Are you tired of looking for the Holy Grail of mouthpieces that is supposedly different and better than all the others, without there being any real information about exactly what makes it better?
Well get ready for that to change. On this page you will learn about how the unique oval rim and cup of the Wedge mouthpiece can provide better range, endurance, sound, comfort, flexibility, slotting, and responsiveness, and also provide less swelling and reduced recovery time.
You’ll also learn exactly how the Wedge can do all of that.
First, a bit of history.
The ancestor of all brass instruments was an animal horn with the tip cut off, producing the original round, flat mouthpiece. This shape persisted due to the limited manufacturing options of early mouthpiece makers, who used lathes designed to turn out round, symmetrical objects. This shape was not based on extensive research exploring the best design, and has been the predominant, unchallenged shape since the early history of brass instruments... until now.
The Wedge Oval Shape
The Wedge mouthpiece is different.
When looking at a Wedge mouthpiece you can see that the rim has a slight oval shape, with the oval oriented up and down, not side to side as you might expect. That oval shape extends all the way to the bottom of the cup.
Sloping Side Rims
Viewed from the end, you can see that the side rims slope away to the outside, forming a high point, or Wedge shape on the top and bottom rim. The high point of the side rims is shifted to the inside and the part of the rim that is in contact with the embouchure is very narrow.
This gives the comfort of a wide rim and flexibility of a narrow one.
Now, there have been oval mouthpieces before. However, those mouthpieces were made to wrap around the embouchure from side to side, not up and down like the Wedge. The whole idea was to maximize contact between the mouthpiece and the lips, which is pretty much the opposite of what the Wedge does.
Curved From Top to Bottom
The curve of the Wedge rim follows the natural shape of the teeth, which in most people forms and arch from top to bottom.
It transfers pressure away from the sides of the rim at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock, so that the chops don't get pinned down, and shifts it to the top and bottom of the rim at 12 and 6, where is does not interfere with how your embouchure works. This gives the comfort of a wide rim, and the improved flexibility of a narrow one.
So, how does this shape work to improve your playing?
The biggest change is greater efficiency. The up and down oval shape of the Wedge rim gives the advantages of a relatively smaller mouthpiece, providing an increase in endurance and range, especially when you are tired. Meanwhile, the bigger dimension up and down maintains cup volume, so you get a big, resonant sound despite the smaller ID.
I want to give credit here to my friend and Wedge artist, Nick Drozdoff, who is not only a great trumpet player, but is an expert in the physics of brass sound production. This is Nick’s take on this aspect of how the Wedge works. There are two things that drive the trumpeter’s ability to control pitch: the tension or force in the lips, and the mass of the vibrating portion of the lips. Ultimately, it is the vibrating mass that really controls things. The player controls the aperture size, and hence the vibrating mass. This requires fine control of the embouchure.
The Wedge shape, which reduces surface contact and mouthpiece pressure at the sides of the embouchure, provides more freedom at the corners. It prevents the mouthpiece from pinning down your chops. This allows better control of the center of the embouchure and air stream, while maintaining a comfortable, secure grip on the rim. The result is a bigger sound throughout the entire range of the horn. The ability to improve the sound of the upper and lower range at the same time is a unique property of the Wedge rim that is not provided by any other design.
Since you are not pinned down by the mouthpiece, it takes less work to adjust the embouchure. Any time our muscles do not have to work as hard they are going to last longer, so the Wedge rim gives most players better endurance.
One of the main killers of endurance is a large inner rim diameter. Many players, especially those on relatively bigger mouthpieces, could increase endurance by decreasing mouthpiece rim ID. The down side of doing that with a conventional rim is a smaller sound and less flexibility. But with the Wedge you get a bigger sound from a smaller diameter mouthpiece, and better flexibility. So most players can down size with the Wedge and not lose sound quality or flexibility the way they would with a conventional rim and cup.
Improved Flexibility AND Better Slotting
Now, you might think that increase flexibility is great, but not the point of the note not slotting or centering. That’s one of the strange qualities of the Wedge – a combination better flexibility and improved slotting. It is easier to move between large intervals and to slur between notes, but once you land on the note it feels more secure than with a conventional mouthpiece. Players react to that with “How can that be? What sorcery is this?" My response is, I don’t know, but that’s just the way it is.
The other advantage of the Wedge is less swelling. Lets look at the blood supply of the embouchure.
The lips get fresh blood from the labial arteries that run from the corners of the lips to the middle. Venous blood and lymph, which is the leftover fluid that causes swelling, are drained away in the opposite direction.
The pressure of a conventional rim blocks the flow of oxygenated blood into the central embouchure, and blocks the flow of venous blood and lymph away, sort of stepping on a garden hose. That blockage of flow in and out causes fatigue, and swelling.
The Wedge rim takes the foot off the hose at the sides of the embouchure, which improves circulation in and out of the lip tissue contained by the rim, and greatly and reduces swelling.
Less Stiffness After Prolonged Playing
Our chops get stiff when we overuse them. Why? Its because of a combination of micro-trauma to muscle fibers, changes in cellular and extracellular enzymes and minerals, and edema, meaning extra fluid, leading to swelling.
The increased efficiency of the Wedge rim means that the muscles of our embouchure don’t have to work as hard. Most players use less pressure with the Wedge rim, resulting in less trauma to the whole lip. Basically, you don’t wear out your muscles as fast, and don’t beat up your chops as much, when using the Wedge. This means less swelling and lip stiffness after playing. It also means reduced recovery time.
Improved Response and Articulation
Most players find that the Wedge is more responsive than other mouthpieces, so articulation is better. This is because the oval rim and cup shape provides more cup volume for a given cup depth and with a smaller, more efficient side to side inner diameter. So the Wedge has the resonance and responsiveness of a larger conventional mouthpiece.
The Wedge is more comfortable than a conventional rim. The most common location for rim discomfort and embouchure injuries is at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock on the upper lip, where the flat rim crosses the curved teeth.
Because the shape of the Wedge rim follows the natural contour of the teeth in the vertical axis and unloads pressure at right at those points, it more comfortable than a round, flat rim,
Very Comfortable with Braces
The Wedge is very comfortable for players with braces. The way the rim follows the arch of the teeth and reduces pressure at the sides gives players with braces greatly improved comfort, better range and endurance, and a cleaner sound.
So, with all of these differences do you have to change your embouchure or your approach to playing? No. You play the Wedge just like any other mouthpiece without making any intentional adjustments.
The rim shape also stops young players from using too much pressure, and from using a “smiling” embouchure, since neither of these undesirable playing habits work with the Wedge.
Reduced Symptoms of Focal Dystonia
The exact cause of focal dystonia is not fully understood by the medical profession. We do know that there seems to be some sort of short circuit or interference with the nerve signals going back and forth between the embouchure and the brain.
Experience has shown that players with focal dystonia who switch to a Wedge mouthpiece often have a significant improvement in symptoms, perhaps because the unique shape of the rim activates a slightly different and undamaged neural pathway.
- A very low horn angle that makes it difficult to project your sound.
- Too much pressure on your top or bottom lip.
- Neck discomfort from tilting your head forward or back trying to correct your horn angle.
- TMJ (temporomandibular joint) pain from thrusting your jaw forward.
- Difficulties forming and embouchure because of severe dental malalignment.
- Angled rims are available as a stock item for trumpet, cornet, and flugelhorn.
- The angle can be 5° or 10°.
- The 5° angle is enough for most players.
- If you are uncertain what angle you need, Dr. Dave can give you personalized advice based off of a photograph of you playing, taken from the side.
- Angled rims are also available as a custom order for trombone, euphonium, tenor horn, and tuba.
- The degree of angle possible with low brass mouthpieces is between 3 and 5° in most cases.
That’s a lot to absorb, so lets recap. The Wedge has an oval rim and cup that gives the advantages of a smaller ID mouthpiece without the downsides of a smaller sound or reduced flexibility.
The curved shape unloads pressure at the corners, improving circulation and control of the embouchure.
These features give most players better range, endurance, flexibility, responsiveness, and most importantly, a more even, better sound in all registers.
The rim is more comfortable and causes less trauma to the chops, reducing swelling and stiffness, and shortening recovery time. It's especially good for players with braces.