How Much Does A Clarinet Mouthpiece Cost?
How much does a clarinet mouthpiece cost? I get this question quite often and the answer can vary depending on the students needs, abilities and budget. I want to make absolutely clear that I am not endorsing any of the mouthpieces listed below, merely using them as a basis for comparison regarding cost and offering my experience with respect to them. Let’s take a look at the three options to be considered.
1. Student model mouthpieces:
Appropriate for the beginning and intermediate clarinetist, there are a couple to choose from here. A popular student model clarinet mouthpiece on the market is the Fobes Debut made by San Francisco mouthpiece craftsman Clark W. Fobes, Debut pictured above. This model has become the industry standard over the last twenty years and is used by many beginning clarinet players around the country.
Reasonably priced at $43, these mouthpieces are responsive, play well in tune and are easily replaced if broken.
Yamaha has made the 4C model for many decades, and at one time they were a bit less expensive than the Debut, however I see them now on Amazon for $35. The 4C is another good low price point option for beginners.
2. Intermediate model mouthpieces:
Clark Fobes Nova
The Fobes Nova is a significant upgrade from the Debut and suitable for most high school or collegiate non clarinet majors, or the adult that wants a bit of a bump up from the beginning model. It’s also a pretty big jump in price at $169; there are other options out there if you wish to look into them.
Vandoren is probably the best known and most recognized name in the mouthpiece business, and of course they make a variety of mouthpieces. Here is the link to their website….
The Vandoren 5RV and the 5RV Lyre have been around a long time, try several to find a good one. I had one in college that stills plays better than average. The pictured B45 is another one of their most popular models. As you will see Vandoren makes at least 10 different models, and they market these as professional mouthpieces. Keep in mind these are a computer controlled lathe made mouthpiece, they receive no hand finish work. My opinion is these are not true artist quality professional mouthpieces, I view them more as an intermediate level mouthpiece. Often this type of mouthpiece can be inconsistent and stuffy, however for $100 at wwbw.com they would be a possible alternative to the Nova. You could very well find something else in their line of mouthpieces that works well, but I would suggest going to a music store and trying several if you intend to go that route. You can usually have a few shipped out from Woodwind and Brasswind and return what you don’t purchase, but be sure to ask about return and or restocking fees first.
3. Professional model mouthpieces
My take on professional level clarinet mouthpieces is informed both by my classical training and my real world experience playing both classical gigs and jazz/studio work. As a result I am a bit more outside the box than the typical legit clarinetist or classical instructor. I prefer a bit of high frequencies in my sound, and I love a mouthpiece that is freer blowing. I want the mouthpiece to allow me to control my volume with my breath control, meaning the harder I blow the more sound I want to produce. Some mouthpieces can be very resistant and will not allow this sort of breath sensitivity. I also prefer to play medium style reeds, such as strength 3 or 3 1/2 Vandoren V-12's. I like a bit of a more open mouthpiece, but I still want it to be responsive. It's also got to tune as well as possible, and that can be an issue with a lot of mouthpieces out there. Contrast my mouthpiece ideals with Eddie Daniels, who likes very hard reeds, maybe 4 1/2 or 5's, and a very close facing. Again, it's personal and will depend on what you are shooting for and how you play. So....for the advanced level clarinetist, let's begin here:
Clark Fobes 10K mouthpiece, list price $310.
Fobes' pro line mouthpieces come in a variety of tip openings, which generally means the more open the tip, the softer the reed you will probably want to play. I suggest starting with a medium tip opening with a #3 or 3 1/2 reed for most students. Clark's mouthpieces have become quite popular with a lot of fine clarinetists worldwide, and I think overall his mouthpieces are a great value and quite consistent. I think starting with Fobes and using his mouthpieces as a basis for comparison makes a lot of sense.
Selmer has made mouthpieces for a long time, although I have not played any of their current models. Selmer-https://www.selmer.fr/en/collections/becs-clarinettes
They appear currently to have three models:
The Echo-shown above
All sell for about $140. Again these are machine made, not hand finished mouthpieces. Try several and see if you can find something you like. As you can see they are cheaper than the 10K by quite a bit.
Brad Behn makes some very expensive mouthpieces as well as some more moderately priced models. I have never tried his products.
You can find his website here: https://www.clarinetmouthpiece.com/
There are other makers out there as well. Here is a very partial list:
D’Addario/Rico which can be found via wwbw.com
Evolution $146 wwbw
“Excellente” $129-shown above
Many years ago I tried a Gennusa Excellente model, back when Iggy himself owned the business. My recollection is this was a pretty decent mouthpiece for the price. I did sell that mouthpiece after playing on it a year and have since moved on. Here again lies another option that might be worth pursuing.
4. Vintage Mouthpieces
Lastly, vintage mouthpieces are sought after and coveted by many professionals. The most famous of the lot is the Kaspar, made by famed mouthpiece maker Frank Kaspar. Roman Wodkowski goes into detail here about Kaspar clarinet mouthpieces…https://ramonwodkowski.blog/2020/04/03/thoughts-on-kaspar/.
You can expect to pay a pretty penny for such a mouthpiece, probably in the range of $500 to $1,000. And as Roman states in his post, this is a “minefield” as you really don’t know what you are getting. However there are people out there known as “refacers”, people who reface i.e. put a new facing on a mouthpiece and generally try to improve or restore that mouthpiece. I have had good luck with a refacer in New York City, Norbert Stachel. Norbert is a great player of the flute, clarinet and saxophone, with a long list of credits on his biography. He has refaced half a dozen older Selmer blanks for me and also my only Kaspar, and frankly these have become my favorite mouthpieces. The Kaspar and two of the Selmer’s are very similar, although the Selmer is a bit brighter and projects a bit more. I love the way all three of these mouthpieces respond and record, and their resistance is just right for me. If you are game and have a couple of mouthpieces sitting around that you’d like to take a bit of a chance on, this is a gamble that can yield significant rewards. Be sure to talk to any refacer and find out how much experience they have; they should ask you detailed questions about what you are going for and how you play, what reeds you prefer, things of that nature. I think the general price for a refacing is typically in the $150 range although your experience may vary. Be aware that not every mouthpiece someone refaces will be a home run for you, but it only takes one to change your life!
Lastly here is a list of clarinet and clarinet mouthpiece makers for reference. This list is far from complete but might help you understand further the scope of the mouthpiece journey.
In conclusion let’s be direct and to the point….a clarinet mouthpiece can cost you $45 to $150 and up to $1000, you have many options and choices, and can even try to customize your mouthpiece if you desire. Mouthpieces make a huge difference and are intensely personal, and it may take you decades to finally get your sound and mouthpiece settled. Once you find what you are after it’s never a bad idea to have a second backup mouthpiece of the same variety just in case something should, God forbid, happen to your gamer. Mouthpieces can break, warp and are unfortunately stolen. Guard yours with your life and don’t be afraid to experiment over time, but don’t get into the habit of changing mouthpieces often. Find one, get settled on it, and find out what it can do. It’s a long road but well worth it in the end. It’s the nature of being a clarinetist to never be totally satisfied with ones reeds and mouthpieces!
Finally a nod to my friend and mentor Perry Robinson, one of the all time great jazz clarinetists. Check out this picture of Perry's Britone mouthpiece. Perry was playing this very mouthpiece for the last several years of his life.
As always, thanks for stopping by my blog….Markos