4barsrest Mouthpiece Review: The Sparx Cornet Mouthpiece

This page contains a full review of the Sparx Cornet Mouthpiece Series from 4BarsRest.com. To read personal testimonials from musicians who are already benefiting from the Sparx Cornet Mouthpiece, click here.

Sparx Cornet Mouthpiece is produced by Ted Sparks’ Musical Services and Gary Radtke of GR Technology.

Why is it that when it comes to choosing a mouthpiece, there is an almost sacrilegious reverence about the whole process? From the very brass band cradle of youth, a young player is religiously indoctrinated to believe that the lump of metal that is perched on their lips, cannot, ever, ever be changed, modified or heaven forbid, forgone and replaced by a newer or different model of choice. What you are given the mantra goes, is what you will play on for the rest of your natural life.

It’s a load of old bull. Performers from any walk of life, choose the best product for themselves to ensure they maximise their God given potential to the full. David Beckham chooses a new pair of boots every time he walks onto a football pitch whilst Andre Agassi isn’t still playing with the old wooden tennis racket he was given as a kid, does he? Why then are brass band players told from the word go that they must never ever change from the same old mouthpiece they were given as a learner then; it doesn’t make any bleeding sense.

Just like football boots, there are good mouthpieces, bad mouthpieces, ones designed to do specific jobs and the usual smattering of the odd and bonkers variety. The trick is to pick the right one for the right job. You don’t want to be playing on the equivalent of a pair of Stanley Matthews hobnailed specials that weigh the same as two bags of cement and give you a club foot. If you want to do the biz, then choose the tools for the job.

For the past 30 years or more the brass band world of cornet mouthpieces has been dominated by two makes, Denis Wick and Vincent Bach. These are both a fine series of well designed mouthpieces, but it’s rather like choosing between a Rover 25 and a Vauxhall Astra nice enough and plenty of models in different shades and engine sizes, but not exactly made for the cutting edge driving experience. Sometimes it’s more beneficial to look for something a touch more individual and possibly more appropriate for your needs.

There is a plethora of choice out there for the individual player with specialised makers such as Warburton or Stomfi making high class products that are usually chosen by players looking for something that doesn’t quite fit into the massed production market place. These makers succeed because they tailor their product to possibly higher specifications, they are usually more expensive yes, but then who said quality comes cheap.

The latest maker to bring a high quality product to the market comes from the small Canadian independent producer, Ted Sparks, who has jointly brought out a select series of cornet mouthpieces that have been designed in partnership with Gary Radtke of GR Technologies. We’ve had our hands on a couple for a few months now and have asked some serious cornet players (all performing at Championship level) to have a go and see what they think.

Ted Sparks is a brasswind Musical Instrument Technician who owns and operates his own service in Toronto, and who played for fourteen years with the Canadian Staff Band of the Salvation Army. He was a solo cornet player of note and finally spent the last three years of his career with them on the soprano cornet bench. He continues to perform in a variety of brass and wind ensembles as a trumpet and cornet player and is one of the most respected independent voices on brass related topics in North America.

Ted Sparks’ own website can be found at www.sparxmusic.com

GR Technologies meanwhile have built an enviable reputation for mouthpiece design in the USA and Canada and have a large catalogue of mouthpieces for sale through their own website (including the Sparx) on www.grmouthpieces.com

The Sparx cornet mouthpieces are available in a variety of sizes with the current cornet range based upon three models numbered 2, 3 and 4 which have been specifically produced to give the experienced as well as versatile performer a mouthpiece that produces a variety of tonal qualities to suit differing types of ensemble playing.

These main models give classic “British” brass band production of tone – clear, clean, rich and full throughout the whole range and are superbly engineered to achieve the full throated sound UK cornet players strive for.

All models have similar cup diameters with the standard models having deep V shaped cups that are ideal for a player to use as a flexible tool. Model 2 has a diameter of .670″ with the 3 slightly smaller at .660″ and the 4 at .650″. In relation to other well known makes the 2 comes in similar to the Denis Wick 2B, followed by the 3 similar to a DW 3B and the 4 similar to the DW 4B – although the cup is much more V shaped. It is a very specific tool for the player who will spend the majority of their playing career within a traditional brass band environment.

The C Cup range produces a brighter, more trumpet like tone that is often favoured by cornet players who perform in wind ensembles, orchestral settings or concert bands. As we said, it is a specific tool for a specific trade but it is also a mouthpiece that is well suited in many ways to a soprano cornet player.

The Model 2C is very similar in cup diameter to a Denis Wick 2 or Vincent Bach 1 or 1B at 0670 (nice to see that Imperial measurements have not been lost forever!), whilst the 3C comes in at .660″ and is similar to the DW 3B or 3 or Vincent Bach 5A or 3. The 4C comes in at .650, and is similar to the DW 4B (the almost automatic choice of a whole generation of players) or the VB 7A.

The DV range is designed very much for a player who has to deal with lower register playing – having a deep V shaped cup – producing a dark warm cornet sound – the ideal tool of the trade for strong blowing second or third cornet players (and by heck, don’t bands need these nowadays!). Again, the diameter sizes are the same, but the design has been altered specifically to enhance lower register abilities.

The GR design input has ensured that tooling production levels are exceptionally high and the use of computer design ensures we are told that each mouthpiece is both acoustically and mathematically balanced to achieve a full rich solid core of sound. This is further enhanced by specifically calculated throat diameters and lengths, which are allied to backbore lengths and shapes for evenness of blow and intonation. The rim of the mouthpieces have been made slightly wider and flatter, which the makers believe allows for maximum flexibility without loss of endurance, and so a player can maintain a secure grip and play for longer periods without pressure induced discomfort.

The design looks slightly elongated in comparison to both the Denis Wick and Vincent Bach, although this is superficial as it is the same overall length as both, although the design has a lovely clean look about it, well tooled into a pleasing shape. The rim is thick but has a superb well-cushioned feel with rounded outer edges that do not ‘fall away’. It gives a very secure platform and purchase onto the lips, whilst the inner rim also has a clean tapered edge that doesn’t cut into the soft tissue of the upper lip, even when you are whacking it on!

The V shaped cups are conically machined towards the central aperture, whilst the backbore expands gradually and evenly to its end. The mouthpiece is finely balanced with even weight distribution that allows for a centre of gravity that is perfectly centred. The mouthpiece feels light, yet solid and this enhanced rather than detracted from its feel on the embouchure. The silver finish is excellent.

As we stated, the seperate series have been designed very much with a distinct purpose in mind, to produce three different mouthpieces ranges that specifically meet the needs of the player. The main 2, 3 and 4 range is therefore produced so that the virtues of tonal quality are maintained throughout the whole cornet spectrum – giving a modern yet classical cornet tone from the instrument. It is a very responsive mouthpiece – retaining it’s quality at the tonal extremes of sound and range as well as timbre. For the player with pretentions to shine as a soloist they are superbly built for assisting them achieve high levels of control in tone and range.

The C range cup depth is not shallow, it is deeper than most others, so the brighter effect comes from the balance and relationship between the different elements of the mouthpieces construction. Many rely on a shallow cup depth to produce this effect, but this can lead to a shrill rather than clear and bright tone – the Sparx however has a richness to the tone it creates throughout the range, and this was commented on time and time again. It has a very even production and there was no need for the players to ‘close’ their embouchures to reach for the higher limits. It was also commented on that the players could ‘push’ a lot of air through the mouthpiece without distortion in tone, something that does happen on many other models. Comfort means extra playing time and the Sparx was as comfortable as an old settee, so plenty of lounging for hours at a time.

Overall then, a very fine addition to the market place, a mouthpiece that has been very well thought out, designed and produced. We are informed that the makers hope to expand the range further in the future, but at present are hoping that these three models based on the 2, 3 and 4 will secure themselves a reputation as high quality tools for the experienced player who knows what they are looking for and why they need it.

We agree. We have given the models a real roadtest (those eagle eyed readers would have seen that we have had the Sparx due for review up on the site for some time) and it has made a real impression on our Guinea Pigs and us.

The main models have been engineered with brass band players very much in mind, and the 2, 3 and 4 are as good as any we have asked people to comment on. These are serious pieces of work, high class ambitions reached through top class workmanship and attention to the needs of players by an experienced maker. Thoroughly recommended.

Review by 4BarsRest.com.

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