Comfort, Facility & Tone
By Clive Whitehall
Every brass player is on a constant quest to find the perfect, or at least better, mouthpiece. It is, after all, the interface between you and your instrument, and the right mouthpiece can make a big difference. As young players become stronger with improved wind and embouchure, they will eventually be dissatisfied with their student mouthpiece and want to move to a different one that gives a bigger, fuller tone. But the desire to improve is universal no matter what a player's level, and a change of mouthpiece is alluring because it can be an easy, affordable, and instant path to improvement. As a result, brass players keep trying new mouthpieces, even when they already have one they like.
Trial & Error
It would be nice if there were a method to this mouthpiece madness, but unfortunately there doesn't seem to be. It's just a matter of feeling your way guided by some general principles: shallow mouthpieces are generally easier for new players and for playing in higher registers. Deeper mouthpieces require a more developed embouchure, but produce a bigger, fuller tone and make the low notes easier to play.
Beyond these rules, mouthpiece selection involves a plethora of factors and details. The shape of your face and size of your lips make your requirements quite individual. The kind of music you play and sound you want are also factors. Most importantly, find a mouthpiece that is comfortable and works well for you.
The Giardinelli Solution
Many players have found Giardinelli mouthpieces fruitful ground for mouthpiece hunting. All brass manufacturers make mouthpieces for their instruments, which means there are many to try, but most of them treat mouthpieces as a peripheral and haven't given them that much attention. Giardinelli, on the other hand, has been producing mouthpieces for decades and has focused considerable attention on refining its designs.
Giardinelli mouthpieces originated in the New York instrument repair shop of Robert Giardinelli. The shop specialized in brass repair and served musicians in the New York jazz and orchestral worlds. Along with normal repairs, musicians would ask Giardinelli to make modifications to mouthpieces they were using. Giardinelli would file, machine, or drill them and the player would often go away with an altered mouthpiece that worked better.
Giardinelli saw that many mouthpieces available at the time were of inferior quality. He decided that he could design and produce better mouthpieces and got into the business. At first he handcrafted custom mouthpieces for professionals he knew from his repair business. He proved to be good at it and his reputation grew among brass players. Before long he was making mouthpieces for top professionals, including such notables as Louis Armstrong, Clark Terry, Maynard Ferguson, Chuck Mangione, and many other big-time players from both the jazz and orchestral fields.
This close association with top players proved a wonderful resource. By discussing their needs with them and getting feedback on the custom mouthpieces he made, Giardinelli gained a wealth of knowledge and experience about what worked and what didn't, a knowledge that informed his designs.
After a time, the shop became a small factory and Giardinelli mouthpieces became available in standard models that incorporated the most successful design features from his custom work. Over the years, the Giardinelli line has continued to build a reputation among brass players of all stripes—many of whom have found their perfect mouthpiece to be a Giardinelli.
Comfort Is King
The most frequent comment about the Giardinelli mouthpiece is that it is more comfortable, a better fit. The variations in mouthpieces can be extremely subtle—slight differences in mass; diameter, shape, and width of the rim; the depth and shape of the cup; the size and taper of the backbore. Even the smallest variations in these create differences in feel and air flow, both of which effect the player's connection with his instrument. Giardinelli designs vary in crucial ways that give a range of players real choices for comfort and performance. There very likely is a Giardinelli perfect for you.
In selecting a mouthpiece, it helps to know which are most popular with other players, and Giardinelli is ready and willing to provide this information. For club and jazz trumpet players, the 7 and 6 series mouthpieces are the most widely used. For symphony players, the 3 and 1 series are the most favored. All standard trumpet mouthpieces have the C-style cup in which the cup sides are gently curved inward for fullness of tone, and they come in a range of depths.
With the current popularity of the flugelhorn as a doubling instrument for trumpeters, Giardinelli also includes a selection of flugelhorn mouthpieces. For a mellow, fluffy tone, the cup has to be deeper and the bore larger than for a trumpet. For doubling it is recommended that you select a model with a rim matching your trumpet's mouthpiece to make switching from one to the other easier.
For French horn, the C series mouthpieces are far-and-away the favorites. The C1 has a deep, gently curved cup with a large bore and thin rim. It is very comfortable for many players and delivers a powerful sound. The C4, C6, C8, and C10s are the same as the C1 except for gradually smaller bores for greater resistance and less effort in tone support. C12 and C15 are also popular. They have shallower cups and are most often used for high F horns.
For trombone, 5D and 5M are the most popular for club and studio work. The symphony tenors—horns such as the Bach 42B, Conn 88H, Holton TR158, and Yamaha YSL682—respond well with the Symphony T and Symphony B bass shank models. Both models are also available in a tenor shank.
Quality That Lasts
Since all mouthpieces are made of brass, differences in quality apart from design are matters of machining and plating. Giardinelli mouthpieces are machined with modern CNC lathes that create absolutely smooth surfaces, even when examined under a microscope. Then they are double-plated with a high quality and very pure nickel silver by means of a special process. The result is a plated surface that is extremely smooth and durable. It isn't abrasive to the lips and won't wear through in a lifetime no matter how much you play.