Aaron Drake interview- part II

DCV: How did you first get the idea to make a ceramic mouthpieces?

AD: Well, this basically came from a curiosity about how material density affects sound. I grew up in a “science” household, and my father and one of my brothers both hold PhDs in the field. This has been a great advantage in figuring out the material and its attributes. Here is a little of the history- Growing up, my folks had a part time pottery and ceramics business. So, I was real interested in sculpture and working with clay from a young age. I made some interesting ceramic flutes that would take a sax mouthpiece when I was around 10 years old…lol. Well, this basically planted a seed in me that I went back to later.

 When I was in grad school I was very interested in the melding of Jazz with different ethnic folk music traditions. So, I got into all different types of ethnic flutes. About 2 years before I got the idea to try and make ceramic mouthpieces I was making all different types of ethnic flutes out of stoneware. I made Transverse, Quena, Double and Triple fipple type flutes. The sound and projection of these flutes was really amazing. I gave a lot of them to friends and a lot of people recorded with them. The density of the ceramic was so unique and vibrant. Then came the mouthpiece idea.

DCV: Can you explain how ceramic mouthpieces are made?

AD: This is a very involved process with a lot of different steps. But, thinking about it, the fundamentals of the process are not that much different from how Otto link metal pieces are made.

DCV: What is ceramic like to work with compared to resin or metal? How does it sound compare to those other materials?

AD: Ceramic is a pain to work with….lol. Lots of dust is created and you have to use diamond tools etc. When it comes to describing the sound difference from other more “traditional” materials, I would say it comes down to the surface density. The glazed ceramic has a higher surface density than any other material, so the air column moves very easily and fast. I think it is more a sensation that the player feels rather than a recognizable sound difference. Ceramic is basically between HR and Metal in its properties.

DCV: It seems to me that your pieces are incredibly consistent. Bravo by the way. How much time do you usually spend finishing each mouthpiece?

AD: Each piece has several hours of handwork in it. The finishing and balancing is time consuming. I am really in to preserving the tradition of mouthpiece making. I think I am one of the few out there that does not rely on CNC.

DCV: A lot of mouthpiece makers talk about how their curves are 'proprietary' or revolutionary. It seems to me, after measuring a lot of mouthpieces, that everyone uses mostly pretty standard curves. Can you describe the curves you use and how you came up with them?

AD: Yeah, I can understand why other makers are guarded about the information; it takes years of persistence and dedication to get it right. My conclusions about the facings have been arrived at primarily through my skills as a player. I have developed a very good understanding of the elements of the curve that contribute to how a piece feels. The key has always been to create a curve that has the right balance of resistance and freeness. Many players say they want a free blowing mouthpiece, and what they usually mean is that they want is a free blowing feel with enough resistance to enable expression and nuance in their tone. Yeah, I realize that this is a subjective topic, but I attribute the success of my mouthpieces to my playing and to a lot of experience working with players one on one.

DCV:Do you prefer longer or shorter curves?

AD: I think my facing curves would be considered medium, possibly leaning towards the long side.  I have found that the majority of players prefer this, and the range of overall responsiveness is greater.   
As always, it is about achieving balance.

DCV: You've recently started to make mouthpieces out of a material that you call Drake Vintage Resin. Can you tell me what this stuff is exactly?

AD: This is where I am lucky to have scientists in the family. My brother and father helped to engineer this material and to achieve the density properties. What really sets our material apart is the incorporation of ceramic particles. We are also incorporating brass and silver in a new material we introduced at the winter NAMM show.

DCV: What is the difference in density between the material with added ceramic and the material with added brass?

AD: The material with the added brass (or silver) is 12-14% more dense.

DCV: I’m guessing that the old vintage hard rubber was denser than the hard rubber most MP makers are using, is that correct? 

AD: Yes, I think you are right about that. 

DCV: It looks to me like your new Signature Studio tenor piece is based on a Berg with its bullet chamber. Is that correct?

AD: Well, not exactly. My original inspiration was a Guardala Brecker I. I wanted to see how the material would affect the sound with this type of design. It has a longer step baffle with a rounded transition and a large chamber. The Contemporary II is a bit more “Berg-like”. It has a slight reverse taper to the chamber.

DCV: Can you please describe the differences between your "Son of Slant" model and your NY Jazz model?

AD: I have the “Son of Slant” now in medium and large chamber models. The SOS has a traditional HR tenor outer dimension while the NY has the outer dimension of a HR alto for starters. The main difference internally is in the height and grade of the floor slope. I have been experimenting with this a lot and have noticed very slight changes will have amazing effects on the air column. I shape the baffle contour by hand to balance it with the floor dimensions. I am really pleased with how these pieces play.


Chris said...

Thanks for the great interviews. I was wondering... How do you measure a mouthpiece facing? I would be really interested to see a page from Aarons binder where he records the facing information. I was thinking that besides the horizontal and vertical distance of separation of the reed, do you just trace the curve?

Chris Gagnon

David Carlos Valdez said...

Here is Theo Wane's mouthpiece facing kit:


Chris said...

cool, thanks!