This is a large bass trombone mouthpiece developed by Yamaha and Douglas Yeo, bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony. Some dimensions are analogous to a Schilke 60, but with some notable improvements. We stock this mouthpiece in silver plate. If you prefer gold plate, please ask.
Douglas Yeo on His Signature Mouthpiece
"Yamaha and I didn't want to make something that just looked good and seemed like it would work well in theory - this mouthpiece was truly tested in the trenches."
- Douglas Yeo
You have been working with Yamaha on mouthpiece design. What's the goal?
I recently developed a new bass trombone mouthpiece with Yamaha, the Douglas Yeo Signature Mouthpiece. What I wanted to accomplish was to combine what I felt were the best aspects of large, symphonic style mouthpieces like the Schilke 60 and Bach 1G with a sensible amount of outer mass and a carefully designed backbore and throat. It is an alternative to people who have used a 60 or a Bach 1G but have hit a wall, as I did, with their many limitations.
Why were you in the market for a new mouthpiece in the first place?
I played a Schilke 60 since I switched to bass trombone in college in 1974. It has been the standard mouthpiece for bass trombone players for many years, although all of us who played it were aware that it had serious problems. The Schilke suffers, in my mind, from a weak high register because it is simply too long - flatness in the upper register is a common problem for bass trombone mouthpieces. The backbore is also an unusual shape as well (it doesn't have a completely smooth Morse taper). Add to this the fact that the Schilke 60, as well as the Bach 1G, while being very large mouthpieces with large cup volumes, are cut from the same blanks as Schilke and Bach tenor trombone mouthpieces. X-rays reveal that these large bass mouthpieces are extremely thin in the upper cup wall near the rim which I feel contributes to a lack of depth in the sound.
So you were looking for a mouthpiece design to combat those problems. Tell me about the design/specs of the Douglas Yeo Signature Series Mouthpiece.
The rim of the mouthpiece is semi-flat which allows me to have good endurance after playing a long time in any register. We experimented with various throat sizes and came up with an 8mm throat which seemed perfectly suited for both orchestral and solo playing, while allowing enough bite when playing jazz or commercial work. It was important to have a mouthpiece that didn't compromise in one particular area. Some mouthpieces sound great in loud playing but suffer in softer dynamics. That just won't work for the serious orchestral player who in the very same pieces (such as Bruckner and Mahler symphonies and Wagner operas) needs to play BOTH extremely loud and extremely softly.
I also had some thoughts about the overall length of the mouthpiece. It seemed to me that many currently available bass trombone mouthpieces suffered greatly in the upper register which I suspected had to do with the fact that they were simply too long. After trying some different things, we came up with an overall length for the shank/backbore that provides for an uncommonly secure upper register.
Finally, while there is a trend among some players and manufacturers to make bass trombone mouthpieces that are beginning to resemble tuba mouthpieces, I was interested in developing a mouthpiece that would preserve the bass trombone's unique sound and role in ensembles. I've been around long enough to know that many people who play on overly large mouthpieces often run into physical playing problems years down the road, so it was important to make something that would help insure longevity and not cause harm to a player. I think we succeeded in all these areas.
How does the design of your signature series mouthpiece affect certain playing characteristics?
As I've mentioned, the mouthpiece is remarkably balanced in terms of being good in all registers and dynamics. I have always tried to play with a rich, dark sound, but I recognize that the bass trombone is still a trombone, not a tuba on a stick. It was important to design a mouthpiece that would allow my bass trombone to have a full, centered sound with a rich inner core with a brilliant, well focused overtone series around it. Many mouthpieces currently available give the bass trombone a woofy, uncentered sound which gives the impression of being very large from behind the mouthpiece but which is actually quite unsatisfactory from 50 feet away in the concert hall. For me, I was looking for a centered, solid sound that would sound good at 5, 50 and 500 feet. It goes without saying that I wanted a mouthpiece that would play evenly and in tune in all registers. I had played for too many years with a mouthpiece that required my embouchure to work too hard just to play in tune. I told Yamaha that if I was going to design a mouthpiece, it was going to have to satisfy every one of my requirements.
There are so many different mouthpieces from which to choose in the market; what makes yours unique?
This mouthpiece was designed over a period of years with real life testing being done by me on a daily basis. During the time we worked to develop it, I tried every prototype design we thought of and I tried each one for a long time. I felt it was important for me to thoroughly test each design and each new facet in real life playing situations, not just in a testing room for a few minutes. When I say I play this mouthpiece all the time in the Boston Symphony, I mean it - I use nothing else. Whether it be Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, Schuman or Berg, this mouthpiece simply works. While no one mouthpiece works best for every person in the world, I've been gratified to hear from so many people who have tried this new mouthpiece and have told me, "Yes, this is it!" We bass trombonists have really suffered from a lack of significant research and development into our mouthpieces. With this new Yamaha signature series mouthpiece, I am pleased to say that every aspect of the mouthpiece design was looked at from a practical, real world point of view. Yamaha didn't want to make something that just looked good and seemed like it would work well in theory - it was truly tested in the trenches.
There is another important thing to keep in mind about the mouthpiece, and that is the fact that is made by Yamaha. Yamaha is recognized as having the best quality control of any instrument and mouthpiece manufacturer. When I received a dozen of the final mouthpieces to test for quality control, I was satisfied that each mouthpiece played exactly the same. When you look at mouthpieces made by some other manufacturers, you often see that the back bore is not drilled on dead center, and that the rim varies from one mouthpiece to another. In the case of my Signature Series mouthpiece, every mouthpiece has a consistent, even feel. I am confident that I could go into any music store on the day of a recital or big concert, pick up one of my mouthpieces off the rack and know that it would feel exactly the same as the one that's in my case. Now THAT'S confidence in quality control.
Why is the gold plating an important feature of your mouthpiece?
I had played a gold plated mouthpiece for a long time because I liked the feel of the gold on my face and how it warmed easily. But it was important for me to satisfy myself that gold actually WAS better, so when we were in the prototype production phase for the mouthpiece, I had the design team make mouthpieces that were completely silver plated, completely gold plated and also a combination of silver and gold. In the end, we came up with the unique design we have, with a gold plated rim, inner cup, throat and backbore and a silver plated outer cup and shank. It really makes a difference to have the backbore gold plated - the sound is, for me, more smooth and free than those that were silver plated. The gold plated rim feels great on my embouchure and the quality of the plating is excellent - it holds up much better than the gold plating seen on some lesser quality mouthpieces.
How long did it take to develop your mouthpiece?
The process actually took about 6 years in total, but with 2 years of very intense development and a full year of testing what finally became the final product. Many years ago, I happened to mention, while visiting the Yamaha Tokyo Atelier for Wind Instruments, that I would like Yamaha to develop a mouthpiece that would be the standard for today's symphony bass trombonists. Having made that off-hand remark, imagine my surprise when an hour later, I was presented with a new mouthpiece that was made according to some general specifications I had mentioned as I was sitting in the Atelier! This particular mouthpiece was not very successful, but it showed me that Yamaha was serious about listening and thinking about making something that would work. Over the next 2 years, there were other attempts to make a mouthpiece for me at the Yamaha R&D center in New York City. Each of these were a continued improvement but still weren't just right. Some time later, Yamaha asked me if I would like to work closely with them to finally design and test a new bass trombone mouthpiece so I worked with the Yamaha mouthpiece designer at their main factory in Hamamatsu, Japan. I came to Japan several times on tour with the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops and each time went to the factory to talk about new ideas and how the development process was going. This involved a great deal of trial and error before we finally were able to come up with the product that I now use every day.
As far as the actual designing process, did the direction/goal shift; were there setbacks? Six years is a long time; what is the process like?
When we got serious about making the mouthpiece, the first thing I did was to sketch out a half dozen or so exterior designs for me to try. I was interested in seeing what the extremes of mass would do (from very little to a great deal of weight) to the sound and response. Because some manufacturers were making enormously heavy mouthpieces, I thought we should see if they were on to something; likewise, I wanted to go through the process of seeing how very light mouthpieces felt and discover why the did what they did. I faxed these drawings to Japan along with a lengthy written description of what I was after. The design team also looked carefully at other mouthpieces to see if they could determine why I felt they had limitations.
The Yamaha mouthpiece design team was willing to make absolutely everything I was interested in trying. The important thing to me was the willingness of Yamaha to try EVERYTHING I wanted, no matter how far fetched or unusual . I ended up with dozens of prototypes some of which worked very well and others that were, frankly, terrible. We finally settled on three basic designs and experimented with mass, cup volume, throat size and backbore as well as overall length and the all important taper of the backbore at the very end of the mouthpiece. Through this process of trial and error, we learned WHY things worked and WHY things didn't work. This enabled us to make informed decisions in the development. While I thought in the early going that we might end up with an extremely heavy mouthpiece, it became clear that direction was not giving us the flexibility and quality of sound, response and projection that I really wanted in a mouthpiece. In the end, we came up with a design that satisfied all my needs, wants and desires in a mouthpiece.
Once I had what I wanted, I played it for nearly a year in every conceivable playing situation before deciding that it was truly as good as we could make it. Since it was going to have my name on it, I wanted to make sure it was exactly what I wanted and that I would be happy playing on it every day in every kind circumstance. Because I spent so long testing the final design, I'm confident that it is exactly what I want, so it was an easy decision to finally say, "Let's make it."
After the mouthpiece was on the market for a time, I was very happy when Yamaha asked me if they could market a "replica" version of the mouthpiece. This new "replica" version is exactly the same as the original Signature Series Mouthpiece except it is silver plated rather than gold plated. All dimensions and specifications are exactly the same on both the original and the "replica" models. Silver and gold plating have a different feel on one's embouchure and the silver plate model is less expensive than the gold plate model. I think it's great of Yamaha to have suggested doing this so consumers have several options and can make a choice based on how a mouthpiece feels on the face as well as how it feels in the pocketbook.
Who is the perfect customer for your mouthpiece?
This mouthpiece is designed for the player who wants a big sound as well as flexibility. While I do most of my work on the bass trombone as a member of the Boston Pops Orchestra, I also enjoy giving recitals, playing in church, and doing jazz and commercial work. The mouthpiece works well in all of those situations. Before this mouthpiece was made, I had tried every bass trombone mouthpiece I had ever heard of. Today they sit in a very large box in my basement, a sad testament to ideas that simply didn't hold up in my day to day life with the bass trombone. Now, I have a mouthpiece that is simply "right" in every way. I'm confident that if a person tries this new mouthpiece, it very well might be the last one they buy. For me, there is nothing else on the market that combines this amount of research, trial, and testing. If it wasn't just right, I wouldn't use it. That every time a bass trombone mouthpiece touches my lips it is my new Yamaha Signature Series model tells you that I'm completely satisfied.