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Alphorn Mouthpieces

Alphorns are traditionally played using wooden mouthpieces made out of a hard wood. My trumpet mouthpiece makes the PVC alphorn sound more like, well, a trumpet than an alphorn. Trumpet mouthpieces are considerably smaller and shallower than traditional wooden alphorn mouthpieces. A trombone mouthpiece works very well in place of a wooden one.

January-February, 2021

For first attempts to build my own mouthpieces, see below under September 15-20, 2020. Since then I acquired a small lathe, drill press, miter saw, Dremel, and bench grider with cloth polishing wheels. I also took a wood-turning workshop in January 2021 at Rockler Woodworking & Hardware in Seattle. In three hours with an expert instructor, I turned this nice cherry-wood bowl from rough block:

 

Having learned some key skills, I set out to turn some hardwood alphorn mouthpieces, some from square stock, others from round dowels.

 

Here is a collection made from Oak, Avodire, Yellowheart, Spanish Cedar, Walnut, and Brazilian Rosewood.

 

The two finest and best sounding mouthpieces are the two below: Walnut, in the PVC adapter (adapter also made of Walnut), and the beautiful one out of Brazialian Rosewood.

 

September 15-20, 2020

I decided to try to build my own mouthpieces. I found an old piece of hemlock dowel that I used many years ago as part of a wood block set for our children. I thought the diameter would be just about right for carving out a mouthpiece.

Since hemlock is a soft wood, I bought a short length of 1-1/4" oak dowel and carved out a couple more mouthpieces just for fun :)

I have very few wood-working tools, but a few good drill bits. Here are my steps:

  1. Cut 3-1/2 inch long pieces from the dowels
  2. Drill a small pilot hole through the center of the dowels (I managed to stay centered without a drill press!)
  3. Drill a wide hole (7/8" for 2 mouthpieces, 3/4" for 1 mouthpiece) in one end to a depth of about 3/4"
  4. Widen the pilot hole for the bore (I used a 7/32" bit)
  5. Use successively smaller drill bits in the mouthpiece opening to create a bowl shape by drilling a tiny bit deeper with each bit (13/16, 3/4, 11/16, 5/8, 9/16, 1/2)
  6. Smooth out the bowl shape with a rotary rasp, grinding point, and sandpaper
  7. Mark a circle around the dowel approximately an inch down from the opening of the mouthpiece
  8. Carve away wood chips from the circle to the opposite end of the mouthpiece (used a Stanley Utility Knife)
  9. Shape and sand the carved end to a uniform size and so that it fits snugly into a 1/2 PVC pipe
  10. I first used Shellac to seal and protect the wood. The Shellac I purchased is non-toxic and hypoallergenic, so safe when dry to place on the mouth. However, Shellac tends to dry rough and needs to be sanded. I also did not like the look of the wood finished with Shellac. I sanded the mouthpieces back to the plain wood, and retreated them with all-natural, non-toxic "Block Oil" (used for wood & bamboo butcher blocks, cutting boards, salad bowls, wood utensils). It is made of Rice Bran Oil and Lemon Oil, so not only is it safe, it's beautiful and smells nice too!

The four mouthpieces I made are:

  1. Hemlock, 23 mm opening, about 23 mm deep
  2. Oak, 23 mm opening, about 23 mm deep (to compare the same size hardwood to softwood, #1)
    I later modified this mouthpiece to add a ring like #4 below.
  3. Oak, 20 mm opening, about 18 mm deep (to compare a different opening and depth to #2)
  4. Oak, 26 mm opening, with a pine ring, about 20 mm deep

These homemade mouthpieces are fairly rough; each one took about 60-90 minutes to cut, carve and shape. Hopefully they are good enough to get a feel for the difference between any one of these and my trumpet mouthpiece. I will play a few sound samples soon and upload those on the Sounds page.

Below are a few images of the mouthpiece-carving work.

The mouthpiece with the ring needed extra width for the mouth since I used a larger 1" drill inside the 1-1/4" oak dowel. For the ring I used a remnant of a 2" pine rod I had. I drilled the 1" hole in the end of the rod, then cut off about 1/2 inch, shaped it with a drill-disc sander, glued it onto the mouthpiece, then shaped it more.

Making the ring:

 

Below is the finished Mouthpiece with Ring. This mouthpiece has a 26 mm opening and is difficult for me to play, except for the lowest note!

 

Below is the modified mouthpiece #2 in the list above. This is very comfortable and relatively easy to play, except the higher notes are more difficult since the opening is still relatively large.

 

 

Header Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alphorns_Grindelwald.jpg