Peter Eaton clarinet mouthpieces set the highest standards in design and accuracy of finish. Since 1977, constant research in conjunction with leading clarinet players in Britain and abroad has ensured that they remain well ahead of the field. Peter Eaton mouthpieces are used by many prominent clarinet players across the world, including internationally renowned soloists and orchestral principals.
A unique combination of computer-controlled technology, together with hand finishing by Peter Eaton, produces a quality of facing which is not matched by any other maker. This offers the player exceptional flexibility and control of sound quality and dynamics, improved articulation and staccato, and top quality reeds become much easier to find. Also, repeatability becomes much more possible; a player can order the same specification as before and get another the same, as near as is humanly possible. There are very fine divisions between specifications; these subtle but controlled differences really do matter, especially at the highest levels of performance.
The facing is the curve that the blade of the reed beats against. For a clarinet mouthpiece to be of the highest possible quality, this curve must be defined and finished to an extremely high level of accuracy and be absolutely identical on both side rails. All inter-relationships between table, side rails, tip rail etc. must be perfectly symmetrical and balanced. It should be combined with a table which is flat or which has a very slight concavity, so that the vital beginning of the facing curve remains stable when the reed is clamped against it with the ligature.
Facing size can vary considerably, some players being happy with a small facing, others preferring something larger. Within reason this is not a question of right or wrong but merely personal preference, often strongly influenced by the mouthpiece the player has been using recently. Peter Eaton mouthpieces are available with a wide range of facings, offering sufficient choice for the vast majority of players. As a guide, we consider 1.23 mm to be a mid-range tip opening.
Peter Eaton clarinet mouthpieces are offered with a choice of four tone chamber types offering different tonal characteristics. The tone chamber defines the basic sound quality of the mouthpiece, its "voice". The tone chamber is hand cut with the same craftsmanship and attention to detail that is applied to all stages of manufacture.
In June 2013 we were pleased to announce increased production of the highly successful A type mouthpieces, many customers having been waiting for these for some years.
The second type, the AX, is a little brighter, more flexible and free-blowing.
Two new tone chamber types were introduced in August 2011. The first is the N type which has a broad, dark sound quality. The second is the D type, which has the warmest, darkest sound quality of any mouthpiece that we have ever produced. Both new models retain a vibrant tone quality and offer a flexible balance between the various aspects of sound quality required for musical performance.
Each Peter Eaton mouthpiece has a serial number, marked to the left of the table. To the right of the table, the tip opening and length of facing are marked in millimetres, followed by a letter for the tone chamber type, e.g. 1.23 21 N.
The tip opening and facing length are absolute dimensions, i.e. the tip opening is the measurement at the extreme tip, and the length is from the tip to the true beginning of the facing, which is beyond the point that the thinnest feeler gauge can reach. On the example given, the tip opening is 1.23 mm with a facing length of 21 mm. The tone chamber type is N.
Peter Eaton clarinet mouthpieces are available in two precision-cut bores; the large bore specifically for the Elite and the small bore for the International. Our small bore mouthpiece will also give improved performance on most instruments from other makers.
Although the initial outlay for a Peter Eaton mouthpiece is high, this can soon be offset by savings in time and trouble preparing and adjusting reeds (if you know how), reduced expenditure on reeds and most importantly, in the enormous benefit of being able to perform musically at a higher level.
Choosing a new Peter Eaton clarinet mouthpiece
Your current mouthpiece is likely to be a strong influence in the choice of a new one. Players have a tendency to choose a new mouthpiece with similar characteristics to the one used most recently.
When testing a new mouthpiece it can be helpful to try to separate your feelings about the facing and the tone chamber.
If you have a choice of facings then try the smaller ones first. Try a reasonable number of new reeds, not expecting the reed that has given valuable service on another mouthpiece to work on a new one. Feel how the reed responds against the facing. Does it allow all the control that you want? How is the articulation and staccato?
The tone chamber is the "voice" of the mouthpiece so see if you like this particular voice. Does it give you the tone quality that you are looking for? Can you vary the sound if you want to or does it seem fixed? The tone chamber can vary in form considerably and very small differences can produce surprisingly large changes in tone quality. Another example is the width of the tip rail. A wide rail gives warmth to the sound whereas a narrow rail will be brighter.
More information on facings, for any musical engineers out there
We define our facing curves with the aid of a computer, which totally removes the guesswork from this vital aspect of the instrument. Extensive research went into the development of this system, initially involving the detailed measurement of a very large number of excellent mouthpieces, many of which were used by fine players, to establish the ideal curve formation for this purpose. As a result, each combination of tip opening and facing length has its own individual set of co-ordinates. To cut the facing curve, a computer-controlled machine tool is used to do most of the work, the final finish being achieved by hand. Around fifty-five co-ordinates along the curve are defined by computer and used for hand finishing. The level of accuracy achieved by this method at the critical beginning of the curve is less than +/- 0.0001 inch (one ten-thousandth of an inch) or 0.0025 mm in metric. In the control area of the curve, where the lower teeth through the lower lip spring the reed against the facing curve, the accuracy is +/- 0.0002 inch (two ten-thousandths of an inch), 0.0050 mm metric.
Most mouthpieces are made of ebonite. This gives good results from a musical point of view but it is essentially hard rubber, which wears and also softens with age. It is advisable to have your mouthpiece checked from time to time and re-faced if necessary, especially if it is used a lot. Mouthpiece facings increase in size with use, the increase in length being more obvious than the change in tip opening. Some players wear facings evenly on both side rails, others unevenly, so that the increase is greater on one rail than the other. A crystal mouthpiece is not the answer because, although it holds its dimensions well, at least until you drop it, it is almost impossible to get a really precise formation in the first place.
Some makers allow a concavity in the table rather than providing a perfectly flat table. If this is done it should be very slight and be positioned centrally under the ligature. It is vital that beginning of the facing curve remains stable when the reed is clamped against the facing with the ligature. Most machine-finished mouthpieces have excessively concave tables, which can make the relationship with the reed uncertain. Check your mouthpiece by placing it against a perfectly flat metal surface and view it against a light. The ideal table, even one with a very slight concavity, should not show a gap. The machine-finished table will often show a considerable concavity.
A flat table or one with a very slight concavity makes the choice of ligature less important, especially if the player has made the back of the reed flat. An excessively concave table, perhaps combined with a reed that is also not flat, can give a varied response depending on the type of ligature used, its position and how it is tightened. This can make the player feel that one ligature is "better" than another, when it might be just changing the way one particular reed sits against the mouthpiece. The machine-finished facing will also often have an uneven facing, slightly different on each of the two side rails, though poor hand finishing can, and frequently does, produce the same result.
Mouthpiece facing measurement
The tip opening and facing length marked on Peter Eaton mouthpieces are absolute dimensions. The tip opening is the measurement at the extreme tip, and the length is from the tip to the true beginning of the facing, which is beyond the point that the thinnest feeler gauge can reach.
In North America, the tip opening is often measured with a commercially available taper gauge. Unfortunately, these gauges do not measure at the extreme tip and so mislead by giving a smaller reading. There is also no doubt that these gauges vary one to another, often quite considerably, increasing the confusion still further. It is disappointing to find one major European mouthpiece manufacturer apparently following this flawed system.
Trying other makes of clarinet mouthpiece
A player will judge a new mouthpiece by simply trying it, there usually being no alternative. Unfortunately this can lead to major misjudgements if the mouthpiece is poorly made, as very many are. When you are considering a new mouthpiece, make a very careful visual inspection. Look at the tip rail and check that it is even. Ideally, the tip rail should be the same width all the way across. Check the two side rails, which should look identical. Check the finish on the "ramp" of the mouthpiece, by examining it through the tone chamber and also through the bore. The ramp is underneath the bottom of the window, leading from the tone chamber into the bore. Again, it should be formed perfectly symmetrically but is often very poorly finished. It will not be easy for most players to check the vitally important facing curve but, if other factors are poorly finished, this gives a strong indication that the facing will also be of a low standard.
There might be aspects of the new mouthpiece that initially seem to be preferable to the previous one but there might be other aspects that the player is not immediately aware of that could eventually lead to serious problems.
These could be: -
If the facing curve on one rail is different to the other. This is a common problem and will make it very difficult to find a really responsive reed. It will also make the balancing of the reed particularly important if there is not to be poor response, particularly on certain notes, G/D in the lower joint for example. Unfortunately, very few people know how to prepare reeds well and so the problem is not overcome. The alternative is to spend a lot of money on reeds in an attempt to find one that will accommodate your mouthpiece but even this is unlikely to provide a really satisfactory answer.
If the facing curve is poorly formed, perhaps including a flat section in the control area of the curve, where your lower teeth through your lower lip spring the reed against the facing. This could seriously inhibit control of sound production, especially very high notes, and also limit flexibility of tone quality. This could perhaps be masked by the use of a hard reed but the underlying problem would remain. The player might have an acceptable tone quality in mid-range and at mezzo forte but little else to offer the music.
If the table is convex rather than flat or very slightly concave as it should be, or the very beginning of the curve is excessively long, leading to similar problems. These faults will mean that the reed does not sit in a stable position against the facing curve, leading to instability of sound production and control.
If the baffle, the area just inside the tip rail, is too high, i.e. too close to the tip of the reed. This can encourage the mouthpiece to squeak or whistle. This tendency will be made worse if the mouthpiece also has an excessively concave table.
If the facing is simply bigger than the facing on the previous mouthpiece. A bigger facing can initially seem preferable, perhaps bringing an old reed back to life for a short while. The disadvantages become apparent in time.
Keep in mind that many mouthpieces marked identically and, to the naked eye appearing to be identical, might have widely different tip openings. This is something that can apply to even the most well-known and reputable of makers. You might try a few mouthpieces marked the same and find that they respond quite differently because of a lack of consistency in their manufacture. This might be no problem for some players, who can happily play on mouthpieces with quite different characteristics but other players, who have perhaps become closely accustomed to the characteristics of one particular mouthpiece, can find this lack of consistency to be a real problem, making it difficult for them to find a replacement or spare mouthpiece. This has nothing to do with ability, players of all levels falling into both categories.
If the bore is not cut to the correct dimensions. The vast majority of available mouthpieces have a moulded bore rather than a precision-cut bore. There will be variations from one mouthpiece to another, even in the same batch. This will clearly have some impact on intonation.
The suggestion from some makers that mouthpieces or clarinets have a fixed absolute pitch is unrealistic. Apart from the obvious factors of room temperature, humidity and season of the year, a clarinet/mouthpiece/reed combination does not have a precise pitch until a player combines with them. The pitch resulting from a particular set-up can vary by a surprisingly large degree, depending on who is playing it. The cavities inside the player's mouth and throat are major influences on pitch. Read Jack Brymer's wise words on the subject in his book "Clarinet" (Yehudi Menuhin Music Guides) pages 131-2. The two players he mentions are himself and Roy Jowitt who were the two London Symphony principals at the time of writing.
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