Mellophone Mouthpiece Options

John Ericson

A Mello CatechismDuring the summer of 2007 the mellophone era arrived at Arizona State University, where I serve as Associate Professor of horn. As a part of this transition from B-flat marching horns to mellophones I developed a publication, the first of its kind, A Mello Catechism, available from Horn Notes Edition, which I hope you will purchase. But as a service to teachers and players of the mellophone I am also providing as an Internet exclusive this outline and review of mellophone mouthpiece options.

Mellophones are a touchy subject with many horn teachers. While it can be a good “bridge” instrument in bringing players over to the horn from other instruments (at least they are in F and in the range of the horn), the single biggest issue horn teachers have with the instrument as a group is the mouthpiece issue.

There are five main, standard options as to types of mouthpieces that could be used on marching mellophone. I have organized my test results by tone color in order from brightest to darkest. For my tests I primarily utilized a Jupiter model JMP 450 mellophone, with additional testing on a King 1120 mellophone.

Trumpet mouthpiece. This is one option; the mouthpiece tested was a Jupiter 7C mouthpiece, which had been supplied with the primary test instrument. In my opinion the sound is harsh, even ugly, and the instrument has a bit of an unstable quality to the pitch center. The top written F on the staff was particularly unstable on this mouthpiece but was better on every other type of mouthpiece listed below.

Stock model modern mellophone mouthpiece. This type of mouthpiece has a trumpet rim and a cup similar to a flugelhorn cup; the models tested were the UMI CKB Mello 6 and the Deg Mello 6V. I liked the Deg slightly better, but both worked fairly well. The high range is great and the sound while still a little harsh to my ear was certainly better than the 7C trumpet mouthpiece. The inner diameter being only around 16.3 MM felt pretty small to my horn player lips. The tone has some of the color of the Flugelhorn to it. Other makers also market versions of this same type of mouthpiece.

Custom variations. These have attracted much attention the past few years.

One mouthpiece seeing much use in the mellophone sections of drum corps is the Curry 1HTF cup. This is a hybrid design that the manufacturer describes as follows:

TF Cup. Not a flugelhorn cup on a trumpet blank, but a brand-new design! It incorporates the depth of sound you get on a flugel piece without the excess cup volume that makes those style mouthpieces difficult to play. It is in tune to high C and above, yet you can play softly and firmly in the low register. Perfect for soft orchestral passages, intimate jazz settings, or for just “working out”. The cup is roughly 1/3 concave (trumpet-like) and 2/3 convex (flugel-like) with a proprietary backbore and a .153″ (3.89mm) bore. To compensate for tuning, the mouthpiece is .400″ shorter than the standard Curry length of 3.5″ You can put this mpc. in the horn and leave your tuning slide in approximately the same position. Initial comments from a test group of Orchestral players and Jazz players have included words like “Perfect!”, “Wow!”

It is a type of trumpet mouthpiece and the rim is a trumpet rim but the inner diameter is what sells this mouthpiece for me. The inner diameter of this cup is 17.37 MM so it is right up there in the range of a horn mouthpiece inner diameter. The mouthpiece is made in a range of sizes, with models that have smaller inner diameters that exactly match popular trumpet mouthpieces. The 1HTF is the largest version of the model and I think will be of the most interest to mellophone players. It can be purchased with a screw rim if desired on special order.

Sound wise before I saw the mouthpiece I guessed it would sound a lot like a Mello 6. It is similar in ways, but the sound produced is bigger than a Mello 6 in a category to my ear closer to Flugelhorn than to trumpet. Which is a better place to be! And the high range is quite good. Certainly a cup to look at.

The IYM Larry Kerchner M-1 is another mouthpiece that is mentioned often as an alternate to the “standard” mellophone mouthpieces, utilized currently by the mellophone section of the Cavaliers and other groups. I was also able to borrow one for testing. As I started in I had mixed feelings. I did not come in as a fan of the “heavy mouthpiece” concept. But conceptually as a hornist I have to like this quote from the maker, as they say it is designed to “produce a dark, rich, orchestral French horn timbre with comfort and stability” on mellophone.

The first big question I had going in as a tester was what would the rim look and feel like, as the maker is not clear about this in their site. It is I would say somewhere between a horn and trumpet rim, either a small inner diameter horn cup with a rather wide rim or a large diameter trumpet cup with a somewhat narrow rim. This approach could have resulted in a cup and rim that pleases no one, but it seems to hit things in the middle in such a way that players can I believe come from horn or trumpet and feel OK on the rim. So far, so good.

The cup is deeper than a Mello 6, which is a plus, but it is smaller than any horn mouthpiece on the market. The bore is also smaller than most standard horn mouthpieces, # 20 bore.

Sound wise it is intriguing. Weight impacts everything but especially tone, articulations, and stability. On the Jupiter mellophone the IYM really is rather nice. Tonally it is between a Mello 6 and my normal horn mouthpiece with an adapter and it is very stable in the high range. There is a pleasing Flugelhorn-like quality to the sound.

The sound itself is a bit distinctive, I believe because of the weight. It is hard to describe but if you are playing mellophone by yourself in say a jazz setting this really is a very nice mouthpiece. A full section all on this mouthpiece would also be very effective on the field. If however you were in a section of mellophones where the rest are playing standard weight mouthpieces your sound would tend to stick out. This is not an indictment of the mouthpiece, as this tends to hold true with any heavy mouthpiece on any instrument. It is just something to consider carefully.

As to other items to consider that are again not so much negatives as observations, it is not cheap and, for me used to a 18mm inner diameter rim, it is a bit small. But it does produce an interesting result worth investigating further. For another review of this mouthpiece please visit The Middle Horn Leader.

Finally, I should mention the new mouthpieces produced by Hammond Design which are also seeing much drum corps use. I have not tested these but from the description they should be similar to smaller versions of the Curry TF cup. They are reviewed at The Middle Horn Leader.

Horn mouthpiece with adapter. A horn mouthpiece with a relatively shallow cup and smaller bore such as a Yamaha 30C4 works surprisingly well on mellophone. Based on what I had heard previously I was expecting this option to not work well, in particular I was expecting the horn mouthpiece to be less in tune than an actual mellophone mouthpiece, but this is absolutely not the case. Intonation can be good, the high range can be good, and the sound is similar to a deep flugelhorn tone. However, a deeper cup horn mouthpiece was not so good, as the instrument loses focus. My normal mouthpiece, a Laskey 80G, worked fairly well but the Jupiter 3 supplied with the test instrument was a little too deep. Something like a Giardinelli C-4 was certainly way too big.

Also I should note that I did test two different horn mouthpiece adapters. The Jupiter adapter was better on the Jupiter and the Deg adapter better on the King. If you are using a horn MP on mellophone try several different brands of adapter, there really was a noticeable difference between the two I tested.

Interlude: B-flat marching horn. The sound of B-flat marching horn (with my Laskey 80G) is a bit fuller and deeper than that of the mellophone with the same horn mouthpiece.

“Traditional” mellophone mouthpiece. A final mellophone option is the Blessing 5. This type of mouthpiece is based on the type of mouthpiece used on E-flat tenor (or alto) horn. The Blessing 5 mellophone mouthpiece has a big, deep cup with an inner diameter just over 18 MM. It produces a huge dark sound, like a deep low flugelhorn or even a high baritone. Jazzy runs in the lower range sound great but the high range is more difficult to be sure and articulations could have more clarity.

While not marketed for use on mellophone, a final, related mouthpiece to consider is the Bach 12 alto horn mouthpiece. Bach has for many, many years produced a series of mouthpieces for mellophones and E-flat alto horns, which are also known as tenor horns. The mellophone mouthpieces are for “classic” mellophone, and have a small, cornet size shank. The alto horn mouthpieces have a trumpet size shank and are the ones you could consider using on modern marching mellophone.

The Bach 12 is the smallest mouthpiece in the series and this thing sounds and plays great on mellophone! It has an inner diameter a bit bigger than most horn mouthpieces (18.30 MM—most typical horn mouthpieces used by students are closer to 17.30 MM) but lying as it does on the very small end of the scale for alto horn mouthpieces it is really well suited to the mellophone acoustically. I normally use an 18 MM inner diameter horn mouthpiece, and for me the extra .30 MM is a shock, I can't play this mouthpiece for long, it takes a lot out of my chops.

When I am fresh I really like this mouthpiece! It has a huge sound with some color on marching mellophone and good articulations. The high notes speak well and the intonation is very good. But I doubt that it has ever been a big seller for Bach. This is the description they have used for years in their advertising:

“A small mouthpiece for players with weak embouchures and for those who have difficulty with the high register.”

Great marketing, huh? Makes it sound like a mouthpiece only suited to wimps and weaklings. Certainly not for the mellophone player who wants to play “higher, louder, faster.”

If you are brave enough give the Bach 12 alto horn mouthpiece a try! This model really has a sound on marching mellophone that has to be heard. It is the best of all the alto or tenor horn derived mouthpieces I have tested on marching mellophone, and the mellophone version is also great on my Conn 16E Mellophonium. It is “old school” but is in my book a winner and is a type that needs revisited in regard to mellophone mouthpiece design today. I only wish a version were made with a little smaller inner diameter that would be more comfortable for horn players.

Conclusions: While I would most recommend the Curry 1HTF as the best compromise, and in further testing by my students on the field it is their clear favorite, I personally liked the small horn mouthpiece with an adapter and the Blessing 5 the best. The horn mouthpiece will feel the most like "home" for a horn player who has to double between horn and mellophone. The versions of the Mello 6 were all acceptable if rather bright to my ear, and felt very small to me–I wish the inner diameter was just a bit wider. The Blessing 5 has a big, dark sound and would be great in a jazz combo but feels huge and would probably not work out in marching band or drum corps. Finally, a stock trumpet mouthpiece such as the 7C should never be used on mellophone, even if it does fit the receiver.

For more information visit The Mello Zone in Horn Articles Online and also purchase A Mello Catechism from Horn Notes Edition.

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