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Plastic vs. Metal mouthpieces

Postby geomiklas » Fri May 11, 2018 1:43 am

When the nickel plating wore off of the Bach 18 mouthpiece that I have had since high school, I replaced it with a Kelly 18. At the time I was not playing any high serious literature, so the Kelly 18 functioned perfectly well in the meatball register of the tuba. As soon as I went back to preparing orchestral excerpts, studies, etudes, and solos, I began having a bad experience.

It was as if my embouchure had changed. I couldn't focus any notes above C4, and I could not produce consistent pedal tones below G1...all combinations with the 5th valve was a disaster. After trying another horn with the Kelly 18, I decided that maybe it was the mouthpiece.

I bought a new Bach 18 and have been working with it for about 2 months. I am happy with the progress that I'm making. The notes above C4 are easy to focus, and the pedals below G1 speak much better now than recently.

Has anybody else experienced anything like this with plastic mouthpieces?
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Re: Plastic vs. Metal mouthpieces

Postby Three Valves » Fri May 11, 2018 7:31 am

geomiklas wrote: I couldn't focus any notes above C4,


I don't worry about those. :shock:

But if I wasn't getting better results with the metal mouthpiece I'd use the plastic one all the time.

You may find, like I did, that the dimensions of the Kelly 18 are actually more closely matched to the Bach 12 than to the Bach 18.
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Re: Plastic vs. Metal mouthpieces

Postby Northernlb » Fri May 11, 2018 11:17 am

I have not played a Kelley but I would imagine there is a range limit to the vibrations the plastic mouthpiece can take/make. If they were truly better many manufactures would be making them now, since plastic is far cheaper than metal. They are what they are and do very well at that, but beyond that I would not expect much more from them.

On a side note one of my student 3D printed a mouthpiece last week, and it did work, normal range, didn't play it for more than a minute because the inside bowl was not smooth. Told him he would need to work on that. That will be the future of mouthpieces after the plastic, 3D printed ones.
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Re: Plastic vs. Metal mouthpieces

Postby smitwill1 » Fri May 11, 2018 12:00 pm

In my opinion/experience, plastic mouthpieces have their utility. I keep one in the glovebox (is it really a glovebox if no one keeps gloves in there anymore...) to buzz on while driving to a gig if I won't have time to play earlier in the day or in case I forget my "real" one. I also suggest that my students buy one as a SECOND mouthpiece for marching band. In days' past I had seen a couple of mouthpieces come out of a sousaphone or marching tuba during "horns-UP!" or during a parade. The brass ones got nicked, scratched, or bent--totally trashed! Plastic ones, less so. I think the difference in the mouthpiece weights, the ability to buff out scratches with a fingernail buffer, and the cheaper price that plastic mouthpieces make sense in certain situations. But, I'd only play one in in a sit-down gig if I'd forgotten my "real" mouthpiece.
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Re: Plastic vs. Metal mouthpieces

Postby hrender » Fri May 11, 2018 12:20 pm

Three Valves wrote:You may find, like I did, that the dimensions of the Kelly 18 are actually more closely matched to the Bach 12 than to the Bach 18.


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Re: Plastic vs. Metal mouthpieces

Postby Donn » Fri May 11, 2018 12:39 pm

Northernlb wrote:I have not played a Kelley but I would imagine there is a range limit to the vibrations the plastic mouthpiece can take/make.


Though in general, the sound production from a mouthpiece is mostly about other things than mouthpiece vibration, per se.
That will be the future of mouthpieces after the plastic, 3D printed ones.


Here we're getting to a real difference. A Bach 18 (or 12, if you like) and a Kelly 18 might seem pretty similar, and the material's inherent properties are arguably irrelevant in tuba sound production. But they're made in two very different processes, that might have consequences to the fine detail working surfaces like throat and backbore. I imagine it might be impossible to cut a mouthpiece out of a block of polycarbonate, way Bach presumably does to make a brass mouthpiece, but maybe someone could make brass mouthpieces from a mold like Kelly presumably does, and see how popular those would be.

And then there's a surface difference, each material having a slightly different grip that may have an effect with some players.
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Re: Plastic vs. Metal mouthpieces

Postby Doug Elliott » Fri May 11, 2018 1:26 pm

It is entirely possible to cut a mouthpiece out of solid polycarbonate - I've done it - however it takes a very long time and is not at all cost effective. That's how I make my Lexan rims, and I'm able to do it in any shape and size to match any of my metal rims, unlike the molded mouthpieces that are limited due to the molds.

I think the friction difference accounts for some of the playing differences people notice, and the fact that polycarbonate is far more flexible than metal so it does probably absorb and/or reflect some of the sound frequencies differently than metal.

I play on a Lexan rim most of the time, and for me I don't think it makes any difference at all but I know some people react differently to it.
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Re: Plastic vs. Metal mouthpieces

Postby iiipopes » Fri May 11, 2018 2:32 pm

Regarding my Kelly 18, I experienced some difficulty with intonation security in register extremes, but what was most noticeable were dynamic extremes. I wrapped a layer of golfer's lead tape around the throat to stabilize the mouthpiece, and the difficulties in both registers and dynamics were almost eliminated.
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Re: Plastic vs. Metal mouthpieces

Postby geomiklas » Fri May 11, 2018 3:40 pm

Doug Elliott wrote:...far more flexible than metal so it does probably absorb and/or reflect some of the sound frequencies differently than metal.

Northernlb wrote:I have not played a Kelley but I would imagine there is a range limit to the vibrations the plastic mouthpiece can take/make.

That is exactly what I think was the effect on my playing with the Kelly 18.

Three Valves wrote:You may find, like I did, that the dimensions of the Kelly 18 are actually more closely matched to the Bach 12 than to the Bach 18.

That is interesting. I didn't perceive that difference. But thank you for the suggestion.

smitwill1 wrote:In my opinion/experience, plastic mouthpieces have their utility. I keep one in the glovebox (is it really a glovebox if no one keeps gloves in there anymore...) to buzz on while driving to a gig...I'd only play one in in a sit-down gig if I'd forgotten my "real" mouthpiece.

And this is where I am now with the Kelly 18

iiipopes wrote:Regarding my Kelly 18, I experienced some difficulty with intonation security in register extremes, but what was most noticeable were dynamic extremes. I wrapped a layer of golfer's lead tape around the throat to stabilize the mouthpiece, and the difficulties in both registers and dynamics were almost eliminated.

Thank you for validating my comparison. But what did the golfer's tape really do? In my case, the Kelly 18 was tight in the receiver.
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Re: Plastic vs. Metal mouthpieces

Postby bloke » Sat May 12, 2018 12:44 am

Lexan is a bit grabby, and I only recommend our Lexan rims for outdoor cold weather use, or for people who are (even) allergic to stainless steel.
That having been said, we have the titanium coatings. I haven't run into too many who are allergic to titanium.
I feel sorry for people who are that reactive. It has to be a rough life. (no sarcasm here whatsoever)
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Re: Plastic vs. Metal mouthpieces

Postby iiipopes » Sat May 12, 2018 6:20 am

Three Valves wrote:You may find, like I did, that the dimensions of the Kelly 18 are actually more closely matched to the Bach 12 than to the Bach 18.

I don't know if it is on the website, but Kelly has always maintained that their mouthpieces are designed to emulate the tone of the mouthpiece they are interpreting, not the dimensions. So yes, where a stock Bach 18 has a 1.26 cup i.d. and a larger throat, my Kelly 18 has a 1.28 cup i.d. and a standard throat.
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Re: Plastic vs. Metal mouthpieces

Postby Doug Elliott » Sat May 12, 2018 7:47 am

From my own measurements I consider an 18 to be 1.28

Is it listed somewhere as 1.26? That much discrepancy isn't too unusual, that's why I go with my own measurements.
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Re: Plastic vs. Metal mouthpieces

Postby Donn » Sat May 12, 2018 10:38 am

Doug Elliott wrote:From my own measurements I consider an 18 to be 1.28

Is it listed somewhere as 1.26? That much discrepancy isn't too unusual, that's why I go with my own measurements.


Right. Bach's mouthpiece brochure says 32.10mm, roughly 1.26". It's probably not news to you that their mouthpiece measurements are eccentric, e.g. 1G bass trombone is 28mm, but at best it depends on where you set the calipers.

bloke wrote:I feel sorry for people who are that reactive. It has to be a rough life. (no sarcasm here whatsoever)


Contact dermatitis specifically can by reputation be acquired at any time, it isn't so much an inherent trait. That's why intimate contact with nickel is not recommended, for anyone. Other metal sensitivities, I don't know, there may be other issues that aren't physiologically analogous to nickel. Doug's polymer rim sounds great - comfy, and keeps the nasty metal off you. Maybe I'll start nail-polish coating my rims before they get worn and ragged, instead of after.
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Re: Plastic vs. Metal mouthpieces

Postby geomiklas » Sat May 12, 2018 11:11 am

Donn wrote:Maybe I'll start nail-polish coating my rims before they get worn and ragged, instead of after.

I like the idea. But Is the nail polish safe? Is there a preferred brand? How about the use of Shellac or Polyurethane?
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Re: Plastic vs. Metal mouthpieces

Postby Donn » Sat May 12, 2018 12:30 pm

geomiklas wrote:But Is the nail polish safe?

As far as I know. It's intended for use on the human body.

Is there a preferred brand?

No. I prefer the most vivid color I can find, but tastes differ.

How about the use of Shellac or Polyurethane?

If for some reason an alternative needs to be found, I think I'd suggest nitrocellulose lacquer. I think that's what comes out of lacquer spray cans. Not that it worked very well when I tried it, but I wasn't super motivated to make it work, since nail polish is a good solution. Shellac is soluble in alcohol, if that matters. Polyurethane peels and isn't soluble in anything, which sounds great until you want to strip the stuff off.

Process:
1. Rescue a scrap of plastic wrapping from something. Spread a little water on a smooth table top, and lay the plastic down on it. The water is so the plastic will adhere to the table.
2. Spread the nail polish out thick, in a ring shaped puddle that matches the rim.
3. Put the rim in the puddle, and pull it back out. Repeat 2+3 if desired.
4. Take everything outside where you won't have to breathe the fumes, until it's dried.
5. Clean up with acetone. It will quickly dissolve dried nail polish.

This method naturally creates a fairly smooth surface, which is difficult to achieve otherwise without extensive experience applying nail polish. It doesn't extend very far in, may be tricky with a deeply rounded rim. The polish is slightly resilient and adheres fairly well to silver, but it will get ragged after a while.
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Re: Plastic vs. Metal mouthpieces

Postby geomiklas » Sat May 12, 2018 2:18 pm

Donn wrote:Process:
1. Rescue a scrap of plastic wrapping from something. Spread a little water on a smooth table top, and lay the plastic down on it. The water is so the plastic will adhere to the table.
2. Spread the nail polish out thick, in a ring shaped puddle that matches the rim.
3. Put the rim in the puddle, and pull it back out. Repeat 2+3 if desired.
4. Take everything outside where you won't have to breathe the fumes, until it's dried.
5. Clean up with acetone. It will quickly dissolve dried nail polish.


Thank you!
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Re: Plastic vs. Metal mouthpieces

Postby iiipopes » Sun May 13, 2018 8:52 pm

bloke wrote:Lexan is a bit grabby, and I only recommend our Lexan rims for outdoor cold weather use, or for people who are (even) allergic to stainless steel.
That having been said, we have the titanium coatings. I haven't run into too many who are allergic to titanium.
I feel sorry for people who are that reactive. It has to be a rough life. (no sarcasm here whatsoever)

I actually prefer the "grabby" nature of the lexan as one more item of security on the embouchure so I can relax and play instead of fidgeting about everything.
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Re: Plastic vs. Metal mouthpieces

Postby bloke » Sun May 13, 2018 10:05 pm

to each his own...

...Which is why I (mostly) try to avoid "lecturing" others regarding cause/effect regarding "mouthpiece shapes/materials"...

...and I've heard too many people play beautifully with mouthpieces which I personally judge to be horrid (yet I do wonder how hard they may be working to achieve what they achieve, and whether they are aware of how hard they work, compared to how much less work they might possibly be able to do for the same-or-even-superior results).
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Re: Plastic vs. Metal mouthpieces

Postby timothy42b » Mon May 14, 2018 7:58 am

Donn wrote:Contact dermatitis specifically can by reputation be acquired at any time, it isn't so much an inherent trait. That's why intimate contact with nickel is not recommended, for anyone.


I grew up not being sensitive to poison ivy, then got a really nasty surprise when that changed.

But what's really scarey is the lone star tick. If it bites you, you can become allergic to the protein in meat. No more steak, burgers, anything. You have to give it all up.
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Re: Plastic vs. Metal mouthpieces

Postby iiipopes » Mon May 14, 2018 9:12 am

Doug Elliott wrote:From my own measurements I consider an 18 to be 1.28

Is it listed somewhere as 1.26? That much discrepancy isn't too unusual, that's why I go with my own measurements.

Yes. The Bach mouthpiece manual has the 18 as 1.26 (32.1mm); Kanstul has their interpretation as 1.26 (but with a standard throat, not the size larger as Bach), as do many others, including the Blessing (which I have called the best 18 Bach never made), which advertises itself as a Mt. Vernon copy, also at 1.26/32.1mm. Now, keeping that in mind, and the notorious inconsistency of Bach over the years, I have played 18's that have 1.27 and 1.28 cup I.D.'s. One in particular was 1.28 and had a rim that was identical to a Wick 1 rim, but with the larger throat. I have also played a Mt. Vernon 18 that had the sloped rim and 1.26 cup that Blessing copies.

The bottom line to an 18 is that with all the Bach inconsistencies, an 18 is whatever someone wants to call an 18. So measurements must be taken.
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