Mouthpiece Nomenclature

by Clark W Fobes, copyright 1996

Nomenclature describing the physical components of clarinet and saxophone mouthpieces has always been a very uncertain and even confusing subject. Even those of us who make mouthpieces do not use the same terms to describe the complex interior and exterior shapes of the mouthpiece. Far more individualized is the "system" of mouthpiece facings. Any mouthpiece maker wants to set himself apart from the next fellow. This is the nature of creative art, but I agree that in some cases a facing name resembles a rune more than a systematic means of information.

But let's start with the parts that can be more or less agreed upon. The following nouns that describe the integral parts of the mouthpiece are a part of the standard nomenclature used by mouthpiece makers. I have indicated with an * the words that I use that may not be a part of the common language, but that I have heard from some of the masters such as David Hite, Everett Matsen and Glen Johnston.

Instead of using an alphabetical system, I will break the mouthpiece down into general areas. Within each group heading will be the physical elements that pertain to that specific area.

  1. Outside Shape
    1. Tenon - Cylindrical portion fitted with cork that fits into the barrel joint.
    2. Shoulder* - area where the tenon meets the body.
    3. Body - The general conical shape that the ligature fits around. This is always where the maker's stamp is located.
    4. Beak - Tapered portion that fits into the mouth. Descriptions of the beak include the angle or shape of the taper to the body, (steep, shallow, duck billed) the width where the corners of the mouth are displaced (narrow,wide) and the amount of radial curvature (ranging from high to flat).
    5. Bite* (also called the tip) - approximately .5mm of material where the beak meets the radius of the tip rail. This is most often described as thick, medium or thin.
  2. Mouthpiece interior - The mouthpiece interior has two distinct sections. These are:
    1. Bore - Tapered conical interior that starts at the tenon end and comprises approximately 2/3 the overall length of the mouthpiece.
      1. End bore* or Exit bore - round shape where the bore meets the tenon end. This is a very critical dimension.
      2. Crown or Ball* - this is the hemispherical section at the top (tip end) of the bore. The relative position of the highest point of the crown to the tip is critical to the overall tuning of the mouthpiece as is the minimum width of the bore where the radius of the crown begins.
      3. Bore Taper - angle created by the reduction of the bore diameter from exit bore to the minimum width where the crown radius starts.
    2. Chamber - sometimes called the "Windway" - Area where the the air enters the mouthpiece.
      1. Window (sometimes called the "slot") - the opening described by the tip rail, side rails and squared end.
      2. Baffle - entire surface opposite from the window
      3. Tip baffle - area about 1/8" below the tip raiL
      4. Side walls - the two surfaces that are roughly perpendicular to the baffle. (Slightly angled on most French style mouthpieces)
      5. Ramp* - angled surface that opposes the baffle and cuts in from the end of the window into the bore.
      6. Throat* - shape where the chamber meets the bore
    3. Face*- Surface that meets the reed
      1. Table - entire area below the window that the reed is clamped to. This surface can be flat or slightly concave. Convexity occurs very often, but in my opinion is a flaw.
      2. Side rails - The two narrow surfaces between the window edge and the point where the mouthpiece sides begin.
      3. Tip rail - the narrow arcing surface between the tip and the window.
      4. Tip corners - the points where the side rails and tip rail meet (inside corners).
      5. Curve - most often referred to as "the facing" This is the portion that arcs away from flat and allows the reed to vibrate in interesting ways. It is not actually a full arc to the tip. The area just below the tip is flat. The length of the curve is measured from the tip to the point where the arc breaks away from flat. Always described in millimeters.
      6. Tip opening - The distance between the flat surface of the tip rail and the stationary reed.

Notes on Tip opening measurement

In the US we have developed an odd system of measuring tip openings in 100ths of a millimeter. For example, a typical Everett Matsen facing is 102 (on his gauge!) which is 1.02mm. Some mouthpiece makers use a the standard of 1000ths of an inch. One of David Hite's standard facings is described as .41" There are approximately 2.5 100ths of a mm to every 1000th of an inch. To convert Hite's number into the metric system multiply 41 x 2.5. The result is 102.5 or 1.025mm

I don't know when the system of 100ths of a mm was started, but the standard gauges for American makers were made by Eric Brand for years and are now made by J.J. Babbitt. Tip gauges are graduated in 100ths of a mm. This allows for more graduation and finer measurement, but there is one huge drawback. None of these gauges is the same!! I compared mine to Matsen's and found that mine was exactly 5 points larger. What he measures as 102, I measure 97. My good friend and colleague, Greg Dufford has a gauge that is much smaller than mine. I believe ours are off by as much as 10 points. So even mouthpiece makers cannot talk to each other very intelligibly about tip openings!