Journal: April 25, 2013

I started collecting vintage brass mouthpieces and instruments when I was around 12 years old and it quickly became a passion of mine. Here it is, 20 years later and I have quite an extensive collection of mouthpieces and instruments. So many that they are in every room in my house (driving my wife crazy constantly, she is very understanding about my trombone problems!). Some people collect artwork and to me these instruments and mouthpieces are each a piece of handmade art. Each detail, each seam, each bend, each stamp gets me excited… and I know I’m not alone with this passion, which is why I started The Brass Ark. My vision is to create a collective place where brass players can come to find the coolest gear (not only used and vintage, but high quality recreations), learn some history about the instruments they play and makers who made them and get to see and appreciate fine brass craftsmanship at the top level.

It has always been a dream of mine to create unique and playable artwork for our wonderful brass community. When I started collecting mouthpieces and instruments, it was always with this purpose in mind. If you’ve been following this website for the past two years you’ll know that I’ve already embarked on the creation of high quality leadpipe replicas of rare pieces from my collection, all made in house at The Brass Ark in La Crescenta by our resident brass guru genius, Brad Close. With the help of my dear friend Thomas Zsivkovits and maker Stephan Schmidt in Germany, we are weeks away from debuting our own custom Brass Ark trombone (the first of many new models I hope), using parts and design concepts from rare instruments in my collection. Seamed tuning slides and slide crooks are in production and are both stunning to see and play.

Since I started playing the trombone, I was always a bit obsessed with finding a comfortable mouthpiece. Like many people I know, I have been searching for the “holy grail” mouthpiece from the beginning… you know, the one that lets you play higher, faster, louder, softer, cleaner, more in tune, darker, brighter… all of these things on demand and without practicing of course. I’ve collected over 300 mouthpieces both vintage and modern. Multiples of the same size, custom sizes, unusual sizes… everything. As a result, I’m sad to say that the holy grail mouthpiece does not exist, practice is what gives you the skill to acquire those traits in your playing… but I have learned that all mouthpieces are not created equal. One of my best and longest friends and terrific trumpeter here in LA, Mike Davis, shares this crazy passion for mouthpieces that I do (maybe he has 400 mouthpieces, so worse than me!)… So we began throwing the idea around of designing our own mouthpiece line, using our collections as starting points. We were lucky enough to find a phenomenal local machinist that has experience making brass mouthpieces and understands the concepts and acoustic design that makes them function… although his primary work is machining parts for NASA/JPL and most recently made most of the solid parts on the Mars Rover, he enjoys the challenge of making brass parts that make music. Having him local is important because he works with us in great detail every step of the way to make sure our feedback is incorporated into the mouthpiece design. Our first prototype, the large tenor trombone 5G mouthpiece was recently completed and I thought I’d share a small photo journal of our inspiration and design. Next up is our trumpet 1.25C mouthpiece, followed by our bass trombone mouthpiece and 4G sized tenor bone and some more trumpet pieces. As this aspect of Brass Ark grows, it is my hope to offer more and more sizes to the line.

Here is a shot of one of my Bach New York mouthpiece cases:

One of the most interesting mouthpieces in my collection is a rare Vincent Dell’Osa large bore trombone mouthpiece. Dell’osa was a famous brass repairman in Philadelphia back in yesteryear. There was not a better place for custom brass work in the day, and somewhere in his history they began manufacturing french horn mouthpieces, which are regarded as some of the best original designs for modern french horn mouthpieces. Many of the great players, especially in Los Angeles, played on Dell’osa mouthpieces, including the legendary Vincent DeRosa and it has been said that the Giardinelli horn pieces were based on Dell’osa’s work. I’ve never seen a trombone mouthpiece before the one I own, and I’ve not seen another. I think it is a beautiful looking mouthpiece! It has all of the characteristic design shape of the 19th century but it is much more modern, having quite a bit of mass and also being on the larger side both rim and cup (quite rare for a mouthpiece from the 1930s). As cool as it looks, it really doesn’t play all that well… but there was always something enticing about this particular mouthpiece in my collection… the way it looked made me always come back to it in my mind and wish I had one that played great… I knew it would play great if the inside dimensions were right!

On my birthday one year, I found the closest thing I’ve come to my “holy grail” mouthpiece. It was my first Mt Vernon 5G and it was everything I’d always wanted in a mouthpiece. The rim was perfect, just the right combination of a flat crown with a perfectly comfortable bite. The cup was a thing of beauty, probably right when the cutting tool was perfectly worn but not worn out. Backbore was balanced and focused… It is a great mouthpiece and I still think to this day the best one in my collection (I have a good variety of other MV5Gs and they are all different!). So I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be cool to have the outer shape of my Dell’osa with the inside dimensions of my best MV5G? Of course it would be awesome!

So, we did it! I gotta say, my machinist made a great copy. After some minor tweaks, I’ve been testing the prototype and it is damn good! I think the sound is almost identical to the original MV5G but with a bit more balanced EQ, a slightly more robust lower end and amazing clarity in the high range. The trombonists I’ve showed the prototype to here in LA all agree that it’s great and an excellent copy.

So here are the photos of Brass Ark trombone mouthpiece #1. It’s raw brass and not yet buffed shiny, but you can get the feeling for how epic it is. Brad will lightly buff and prep each mouthpiece in house so we have control over the dimensions (no buffing monkeys touching these babies!). We hope to have the first run of 50 mouthpieces available to the world in about one month! Anyway, Stay tuned for more Brass Ark fun as we anticipate the arrival of the Vintage Orchestra .547″ trombone in a matter of weeks!