Trumpet Mouthpieces By Ron Romm,

Trumpeter, The Canadian Brass, October 1995

For the past fifteen days I have been on tour with the Canadian Brass in Germany. In addition to the concerts in various cities, we have been doing a group of workshops, and it seems that there is an international interest in our mouthpieces, and the questions indicate a need to open some discussion on the types and choices of mouthpieces available to the various levels and styles of players. I thought I would offer the following to our internet forum, so here goes:


Many people have asked us why we choose to play the shapes and designs of mouthpieces we play. While it would seem an easy question to answer with just a short phrase like "well, we have to play several styles of music during the course of our concert," or "we don't do much orchestral playing anymore," but there is much more to the answer than that type of statement can provide. When choosing a mouthpiece, one must naturally think about what his or her musical direction is to be, and obviously a lead player in a big band is going to have different needs from a player in a brass quintet or an orchestral player. This can be amplified even more by subdividing the big band into the lead player, section player, jazz book, etc., and subdividing the orchestral player into chamber orchestra or full symphony orchestra; even the section players in an orchestra will probably have a different approach to their mouthpieces from the principal player. Range, endurance, depth and breadth of sound, dynamics, are all considerations when choosing a mouthpiece.


The Orchestral trumpet players tend to gravitate toward the use of wide diameter mouthpieces with middle to deep cups. The Bach 1 or 1C or their equivalent are typically used by these players. This is often to accommodate the C trumpet; but usually it is what these players found worked for their teachers, mentors, colleagues, and finally, themselves. Often the backbores of these players' mouthpieces are "opened up," either throughout the backbore or from the bottom of the bore down. When we look down the back side of these mouthpieces, we can expect to see a large, curved shaped backbore.

While this approach to mouthpiece construction provides a broad, expansive tone, as well as a wide pitch base, it often does not create much comfort or endurance. The prevailing trumpeters' philosophy of today is to be able to "cover" the orchestra, and these players (we all have favorite orchestral players that we love to listen to) do it beautifully. There seem to be no barriers for them; they are equipped to play in the orchestra as well as solos, and depending upon their schedules and talents, some commercial work too. All of this would add validity to their choices of mouthpiece design.

The commercial player (when I was growing up the commercial player was also called a business player) is a musician with a very wide range of musical and technical needs. He or she may have a record or jingle date in the morning, a film date that afternoon, and a band concert or such in the evening; all in all, a commercial player has a very diversified schedule. Add to that the number of possible types of music this player is liable to run across in the course of a week, and you have a situation where the players' choice of equipment is critical for providing the player with access to his or her talents in a broader, if not even different way than the more specific demands of orchestral playing.

Typically, the commercial trumpeter will not be using a huge, bored-out mouthpiece as his or her normal daily equipment; rims tend to be slightly smaller diameters (more like a 2C-5C equivalent size) and possibly a bit wider than stock, cups tend to be a bit shallower, and backbores show a Warbuton 7 or 8). Depending upon what type of instrument and what the typical repertoire is for these players, bore sizes will be ordinarily from 27 to 23.

The purpose of all the preceding gab is to say that there is quite a bit of latitude for making choices of mouthpiece design; I have not gotten into rim shape, choice of silver or gold plating, choice of materials for the mouthpiece itself (brass, wood, acrylics, etc.). I personally believe that it is for the individual player to choose from the options available to him or her, given knowledge of basic human physiology and their specific physiology (mouth size, lip size, tooth shape, size, and position, skin type, etc.) and try to use logic: To start, it seems prudent not to select equipment that is too large or too small. Since brass chamber music playing seems (at least in late 1995) more like the commercial type of playing than the orchestral, my choice was to go toward the commercial style of mouthpiece.

My rim is about the equivalent of a 2C or 5C (that description is confusing, but I moved the "crown" or high spot on my rim to the outside of my 5C style rim), but this rim is fatter than a normal Bach type rim. Fatter seemed to be the direction to go for me as I was feeling fatigued toward the end of our Canadian Brass concerts, and needed a bit more blood flow in my lip to get safely to the end of the show. William Vacchiano suggested that I get my rim "fattened" (widened) to the outside so as not to change the general feel of the mouthpiece, but give me more support as I became tired. I had the rim widened to 28mm (normal outside diameter is 27mm). Doing this solved a big problem for me; there is no assistance for the players in a brass quintet so it is incumbent upon the individual player to find the way to the end of the concert, both physically and psychologically. Now when I feel the fatigue, I know it is time to loosen my grip on the horn, stop pressing on the lip with the left biceps, and let the blood back into the lip. The fat rim helps; most of the time my energy returns for the next piece! Fred, incidentally, also uses a larger than standard outside diameter on his mouthpieces.

The decision of how deep a cup to use takes serious consideration. Fred Mills and I have completely different styles of cups on our mouthpieces. Fred is currently using a variation of the "double cup" concept; my cup is more bowl shaped. Since I am quite sure that Fred will be contributing information in the future to this forum, I'll skip over his cup choice and tell you about mine. The concept of using a shallower cup to produce higher notes with less muscle stress appealed to me, but the idea of losing low register or tone did not. I opted for an undercut, shallower-than-normal (more like a "D" depth) cup which would provide the physical volume in the mouthpiece to produce a broad tone throughout the range of the instrument and give me a normal commercial trumpet player's range (from low F-sharp to a reliable high F or G above high C). So far, this combination has worked well in the quintet for me. The backbore to match this cup seems to be moderately open backbore without too much of a curve. Again, what works for me may not work for other players (but I really like it!)

One observation that we in the Canadian Brass have made is there's been a general rush toward heavy weight on instruments and also on mouthpieces. We have done considerable empirical research (remember that the Canadian Brass plays over 125 concerts per year) investigating the premise that heavier is better, and the interim results indicate that while projection can be improved to a point by adding weight, certain aspects of the tone can change, and not necessarily for the better. The trumpet and mouthpiece are 2/3 of a team in action (the most important third is the player), so by varying the dimensions and positions of mass on the trumpet and/or mouthpiece, it is possible for one to create a nice balance of comfort and projection. When weight or mass is added to the mouthpiece, (or the position of that mass moved) to change that balance, a change of the overtones can take effect. The net result seems to be: the more mass on the lower part of the mouthpiece, the fewer resultant overtones. Increasing the mass in the upper area of the notes in the upper register.

The overtones are what make our sound what it is, and it is very important to realize that the quest for "loudness" by adding mass to either the instrument or the mouthpiece indiscriminately can result in an unacceptable brightness and edge to our tone, a general dullness of sound, and/or a change in the perceived pitch centers of some notes. It is my personal belief that we should always strive for a beautiful tone (anybody can blast an ugly sound on a trumpet), and practices and procedures that diminish the beauty of my own tone can be easily discarded.

Given these parameters, we player with weights on various parts of the mouthpieces and came up with a balanced mouthpiece that gave good projection without the edginess and brightness I was suggesting earlier. Chuck Daellenbach's "Arnold Jacobs "TM mouthpiece had an extremely pleasing visual shape. This shape has already been proven successful on Gene Watts' trombone mouthpiece, so as a further experiment we created a likeness of the exterior of this design for the trumpet mouthpiece. The sound of this mouthpiece is very clear, full, and experimentation confirm that this shape already had it's mass in the right places more than eighty years ago. By adapting this shape to our entire signature line of mouthpieces, we have accomplished a very nice balance of mass/projection/tone/aesthetics.

More on Mouthpireces By Ron Romm from 1998

Some time ago we began addressing the issue of trumpet mouthpieces for our Internet readers.  I discussed some general material relative to sound, endurance, range, and ease of playing, and concepts relative to a few styles of playing.  In this letter I hope both to review some of this material, and visit briefly, rim shape and mass.
Some general comments about mouthpiece shape and size:
  1. It is not necessary to play a big mouthpiece to make a big tone.  For many years Bud Herseth played on a mouthpiece significantly smaller than a "1".  Legend has it that an automobile accident precipitated his change to larger equipment to cover scar tissue on his lip.  My colleague Jens produces a huge tone on any mouthpiece he plays, and lately he has been playing a Yamaha 11B4 on his B flat trumpet.
  2. Normally, orchestral players tend to play larger mouthpieces than chamber music and/or commercial players.  This statement refers not only to the diameter of the mouthpiece per se, but also the depth of the cup, openness of the backbore and size of the throat (hole).
  3. Normally, "commercial" or "big band" lead players will use somewhat shallower cups than either orchestral or chamber players; notable exception: Walter White in Detroit often plays a Bach 3C.  Also, Lew Soloff for years used an old Bach 5C.
  4. Often, players that have to play for long hours in very demanding circumstances will (usually quite quickly) work out variables and design modifications to deal with the rigors specific to their individual playing careers.  There are more than a few custom mouthpiece makers around the world who are equipped to build and modify mouthpieces for a player's special needs.
  5. No matter how many rules or opinions are stated (or observations quoted), the individual player will (eventually) have to choose what mouthpiece to use, according to what type of playing he or she does, and not according to what a teacher, mentor, friend, colleague, band director, parent, etc., suggests.

  Sharp, flat, round, inner "bite", crown placement, oval, or circular...  Over the years, many designs have been tried, with, as one might imagine, varied results.  Here are a few observations regarding some of these variables.  Remember that these observations are not rules etched in stone, and they are colored by my opinions:

  1. Sharp, narrow rims tend to give a clear and immediate attack.   It feels great to have the note start "right now".  However, reduced endurance can be a downside to this concept, as it takes a lot of muscle to resist the tendency for a sharp rim to cut off the blood supply to the lips.  As well, there can be difficulties for players whose lips cut easily.  When one cuts easily, there is a tendency for him or her also to bruise and scar easily.  Scar tissue is tougher than normal skin, and as scar tissue becomes thicker and thicker, the nerve endings can be brought progressively further from the surface of the lips.  Ultimately, with enough cutting and scarring, there could even be damage to nerve endings that could render the lips not sensitive enough for beautiful, delicate, soft playing.  If you play for mostly short-duration passages, the sharp or thin rimmed mouthpiece may be a great idea.  If, however, you play regularly in a situation that requires lots of endurance, this may not be a viable choice for you.  An exception to this "thin rim" observation that I personally know of is Mel Broiles with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York, who has always had extraordinary endurance, range, and musical sensitivity while using a very thin, sharp rim.
  2. Flat, medium width rims have a nice feel on the lip.  Comfort is very important in building confidence, and there is no substitute for confidence in trumpet playing.  The playing characteristics of a flat/medium width rim mouthpiece tend to vary with the player, but the general characteristics are a nice quick attack, with a bit more endurance for the player than the thin rim discussed above.
  3. Round, medium width rims also feel nice, with less cutting than thin or flat-medium rims; this is only a generalization.  Best to choose your own as you go, starting from the advice from your mentor, teacher, etc.( yes, the same ones I suggested not listening to earlier).
  4. Sharpening the "bite" (the inner edge of the rim) often quickens the attack.  Beware of  the too-sharp bite, (pertaining to cutting and scarring).
  5. Fat rims are my favorite.  Some years ago, I was going through muscle trauma toward the end of the Canadian Brass concerts (that means, running out of steam towards the end of the show).  It was very hard for me to recover in time for the next tune, and the next after that, and then the encore(s).  I was very concerned with this problem, so I called Bill Vacchiano (with whom I had studied while I was at The Juilliard School), and asked him what to do.  He suggested that I was probably using too thin a rim, and I was depriving my lips of adequate blood supply, thereby preventing proper oxygenation to the muscles.  The net result: game over before the show was over.  Solution: fatten the rim to the outside, while keeping the crown and the general shape and diameter of the inside of the rim the same.  New net result: 30% more endurance, especially at the end of the concert (AND quicker recovery time from the fatigue).  More confidence.  Think about it.  In the 1930's and 40's, most  mouthpiece rims were fatter than they are today; the players played hard and long, and performances were recorded and/or broadcast live.  There was no "punching in" those short takes to make a perfect recording... (remember, also, that the brilliant Soviet Maestro, Timofey Dokzhitser, played on a 7EW mouthpiece for years and years.)
  6. The shape of the rim can be tailored to the individual, but keep in mind that most of the stock mouthpieces on the market today are perfectly acceptable, and that the rims are very playable.  I have played oval shaped rims, skinny, flat, round, large, small rims, round backbores, straight backbores, shallow cups, undercut cups, and deep cups.  This brings me to the latest developments in my own quest for the perfect combination of comfort, ease of playing, and tone color.  I am testing a "V" shaped cup mouthpiece on both my B flat and on my E flat trumpets (some years ago, Les Remsen in Los Angeles earlier teacher... suggested trying "V" shaped cups, as the Austrian trumpeters of the '50s used.  It took me a while, but thanks, Les).  The cup itself is much deeper than any of the mouthpieces I have used for at least the last fifteen years.  One could surmise from this information that the tone would be deep and rich.  This is true; the tone is deeper and richer than on the shallower, bowl-shaped cupped mouthpieces I had been using.  One could also suggest that there would be a drop of range; I haven't played the mouthpiece long enough to evaluate that part.  However, I can always depend on Jens to fill in the high notes I can't play, so for now there seems a considerable gain with no big loss.  Jens is about to experiment with a V mouthpiece; expect a report soon.
  7. For you C Trumpet enthusiasts, we have a good one for you: try a Yamaha 13E4.  I have just done this switch with great results; the tone is great... really full, and the smoothness and flexibility are marvelous.   Yes, I am using a C trumpet for parts of our Canadian Brass concerts (for the record, I hadn't used a C trumpet on a regular basis for at least twenty years).


  1. For a real thrill, try adjusting the mass at the rim.  I have been experimenting with my fat rim cut out of sterling silver, and the increased mass on the rim seems to add a shimmer to the sound, and a great feeling of security, as the notes really lock in!  Incidentally, it is still my personal feeling that the further down the mouthpiece (toward the leadpipe of the trumpet) one increases the mass, the more overtones are peeled away, thereby changing the tone (and neither Jens nor I are sure that the change is for the better).  Remember, though, this is just another variable, and the results of the experimentation will vary with the individual player.

  The above micro-mini-dissertation is based on my opinions after having performed well over a thousand concerts with the Canadian Brass at hundreds of venues.  Jens reminded me to suggest that every trumpet player has to tailor his or her playing to their individual environment.  An Orchestra player, for example, will play in one hall on the same spot on the same stage for many weeks per year, whereas a quintet player like Jens or me will be in over 100 halls per season, constantly adjusting our playing to the acoustics of the hall.
Remember, too, that nothing is etched in stone, so what works for us may or may not work for you out there.  And, if you don't need to play on a huge mouthpiece or a huge trumpet, don't do it.  Be logical in your approach to your equipment, so you can make the most music.

Strive for tone.
Thanks for looking and listening!


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