Mouthpiece Numbers (What do they mean?) – Part I: Tip & Lay

We’ve all heard the terminology when it comes to our mouthpieces.  A player will declare “I prefer a medium tip piece with a longer lay” (facing length).  Those further along the clarinerd trail will espouse the virtues of a  “36-22-12-6-106”  over a “36-24-12-6-106”.  These terms and numbers sound abstruse and can be used to impress all of our clarinet friends . . . but what do they mean and why are they important?

Tip Measurements

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Measuring the tip opening with glass and graduated gauge

Since it is the measurement with which most of us are comfortable, let’s start with the tip.  The tip opening is the distance between the reed tip and the tip rail of the mouthpiece.  It is generally measured in millimeters for clarinets and thousandths of an inch for saxophones. We already know that the more open (greater the distance) a mouthpiece is at the tip, the greater the resistance to and flexibility (softer) will be needed from the reed.

Basic Tip Definitions Terms and Measurements

  • Very Close = 0.95 mm – 0.99 mm
  • Close = 1.00 mm – 1.04 mm
  • Medium Close = 1.05 mm – 1.09 mm
  • Medium = 1.10 mm – 1.14 mm
  • Medium Open = 1.15 mm – 1.19 mm
  • Open = 1.20 mm – 1.24 mm
  • Very Open = 1.25 mm = 1.29 mm
  • Extremely Open = 1.30+ mm

Measuring the Lay

We know from previous articles that the lay begins where the facing begins to curve away from the reed table and ends at the tip opening. The means by which most mouthpiece craftsman measure the lay is the Brand method that utilizes prescribed thicknesses of feeler gauges and a graduated glass plate.  When the zero point of the glass plate is set at the mouthpiece tip, the distance to where the paper thin .0015″ gauge falls represents the length of the lay.  The numbers on the gauge represent the length in millimeters doubled.

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Measuring the lay

Basic Facing Definitions and Measurements

  • Short = 15 mm (30 on gauge)
  • Medium Short = 16 mm (32 on gauge)
  • Medium = 17 mm (34 on gauge)
  • Medium Long = 18 mm (36 on gauge)
  • Long = 19 mm (38 on gauge)
  • Very Long = 20+ mm (40+ on gauge)

OK.  So we have the two anchor points of our mouthpiece measurements.  We know that in the mysterious sequence of numbers 36-24-12-6-106 that the 36 represents 18 mm (medium long) length of the lay and 106 is a medium close 1.06 mm tip opening.  But what about the 24-12-6?  Next we will get into the part of the mouthpiece where the real performance occurs . . . the slope.

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