BEHN mouthpieces come in many versions for an extremely diverse range of players. Everyone from a beginning student to a world-class professional will find something available to them, but expect a price tag to match. For a top of the line BEHN product, you should expect to pay close to $800 USD, but after your transaction you will have one of the finest mouthpieces in the world, personalized service from the master craftsman himself, and something to cherish for your entire career. (And an heirloom mouthpiece to pass along to the next generation!)
- Extremely resonant
- Highest possible quality and craftsmanship
- Gorgeous design and finishing
- Ergonomic “tilted” options
- O-ring tenons are a fantastic alternative to cork
- Epic line is extraordinarily Expensive
- Need to adapt new playing philosophy
- Takes considerable time and effort to adjust to
The BEHN Product (and Price) Range
This basic model is intended for students. Custom facings are available for an additional fee. Available for B-flat clarinet.
Handcrafted from Zinner blanks, this model is designed for advanced musicians and professionals. Available for B-flat clarinet.
CNC-Machined, hand-finished Behn Rod Rubber “II.” Intended for professional use. Available for B-flat, Bass, and E-flat clarinet.
The highest standard of hand-made construction and artistry currently possible, for the serious artist. Available in ergonomic “tilted” design with numerous facings and tip openings for B-flat, Bass, and E-flat clarinet. (This is the mouthpiece I’ll be reviewing in the remainder of this article.)
BEHN Epic mouthpieces feature a custom, state-of-the-art rod rubber that was reverse engineered from classic mouthpieces from the 1920s. It is manufactured by hand in small batches, flattened (not extruded), and then hand-rolled into rods. I jokingly referred to this amazing material and method as the “croissant of rubber,” but it’s actually pretty close to the truth! If you’re wondering why Behn Epic mouthpieces cost so much this is probably the biggest reason. This process is incredibly time consuming and expensive, and is the only way to achieve the desired result.
If you’re interested in the entire process of BEHN proprietary rod rubber, see here.
I have to be honest, I was simply not prepared for my first experience with the Behn mouthpiece. I struggled with it for several days, completely unable to get what I wanted from it in almost every sense of the word. I learned, however, that for success with Behn products you need to adapt your philosophy and your understanding of what it means to play the clarinet. Even Brad Behn himself mentioned on Episode 68 of the Clarineat Podcast that it took him two years to fully understand and appreciate his mouthpieces. Thankfully, there are now several online resources to help you understand the main concepts in far less time.
More Sound, Less Effort. – Brad Behn
Required Viewing and Listening
If you’re thinking of making the switch to Behn products, you absolutely need to get on board with Brad Behn’s philosophy of “more sound, less effort.” If you don’t do this not only will your experience with his products be frustrating and unrewarding, but you won’t ever be able to find out what you’re missing!
I personally used the following resources to assist me with my understanding of his products, and now you can also enjoy a full-length conversation with Brad on the Clarineat Podcast.
- Woodwind Legacy Series Video Podcast with Ed Joffe
- Chambers Chatroom Video Podcast with Kristen Denny Chambers
- Clarineat Podcast with Sean Perrin
Change in Perspective… Wow!
After taking several hours to watch the above videos, and then speaking with Brad himself at length about his products all I can say is “wow!” If you give these products the right approach they resonate and sing like nothing I could have possibly imagined.
The moment everything finally “clicked” for me was when I was warming up with the Epic one day and after I stopped playing a guitar hanging about 6 feet away from me on the wall in my office was sympathetically vibrating as if I had walked over and struck it! The guitars have buzzed before while I played, of course, but this was something else. Literally as if someone was in the room playing the guitar. It was an incredible experience that I’ll never forget.
Getting the Right Fit
Behn mouthpieces are available in a wide variety of facings and tip openings, and perhaps the best way to try them out is to either visit Behn directly (this is a popular way to choose a mouthpiece, and he even lists hotels in the area for those who are coming in from afar to choose a “career” mouthpiece). The second best way is what I did. I went to the booth at ClarinetFest 2017, sat down, and got to try numerous mouthpieces until I found the one that worked best for me.
The only problem with selecting Behn products is that during the selection process you’re still in your “old” mindset, and you don’t really fully understand the changes that will take place as a player until after you have played the product for a while. The best time to buy a Behn mouthpiece is after you’ve “converted” to his playing philosophy, but of course you can’t change until you’ve purchased one of his mouthpieces. Obviously, this creates a bit of a problem.
That being said, Behn is incredibly understanding and supportive, and treats each new customer as a friend and colleague. He set aside some one on one time for me (outside of our podcast conversation!) to ask how the mouthpiece was working artistically, which was incredibly helpful. It’s very important to him that his customers are fully satisfied and playing on an appropriate product.
Note: If you’re interested in a virtual tour of the vendor area at ClarinetFest 2017 (including Brad Behn’s booth), click here.
An interesting touch with the Epic line of mouthpieces is the inclusion of O-rings instead of traditional cork. These o-rings seal perfectly, require minimal cork grease, are easily cleaned, and are user-replacable in just seconds should one wear out. As an added bonus swiching between A and B-flat clarinet is much easier, I assume because even though O-rings seal perfectly the contact points are much smaller so the seal can be broken more easily than cork. Of course, they are much ore aesthetically pleasing than cork as well. These O-rings were a surprising and welcome inclusion that I hope to see on more mouthpieces in the future.
Ergonomic “G” Options
Perhaps the most compelling visual feature of the Behn Epic is that they are available in tilted designs to maximize the player’s comfort. This is known as the “G” series, and to be honest at first I wondered if this was just a neat sales trick. After all, the mouthpiece makes your clarinet look more like a Concorde jet than an instrument! But after playing on the various versions I actually decided that the best fit for me was, to my surprise, rather heavily tilted.
I have found that helps me distribute the weight more evenly and play with greater comfort for longer periods. I would highly recommend experimenting and working with Brad to determine the best fit for you even if, like me, you are a little hesitant to try these tilted mouthpieces at first.
Other Behn Products
Of course, mouthpieces aren’t the only thing being crafted out of Behn rubber. You can also purchase barrels, bells, e-flat clarinet extensions, and maybe even one day a whole clarinet! (Behn mentioned this might be something his company is considering long term on Episode 68 of the Clarineat Podcast).
I’ve come to enjoy using the barrels matched with these mouthpieces, and especially appreciate the reduced weight and risk of cracking when compared to wood. The intonation is very good and the 12ths seem to be tempered when compared directly to my stock barrels. Behn argues that rubber might actually be the best material to make clarinets from, and he has found in many ways its properties are superior to wood, but your mileage may vary.
I have yet to try the Behn bell offerings, but would expect these to be of similarly high quality. The barrels and bells are competitively priced at just $160 and $389 respectively.
Behn is offering a compelling product line to clarinetists who are compelled to join his playing philosophy of “more sound, less effort.” I would very highly suggest trying his products if you can, and expect that we will see many professional players using these mouthpieces in the future. I look forward very much to the future of Behn and can’t wait to see some of his upcoming innovations. Overall the Epic is a fantastic mouthpiece at an extraordinary price, but it’s worth every penny if it lasts your whole career.
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