The clarinet mouthpiece is the most important part of the clarinet for acoustics and tone color. It is located at the interface between the musician and the instrument, and it's in this piece that the sound is shaped.
The clarinet mouthpiece on the instrument
The clarinet mouthpiece is located in the upper part of the instrument. The mouthpiece, along with the clarinet reed and the clarinet ligature, is responsible for the sound creation by the musician.
Putting the mouthpiece on the clarinet
The clarinet mouthpiece fit into the clarinet bore, upon the baril. The lower part of the mouthpiece, the shank, can be covered with a cork to adjust the fit. Some mouthpieces like the Syos clarinet mouthpiece have silicone seals which have the same roles.
Clarinet mouthpiece anatomy
The clarinet mouthpiece is a piece with a complex geometry. It is the most important piece in the sound production. Its internal geometry is responsible for all the differences in the tone quality and comfort for the musician.
Clarinet mouthpiece parts
Here is a scheme presenting the different parts of a clarinet mouthpiece:
The most important parts are:
- The mouthpiece chamber that can have different sizes and different shapes (round, squarre, horseshoe...)
- The tip opening, which corresponds to the distance between the reed and the mouthpiece tip
- The mouthpiece facing curve
- The mouthpiece baffle which is straigth for most of the existing clarinet mouthpieces, but can be of a different shape (step baffle...), especially for jazz and klezmer clarinet mouthpieces.
The b-flat clarinet mouthpiece
The most popular clarinet is b-flat clarinet (also called soprano clarinet). The most famous b-flat clarinet mouthpiece brands are Vandoren, Selmer, Buffet Crampon, Pomarico, and Syos.
The bass clarinet mouthpiece
Bass clarinet is widely used in classical music as well as in modern musics like jazz and klezmer. The bass clarinet mouthpiece is bigger and longer than the b-flat clarinet mouthpiece.
The bass clarinet mouthpiece fits into the instrument like the b-flat clarinet mouthpiece (it has a cork or silicon seals on the shank). However, he doesn't fit into a baril but rather in a neck, like the saxophone mouthpiece. The bass clarinet mouthpiece anatomy is the same as the soprano clarinet mouthpiece one, but tip openings used with bass clarinet are generally bigger.
Materials used to make clarinet mouthpieces
Soprano and bass clarinet mouthpieces can be made in different materials. For a clarinet mouthpiece, the material does not have any influence on the sound. There is then several possibilities. Most popular materials are:
Wood and ivory
Clarinet mouthpieces were originally made in wood and ivory. Today, they have been replaced by mouthpieces made in other materials like hard rubber, plastic and cristal.
Hard rubber is a plastic resin made from natural rubber mixed (and cooked) with 20 to 40% sulfur (which is called vulcanization). Hard rubber was the most used material for clarinet mouthpieces in the XXth century. It is a material which is hard and brittle (don't drop them on the ground), and offer a good comfort in mouth.
More recent clarinet mouthpiece brands make crystal mouthpieces (in fact it's made in glass). They are usually easier to clean, but are as brittle as hard rubber mouthpieces. The feeling in mouth is also slightly different. The most famous crystal mouthpieces brand is Pomarico.
Today, several makers are using other plastics than hard rubber to craft clarinet mouthpieces. For example, Syos uses ABS polymer to craft saxophone and clarinet mouthpieces. It's a non-toxic material (certified in lab) and it has much more resistance to impact than glass or hard rubber. Also, ABS can be used with 3D printing to create completely custom mouthpieces.