Clarinet mouthpieces come in an almost unlimited number of styles and prices.
Like any musical equipment, though, spending more doesn’t mean you’re getting something better unless it works better with your own personal musical style.
However, the wide variety of clarinet mouthpieces on Amazon has led to the proliferation of a large number of no-name knock-off mouthpieces that don’t play well for anyone, are cheaply (and inconsistently) made, and are a waste of time for anyone – student, amateur, or professional.
This page is here to help you learn a little more about what makes a clarinet mouthpiece tick and give you some ideas about how you can go about finding something that works better for you. Of course, if you’re too overwhelmed with the number of options, we’ve also provided several recommendations for every level of player and price range. From a rank beginner looking to spend as little as possible (while still getting a quality piece) to a professional looking to tweak their setup to get things just right.
Importance of the Mouthpiece
Like most other wind and brass instruments, the clarinet mouthpiece is one of the most important parts of the instrument.
A good mouthpiece can help a low- or mid-quality instrument play as well as possible, while a cheap or mismatched mouthpiece will handicap even a high-quality instrument.
Make sure you don’t skimp out on a cheap $10 mouthpiece!
Before we get into some of our best clarinet mouthpiece recommendations, though, it’s worth taking some time and looking at the different parts of a clarinet mouthpiece, and how those can change how the mouthpiece matches with you and your instrument.
To find the best mouthpiece for you, you need to understand a bit about how different parts of the mouthpiece can change the sound, response, projection, and other characteristics of your clarinet and how it plays.
Here are a few of the most important things to consider when choosing a new mouthpiece:
Not surprisingly, the material that the mouthpiece is made of has a significant impact on how the mouthpiece sounds.
Harder materials generally have brighter sounds and project better, while softer materials have a darker sound and project less well.
Which one works better for you depends a lot on your specific needs. Do you play in big, loud groups or smaller chamber ensembles – do you do a lot of solo playing in smaller rooms or big concert halls? Figuring out the answer to these questions can help you narrow down your options quickly and easily.
Plastic is commonly used in beginner mouthpieces since it is durable and affordable. It is a fairly hard and brittle material, though, so the sound can be overly bright and harsh. However, some makers are using plastic composites that largely remove the harshness from the sound (and can be quite affordable).
Hard rubber is very common in a wide range of mouthpieces, from simple step-up mouthpieces to custom mouthpieces costing several hundred dollars. Although there can be different types of hard rubber (with varying sound characteristics), in general, hard rubber provides a bit more warmth and focus than plastic mouthpieces.
Clarinet mouthpieces were traditionally made from wood, and many makers still use wood. The sound characteristics vary depending on the specific kind of wood used, and environmental conditions can also affect the playing characteristics. In general, wood gives the warmest and mellowest sound and is used only in the mid- to high-end mouthpieces.
The final material used in clarinet mouthpieces is crystal. In addition to being very fragile, crystal mouthpieces can make a very bright and projecting sound, ideal for an outdoor concert or a big jazz band. These are generally fairly expensive, though, and not the best all-around mouthpieces. These are definitely mouthpieces to try before you buy!
The Mouthpiece Tip and Facing
Although it might not look like a big deal, the tip opening and the facing length of the clarinet mouthpiece are very important considerations for how a mouthpiece plays with your reed, barrel, and instrument.
The tip opening is the distance between the mouthpiece tip and the end of the reed – no big surprise there.
The facing length is the point where the reed separates from the mouthpiece.
Generally speaking, a long facing means a small tip opening, and a short facing means a larger tip opening.
Open tips (which usually means a shorter facing) generally favor softer reeds, and have more resistance in sound production and playability, increased flexibility and a brighter tone, while closed tips (longer facings, generally) favor harder reeds, have less resistance, and produce darker sounds overall.
Keep in mind, though, that this is just a general rule of thumb – whenever you try a different mouthpiece you should spend some time experimenting with different reeds.
The Mouthpiece Beak
The beak of the clarinet mouthpiece is the top part of the mouthpiece which goes in the player’s mouth (opposite of the reed). The angle of the beak generally affects the comfort of the player and doesn’t have much effect on the sound produced.
A big change in beak angle may require an embouchure change, though, and certain embouchures function better with different beak angles.
Mouthpiece Chamber and Baffle
The chamber of the clarinet mouthpiece is simply the inside of the mouthpiece. As you can probably guess, the chamber (along with the baffle discussed below) has a very large impact on how a mouthpiece responds and sounds.
When the mouthpiece is in playing-position, the baffle is the portion of the chamber on the top of the mouthpiece. The shape and design of this portion of the mouthpiece chamber has a large influence on the overall sound of the mouthpiece. A higher baffle produces a brighter sound while a lower (or scooped) baffle produces a darker sound.
Other Mouthpiece Considerations
Two other parts of the clarinet that strongly interact with the mouthpiece and have a very big effect on how the clarinet sounds and plays are the reeds (the small piece of wood that vibrates to make a sound) and the ligature (the part that holds the reed on the mouthpiece).
Although discussing reeds is too big a topic to get into here, they are another very important factor in getting your desired sound. Reeds have many variables to consider, such as hardness, tip thickness, heart thickness, vamp length, and cut. Often a small change in one of these can have a large impact on how a mouthpiece plays, so don’t hesitate to experiment with any new mouthpiece!
Clarinet ligatures come in different materials (silver, gold, fabric), different screw designs (standard or inverted), and different shapes. Although ligatures seem like an inconsequential factor, how the reed is held onto the mouthpiece changes how the reed vibrates, so they produce a noticeable difference in the response and sound. Thus, ligatures are something to consider when changing mouthpieces (and reeds). Both the mouthpiece and the reed have a much greater effect on the clarinet’s sound and playability, though, so make sure you get those well-matched before worrying about your ligature.
Our Mouthpiece Recommendations
Although mouthpieces are certainly a personal choice, the following mouthpieces are great choices for any player wanting to try a new mouthpiece.
We have organized them by price, so you should be able to find something that works for you no matter your mouthpiece budget (don’t forget to also budget some money for reeds)!
In general, you’ll find mouthpieces in three basic price ranges: $20-$40 for a quality beginner mouthpiece, $60-$80 for a good intermediate (college-aged) mouthpiece, and $100+ for something that is appropriate for a professional or semi-pro player. However, know that there are bad mouthpieces at all price ranges, so don’t buy one only based on price!
1. Clark W Fobes Debut
An affordable acrylic mouthpiece great for any beginner. With a custom CF+ facing, a medium 1mm tip opening, and a hand finish, these are much better than the mouthpiece you’ll find in the case of most any beginning clarinet.
2. Yamaha 3C/4C
The Yamaha 3C and 4C are both standard beginner mouthpieces, and for good reason. Both the 3C and 4C are made of high-quality plastic and based on the much more expensive Yamaha custom line. Both have a slightly shorter facing than the custom series for easier tone production. The 3C features a 1mm tip opening, while the 4C has a slightly larger 1.05mm opening. While this range does feature the larger 5C and 6C, the 3C and 4C are generally considered the best all-around mouthpieces in this price range.
3. Yamaha YAC CL5CM-II Custom Series 5CM
If you’re looking to step up from a beginner level mouthpiece, mid-range mouthpieces are often made of better materials and have features designed to enhance playability, sound, and flexibility.
The Yamaha 5CM is the middle model in Yamaha’s great custom series of clarinet mouthpieces. Made of high-quality rubber (ebonite), a 1.1mm tip opening, and a 21mm facing length, this mouthpiece can provide a warm and projecting sound with great flexibility. Priced right in the middle of the intermediate range, this mouthpiece punches far above its price.
4. Clark W Fobes Nova
At the upper end of the intermediate price range, the Nova is another great option for an intermediate high school or college player. These mouthpieces are based on some of the higher range Clarke W Fobes models and are great choices for the serious student.
With a relatively short CF+ facing (17mm) and 1mm tip opening, this mouthpiece provides exceptional projection and flexibility. Also available in a slightly longer 3L facing (18mm) and a larger 1.08mm facing.
5. Vandoren CM308 B45
Vandoren has been in business since 1905 and specializes in reeds, mouthpieces, and ligatures for clarinet and saxophone. They have a wide variety of clarinet mouthpieces to fit just about any style, player, reed, and instrument.
Vandoren’s model B45 is probably the most popular model and its best all-around mouthpiece in this mid-level. The B45 features a medium tip opening (1.195mm) and medium long facing length. The B45 is available in two different beak profiles – the CM308 Traditional profile is a bit steeper, while the CM3088 features Vandoren’s “Profile 88”, which is a more gradual beak.
These two different profiles with similar internal measurements allow the player to pick the most comfortable mouthpiece while getting the sound and playability they want.
6. Vandoren CM310 5JB
If you’re looking for a mouthpiece for that quintessential jazz or commercial clarinet sound, the Vandoren 5JB is one of the best choices in any price range. A long facing and a 1.47mm tip opening combine to make a mouthpiece that can help you keep up with the full-size brass section and project any solo.
Like the Vandoren B45, the 5JB is available in two different beak profiles – Traditional and Profile 88. The profile you choose is largely up to your specific embouchure formation and personal preference.
7. Vandoren CM1005 BD5
Vandoren’s BD5 is another very popular model for the upper-intermediate or aspiring professional player.
Vandoren’s Black Diamond (BD) series of clarinet mouthpieces are made of ebonite and feature a new internal and external design that allow a full range of dynamics and tonal colors, especially in the upper register of the instrument, where other mouthpieces can sound thin or harsh.
Unlike the standard series of Vandoren mouthpieces, however, the Black Diamond mouthpiece is only offered in a single beak style and a single facing. The BD5 1.13mm tip opening and a medium facing length.
8. Clark W Fobes San Fransisco
Clark W Fobes makes some of the most sought-after mouthpieces among professional clarinetists, and although the San Fransisco model is not the most expensive mouthpiece he makes, it is one of the most widely-used.
Made of hard rubber, this model is available in a wide variety of facings. However, the 3L facing, linked here, is most similar in external dimensions to the Vandoren B45, and so is probably the most popular option. The 3L has an 18mm facing length and a 1.08 tip opening.
As you can see, when you are mouthpiece shopping you have a lot of different options, but if you know your budget and your specific musical needs, you can find what you need in whatever your price range happens to be!