--So, Here's the Scoop....Saxophone and Clarinet Mouthpiece Design
Author: David Hoskins
We are going through a lot of Ralph Morgan's old notes and articles and will be posting results of his research and development from time to time. So, here's the scoop!
The scoop of the beak of a hard rubber mouthpiece is not just a physical comfort consideration. The scoop / thickness of the beak and the thickness of the side walls of a hard rubber mouthpiece are significant factors in making an efficient mouthpiece. While I already understood that mouthpieces with thinner walls respond more quickly and give it more edge, I never really thought much about the scoop and thickness of the beak until I came across some of Ralph’s notes.
Ralph credits Gustave Langenus as one who did lots of research in the shape or scoop of the beak. In experimenting with different graduations of thickness for the beak area, Gustave found that a thinner material can be more easily set in vibration than a thicker one.
Ralph also credits the Lelandais Company as being one of the first to experiment with beak shapes in their saxophone mouthpiece lines. They were also instrumental in creating “streamline” mouthpieces with thinner bodies and thinner walls.
In Ralph’s experiments with clarinet mouthpieces, he started with a standard beak mouthpiece and started scraping the beak area to produce a scoop beak. Ralph found that as the beak was thinned, the response and tone production SUFFERED progressively. At a point somewhere near half the original beak thickness, the clarinet ceased to play, emitting mostly buzzes of various pitch levels. However, when the appropriate thickness was reached by more thinning, the sound and response suddenly reappeared at a greatly enhanced level. Through this, he found that the walls of the mouthpiece can either act with a dampening effect or enhance the vibrations and response. Through more experiments and research, he found that there are proper ratios between wall thickness and beak thickness for optimal and efficient mouthpiece vibration. A mouthpiece with the proper ratio allows the entire scale of the instrument to speak more quickly and evenly with a more centered sound and feel.
The same concepts pertain to saxophone mouthpieces. There is a relationship between the thickness of the walls and the scoop or thickness of the material in the beak. If the proper ratios are not maintained, the mouthpiece will not vibrate optimally and the instrument may not speak evenly throughout the scale. The thickness of the material in the beak can counteract the thickness of the walls of the mouthpiece and dampen the efficiency of the mouthpiece vibrations.
Many mouthpiece makers and refaces put some thought into the baffles and chambers, but very little thought into the thickness or scoop of the beak on top. If a manufacturer does not create a mouthpiece using the proper beak / wall thickness ratio, they are not making the most efficient mouthpiece. As baffles are built up or thinned, the thickness of the material in the beak is altered which changes the beak / wall thickness ratio…this may or may not make the mouthpiece more efficient.
In developing the Morgan line of mouthpieces, Ralph drew from the research of Gustave Langenus, the Lelandais Company and his own. Using the principles he learned, Ralph designed molds for his Classical and Jazz model clarinet mouthpieces along with the Jazz, Excalibur and Classical Models of Alto and Tenor Saxophone Mouthpieces. These same molds are still being used today and the castings from these molds are only available to the Morgan Company.
The Morgan Classical and Jazz Clarinet mouthpieces have a scoop to the beak. While many think this is for physical comfort of the player, this is a secondary benefit. The scoop to the beak thins the beak material and creates the optimal ratio of thickness between the walls and beak. This contributes to the excellent response of the mouthpiece.
The Morgan Jazz Model Saxophone Mouthpieces also use an optimal beak scoop and side wall thickness ratio. This contributes to the excellent response and even tone of the mouthpiece.
The Morgan Excalibur Saxophone Mouthpieces use the proper thickness ratio AND also utilizes a Streamline concept. These models have the same chambers, and facings as the Jazz models, but the thinner side walls AND thinner beak enhance the production of higher partials and have a more brilliant tonal characteristic.
The scoop of the beak is only one of many factors which go into creating an efficient mouthpiece. It is often overlooked by many manufacturers, but was an important consideration for Ralph when designing his mouthpieces.
Well, that’s the scoop! We will post more information from Ralph’s notes on this topic as well as others in the future.
Ralph retired as the Chief Woodwind Designer at the Selmer Company and founded the Morgan Mouthpiece Company. He and David Bilger also founded the Acoustic Research Laboratory (no longer in existence) to study the effects of reed, mouthpiece designs, etc. We have the results of a lot of their research and articles and plan to start publishing them this Summer on the morganmouthpieces.com website.