Mouthpiece Alpha Angles

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By popular demand here is some information about the alpha angles of some mouthpieces. A number of people have emailed me to say that they have found the information useful. Thanks!

 

So what is the alpha angle, and what is the big deal?

 

Alpha Angle is the technical term that GR mouthpieces uses to describe mathematically the angle of the mouthpiece wall as it goes from the end of the rim curve and goes into the cup. Curry calls it the undercut. See this page for a much better explanation GR's Fantastic Alpha Angle Explanation . (I’d post their picture, but it is copyright, and I haven’t asked for permission yet).

 

The Alpha Angle makes a huge difference to how the lips setup in the mouthpiece, and affects tone, range, endurance, attacks – well everything really – that’s why it is important to get it right. Alpha angle is player specific, and you just have to find out what works best for you. Most players play best on angles from about 13-19°. A few do well on higher and lower angles. A very, very few do well on even more extreme angles. Again, read the GR page above for the effects, and look through their   Mouthpiece Tutorial– it has EXTREMELY valuable advice for testing mouthpieces.

 

Hopefully this information will help you to find out what alpha angle and mouthpieces suit you best, and help you to make better choices of mouthpiece equipment.

 

Approximate Alpha angles of GR mouthpieces

The only manufacturer to my knowledge that provides detailed information about the alpha angles of their mouthpieces is GR. Well Done! Others please follow!

 

GR has not told me exactly what their alpha angles are in degrees, and these are my estimates for the ranges of their alpha angles, so that you can compare them to other makes. Hopefully this is more accurate than my first attempt.

 

Alpha Angle

Degrees

High

>18°

Medium

13-18°

Low

<13°

 

GR makes other mouthpieces that have both higher and lower alpha angles. They normally offer several choices of alpha angle on similar style mouthpieces.

 

[Update: Well, GR sent me a very polite email, telling me my original estimates were within a few degrees on most, but didn’t tell me the exact numbers. I have simplified the table somewhat, and it is hopefully more accurate than before. GR also uses different cup shapes on their cups. For example, the L cup has a straight section after the bite, before the cup curves in. This feature makes the cup feel roomier than the alpha angle might suggest. Similarly, a shallow cup that curves into the bowl immediately after the rim bite may feel tighter than the alpha angle might suggest.]

 

GR makes great mouthpieces – go try them!

 

 GR Mouthpieces

 

The Kanstul Comparator

Kanstul provides the online Kanstul Comparator – a fabulous resource for those that want to find out the shapes and sizes of various mouthpieces (including Bach, Schilke, Wick, Warburton, Monette, Giardinelli, Parduba). Well done Kanstul, and thanks! Have a look for yourself and see just how illogical some mouthpiece ranges are…

 

Kanstul Comparator

 

Most of the alpha angle estimates that follow were measured off the Kanstul Comparator files – basically I just copied the picture out to a drawing package, then overlaid a line, and measured off the angle. The accuracy is not great – I reckon +/- 1-2° or so, and they may all be systematically high or low, but I think the relative alpha angles are OK, and are actually useful.

 

Alpha Angles of some Bach Mouthpieces

 

Warning! The alpha angles here are taken from the Kanstul Comparator,
and are of the particular mouthpiece that Kanstul scanned.

 

Given the variation that Bach mouthpieces are known to have, these alpha angles may not be very accurate. I suggest you use them to find out the general range of alpha angle for a particular piece. All the mouthpieces are recent Bach mouthpieces (likely 1990s models), not New York or Mt Vernon models, some of which are VERY different to the modern ones. Bach has also, so I have heard, recently retooled their mouthpiece production, and changed some of their sizes yet again. Overall product quality seems to be better. Good luck!

 

If you have a close look at the table, you will see that there is no logical structure of the alpha angles with cup depth or cup size, as GR has done. Likely, most of these mouthpieces started as custom jobs, then got shoe-horned into a labelling system.

 

C cups range from 9° (2 ¾ C) to 24° (3 CW), although most are in the player friendly 14-19° range that most players will be comfortable in.

 

B cups are weird – some have higher alpha angles than the C cup, some the same, and some lower. Just because you tried a B cup, don’t expect that a different B cup will be even remotely the same. Now you know why you die on a 1C and fly on a 1B.

 

I haven’t got through them all yet, but have done all the ones available down to the 10 ½ size. 

Mouthpiece

Alpha Angle

1

16°

1D

22°

1E

21°

1B

20°

1C

11º

1CW

15°

1X

10°

1 ¼ C

17º

1 ½ B

19°

1 ½ C

16º

2

2C

10º

2 ½ C

13°

2 ¾ C

3

12°

3CW

24°

3B

19°

3C

18º

3D

23º

3E

24º

3F

26°

5A

14°

5B

17°

5C

19º

5MV

16°

5V

17°

5SV

23°

6

14°

6B

12°

6C

13º

7

13°

7A

12°

7B

14°

7BW

14°

7C

14º

7CW

14°

7D

14º

7DW

12°

7E

15°

7EW

15°

8

13°

8B

13º

8C

18º

8 ½ A

11°

8 ½

13°

8 ½ B

12°

8 ¾

10°

8 ¾ C

12º

9A

11°

9

9B

11°

9C

15º

9D

19°

10

11°

10B

14°

10C

14º

10 ½ A

12°

10 ½ C

17º

10 ½ CW

10 ½ D

11°

10 ½ DW

13°

10 ½ E

27°

10 ½ EW

11°

           

Alpha Angles of some Bach Mt Vernon Mouthpieces

 

Warning! The alpha angles here are taken from the Kanstul Comparator,
and are of the particular mouthpiece that Kanstul scanned.

 

These alpha angles are of selected Bach Mt Vernon mouthpieces, as scanned by Kanstul. The Mt Vernon mouthpieces were made in the 1950’s, at a time when Vincent Bach himself was still making instruments and mouthpieces. After Selmer took over Bach, Vincent stopped making instruments, though was involved in the operation for a year or so.

 

The reason for putting these alpha angles here is that the Curry mouthpieces are based on the Mt Vernon C cups, so these alpha angles may be similar to the Curry C cups. Some Laskey mouthpieces are also based on the Mt Vernon mouthpieces. No guarantees though, as you are buying a re-engineered copy of a mouthpiece that was different from the copy on the Kanstul comparator, so treat these numbers as ball-park estimates.

 

You can see how different these alpha angles are from the more modern Bach pieces. Some of that will be due to manufacturing variation, and some due to design changes.

 

Mouthpiece

Alpha Angle

1H

11°

1C

10°

1 ¼ C

11°

1 ½ C

13°

2 C

3C

16°

5C

14°

7C

12°

8.5C

-

10.5C

18°

 

           

Alpha Angles of some Schilke Mouthpieces

 

Warning! The alpha angles here are taken from the Kanstul Comparator,
and are of the particular mouthpiece that Kanstul scanned.

 

Schilke has a reputation for consistency, and in my opinion and experience their mouthpieces are overall more consistent than Bach mouthpieces, so perhaps these alpha angles are a bit more representative of Schilke mouthpieces.

 

Schilke has changed their mouthpieces a bit over the years. I have heard that early 14a4a and 15C4 mouthpieces had a sharper rim contour and bite, and this may have happened to other mouthpieces as well. They seem to have done far less mucking around with them than Bach has.

 

About 1/3 of Schilke mouthpieces started life as artist models, so about 1/3 of Schilke mouthpieces are basically a random set of mouthpiece characteristics that bear no relation to the so-called standard rim, cup, throat and possibly backbore. Despite having a very logically set out labelling system, if you look closely at the Kanstul Comparator you will find that even amongst those that are described as have standard Schilke characteristics (like the straight 12, 14, 15, 16 etc) the actual rims and alpha angles are very different. So, don’t expect a 15 to be a slightly smaller diameter version of a 16, for example. In fact, the 15 cup diameter and feel runs larger than the 16, and the rims are totally different. Go figure…

 

FWIW, a Schilke 14 is very close to a Bach 1 ½C, Schilke 18 to a 1C, 11C2 to a 7C. Most comparison charts I have seen make wildly inaccurate comparisons between Bach and Schilke mouthpieces. Use the Kanstul Comparator instead, or Schilke’s own comparison chart (although I’m not 100% happy with the Schilke chart – some of the comparisons seem to be to Mt Vernon Bach pieces, not modern ones) Schilke's Schilke-Bach Comparison Chart.

 

Schilke makes the hugely popular 14a4a mouthpiece, and the a4 range. These are nearly all artist models, so have a strange array of rim profiles and alpha angles, and the size on the face does not always follow the nominal size (the 13a4 is particularly tight). You can see that the alpha angles of the a4 range mouthpieces are very high – ranging from 20-27°. That is simply too high for most players, especially the 13a4 and 14a4, which are the most commonly used. Most players would be far better served for lead playing by a Schilke B cup with a more modest alpha angle, or a mouthpiece from another maker. Schilke himself in the company literature states “The high note craze of some students, especially when high notes are forced or squeezed and often produced on too small a mouthpiece, is to be discouraged.”  I get the impression that R. Schilke did not really approve of the a4 series. Read the GR website for playing tests and decide for yourself if you actually can play your a4 piece properly or not.

 

Yamaha base their labeling system on Schilkes’, and designed their mouthpieces with assistance from the Schilke company (well, at least that is what I have heard). The Yamaha mouthpieces are NOT the same as the Schilke version. They normally run a little bit smaller, and play differently too. The Yamaha 14a4a is, IMO a far better mouthpiece than the Schilke 14a4a, and the 16C4-GP is a very fine mouthpiece indeed.

 

Mouthpiece

Alpha Angle

24

14º

22

18º

20D

17º

20

15º

19

12º

18C3

14º

18

14º

17D4

13º

17

16º

16C4

15º

16C2

19º

16

19º

15C4

22º

15B

18º

15A4

23º

15

19º

14C2

15º

14B

16º

14A4

27º

14

16º

13C4

17º

13B

21º

13A4

26º

12B4

21º

12A4

21º

12

16º

11E

11°

11D4

18º

11C2

14º

11A

15º

11

16º

10A4

22°

10B4

17º

9C4

14º

9

15º

8E2

8A4

25°

7B4

15°

6A4

27º

5A4

20°

 

Alpha Angles of some Monette Mouthpieces

 

Warning! The alpha angles here are taken from the Kanstul Comparator,
and are of the particular mouthpiece that Kanstul scanned.

 

Monette pieces vary as widely as Bach pieces in design and alpha angle, and some seem to be very similar in cup and rim shape to some Bach pieces. Standing on the shoulders of giants, no doubt. Alpha angles vary from very low to very to extremely high. The BL3 has an extremely high alpha angle of 33°. The MFIII has a no bite rim, with extremely high effective alpha angle, and I expect it would be very difficult for most people to play well. Most of the medium cup depths (e.g. B2, B3 etc) have modest alpha angles in the 12-16° range. Most of the shallow cups have very high alpha angles. Great mouthpieces though, if you find one that suits you. Not everyone likes having a mouthpiece with such a large throat.

 

Mouthpiece

Alpha Angle

B2

14°

B2L

21°

BL2

25°

BL2J

24°

B3

13°

BL3

33°!!!

B4

12°

B4L

25°

B4LM

25°

B4LD

25°

B4LVS

21°

B4S

14°

B5L

23°

B6

15°

B6L

22°

B6LR

21°

B7R

21°

B7H

11°

B9

23°

B9L

25°

MFII

26°

MF3

No bite
very, very high*

C2

16°

C4

16°

*The Monette MFIII has a no-bite rim, which just gradually slopes inward, so there is no bite point at which the alpha angle can be measured. At a reasonable point for lip contact, the alpha angle on this piece is ~40°.

Alpha Angles of some other Mouthpieces

 

Warning! The alpha angles here are taken from the Kanstul Comparator,
and are of the particular mouthpiece that Kanstul scanned,
or from my own crude visual measurement techniques.

 

I have only a smattering of other measurements. Also, keep emailing and phoning these companies and ask them about the alpha angles – eventually that might change their attitudes.

 

Curry 600 series – roughly 15-16° or so. A great choice if the Shilke a4 series are too tight.

 

Curry standard – Presumably the alpha angle of the C cup is the same as the Mt Vernon models they were modelled off (see the table above of corresponding Mt Vernon models for a rough estimate). Curry systematically uses higher alpha angles on the shallower pieces, and lower angles on the deeper pieces, so you at least know the general trend. The alpha angles of their Z pieces are not as high as the Schilke a4. Approach the XS models with caution – likely very high alpha angles, and unplayable (properly) by most players – Mr Curry has warned you! The Curry 1.5C is around 15°, and has a larger cup volume than a modern Bach 1.5C. The 1.5Z is around 19-20°. The 1.5 Star is slightly lower than the 1.5 Z.  1.5 DE and 1.5 ZM lower again. This applies to the 1.5 range only, the other ranges will likely have consistently higher or lower alpha angles depending on the modelled Mt Vernon C cup.

 

Warburton – Generally have very similar alpha angles for all cup depths on the same diameter, which makes changing cup depths easier for the player. A really good option for shallow pieces if you don’t want a high alpha angle. Alpha angles around 10° on the 1, and 12° on the 2. Alpha angles on the 3 and 4 size are ~16°. The 5, 6, 7 and 8 have around 13-14° alpha angles. The rim shapes do differ between rim sizes – see the Kanstul Comparator to get an idea of how they differ.  I haven’t checked all sizes and cup depths, so check out individual models on the Kanstul Comparator. Warburton discusses alpha angle (under a different name ) on their website here Warburton Alpha Angle. They use medium to low alpha angles on their standard tops to stop the mouthpieces closing off the sound after playing causes lip swelling.

 

Parduba – 15° (if anyone actually still plays on these)

 

Claude Gordon Personal (Kanstul version) – 17°

 

The modern Giardinelli mouthpieces may not be anything like the older ones, which the Kanstul comparator has scanned. Be warned. I won’t bother to post these alpha angles until I know for sure, as I don’t want to mislead anyone.

 

JetTone – most of them are 0°. This is so low that most people cannot play them properly at all. I reckon less than 1% of trumpet players would suit them. A few of the artist models actually have an alpha angle – it is easy enough to tell the difference just by looking. If you play a JetTone, read the GR website, apply their playing tests, and make sure you are in fact one of the few, and have not been deceiving yourself.

 

Stork – GR has told me a 3E and 5E he measured were a bit over 15°, and a 2E 16.5-17°. This is plenty of room on these for players that want a shallow piece but a medium alpha angle. Not sure what their other cups are, but likely the deeper cups have similar middle of the road alpha angles or lower. Some Stork rims are very well rounded, rather than flattish like many Bach and Schilke rims, and it seems you either love them or hate them. Nice to have the choice.

 

So long and thanks for all the fish

Well, I hope you have enjoyed my brief foray into alpha angles. There is plenty to mull over, and much to learn for those that wish to apply and test this knowledge. Again, see the GR website for extremely valuable information on mouthpiece selection. If you want more alpha angles, hassle me. If you have better and more accurate information, please email me (see main page for email) and I will endeavour to make corrections. And keep hassling the manufacturers for better information – if we never ask they will never give it to us!

 

 

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