Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Mouthpiece Review: Vintage Ebolin Brilhart with Serial Number

One of the most iconic pictures of a jazz clarinetist depicts Artie Shaw, meditatively putting a Brilhart mouthpiece to his lips, with fingers thoughtfully poised over an enhanced Boehm Selmer Balanced Tone clarinet. It's such a cool mood shot that it can make you want to go out and buy a BT, then cap it off with a Brilhart.


Vintage Brilhart with Serial Number

Fortunately, The Jazz Clarinet's instrument and mouthpiece museum contains both items, and I've done exactly that today to find out what the combination might yield.

I'm happy to report that, once you've gone to the trouble of finding an Enhanced BT and a good, vintage Brilhart, you will sound exactly like...[drumroll please]... yourself playing a BT and a Brilhart. In other words, despite any delusional hopes, Artie Shaw's sound will not be making phantom tones your studio. (In a similar way, while you might also buy clothes like his, you probably won't end up looking like him).

With that out of the way, what can I say about this vintage 'piece?

First, it's important to distinguish these from the cheap Brilharts made since the late 1960s by Conn Selmer. The contemporary Brilharts are very cheap, and generally sound that way. While the current design owes a debt to the earlier Brilharts, vintage pieces have characteristics of being a more serious, professional level mouthpieces--in terms of projection and depth of sound especially.

The sound of this one is round and open: very loud and strong. The core is not easy to control, tending to split in several directions unless directed strongly by the embouchure. Artie's embouchure was quite muscular and unusual; perhaps the Brilhart was optimal for his approach. A good refacing job might mitigate these factors, but the base sound of the mouthpiece seems more wild than a Selmer or Vandoren.

Earlier caveats aside, there is a hint of Shavian sound concept--the big roundness, at least. But I'm hesitant to recommend these mouthpieces. I'm one who believes material matters to the sound, and my preferred 'pieces are Selmers made from rod rubber. I've also liked crystal and even wood. By contrast to these, this 'ebolin' feels flimsy to me, and insubstantial in weight of tone.

It's important to remember that Artie knew and worked with Arnold Brilhart (Brilhart even collaborated on Shaw's Clarinet Method). Undoubtedly the mouthpieces Artie used were hand finished to personal specifications. And this, ultimately, is the best strategy for today's clarinetists too: to work with a master mouthpiece maker/refacer personally.

Having equipment like this is interesting for historical reasons, but that's pretty much what it's limited to in my opinion. Still, they are fun, loud, and for someone who prefers a brasher, wilder side, who knows? Maybe a vintage Brilhart is just the right thing.

2 comments:

Jeroen said...

Thanks for all your reviews on this blog. I have never played a real vintage Brilhart but I like the modern Ebolins very much, especially the cheap 'Special'. It is true what you say about the wild sound going all directions. That's why I play #2.5 Vandoren Black Masters on them, centering the sound a bit. The result is a very big, vibrant sound with lots of harmonics. They can revitalize older big bore, sometimes 'blown out' clarinets. I even play classical music sometimes with Yamaha SEV clarinets which match surprisingly well (both Brilhart and SEV have rich sounds). All the best, Jeroen.

Eric Seddon said...

Hey, thanks for stopping by, Jeroen!

I'm glad you commented on this--it reminded me that I needed to update the review. Looking at this mouthpiece more closely, I realized it had been opened up poorly. So I sent it off the Brad Behn who refaced it, and now this Brilly plays very nicely and centered.

Also, since writing this first Brilhart review, I've picked up a dozen or so more vintage Brillys, and they ALL play extremely well. At the time I wrote this review, my main mouthpiece was an old Selmer...now I have about five Brilharts I prefer.