I had met Gary Radtke on two previous occasions. The first time was at the University of Illinois trumpet symposium, where I sat through his two hour seminar on mouthpiece design. The second was at the NY Brass Conference.
My first impressions were "here's another guy trying to hawk his stuff". He talked a really good game about his "revolutionary" mouthpiece design. Yeah, sure, I thought. Following his lecture I hung back and just watched and listened as people tried out Gary's mouthpieces.
One notable moment was when a young woman (who had flown in for an audition) was trying the GR mouthpieces. She had warmed up on her Bach mouthpiece. Then she tried one mp that Gary suggested. Holy Cow! Her sound was TWICE the size of that with her Bach MP. She played lots of stuff. A whole gammut of excerpts. Though she tried several of GR's mps, the all sounded great. Then she plugged the Bach MP back into her horn- and her sound became a shadow of its former self!
I ran into Gary again in NY, but conditions were not conducive to auditioning mouthpieces (small room with lots of players trying to out-screech each other). He suggested I come up to the factory in Dousman Wisconsin.... So I took him up on his offer.
My good friend and section mate Rich and I drove up last Wednesday and arrived (for a pre-arranged appointment) at 11am. Gary was very excited about what he was doing. He wanted to tell us about every single nuance of his designs. You'd think this guy would want to sell us mouthpieces and get us the hell out of there so he could do some work? Gary was very methodical and detailed, explaining everything about his mouthpiece line. We were there over an hour before we even began to talk about mouthpiece selection.
Before even letting us play he wanted to see were the horns we were playing on. He checked them over for gap, and played them to see how much or little the pitches had to be manipulated to find the pitch centers. He then goes on to size out our current mouthpieces to understand the entire system of what we were playing on. Only then could we move on to try mouthpieces. BTW, Gary is a pretty decent trumpet player himself and has a ton of practical playing knowledge.
I was to go first. I warmed up on my current MP (a Stork 4C). After sufficient warmup, Gary took out Getchell's Second book and turned to the first exercise. He had me play the exercise on my Stork. He then handed me one of his mouthpieces to play. I did not look at the model number. I just wanted to experience it. I did a few bars of the exercise. He stopped me, then gave me another MP selection to try. And then another. He seems to KNOW what the effect of each little design change in MP was going to do, so was able to dial me into the best fit for me. There are so many variations I wouldn't have known which to try without his help. This guy knows his stuff.
When I found the right mouthpiece, I knew it. There was only one other that was close, and the variable was so slight that it was almost a toss up. Nothing else was even close. We went on to try to find a MP that was best suited to my C trumpet. I had never been happy with the sound, and tried many different MP's. Some were close. But it just didn't provide the sound and response I was looking for.
We tried a lot of variations, including Gary's VC cup, designed for the C trumpet. Close, but no cigar. Gary knew exactly what was missing. He has this equation, the "alpha angle" (which I really can't explain well). He said that my embouchure requires a fairly high alpha angle, and that I play my Bb best with 11-13°. He said he would recommend a 15° alpha angle, but would need to change the throat entrance and backbore to keep the air from backing up. So he sits down on his computer and starts plugging in numbers. He hits a button and the computer switches to a graph showing the shape of the MP. Overlayed was what I was playing on. You could see the slight shape differences. Gary says that the results would be dramatic. At this point I have been instructed to get used to my 66M and if I want to pursue a custom design, he has all the data to do so (already plugged in, btw!).
It was now Rich's turn. My friend Rich seemed to get dialed in right away. Gary knew EXACTLY which mouthpiece to try. They explored two other MP's, but in Gary's mind it was just to confirm that Rich was already playing on the one best suited for him.
After Rich had played for awhile I asked him to play something on the GR mp and then play the same thing with his old mp. It was at that moment that I UNDERSTOOD (it was like discovering the meaning of life). When Rich reinserted the his original MP, it hit me, like a bolt of lightning, that the overtone series on his old mouthpiece WERE OUT OF TUNE! The overtones in the GR mouthpiece had overtones that were IN TUNE!!! It wasn't clear to me until I heard the contrast between these two brands of mouthpieces.
Rich always had a good core to his sound, but his natural sound was so dark. His overtones seemed to be overbalanced on the low end missing the upper overtone series. I, OTOH always had what I would consider a bright sound. The GR mouthpiece did the opposite for me. It extended my overtone series downward, better balancing the entire spectrum.
[SIDENOTE: Rich and I have played together in several ensembles for the last 3 years. We know each other's sound and playing as well as we know our own. Last night Rich and I played a concert together, playing 1st and second trumpet with a lot of duet type licks. It seems that his sound became more like mine and mine like his. The resultant harmonics that we created together were incredible.]
Its hard to believe that someone could design a radically different mouthpiece. But it appears to me that Gary has done it (this guy is a freakin genius). He has managed to come up with a mouthpiece design that is so acoustically balanced that the overtones line up, producing the fullest sound, but without having to resort to use a bathtub sized mouthpiece. And they're easy to play. The response seems so much easier. The trick now is not to overplay it.
FWIW, Rich and I left his factory at 4pm. We were there for FIVE hours. And the entire time Gary was enthusiastic and very very helpful. Gary Radtke gave us both an education, and it seemed almost incidental that Gary wanted to sell mouthpieces.
I know I've rambled on for far too long. But I can't speak highly enough of our experience with Gary Radtke and his designs. I'm sold! His stuff may not be for you, but if you get a chance to check out his stuff, don't pass it up.