece might be a good one to have around for buzzing.
So I began looking and noted they did show up on eBay at a very modest price. Finally I took the plunge and bought an example in clear Lexan. They come in a variety of colors, but clear appealed to me for the see-through aspect, to be able to see the cup and backbore shape.
The marketing for these is geared toward use in marching band or by young students. The mouthpiece itself has a very smooth finish. It is generally similar in dimensions to a classic Schilke FARKAS MODEL mouthpiece (the basis for the Holton MC), but actually a bit longer, in the same way that a Lawson mouthpiece is similar but longer overall than a standard mouthpiece. The mouthpiece on the left is my FARKAS MODEL and on the right a Lawson. The bore of the Kelly is #14, appropriate for a MC cup. (#14? If you are unsure what that means, read this article, recently updated).
So how does it play? I was very pleasantly surprised, it actually plays rather well, better than probably most of the mouthpieces in the under $40 price range. The sound is a little brighter than my normal mouthpiece (Osmun, described here) but only by a degree, and really it is a pleasant sound that you can get used to, not harsh.
It buzzes very freely when held in the hand. Which is hard to explain but I think has something to do with the design and the light weight of the mouthpiece. Oh, and it is a lot of fun to use. This is also hard to explain but it is like a new toy and one that actually works on the horn rather well. Well enough that you might even be tempted to switch to one full time. This is a perfect stocking stuffer for yourself or the horn player in your life.
Where can a hornist make use of a plastic mouthpiece?
Besides marching band and young students I can think of at least two more great applications of a Lexan mouthpiece for the more serious player. [See UPDATE for a third use.]
One is as the car/travel mouthpiece for buzzing. It is again very light and unbreakable, and it won’t be uncomfortably hot or cold to use right away when you get in the car, like a metal mouthpiece often is.
The other use that comes to mind is as a cheap way to see if you have a metal allergy. Some students do have issues with silver and gold allergies. Temporarily try one of these and see if the problems go away.
As it is clear you may be thinking you could use it to see your lips buzzing. Unfortunately, the view is not that clear to the embouchure on a horn mouthpiece (the “window” is too small), and beyond that it fogs up almost immediately when you start playing. I believe it would have much use in the lower brass for viewing the embouchure, but not on horn.
It is light as a feather, comfortable to play at any temperature, sounds good, plays surprisingly well, and is pretty much unbreakable (unless you literally run over it with a car).
For me personally, the ideal car mouthpiece would have a rim identical to my normal rim, so this probably is not ideal. But it is pretty close and it being plastic is a plus, so I will be giving it a trial. And it is a lot of fun, well worth the modest price.
UPDATE January 2014
The line in the original review above was prophetic, relating to metal allergies. As I write this update I am into my second extended trial of the Kelly MC as I believe I have developed a sensitivity to my normal rim. (And I have a Houser H-Kote Titanium rim on order too to try in relation to this).
Early in this second trial period I did note something very interesting. The Kelly MC works great on my triple horn. As in really great. It is as though I stumbled onto something that other strong professional players may want to seriously explore. Triple horns are heavy, and something really good happens with the interface of my Paxman triple and the extremely light Kelly mouthpiece. I will be exploring this more, and now own a number of Kelly MC mouthpieces in various colors. This angle on mouthpiece design may be the cutting edge for triple horns (very light mouthpiece on heavy horn).
One other thing to note, very seriously, is that actually while the dimensions appear to be exactly identical, mouthpieces of different colors actually do sound a little different than the clear mouthpiece in this review. Something about the pigment in the Lexan changes the resulting sound, darkens or dulls it a bit. I also note that the clear mouthpiece feels slicker on the lips, more like gold. I prefer the clear plastic MC over all others that I own.
As will be noted in an upcoming review of the Kelly MDC as well, the shank of the Kelly MC is slightly bigger in diameter than a typical USA mouthpiece. It is not quite up to the size of a “European shank” (more here), but it is again slightly bigger and on some horns this could cause some playing problems. The rim is seen in this photo; the rim on the MDC and MC models is identical and very similar to a Holton MDC rim.
As I wrote this update I was surprised to note that the MC model was no longer listed on their website, only the MDC! I contacted the manufacturer and I am pleased to report that a new run of the MC mouthpieces is coming soon. As noted above, it really is a surprising and very nice mouthpiece that should have received more positive notice in the horn world. After I have given the MDC a fair trial I will also review it as well.
UPDATE: The MDC review is here. And I am back to playing on metal mouthpieces with either a Delrin or H-Kote rim. More on those soon, but in the meantime check this article by Bruce Hembd for more on H-Kote.