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· Distinguished SOTW Member
3,592 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Over the last few years, I've been experimenting with progressively more open bass clarinet mouthpieces, as some of you who frequent this sub-forum may have seen in other threads. Since I'm cooped up at home practicing social distancing on a rainy Saturday, I thought it would be fun to share some of what I've been interested in, mouthpiece-wise, on the bass clarinet and see what other people's experiences have been. I know I have seen others here make reference to some pretty open bass clarinet mouthpieces.

I'll preface the following with the disclaimer that these are just my opinions and I am just a geek who likes to play the bass clarinet.

I'd also like to add that, though I'm not sick, I've been working from home and limiting social contact for a week now, so things might get a little weird.


I have a classical background but generally haven't played "classical" music outside of the occasional casual clarinet quartet for the last 8 or 9 years. I mostly play experimental music, often improvised, and a little jazz. I don't play for a living, but I generally play about 5 or 6 hours a week.

When I play, I am always looking for a sound that has some edge, but in particular a strong "core", which I associate with a sound that has a strong presence in the mids that makes for a relatively smooth transition to the high partials. When I hear a lot of players, especially jazz and experimental players, there is often a strong fundamental and a lot of high partial edge, but the mids are not there to support the edge. I think this is similar to the soprano clarinet ideal of "ping" in the tone, though most classical players would shy away from the levels of edge that I like. At some point, I named this well-supported edge "klang." So I'm looking for that klang and this is what's working for me.

After 9 years, a music degree and countless performances and practice hours on a very "normal" Fobes San Francisco RR facing, I started experimenting with a Vandoren B50, followed about two years later by a Selmer Concept and a Fobes 10K with a 2.15mm tip opening.* All of those mouthpieces are very good and I could probably play just about any gig on any of them without anyone complaining. The Fobes in particular is very special and is what I would still probably use if I were playing in wind ensembles and orchestras all the time. A very sweet sound that can be pushed moderately hard that maintains a good focus level at all dynamics. It definitely had the klang at most dynamic levels, including louder ones than I had previously thought possible.

Pomarico Jazz**

My general life philosophy, though, is that you never how far is far enough until you've gone too far. Naturally then, having found what felt like the holy grail of mouthpieces, my instinct was to ask "well what if we went even further?" I was starting to play more with drummers and sax players and, though I could sound good at a louder dynamic than before, why not see if I could have more?

So about a year later I bought a Pomarico Jazz** from WWBW.

The Jazz** was another eye-opener for me. When I checked it out visually, it looked pretty gnarly. The throat was visibly off-center, the rails were a little uneven and the little bit of rollover baffle was a lot more rollover baffle than I had ever played on before. But when I actually put a reed on it and played it, there was definitely something there!

It had a huge sound that wasn't anywhere near as edgy as I thought it was going to be. The lower register had real bark, but that's easy. Most bass clarinet mouthpieces will do that. The upper register was what blew me away. When I first played the B50 coming from that Fobes RR, I had been drawn to it because of the feeling of "headroom" it gave in the clarion, especially the upper clarion. I could really lean on it and it would just come out so clear and strong and secure, without any feeling like it wanted to leap up a partial. In pursuing more open mouthpieces, I was really hoping for that feeling...but more. The Jazz** delivered that for sure. So strong up there. I really like to learn sections of sax transcriptions on the bass clarinet and that can get a little hairy trying to really play strong up there to hit those lines as naturally as on a sax, especially jumping across the clarion <-> altissimo break. The Pomarico really felt like I could push those notes the way I wanted to and not have them feel too out of whack with the chalumeau.

The places it came up a bit short were its general reed-pickiness and, unsurprisingly, its softer dynamics. There was definitely a lot more resistance in this mouthpiece than in the Fobes 10K I was playing. That made playing softer a fair bit of work, but I decided the tradeoff was worth it for about 6 months, but it did come to really bother me. I hate an overly-resistant setup and I really hoped that it wasn't just the resistance that gave me that headroom.

The first Selmer

At some point I was over at Mike Manning's workshop getting my bass clarinet adjusted and I mentioned my reservations about the Pomarico. After chatting for a bit, we decided that we shouldn't start modifying my main mouthpiece, but that we could probably turn another mouthpiece into something comparable. I decided to come back with a couple of mouthpieces as candidates for him to reface and we could pick which one seemed like the best fit. He mentioned that he'd had good success refacing the older-style Selmer mouthpieces, so I brought in a Selmer H that I had ordered at some point and never liked (the facing was visibly a mess). I also brought in the Concept, since I felt like it had potential, but just wasn't quite doing it for me.

First he measured the Pomarico, which had a fairly uneven facing. Not terrible, but not perfect. Then we decided that we'd try modifying that older Selmer, since he was familiar with those mouthpieces. He put a facing that was a perfected (symmetrical) version of the Pomarico facing on that one and opened it up to 2.58mm. That one had effectively the same facing as the Jazz**, but with a concave baffle starting right behind the tip. He was able to leave a little material right behind the tip that was there from opening it up, but not a lot. The floor of those older Selmer designs dips lower than the bore of the mouthpiece, so the transition to the bore is actually a step up. I put it on my horn and it was interesting. It has a big, broad sound, but I thought it sounded a bit too hollow. It was missing some of the high-mids that I like, which I think kept it from picking up much focus. I think it might be a little too open for a mouthpiece with so little baffle material.

So after that experiment, we decided he should take a pass at the Concept. I had been a little hesitant to go after that one, since I did kind of like it as it was. But hey, what the hell.

The Concept

That one came out incredible!

The concept has a pretty thick tip rail stock from the factory and a lot of material near the tip and in the floor area back from the tip to the chamber. It has an interesting trapezoidal throat that means the floor steps down into the bore. Interestingly, my Fobes 10K does the same thing, but it's a little less of a pronounced step. Because of that massive tip rail and the abundance of material around the tip, Mike was able to give me a short, but pretty high rollover baffle carved out of what was already there, without adding any material. So, in the interest of seeing how much is too much, he opened it up to a 2.58mm tip and left the baffle pretty high. Facing is 27mm, I believe. It was interesting, but a bit too brittle, so we went through a couple of rounds of lowering the baffle a bit. At some point we agreed that we should leave it a little higher than I am used to since we could always take it down a bit later.

We did one more pass at this one a couple of weeks later to take a little more out of the baffle and now it plays great. It has a lot more baffle than the Pomarico, almost as much as my Lamberson L7 tenor mouthpiece. Way more than I would have guessed would work for me.

The sound overall is fairly bright, but I find it to be very rich, with what I'd consider a strong, focused core sound that gives me the klang. It can be pushed outrageously hard. Much harder than any bass clarinet mouthpiece I've ever played, and not by a small amount. It gives the feeling of headroom in the upper register without excessive resistance (just enough to work with) and the lower registers speak much more easily at soft volumes.

I've been on this modified Concept for about 5 months now and am still loving it, with no further modifications. I sometimes think that I should see if the baffle can come down a bit, but I don't want to make changes that aren't reversible, especially when I don't know if they'd be better. At soft volumes, it takes a little bit more of a conscious voicing effort to get the throat tones to speak with sweetness and clarity compared to the 10K, but it is totally doable.


Having these three mouthpieces all with similar facings but totally different internal dimensions has been really interesting for me. They are all in the same ballpark, but play totally differently from one another. I've included some photos of the Pomarico and the two refaced Selmers.

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Check out the different baffles:

Left to right: refaced Selmer H, refaced Selmer Concept, Pomarico Jazz** (hard to photograph)

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and the different throat designs:

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Hard to really see the step up from the floor to the bore in the Selmer H.

So what did I learn from all of this?

  1. This would all have been pointless if I didn't have a pretty clear sound goal in mind and a well-developed idea of what I need to do with my voicing and air to sound the way I want to sound.
  2. I always sound like me. The mouthpiece just makes it easier or harder.
  3. I think there's room for bass clarinet mouthpieces to get much more open than most of what's on the market. I'm not ready to go further than these right now, but I think there's room for a production mouthpiece more open than the B50. Doesn't mean everyone needs to play one, but it's a little funny to think about the variety of designs out there for the saxophone relative to the bass clarinet. The full spectrum of bass clarinet tip openings from Vandoren and Selmer right now is about 1.84mm to 2.15mm (.072" to .085"). That's a tiny range! There are some smaller manufacturers making more open mouthpieces, like Pomarico, but they don't have the market share that Selmer and, especially, Vandoren have. Look at the influence the B50 has had since it came out a few years ago!
  4. Bass clarinet mouthpieces can have a little baffle. Like with sax mouthpieces, I would guess that the more open you go, the more baffle you can get away with. I think the bit of rollover baffle gives an interesting color and makes the bigger tip opening a bit more free blowing. I'd actually be curious to know what a moderate step baffle would play like. I generally prefer a moderate step baffle over a higher, shorter rollover on the tenor sax (10MFan Robusto vs Lamberson L, for example). I find it's a bit smoother sounding and less gritty. I don't know if that would translate at all.
  5. I think I prefer a bore design on the smaller side. The Fobes 10K and the Concept both have smaller bores than the Pomarico and especially the B50. The Selmer H has a bore comparable to the Concept, but I think the lower floor takes away some focus.
  6. I probably wouldn't start a beginner on my mouthpiece or the Pomarico Jazz**, but I don't think it would be a problem for a beginner to start on a B50. I hope that eventually we start to look at the B50 as a more middle of the road mouthpiece once options become available for us.

Overall, I'd say that there's still a lot to be developed where bass clarinet mouthpieces are concerned. I think to this point, we've been constrained by assuming that bass clarinet mouthpieces should have a similar amount of variety as soprano clarinet mouthpieces. I personally think that, much like the saxophone, the bass clarinet has a wider variety of "acceptable" tones than the clarinet and while we don't necessarily need the same variety of equipment as for the sax, I think more variety in production equipment would be worthwhile.

I think there are a lot of us who, despite having worked hard for years on our technique and our tone, find ourselves running into the limitations of our equipment in ways we've just accepted as how it has to be. There's no substitute for putting in the work, but I do think there's room for equipment to accommodate those of us who want something else.

It's exciting to me that the B50 even got made. Putting it out at that price point encouraged a lot of people like me to take a chance on something that seemed pretty extreme until I actually played it. Hopefully there is a B60 in the works!

* IMPORTANT NOTE: Last time I mentioned that 10K with the 2.15mm tip, a few SOTW-ers reached out to Clark to ask for one. Let's be clear that it was a one-off experiment. Clark never put that model into production and I happened to reach out to him to ask about more open mouthpieces right when he'd made it. I don't think Clark liked it very much and he has since released a (very) slightly less open 10K mouthpiece that I bet is very good. Clark is a great craftsman and a great player, so if he chose to make that one, it's probably because it's better. Please don't write to him to ask about the one I have. He isn't making more and you can't have mine. Buy the one he actually makes.

· Registered
tenor most of the time, occasionally alto, and rarely clarinet and flute. Soprano stays rested
240 Posts
Thanks for detailed review! You never mentioned what reeds you are using and in which size/strength?
I am interested as I acquired bass clarinet and the one piece it came with, Malern, is very closed. I can comfortably play only with number 3 1/2 or 4 Vandoren Tenor saxophine reed. And since I mentioned it, do you find any difference between sax tenor reeds and bass clarinet reeds?

· Distinguished SOTW Member
3,592 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks, dirty. Very thoughtful and thorough! Excellent use of your social distancing time, and happy to hear the jet stream FINALLY shifted south and you're getting some of our (WA) rain.
I know we need it but I never want it when it's actually happening. Can't it just rain at night?

Thanks for detailed review! You never mentioned what reeds you are using and in which size/strength?
I am interested as I acquired bass clarinet and the one piece it came with, Malern, is very closed. I can comfortably play only with number 3 1/2 or 4 Vandoren Tenor saxophine reed. And since I mentioned it, do you find any difference between sax tenor reeds and bass clarinet reeds?
I have always found a big difference between tenor sax and bass clarinet reeds, despite my many efforts to find a way to consolidate over the years. For me, tenor reeds have too much buzz and not enough core on the bass clarinet. When I use bass clarinet reeds on tenor, they don't seem to respond quite as quickly as I want them to.

I pretty much always use Vandoren Traditional (blue box). I played a #3 on the Fobes RR and a #2.5 on everything since the B50. For whatever reason, I didn't have to go softer as I moved way past the 2.15mm tip opening, but a #3 on the B50 or Fobes 10K feels outrageously hard. I find on the bass clarinet that a hard reed makes me quieter, since it makes me bite and it messes up my voicing and embouchure.

I tried going down to a 2, but it was a bit too much of a buzzsaw for me to really control or push. I've tried a few other reeds, like Steuer, Gonzalez Classic, Rigotti Gold, D'Addario Reserve, Vandoren V12, Vandoren V21 and pretty much every tenor reed I've got.

I've also tried Legere signatures for bass clarinet and tenor sax as well as the tenor sax studio cut. The tenor signature isn't too far off, but it's a little too dark for me and I think it makes me sound a little dead. Which is too bad. I love them on tenor.

Of those, I occasionally use the V12, but I feel like it's generally too dark for me. I find the brightness of the blue box helps me really feel like my sound can sing a lot more.

But to each their own. Lots of people sound great (and totally different) on different setups. There are many ways to get to a great bass clarinet tone and many different kinds of good bass clarinet tone.

· Registered
6 Posts
[*]I think there's room for bass clarinet mouthpieces to get much more open than most of what's on the market. I'm not ready to go further than these right now, but I think there's room for a production mouthpiece more open than the B50. Doesn't mean everyone needs to play one, but it's a little funny to think about the variety of designs out there for the saxophone relative to the bass clarinet. The full spectrum of bass clarinet tip openings from Vandoren and Selmer right now is about 1.84mm to 2.15mm (.072" to .085"). That's a tiny range! There are some smaller manufacturers making more open mouthpieces, like Pomarico, but they don't have the market share that Selmer and, especially, Vandoren have. Look at the influence the B50 has had since it came out a few years ago!
Yes absolutely, much bigger openings are much more viable than you might think from the Vandoren catalogue. Rudi Mahall has played on an extremely wide mouthpiece for years (someone did tell me but I forgot exactly, I think it's about 2.5mm), and Ed Pillinger in London has standard facings up to 2.4mm ( ). Alan Wilkinson ( ) plays something similar (maybe a 2.4mm Pillinger) & it sounds great (& very loud!)

· Registered
9,446 Posts
I have a few large tip, baffled bass clarinet mouthpieces here if anyone want to try some. I used them for big band doubling. Lately I have been playing “classical” wind ensemble literature (or I was before the outbreak). I have been gravitating to medium tips as they articulate faster and are more controllable for high notes when needed.

· Distinguished SOTW Member
3,592 Posts
Discussion Starter · #11 ·
OK, almost two years on and my extremely open mouthpiece journey has continued and, for now, settled somewhere a bit more moderate. A bit.

As a warning, if I thought I was getting a little loopy one week into all this weirdness, things have gotten even weirder and more obsessive two years on. I think there's a happy ending, though. You'll see.

In the months after my big long post, I was a bit unsatisfied with the modified Concept. It was close, but but it was kind of a handful to play and getting an acceptable tone out of it at soft volumes took constant and conscious voicing adjustment. It really wasn't feeling as natural as I wanted and a lot of the rough edges I had hoped would smooth out with time were just not smoothing out. Intonation was a continually moving target range to range. The lower register wasn't terrible, but a bit harsh and a bit undefined in the midrange for my liking. It was just starting to feel like I was giving up a lot to be able to play extremely forcefully in the upper register. Not a huge surprise, really, since that was such a huge transformation for that mouthpiece. It wasn't designed to have that kind of tip opening or baffle on it or to be played like I was playing it.

In my big, long post, I mentioned that I was curious how a bass clarinet would play with a step baffle. Left suddenly with a whole lot of time on my hands, I decided to get in touch with SYOS and find out. I wrote to them on July 18, 2020 asking if they would be doing custom bass clarinet mouthpieces and they got back to me on July 20 letting me know that, as of that morning, they were available in their store. I think I had received a promo code that day, so I placed what was probably one of the first custom bass clarinet mouthpiece orders they got, at least from non-partner artists.

I wrote to them asking for something open (2.5mm+) with a medium step baffle. The first version they sent over was interesting, but had too much baffle for me. We went back and forth a number of times over the next 9 months to accommodate several rounds of iteration and handle a few QC issues before we got somewhere I actually quite liked. Each round, I'd convey the practical (intonation, tenon fit, ligature fit, etc) and subjective (tone, response, dynamics) things I'd want different and would try my hardest not to be prescriptive about the dimensional changes I wanted, just the end results I wanted. I wanted their expertise to guide the design to my needs as much as possible. I still ended up not being able to resist stuff like "let's just shorten the baffle a bit" or "I think I need a more open tip opening."

Around mid April 2021, we settled on an iteration that had the baffle a bit lower and a lot shorter than the initial iteration and the tip opening more open, around 2.6mm.

That thing was bright, but not overly spread and I could really get around on it! It was freeblowing and had a quick response. It was remarkably easy to hit wide intervals, even across registers in fast lines, especially between the altissimo and clarion, which are the ones that I've always found most prone to jumping up a partial or two if the voicing is anything but perfect. It was just easy to spot the intervals and hit the voicing right. I was even starting to come up with lines that jumped around those registers just because I could! The much lighter resistance made it feel so zingy and nimble, especially after muscling around that Concept for the better part of a year. Intonation was good and I was pretty happy with where we were at for a bit.

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I even bought another copy in pink so I could have a backup, which resulted in a string of frustrating copies with obvious, visible QC issues that kept all of them from playing even decently. Mostly excess material in the table and facing area that a cursory hand finishing would have removed. They offered to keep redoing it or refund me, but I eventually just gave up and kept the third iteration. Someday, I'll have to get the high spot on that table removed. Not like I can just go to the mouthpiece store and buy another!

Though I was frustrated at times, Madeline at Syos was patient, gracious and helpful the whole way. Definitely a pleasure to work with, even though I can't imagine she was looking forward to my emails by the end of our 12 months of correspondence.

While we were going back and forth on the backup, though, I had finally settled on the one (main) mouthpiece for a few months and really started sitting down with it on a regular basis to do actual, steady, practice work on it. Technical exercises, written pieces, improvisations, recordings, long tones, scales, overtones, all of it. It really just started to feel one dimensional, like it just couldn't do everything I needed, sonically. The initial impressions were so exciting, but as I got into it, I started feeling like it just didn't have more to give me. It couldn't get as sweet and soft as I wanted, it couldn't hold together as loud as I wanted. The accurate response was nice, but it felt like I just couldn't shade and shape the sound as much as I wanted. The edge that was nice and zingy at a comfy mezzoforte was uncomfortably present at ppp and just fell apart at FFF. That's probably on me, since it was all made custom for me and updated and modified and iterated on based on my feedback, but I just...wasn't happy with it anymore.

I had gotten the chance to get exactly what I thought I wanted...and I had a built a Homercar. Maybe the customer isn't always right.

By July, even before I'd given up on getting the backup Syos, I'd gone back to the Concept. It was still a lot of muscling around, but, all the same, I could make it do things, tonally, that the Syos just couldn't do. I missed the zingy responsiveness of the Syos and was still frustrated with what felt like the tradeoffs of the Concept.

Around that time, I really started getting convinced that if I wanted to get what I was looking for, I was going to need to go to someone with a more opinionated expertise who wouldn't just give me carte blanche to design a mouthpiece. I'd previously had a revelatory experience with a clarinet mouthpiece from Brad Behn that had impressed me with its resistance level that was, simply put, perfect. That mouthpiece was like someone just got into my head and understood exactly how much resistance I wanted. Another SOTW-er local to me let me try out his Behn bass clarinet mouthpiece and it wasn't quite what I wanted, but it was damn good. Armed with those two data points, I decided that, if I talked to Brad and he was open to taking on my weird project, I wanted him to make me a custom mouthpiece.

I shot him a long, rambling email (shocker, I know) about a custom Sono and he gave me a call. Brad is a wonderful guy to deal with and we had a great conversation for about 40 minutes about what I'd been looking for, how I want to be able to play, what I wasn't getting, what I was hoping for and what Brad thought about what I needed. He floated the idea of an older-style blank of his that he could work to get a certain "S-curve" baffle that his current model didn't use but that he was thinking of reintroducing in a new form. Since I wanted something so open, he thought that he might have better luck starting with that design. I said "hey, whatever you think!"

After what felt like forever but was actually less than a month, Brad sent me a mouthpiece in the mail, letting me know he'd be happy to do a couple of rounds of adjustments if I thought it needed anything.

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As with everything I've ever seen from Behn, every detail is exquisite. The tip and rails are perfect. I tried to photograph the baffle, but couldn't really show off the shape. It's obviously not the aggressive rollover on the modified Concept, but it's a lot more present than it initially appears because of the way it rolls off into the bore so gradually. Brad had mentioned in his email that the "chassis" he was using using was a design where he had "tilted the bore a bit out of line with the clarinet's bore, which produces a very unique and intriguing playing experience and sonic spectrum." At the time he sent that, I had acknowledged that that was fine, but I'd forgotten about that by the time I got it, so that was surprising and I wasn't sure about it, to be honest.

Trying to keep an open mind, though, I put on a reed, played a few notes and just immediately connected with the thing. It just made sense. The resistance was, as I'd hoped, exactly on point with my preferred #2.5 blue box reeds. The response across the range of the instrument was quick but controlled. Spotting wide interval leaps was pretty natural right out of the gate and lines that cross breaks (esp. clarion/altissimo) were comfortable from the jump. The tone felt not necessarily compact, but "dense," with real heft in the sound down low without being boomy and clarity and punch up high without getting strident or thin. I could play softly and I could push hard.

I also feel like that denser feeling to the mouthpiece gets me right in the sweet spot for the "klang" that started this whole journey. Even when I'm pushing the sound to have some real teeth, there's that strong core to the tone that doesn't let it fall to pieces. Selmer bass clarinets have a BIG low end, especially down in the extension notes and especially especially that low C. It can really boom, which is cool, but it also has a tendency to feel a little unbalanced with the rest of the horn, in my experience. This mouthpiece really makes it easy for me to make those notes boom when I want them to, but be tight and controlled when I want that. The right resistance makes that easy, for me at least.

The sound overall feels a bit less broad than the Concept and I think the outright volume is lower, but it doesn't have that same unwieldy feeling that the Concept leaves me with. I think the more focused sound of the Behn gives me better feedback as a player and, even with slightly less volume, will carry better in an ensemble or a mix. It's just got something special in the midrange that gives it such good definition. I think that's just a trait I like in my favorite clarinet tones.

It's all relative, though. This thing can probably get louder than everything I've got except the Concept. I think the sound has a broader, "bigger" feeling than, say, a B50 and has a liveliness and core to the sound that the B50 just doesn't have, at least not this naturally and comfortably. I think it's also better at soft volumes than the B50, too. And I love the B50! I can still play with a LOT of force up high, but I don't have to give up so much to do that.

Suffice it to say, I didn't send the mouthpiece back for any further revision. I've been playing it since September and it just keeps giving me more and more as I spend time on it. It's definitely no one-trick pony.

I made a point of not measuring the tip until the buying process was done just to keep myself focused on the musical results. 2.3mm. I guess I didn't know how far was far enough until I'd gone too far. And then way too far.

Brad's work isn't cheap, but I think there are only a few that really get resistance like he does, and even then, their concept has to work with yours. Ron Coelho (RIP) was one of them on the sax side. In one of the hour-long mouthpiece-ordering conversations we had, Ron said to me that "there's three types of resistance: good resistance, bad resistance and," dramatic pause, "perfect resistance."

That statement is utter nonsense until you play one of Ron's mouthpieces. Then it somehow makes sense. Brad nails that perfect resistance. Whatever tip opening gets me there is fine by me.
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