Selecting a trumpet mouthpiece can be a challenging endeavor. With how complex and varied mouthpiece design is (along with the number of different manufacturers) it’s easy to “go on safari” when searching for a new mouthpiece. In fact, the term “mouthpiece safari” is a common phrase used to describe the process of finding the mouthpiece that works best for you.

Personally, I have never liked this phrase because on a “safari” there is no guarantee that you are going to see what you want to see. You are only going to encounter what happened to be around. Instead of going on “safari” I prefer an experimentation based approach to make sure that the equipment that I am using is the best for me. You can avoid going on “safari” and instead focus on experimentation by following the process laid out below. Additionally, this page also serves as a repository for all of the information that I have learned over the years about mouthpieces and how to choose them. This information is not sourced but comes from a combination of: talking with manufactures, manufacturers websites, articles, pamphlets, and personal experience. Ultimately, I hope this page can help guide you on your mouthpiece journey so that it can be more direct than mine was.

When is it time for a new mouthpiece?

The overarching reason to change your mouthpiece is to make playing your instrument more comfortable. The blog post linked below goes into more detail on why you may want to change your equipment.

However, you must have a specific goal when you change your mouthpiece. This goal is what allows mouthpiece experimentation to be a focused process.

Guidelines for your Mouthpiece Journey

Once you have decided that you are going to experiment with your mouthpiece, it’s important to keep a few guidelines in mind. These will ensure that your time (and money) is well spent and you gradually get closer to your ideal mouthpiece rather than “going on safari.”

  1. Have a specific goal when making a mouthpiece change.
    • This is the most important guideline as the more specific your goals are when you make a change the better you will be able to evaluate the results. This prevents your experimentation from turning into a “safari”
    • Goal Format: I want to be able to do “__” easier. I am willing to make “__” harder in order to do that.
      • Generally speaking, whenever you change your equipment something will get more difficult. Knowing what you are willing to “give up” in advance can also help guide your experimentation as much as knowing what you want! Good mouthpiece selection is like Robin Hood. You take from the rich (easy stuff) and give to the poor (hard stuff).
  2. Decide on how much you are willing to invest in the process before you start. (Both Time and Money)
    • Mouthpiece experimentation can be an expensive and frustrating process. Having a clear “limit” before you start is a good idea.
    • It’s also a good idea to be realistic about what mouthpiece changes will be noticeable to you.
      • For a beginning player, finding a comfortable rim is an important step but going farther down the process likely isn’t going to be productive until you have more experience.
      • Professional players will absolutely want to spend the time and energy to optimize their mouthpiece to make playing as easy as possible.
  3. Bring a friend / trusted set of ears / record yourself
    • Have a baseline recording on your the old equipment. These allow you to evaluate the equipment while you are not focused on playing it.
    • How things sound from the audience perspective is often different from how things sound behind the bell. Recordings or a trusted set of ears allow you to evaluate what your audience would hear.
  4. If you are choosing a new category of mouthpiece (for instance your first lead mouthpiece or first piccolo mouthpiece) start with a commonly used size that has a similar rim to your normal mouthpiece.
    • This helps prevent the new equipment from feeling completely foreign while allowing you to quickly have something that (hopefully) works reasonably well in the new category. You may eventually need to experiment with the rim but this strategy provides a strong starting point.
  5. If you already have a mouthpiece that works well and are making an adjustment, change only one variable at a time
    • The fewer variables you change the better idea you will have about how a change to your equipment changed your playing
    • Due to how complex our playing system is, any change can have unexpected effects. Changing one variable at a time makes it easier (but not easy) to find what you like while minimizing unintended changes.
  6. Make changes one size at a time.
    • For instance, if you want to open the throat of your mouthpiece go one drill size at a time. (For example: from size 27 to size 26)
    • This allows your technique to remain more consistent as you make changes and allows you to evaluate changes more accurately. This also allows you to decide how far you actually need to go rather than blindly guessing.
  7. Play any equipment change until you are fully familiar with it before making any additional changes.
    • Equipment changes often take a week or two (or longer) before they feel 100% familiar. If you change your equipment a second time to soon you will not be able to accurately measure the effect of the second change.
  8. There is no guarantee that a mouthpiece that feels good on “Horn A” will feel good on “Horn B” be willing to change mouthpieces when appropriate to make your job as easy as possible.

How to Pick the Right One (for Now)

While individualized advice can’t be given without a thorough knowledge of a particular player, there is a process that I have found effective when making mouthpiece adjustments for myself and my students.

  • My process is:
    1. Find a comfortable rim
    2. Find a cup that gives you the sound quality you are looking for
    3. Find a backbore that gives you the projection you are looking for with reasonable intonation
    4. Adjust the throat to change resistance and fine-tune intonation
    5. Adjust the gap to fine-tune intonation, resistance, and response

While this process is fairly straightforward, each step has many nuances. Additionally, changes in any part of the mouthpiece can have unexpected consequences which can make the process frustrating. However, by following this process you have an experimentation based approach that allows you to work your way towards your ideal mouthpiece for a given goal.


Process Broken Down

There are a huge number of variables in each mouthpiece and finding a combination that works for you can be a near impossible process without a level of baseline knowledge. The information below expands on my general process and includes information on each readily purchasable variable in the mouthpiece.

1. Start with the Rim

Rim Variables

  • Diameter – The overall width of the mouthpiece rim. This should not feel too large or small. Large rims often feel better in the short term so make sure that you play test any diameter changes for an extended time.
    • Larger Diameters – Generally offer a fuller sound as more of your lip is vibrating. However, they also make range and endurance more difficult as it takes additional muscle to control the larger vibrating surface. If you are using a mouthpiece diameter that is too large you may sound “dull” or “lifeless” and have limited range (especially after playing for a while). Additionally, you may experience a feeling of “falling into” the mouthpiece if your embouchure is not strong enough to support the vibrating surface.
    • Smaller Diameters – Generally offer a more compact sound and an easier upper register. However, it can be difficult to get a ”full” sound on smaller diameter mouthpieces. When your mouthpiece diameter is too small your sound may sound “thin” or ”nasal” and your attacks will ”split” more often. Additionally, your lips may feel cramped.
  • Shape – Find a shape that grips your face well and feels comfortable without feeling “sharp” on your lips.
    • Trying different rim shapes can be difficult as many manufactures only offer one rim shape without special ordering. One way to try many different rim shapes is to try similar diameter mouthpieces from multiple manufacturers. Once you have an idea of what you may like, exploring special order or custom options becomes a more focused (and less expensive) process.
    • Width – The overall thickness of the mouthpiece rim.
      • Wide Rims – Often feel more comfortable and can aid endurance. However, this extra support can make flexibility more challenging. Rims that are too wide will often cause a thin sound as they can hinder lip vibration.
      • Narrow Rims – Generally offer a greater ease of flexibility and response. However, when too narrow it can have a “cutting” effect on the lips especially if excessive mouthpiece pressure is used.
    • Highpoint Contour – The shape of the rims ”peak”
      • Rounded Highpoint – Think “Hill” – Offer more flexibility but require more muscle to control and feel more slippery. They can be more tiring to play on for long periods.
      • Flat Highpoint – Think “Plateau” – Offer a more secure feeling but flexibility can be more difficult. These rims help your endurance as you can rely on the mouthpiece for support.
    • Bite – The bite is the shape of the inner edge of the mouthpiece as it transitions from the highpoint of the rim to the cup.
      • Sharp Bite – Descends from the highpoint of the rim quickly to the cup (think of a crisp 90 degree turn) and creates a “sharp” feeling on the inner edge. Sharper bites offer improved articulation and responsiveness but can reduce endurance. If too sharp they will be physically uncomfortable to use.
      • Round Bite – Descends from the highpoint of the rim slowly to the cup (think of a wide turn) and creates a “round” feeling on the inner edge. Rounder bites are generally less responsive but are more comfortable and can aid endurance.

Rim Concerns

  • Comfort
    • Your rim should fit your face well. If you feel pinching, cutting, or any other form of discomfort you likely need to use something different. On the other hand, if the rim feels slippery, difficult to “grip”, or unsteady you may need to use something different.
  • Quality of Articulation
    • Surprisingly the diameter and shape of the rim can have a pronounced effect on the quality of your articulation. If you are finding that your articulations do not respond quickly you may need a smaller rim or one with a sharper “bite”. If your articulations split or are unsteady you may need a larger rim or one with a softer bite.
  • Ease of Flexibility
    • The shape of your rim has an immediate effect on your flexibility around the instrument. If the shape is too flat you will likely feel “locked in” and may have trouble moving easily through your range. Conversely, if the rim is too rounded you generally find it easy to move around but may have a difficult time controlling accuracy and pitch.
  • Size Consistency
    • A good rule of thumb is: use as few mouthpiece rim sizes as possible.
      • If you are choosing an additional mouthpiece (for instance for an alternate instrument like cornet or flugelhorn) I would recommend sticking with the same rim that you already use if possible. This helps make switching between the instruments as easy as possible.
      • If this means that you can comfortably play everything on one rim: great! If you need to use two or three to cover all of your bases this works great as well. I personally use two rims. One “big rim” for most playing and a “small rim” for lead and piccolo playing. You can see my full equipment list here.

2. Decide on a Cup

Cup Variables

There are lots of variables in the cup but only two are readily order-able from most manufacturers: depth and shape. Some manufacturers use total cup volume to distinguish between different models. This is a hybrid measurement that combines the depth and shape of the cup. While this can be a helpful measurement, I prefer to take into account the depth and shape variables individually as they each have a distinct effect on the mouthpiece.

  • Depth – Find a comfortable depth that offers you enough flexibility in tone quality to both blend with and project through the ensemble you are playing in.
    • Deeper Cups – Help to accentuate the lower overtones in the sound. Deeper cups offer a darker or “rounded” sound. However, if your mouthpiece cup is too large your sound will be unfocused and may not project well due to a lack of brilliance (high overtones) in the sound. Additionally, range and endurance will be more difficult when your mouthpiece cup is too deep due to the extra effort needed to support the embouchure.
    • Shallow Cups – Help to accentuate the upper overtones in the sound and can help support the lips in the upper register. They offer a brighter or “edgy” sound and are primarily used with “high” trumpets (like piccolo) and in commercial styles of music (especially for “lead” style playing). However, if your mouthpiece cup is too shallow you will have difficulty playing the lower register, articulations will split more often, and you may experience a feeling of restricted airflow / vibration that makes playing at full volume difficult.
  • Shape
    • Pure Shapes – While pure shapes are fairly rare to see in a production mouthpiece, knowing how they affect the sound is vital to understanding how hybrid shapes work.
      • Pure “Bowl” Cup – Bowl cup mouthpieces are more resistant due to turbulence near the throat of the mouthpiece (think water draining in a sink). This turbulence slows the air and typically results in a darker sound when compared to a V cup mouthpiece of the same depth. Response tends to be “faster” and have more “pop” in a bowl shaped cup.
        • Due to the difference in shape, bowl cup mouthpieces will have a greater internal volume than a V Cup mouthpiece of the same depth.
      • Pure “V” Cup – V cup mouthpieces are less resistant due to an absence of turbulence near the throat of the mouthpiece (think water draining in a funnel). This allows air to move quickly and typically results in a brighter sound when compared to a bowl shaped mouthpiece of the same depth. Response tends to be “slower” and have less “pop” in a V shaped cup.
        • Due to the difference in shape, V cup mouthpieces will have a lesser internal volume than a bowl cup mouthpiece of the same depth.
    • Hybrid Shapes – Most mouthpieces on the market are a hybrid between extremes and try to blend the best of both of both styles in one way or another. Playing characteristics change dramatically if you alter the “ratio” of the hybrid.

Cup Concerns

  • Tone Quality
    • Tone quality is generally the primary concern when selecting a mouthpiece cup. Find a cup that allows for a characteristic sound in the style of music that you are playing. Additionally, make sure that you are able to both blend and project with the same equipment.
  • Articulation
    • Articulation is also an important concern when selecting a mouthpiece cup. Depending on the player, the mouthpiece shape can have a large effect on articulation. Generally speaking, more V shaped cups will have a more “rounded” articulation while bowl shaped cups with have a more “pointed” articulation.
  • Comfort
    • Cup shape and depth should be physically comfortable. There are a few common problems that can be addressed quickly.
      • First, if your lips feel pinched or cramped in the cup this can indicate that your cup is too small, is too “V” shaped, or a combination of both.
      • Secondly, your lips should not “bottom out” in the cup of the mouthpiece. If you are regularly bottoming out (especially when fresh) this can also indicate that your mouthpiece cup is too shallow, too bowl shaped, or a combination of both.
      • Finally, if you feel like you are “falling into” the mouthpiece or that the mouthpiece isn’t offering you any support this means that your mouthpiece cup is too large regardless of shape.
    • Additionally, playing through your range should be comfortable (within reason). If your high or low register is extremely difficult that is a sign that your cup may be too deep or shallow respectively.
  • Size Consistency
    • Eliminating variables can help make switching between horns easier. While not as vital as mouthpiece rims, I recommend that players use as few cups as possible. That being said, use as many as you need to achieve the sound that you want. The more styles of music / horns that you play the more cup types you will likely need. You can see my full equipment list here to see how I manage different cup sizes.

3. Decide on a Backbore

Backbore Variables

The major difference between different backbores is the internal shape and total internal volume. While there are many backbore designs on the market it can be difficult (if not impossible) to find concrete information about what differentiates different models. Additionally, it is difficult to speak about backbores except in broad terms because of how much they interact with both the player and the instrument. You will need to try a number of backbores to find what works best for you.

  • Volume
    • Smaller Backbores – Generally speaking, backbores with a smaller internal volume project a narrow sound (like a laser) and emphasize upper overtones. This creates a “bright” sound that more easily “cuts” so they are commonly used in commercial styles of music. Additionally, smaller backbores tend to narrow the intonation across the instrument flattening the upper register significantly while also sharpening the low register to a lesser extent. Smaller backbores are generally more resistant and if your backbore is too small you may find that your horn gets more and more resistant as you ascend.
    • Larger Backbores – Generally speaking, backbores with a larger internal volume project a wide sound (like a flashlight) and emphasize lower overtones. This creates a “dark” sound that more easily “blends” so they tend to be used in classical styles of music as well as during section playing. Additionally, larger backbores tend to spread the intonation of the instrument sharpening the upper register significantly while also flattening the lower register to a lesser extent. Large backbores are generally less resistant and if your backbore is too large you may find that your horn looses supportive resistance as you ascend.
  • Internal Shape
    • The internal shape of a backbore has a large influence on the sound. This is why two backbores with similar (or identical) internal volumes can sound incredibly different. This is also why backbores with unique shapes can offer different sounds than their internal volume would suggest. Again, there is no set “rule” for what size to use. You will need to experiment to find what works best for you.

Backbore Concerns

  • Projection
    • The backbore is the major determiner of how an instrument projects. You should choose a backbore that allows for both projection through an ensemble as well as blending in the ensemble you are playing in.
  • General Pitch (compare Low C, Middle C, and High C)
    • Due to the fact that the backbore has such a large affect on intonation (especially in the upper register) it can be useful to check the general pitch of your instrument. Personally, I have found that comparing the intonation of different octaves to be a very effective way to evaluate general intonation. If the backbore is offering the type of projection that you want this can alternatively be adjusted using the throat.
  • Consistency of feel across different instruments
    • I like to think of the backbore as the “adapter” between the player and the horn. I personally have found that the backbore is the key to making a particular horn feel correct. With careful experimentation, you can find a suitable backbore for each of your horns that makes each horn feel more similar to each other while still providing good projection and pitch. This makes switching between various instruments much easier.
  • Resistance
    • The shape and volume of a backbore has an effect on the perceived resistance to the player. However, barring a major issue, you will want to make adjustments to resistance using the throat as the backbore affects many other aspects of playing more than resistance.

4. Decide on a Throat

Throat Variables

  • Diameter – How wide the throat is. This is often detonated by drill bit size. A larger number drill bit is a smaller diameter hole.
    • A few common sizes include:
      • 27 Drill Bit = 0.1440in Diameter
      • 26 Drill Bit = 0.1470in Diameter
      • 25 Drill Bit = 0.1495in Diameter
      • 24 Drill Bit = 0.1520in Diameter
    • Remember that when you drill out a mouthpiece throat to a larger size you also lengthen the throat
    • Larger Throat Diameters – Larger throat diameters typically lower perceived playing resistance evenly across the range. They offer a darker sound that has a strong “core” and allow for a greater range of dynamics (especially louder volumes). However, this assumes that you have sufficient air support. If the throat is too large the sound will lack overtones and will sound “hollow” or “thin” especially immediately after articulation. Low register articulations may also “air ball” especially when playing soft. Additionally, range will become more difficult, endurance will decrease, and long phrases may be impossible as you run out of air to support the sound. One way to check if your throat is too large is to play a crescendo from PP to FF. If your throat is to large you will likely go flat as you get louder.
    • Smaller Throat Diameters – Smaller throat diameters typically increase perceived playing resistance evenly across the range. They respond more easily and offer a brighter sound that has a smaller “core” to the sound. When the the throat is too small playing at loud volumes will be difficult or you may find a “limit” on your volume. Additionally, if the throat is to small, low register articulations may become inconsistent and your some partials may be “dead spots” that are difficult to slur over. One way to check if your throat is to small is to play a crescendo from PP to FF. If your throat is to small you will likely go sharp as you get louder.
  • Length
    • Total length of the cylindrical section between the bottom of the cup and the beginning of the backbore
      • Some mouthpieces do not have any cylindrical section and are designed to transition directly from the cup to the backbore. Drilling out the throat of these types of mouthpieces change their playing characteristics considerably as you introduce a new variable.
    • Longer Throat Lengths – Longer throat lengths help focus the sound and accentuate upper overtones which can aid projection. Lengthening the throat will tend to maintain the resistance in the middle register while increasing the resistance in the lower and upper register. Lengthening the throat will also typically reduce flexibility. When too long, they create a “locked-in” feel where note slots are very secure but are difficult to move between. Finally, longer throat lengths will narrow intonation pulling the lower register sharp and the upper register flat.
    • Shorter Throat Lengths – Shorter throat lengths help widen the sound and accentuate lower overtones which can aid blend. Shortening the throat will tend to maintain the resistance in the middle register while reducing the resistance in the lower and upper register. Shortening the throat will also help flexibility. When too short, playing may feel “slippery” where notes are difficult to slot. Finally, shorter throat lengths will spread intonation pushing the lower register flat and the upper register sharp.

Throat Concerns

  • Resistance
    • The throat is the primary way to adjust the resistance of the mouthpiece. Make sure that your mouthpiece offers a comfortable airflow rate while playing while still offering support. Balancing the length and diameter of the throat will allow you to keep a consistent resistance across the range of the horn. Typically, you will adjust the diameter if you need to change the resistance evenly across the horn and you will adjust the length if resistance feels uneven across the range.
  • General Pitch (compare Low C, Middle C, and High C)
    • Due to the fact that the throat length has such a large affect on intonation it can be useful to check the general pitch of your instrument. Personally, I have found that comparing the intonation of different octaves to be a very effective way to evaluate general intonation. If the throat is offering the type of resistance that you want this can also be adjusted using the backbore.
  • Volume Control
    • Adjusting the throat can make it easier to access your full range of dynamics. You should be able to comfortably play both PPP and FFF and crescendo / decrescendo between them. If you are feeling undue back-pressure or a lack of support while playing at dynamic extremes you may want to adjust the throat of your mouthpiece.
  • Flexibility
    • The length of your mouthpiece throat has a large effect on how flexible your playing will feel. If your playing is feeling overly ”slippery” or ”locked-in” you may need to make an adjustment to the length of the throat.
  • Consistency of feel across different instruments
    • You can change the way a horn feels considerably by adjusting the throat due to how the throat affects intonation and flexibility. With careful experimentation, you can find a suitable throat for each of your horns that makes each horn feel more similar to eachother. This makes switching between various instruments much easier.

5. Dial in the Mouthpiece by Adjusting the Gap

Gap Variables

Adjusting the gap can be difficult if you are experimenting on a mouthpiece without some kind of gap adjusting system. I personally use and recommend the Reeves Sleeve System. If you don’t already have this system on one of your mouthpieces you can experiment with a larger gap by using the Paper Trick.

Click here for a link to a Bob Reeves blog post explaining how to use the paper trick.

  • Length of the Gap
    • The gap is the space between the end of the mouthpiece and the beginning of the leadpipe. Experimentation is your guide here. You want to find the gap that gives you the best intonation and allows notes to respond as easily as possible. Personally, I know when I have the correct gap when articulations “pop” easily. While there is not set formula for what gap is best I have noticed a pattern. Generally speaking, players who create their own playing resistance seem to prefer less gap. Alternatively, players who rely on their equipment for playing resistance seem to prefer more gap. That being said, this is player dependent and will change depending on how a player wants their mouthpiece to feel.
    • Larger Gaps – Tend to be very slightly more resistant and contract the range towards the middle. When the gap is far too large the lower register will likely feel stuffy and the upper register can back up completely. Any adjustment to the gap will change the relative pitch of different partials on the horn.
    • Shorter Gaps – Tend to be very slightly less resistant and expands the range away from the middle. When the gap is far too small a mouthpiece and horn combination will often feel extremely free-blowing but will offer no support to the player. Any adjustment to the gap will change the relative pitch of different partials on the horn.

Gap Concerns

  • Specific Pitch (check Middle C, Middle E, and High G)
    • The most important concern when choosing your gap distance is how the general intonation is around the horn. While the gap is not a miracle cure, adjustments to the gap can cause big changes in the “problem” notes of the trumpet that help bring the trumpet closer to “in tune” with itself.
  • Response
    • The gap can have a sizable affect on the response of a horn (especially articulation). I have found that when the response feels good on a mouthpiece I have found my proper gap setup for that mouthpiece / horn combination.
  • Resistance
    • Changes in the gap can change the resistance in one or more registers which can serve as a useful diagnostic. Make sure that the resistance through your entire range is comfortable and even. However, unless your gap is very off, adjustments to the gap generally do not cause large changes in overall resistance. Instead these changes normally act as a fine tuner to the choices made in the throat and backbore of the mouthpiece. Changes to the gap can be especially helpful when using the same mouthpiece on multiple instruments.

While I have listed specific “concerns” that are highly affected by different parts of the mouthpiece remember that every aspect of a mouthpiece affects every part of its playability. Unexpected things may happen when you make changes. However, I hope this information is helpful and serves as a starting point for your mouthpiece experimentation. Ultimately, you will need to experiment for yourself to find what works best for you. This process can be a long one but the information here should help to make it shorter. If you have any questions please let me know in the comments below. Happy experimenting!

-Troy