While working with a great college player, his teacher commented, “his setup’s just all wrong.” In order to see how we could make it “right”, I asked a few questions:
Me: When were you set up?
Player: 3 years ago
Me: What mouthpiece were you playing on at the time?
Player: A Bach 5
Me: What are you playing on now?
Player: A 5 cup and 3 rim from… (doesn’t matter, so we’ll leave the brand out)
When he was fit to his horn, he was playing a mouthpiece that had a cup diameter that was significantly smaller than his current mouthpiece. His sound was big but needed more core. The highs were missing and focus was lacking. It was obvious that he was a very talented player that could play anything. It made me jealous.
Everything meshed when he was fit to his horn three years ago. But after changing mouthpieces, the instrument no longer worked as well as he needed. He was contemplating buying another trombone but he actually needed to address the relationship between the mouthpiece and the horn. Two cheaper options were available to him. First, he could work with different leadpipes to get the compression he needed. Or he could examine his mouthpiece choice. Why fall in love with a mouthpiece that doesn’t work? Switching to a new mouthpiece is the cheapest way to adjust the feel/sound.
On a related note, last night I played a gig with Mark and Jon in Milwaukee. Before leaving the office, I picked up a bass valve section destined for Korea and a bass prototype slide (I didn’t want to use a new stock slide). Basically, it was an off-the-rack bass trombone. I added two bass mouthpieces I regularly play (1.5 NY and CS1) and off I went.
I was able to make the horn work, but it wasn’t a perfect fit. I was able to get through the gig without too much discomfort, but if I had done a more thorough job of matching equipment, the feel and projection would have been much improved.
I know many people buy off-the-rack equipment, or when being fitted, a horn that their friends and/or teachers like but that may not be ideal. It’s important to give yourself a timeline to make your gear work. If it’s not working, don’t ride something into the grave. While our decisions are made with the best intentions, we have to move forward and improve as musicians. We owe it to ourselves, our colleagues and our audiences. As for me, I probably won’t be running out to a gig with mismatched equipment again. While I made it work, life’s too short to just get by.