As I mentioned in a previous post about the Graftonite mouthpieces, I’ve been using the Arnold Brilhart designed Rico Metalite and Graftonite mouthpieces on my baris for a number of years now, and really like them. They do everything that my more expensive mouthpieces do, and more.
I originally started with a Graftonite, but one day while in a music store in Vancouver (with no horns with me of course, since I was living 3000 miles away at the time) I discovered that they had some new, old stock Metalite pieces for alto, tenor, and bari.
The alto and tenor pieces I bought were fine, but unfortunately the bari piece (an M11) was too open for me. However as luck would have it, another SOTW player had a Metalite bari piece (an M5) that was too closed for him. Both were mint condition, in their original boxes, so we just traded them.
Above are the Metalite pieces that I have. From left to right: an alto M5, a tenor M7, & a baritone M5.
The alto and the bari pieces both have the pebbly finish, while the tenor piece has a smooth finish.
I find the Metalites are a very free-blowing piece, that can produce an incredible volume when necessary. However, they do not get thin, or distort in sound when pushed to that level. They are very lush in the lower end, and subtone beautifully. The midrange is fantastic, and the top end of the horn doesn’t suffer from any “thinning” in tone. Altissimo notes also just pop out effortlessly with the Metalite.
I can’t comment on the soprano Metalite since I don’t own one, nor have I played one, but of the 3 I have, the bari is by far and away the clear winner. (Something that is echoed by most players who have them all.)
Before discussing the differences between the Metalite and Graftonite mouthpieces, a bit of mouthpiece anatomy might be necessary. The following is from Mouthpiece Express.com. BTW, this is a great resource. Make sure you check them out!
Wider tip openings offer a freer “blow” and can be played more loudly. However, they are brighter in sound and require more control. Conversely, narrower tip openings offer more resistance to airflow and require a less control. They tend to have a darker and rounder sound.
Baffle Height and Chamber Profile
The baffle is the roof of the mouthpiece chamber. A “high baffle” is when the baffle is built into the tone chamber, thereby reducing the chamber’ size. A high baffle gives a tone with more edge and brightness. Conversely, a “low baffle” results in a larger chamber and a somewhat darker sound.
Mouthpieces with a small bore give a tighter, more compact, focused sound. They are more individualistic (soloistic) in nature and therefore are better suited for solo playing than for use in ensemble playing. Large bore mouthpieces have a broad and open sound quality and blend well in ensemble situations.
Other Important Terms
- Table: the flat surface that the reed is placed upon.
- Window: the hole in the mouthpiece between the tip rail and table.
- Side rails: the side edges of the window.
- Baffle: the roof of the mouthpiece chamber.
- Throat: the back of the mouthpiece, also referred to as the bore.
Because I was primarily playing my Mark VI bari in rock, R&B, and electric Blues environments, I really liked the brighter & edgier sound, as well as the increased volume & projection that the Metalite gave me over the Graftonite. However when it comes to jazz, I still play the Graftonite on my VI.
The baritone Graftonite B5 (left) and the Metalite M5 (right).
Other than the colour and model number, the 2 mouthpieces appear the same from the top and side, but when you look into the chamber, you can see what makes these 2 pieces very different animals.
The chamber of the Graftonite has a dip behind the tip rail, followed by the medium (B) chamber baffle (which is the only one available for baritone). The chamber of the Metalite has the same dip behind the tip rail, but is then followed by a high baffle.
Many players have experimented by adding homemade baffles or the spoilers from Runyon mouthpieces into their Graftonites, in an attempt to duplicate the sound, volume, & projection of the Metalites. Some claim that it worked, others claim it didn’t, still others say is was OK, but nothing outstanding.
If you’re not familiar with spoilers, this is what Runyon says about them:
Spoilers are small metal reeds that can be placed inside Runyon mouthpieces to increase volume. Spoilers increase the loudness of the instrument, yet maintain its overall tone, with the same amount of breath.
Each mouthpiece has a specific spoiler designed to fit its unique characteristics. A beginning student can play louder with confidence. The experienced professional can play with increased authority.
Once placed inside a mouthpiece, spoilers look like this:
I personally haven’t tried it, but if you’re curious, it’ll cost you about $17 for a bari m/p from WWBW, (less if you play a smaller horn, since we bari players get hosed on everything) a buck or so for some putty adhesive from your local office supply store, and some of your time.
Try different sizes & shapes of baffles. Try adding a spoiler. If you don’t have a spoiler, you can always try using a flat piece of thin metal cut to size with tin snips. Experiment with different sizes, shapes, and bends in the metal. If you find something that works, you can always make a permanent baffle with a more permanent material.
In 2006, a poster on SOTW, on one of the countless Metalite threads, noted that:
[He had] read an article where Arnold Brilhart said the Metalite mouthpiece was based on his classic 40’s levelaire design, and that the Metalite was his best mouthpiece yet. Could have just been some hyping going on. This article was published back when the Metalites came out, some 20 years ago. Maybe if we petition Rico to start production again. They could double the price of the piece to $50.00 and still sell a bunch. I’d love to know why they stopped production of the Metalite but continued the Graftonite.
This is interesting, because just a little over a year later, in 2007, another SOTW member contacted Rico to find out why they had discontinued the Metalite line. Surprisingly enough, not only did Rico reply to him, but the rep from the company was honest and said he didn’t have a good answer why production was stopped. The rep went on to say that Rico does get quite a few emails about Metalite mouthpieces, and if people keep asking for them, the product might possibly get re-introduced…So…
If you’d like to see Rico bring back the Metalite line of mouthpieces, let them know. You can write Rico a message about the Metalite mouthpieces through their contact page, on the company website. No guarantees that it will work, but it doesn’t hurt to ask
When the Metalites first came out they were inexpensive, around the $20 mark or less. Fueled mostly by Internet chatter on places like SOTW, if you can find them at all, they can easily run you around $100. Still a far cry from the hundreds you could spend on other mouthpieces.
I’m not saying the Metalite is for everyone, but I’m extremely happy with mine. So are lots of other players. The Metalite is just one more option to try out when you are looking for a loud, bright, edgy, & projecting mouthpiece.