Brass or Plastic?
Brass mouthpieces are the best option for most players in most playing situations when trying the Wedge for the first time. However, plastic mouthpieces do have their advantages.
In deciding between a brass and plastic mouthpiece, consider the following information about plastic mouthpieces.
Wedge plastic mouthpieces are machined from black Delrin just like our brass and stainless steel models. They have all the advantages of a metal Wedge mouthpiece, but they do require some adjustment. Plastic mouthpieces are great for playing in cold weather. They are an economical way to try a Wedge mouthpiece, but one must understand their unique characteristics.
Plastic feels softer on the chops because it has more give than metal. This is a great advantage for players with braces. However, plastic is not as slippery as metal, giving more grip. This takes some getting used to. Because it is not as smooth as metal some players may feel some very slight chop irritation for the first day or two while they adjust. Players who can adapt to this added grip on the mouthpiece may enjoy improved endurance as the rim holds the embouchure in place.
Plastic provides different feedback than brass. Feedback is more immediate and intimate, making it easier to colour the sound with the right backbore.
Plastic mouthpieces are more comfortable to play in cold weather because they feel warm on the chops. This is not because they warm up faster, but rather because they transfer heat less quickly. The transfer of heat from your warm lips into a colder mouthpiece is what gives the perception of a mouthpiece being cold. A plastic mouthpiece the same temperature as a metal one feels warmer because it transfers heat more slowly. This can also be an advantage when picking up a cold horn when doing horn switches during a performance or when teaching or giving a clinic. Black plastic can get very hot in the sun, so they should be shaded when possible.
Plastic mouthpieces are more responsive than brass. In this regard they are similar to stainless steel, but sound darker than stainless. They are very easy to play quietly with delicate attacks or soft articulation. Although plastic mouthpieces speak quickly they do not have as much point or bead on the front of the note as metal, so this is a bit of a trade off.
Sound and Projection
Mouthpieces made completely of plastic not only sound darker than otherwise identical metal mouthpieces, they also also lack some density or core in the sound. They can be very loud, but the sound has a different quality. Lead mouthpieces made of plastic lack the brilliance and projection needed to cut through a large band. This can lead to fatigue if the player over blows in order to get the feedback they are used to with a metal mouthpiece.
Combining Plastic and Metal
Many of the advantages of plastic mouthpieces can be taken advantage of while minimizing their disadvantages by combining plastic and metal components. Plastic mouthpieces are more responsive than stainless, which are more responsive than brass. However, stainless mouthpieces are a bit more difficult to control, chippy, and prone to cracking notes if you are not hitting the center of the slot.
Combining a Delrin top with a brass backbore produces a mouthpiece that is more responsive than brass, and less responsive than all plastic. It has a responsiveness similar to all stainless steel, but with a darker sound and more stability. It has more core in the sound than all plastic. Delrin can be combined with brass by using a Delrin top with a brass backbore or an all plastic mouthpiece with a brass "Tone Modifier" sleeve available for trumpet or trombone models.
Combining a Delrin trumpet top with a stainless steel backbore produces a mouthpiece that is more responsive than brass or stainless steel and a sound that is slightly darker than brass. The sound has the core of a metal mouthpiece and good definition at the front of the note. The mouthpiece is very easy to play quietly with secure soft attacks. The sound can be coloured to be brilliant and project like brass when pushed, while being quite dark below mezzo forte. This is my personal favorite combination.
The Bottom Line
People ask if a plastic mouthpiece is a good way to test a Wedge. It is an indeed an economical option. However, plastic plays quite differently than brass, which can make it difficult to asses the characteristics of the Wedge rim. This must be kept in mind when assessing the way the mouthpiece plays for you, and is one reason not to test the Wedge for the first time on plastic. If you do choose to start with plastic I suggest combining an all plastic model with a Tone Modifier or a Delrin top with a stainless steel backbore.