Journal: August 30, 2011

Greetings Interwebs! I know it has been a while since I last updated the journal section of the website. My apologies. I always say I will try to do more frequent updates, but alas, time gets sucked up into other projects. I find myself typing here tonight in a special place in my life. My wife is now home on maternity leave and we’re about 3-4 weeks away (knock on wood!) from the birth of our daughter. We are incredibly excited… but stressed out too… lots to still prepare around the house, especially since my horns take up almost every closet space and are noticably present in nearly every room in the house… what can I say, I’m a collector!

Today, I wanted to blog about a recent day I spent with John Cather at his shop in Manhattan Beach, California. John is an excellent trumpeter, trombonist, historic brass player and craftsman. He worked in Joe Marcinkiewicz’s shop in Glendale back in the day, where he learned mouthpiece fabrication and brass instrument building. John makes a few boutique mouthpieces out of the shop in his garage. His alto trombone mouthpieces (they are quite cool, 22-23mm inner rim with shallow cup, for players that want a brilliant alto sound, check ’em out!) are well respected. He also makes some beautiful historic trumpet replicas that are stunning! My early music ensemble, Tesserae, recently performed a concert of Venetian brass music at the Contrapuntal Hall in Brentwood California. My new Eb alto sackbut, a beautiful instrument made by my friend Markus Leuchter in Germany, just arrived and I was searching for an authentic mouthpiece that gave me the sound I wanted but was easy to switch back and forth from the tenor to alto and back again, which I did quite a bit on this particular program. My Egger RT6V is my go to tenor piece, but I was having trouble finding good match for the alto. I wanted an alto piece that felt like the RT6V but a scaled down version for correct pitch and sound. Of course, it was a week before the concert so getting a new piece from one of the big European makers was out of the question. I decided to call up John, as his alto trombone pieces are excellent modern pieces that yield the brilliance I was after. John agreed to custom make an alto sackbut piece for me from scratch! He started by taking measurements and making lead templates of my Egger tenor piece. After completing a scale drawing, he began to figure out new specifications for the alto piece using calculations… which yielded our starting point for the new mouthpiece.

John cut a piece of brass stock and began by drilling a backbore. He then removed material, a little bit at a time, to turn down the shank.

Once the shank was the correct taper it was time to start on the cup. Using a custom shank tool, the mouthpiece was flipped over in the lathe and held in place by the shank. John began to cut the rim and inner cup. Once we had the dimensions exact to our calculations, I began testing the mouthpiece on my alto sackbut. It didn’t look like a mouthpiece, more like a chunck of brass with a shank on it… but it gave an idea of the sound and the feel of where we were. Surprisingly, it was nearly right on the money off the bat! I suggested some slight modifications and it went back on the lathe. We went back and forth a few times for fine tuning. Soon after we found just the right backbore for intonation sloting, rim contour (or lack of it, this is a sackbut piece after all!) for articulation and comfort and the proper depth of cup to match my instrument and my playing. I was satisfied and it was time to do the decorative outer shape. John did a great job using my Egger piece (which is basically of copy of a Geert van der Heide piece, also an excellent maker) as a model but still making his own shape, all free handed. Here is the end result!

The mouthpiece is a great success. It came out totally beautiful and sounds fantastic. The whole experience was a lot of fun and John is a terrfic guy and craftsman. Make sure you check out his website for his alto trombone mouthpieces, historic brass pieces as well as other fun stuff.

Apologies for the poor quality pictures, my iPhone was the best I had to capture the day. I’ll try to get a clear snapshot of the completed mouthpiece (which I’ve since had gold plated). That’s all for now. Till next time!