Bent Mouthpieces- Good or Bad? Part 1

This past week the advantages and disadvantages of a bent mouthpiece surfaced again. To those of you who may not be familiar with the term “bent mouthpiece”, let me explain.

Many years ago in a far off land lived a very good trumpet player who wanted to play in a local band. When attending his first rehearsal, the conductor recommended to him that he should play with his bell above the stand so that he could be better heard. Knowing that his existence in this fine ensemble was in jeopardy if he did not comply, the young man obliged by raising his bell above the stand. He was very surprised to find that the conductor was correct in that his sound projected much further than before. Shortly into the rehearsal he also found that he was now having problems seeing his music for the bell of his horn was elevated and so was his head. In order to position his bell above the stand, it now required his head to be thrown back to compensate for this change.

Before this factitious trumpet play returned to his next rehearsal, he pondered his dilemma and came up with a brilliant idea. If he needed to raise his bell and still be able to see his music, how could he make the change without changing his playing style? Fortunately there was a wizard in town that day and showed the young man how to bend his mouthpiece to solve his problem. Just a couple whacks of the wizard’s wand on the mouthpiece and the magic words “Chuck Findley” and the problem was solved.

At the trumpet players next rehearsal, he sat in his seat awaiting the downbeat and as the baton drew down, his uncertainty was set to rest as the conductor looked up and shared with him a look of satisfaction; for now, because of the wizard bent mouthpiece, the young man was able to raise his bell above the stand and view his music most comfortably. And the young man and the conductor performed happily forever and ever.

Although this is a fairy tale, it illustrates how the bent mouthpiece developed. To most, this might be the best solution to the problem of getting the bell up and at the same time sustain the comfort factor when playing. But, as with most advantages, there are also disadvantages and that is what I will try to illustrate in this and the following post.

Three advantages of a bent mouthpiece-

• The change is quick and inexpensive
• You can do it at home with a vice and a hammer
• It does what it is intended (raises the bell and sustains the same head position)

Three disadvantage of a bent mouthpiece-
• It instantly changes the points of pressure on the lip
• The direction of the airstream is changed
• Bending a mouthpiece changes the inside dimensions of the throat of the mouthpiece

I could list more advantages as well as disadvantages but for now, we will address these. The advantages are self-explanatory so I will explain the three disadvantages so that you understand why bending a mouthpiece for the “average” player is not recommended.

PLEASE NOTE MY STATEMENT “FOR THE AVERAGE PLAYER” for I know personally several fine trumpet players who play on bent mouthpieces.

Instant change to the points of pressure on the lip

Visualize our young man’s playing position when we started. His bell was down and his head was up. The mouthpiece rested comfortably against his lip and in turn his teeth with equal pressure on both. Now visualize his same playing position but this time with the bent mouthpiece. The rim is in the same position as before but as pressure is increased, the point of increased pressure is now placed on the upper lip more than the lower lip because of the change in angle of the rim against the lip. For those who are shouting at me, “WELL, HE SHOULDN’T USE PRESSURE”, all I can say is “You must live in the never, never land of our test subject”.

Change in the direction of the airstream

Again, visualize our subject in his original playing position. His head is down and his bell is down. The air stream travels up the throat to the back of the mouth, over the tongue, between the teeth and lips and eventually into the mouthpiece and down the lead pipe into the horn. Now visualize the change with the bent mouthpiece. Air travels through the throat, into the mouth, between the teeth and lips into the mouthpiece and suddenly angles up and into the lead pipe. This sudden and abrupt change in angle has a tremendous effect on the air stream. In some cases the change can be to an advantage (increased velocity with the resulting increase in high range and degrading of intonation). Change in tone quality (brighter sound) as well as an increase in stuffiness at high volumes. Intonation most often is raised.

Bending a mouthpiece changes the inside dimensions of the throat of the mouthpiece

Now visualize our mouthpiece in a vice. Second thought, visualize the proper way to secure a mouthpiece in a vice. Third thought- a mouthpiece should only be placed in a vice by an experienced repairman.

Here are the reasons a non-experienced person should not place a mouthpiece in a vice-

1. In order to secure the shank (the part that goes into the mouthpiece receiver) in a vice, you should have a fixture which matches the taper of the mouthpiece shank (called a Moris Taper). You can make an effective and less damaging substitute by drilling a hole into a block of soft wood (pine) which is slightly smaller than the outside diameter of the mouthpiece shank. Then cut the block in half, lengthwise down the center of the hole. This will work without placing too much pressure on any one point along the shank when you tighten the vice on the block of wood. For those who are NOW yelling, “I have bent mouthpieces in a vice for a thousand years and have never damaged a mouthpiece”, again, I would encourage you to “say hello to the wizard for me”.

2. Place the mouthpiece between the two halves of wood and slightly tighten the vice. It takes very little pressure to hold the mouthpiece and the wood will easily secure the mouthpiece from slipping. Do remember that mouthpieces are now costing about the same as a good meal out for the family, at least at Burger King.

3. Once you have the mouthpiece secured in the vice, pick up a rawhide or rubber hammer to do the damage. If you don’t have those, place a block of wood between the hammer and the mouthpiece.

4. Start your assault on your favorite mouthpiece with very slight taps and increase to the point that you actually start to bend the mouthpiece. Brass bends easily when compared to stronger metals so go slow with the hammer.

Now that you have been satisfied with the angle of your mouthpiece, I will get back to my explanation of the damage you have done to the throat of your mouthpiece.

The throat of a mouthpiece is supposed to be round. Mine is but now, because of your last adjustment to your mouthpiece, it is no longer round. I could have told you ahead of time but you insisted that you had to have a bent mouthpiece and now you do.

When plumbers bend brass tubing, they used a tube bending device which bends the tube without drastically changing its inside dimensions. This is accomplished by supporting the sides of the tube as it is being bent. When you wacked your mouthpiece, there was no such support on the side of the weakest section which is the throat section. The impact of the hammer did not change the dimensions of the cup for it is a strongly supported area. The hammer could not change the dimensions of the shank for it was supported by the wood block surrounding it. The only area to be changed is the throat area and now, because it was not supported on the sides, the once round area is now oval in shape. For those of you who are now yelling “It doesn’t change it THAT much”, I suggest that you read my post regarding the position of your mouthpiece in a mouthpiece receiver- “How To Place Your Mouthpiece In Your Horn”. An oval throat will change the performance of your mouthpiece. That is a fact. How much change will be made is not known as well as the possibility that these changes could be an improvement not a detriment. I have no idea. I do know that there will be changes.

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.

3 thoughts on “Bent Mouthpieces- Good or Bad? Part 1

  1. Doick

    Got Bach 1 1/2 C bent 12 degrees and love it. Can now play parallel to floor, get easier high register and brighter tonality.
    That is my story.

  2. Mark Allan

    I received a bent Olds mouthpiece from Rick Kiefer back in about ’68. It was an Olds . Then , in Cleveland Ohio, Hickey, a gifted jazz player gave me an Olds 5. I bent it. I later found an Olds 3, and I bent it. (all these bends were less than 45 degree angles). I traveled on the road for 10 or 15 years starting around ’72, and cant count the number of horn players asking about my bent mouthpiece. Rick Kiefer had previously gone back to Germany, so as far as I know, I was the ONLY trumpet player in the USA playing a bent mouthpiece. Always had gold plate on them too. That gave a non-slip surface on the rim. I never had a problem with the physics of it of any kind and I had done pretty much everything you can do with a trumpet except become wealthy. lol.
    …signed Mark Allan

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