A.R. Resonance: Interview and Mouthpiece Review

A.R. Resonance is a maker of custom trumpets and mouthpieces from Italy. Antonio (Tony) Rapacciuolo creates instantly recognizable works of art, and is gaining a great reputation amongst trumpeters ‘in-the-know’, including Marquis Hill and Scott Tinkler. I only became aware of A.R. Resonance in the past 12 months from colleagues who had sought Tony’s advice, been out to visit him and come home with mouthpieces made of buffalo horn! I had to find out more…

Tony has been kind enough to answer my questions to share with you, and I have also reviewed some ‘standard’ (brass!) AR Resonance mouthpieces.

For review, I thought the best starting point was to get Tony to treat me as he would one of his clients…

Before sending 2 mouthpieces, I gave him a run down on what I play at the moment, and why. He then put together some suggestions from his range that would have a similar feel but would also address the niggles that I had with my existing setup. I tend to use 2 mouthpieces on the B flat. A 3C style mouthpiece with a slightly opened out throat (around 26) for most playing, with another identical rimmed version with a shallower cup and tighter throat for occasions when I need something brighter.

The 2x top and backbore combinations that I have been sent are:

-MC (3C-ish) top, 10 (open) backbore, both with a 40 throat (around a 21 in US sizing)

-MD (3D-ish) top, 6 (medium) backbore, both with a 40 throat.

I was immediately struck by the comfort of the M rim. I tried the MC-40-10 first and found it very easy to get the depth of sound immediately without any big adjustments. I was skeptical and a little worried before trying them as I had been reading that Tony favoured much more open throats to his mouthpieces than I have been accustomed. However this was not quite the uncontrollable beast that I had been expecting! Slotting was still good, while also give giving enough ‘room’ within the partials for good intonation. I was however left with a feeling that I was working harder than I really needed to, and I am not really convinced by these extremely open throated pieces.

I tried the MD-40-6 next and found a lovely open feel to the mouthpiece, yet still retaining some resistance and back pressure. Flexibility on this was pretty good, and the more that I played it I found that my sound was growing too. Even though this is a shallower mouthpiece to my standard 3C, it was nearly matching it for sound quality while still giving a quick response and a level and ease of brightness that I like at stronger dynamics.

I also swapped the tops/backbores around to find that each of the 4 combinations had some interesting and characteristics. These are clearly well-made mouthpieces that also look great, but I am yet to be convinced that they bring anything special or unique to the wide offering of custom pieces currently available from other makers.

Tony then answered my questions below, and it was interesting to hear what he had to say…

How (and why!) did you get started with all of this?

I started out of desperation! I bought a VERY expensive trumpet and I asked the maker to build a mouthpiece according to my specs because I totally knew what I wanted/needed/could play: another company was already making mouthpieces under my design for a few years so I could be very specific in terms of sizes and shapes.

Unfortunately he sent me stock mouthpieces saying that I had to play what he thought was right for me. I threw over 1000 Euro in the bin and waited months for nothing. One day I was reflecting on how much it would have cost me to fly to a maker to have some prototypes made for this horn and I realized it made no sense. So I decided to invest that money on a small CNC lathe, one of those clock makers use. I found one on eBay for a reasonable price, I drove 900km to meet the guy and he taught me how to turn it on.

Three months later I figured out how to make it work and I started experimenting with tools, materials and shapes. A couple of months later I had a working prototype. A friend of mine tested it and loved it! In a matter of 2 months I had some 30 mouthpiece ready and I went to the ITG where I sold most of the… so I bought a better lathe, another ITG later I bought another lathe… I’m now about to receive my fifth one, this time it’s BIG and I think it will be enough for the next 10 years!

The irony of it? Most of my top clients used to be clients of that maker and they all came to me looking for something this guy refused to make. Also, even if I finally made a great mouthpiece for that trumpet I haven’t played it since, I’m keeping it only as it reminds me how important customers are and how well you have to treat them if you want to succeed in this business.

You are known for working with non-standard materials such as bronze and buffalo horn! Can you tell us about the design process when starting to work with a new and perhaps slightly unusual material?

I’ve never used my hands to work, I am (still) an Air Traffic Controller, so every material is new to me, I had to learn how to work them, how much they weigh, how they feel, how they sound. And not coming from the music industry helps me think outside of the box. So every time I hear of a new material I simply try it, most of the time I fail but sometimes you find some real gems: buffalo horn is a good example – it is extremely light, grippy and warm. Some like it for baroque music as they sound woody, some because you can articulate in a very crisp and fast way, people from Northern Europe love them because they don’t feel cold, some use it with flugelhorn and some even play lead with it!

Another material I LOVE is Phosphor Bronze, it’s extremely difficult to machine or bend but it outperforms any kind of brass I’ve tried, it never backs up on you and rings like crazy. I can say the same thing about nickel silver: a completely different sound and definitely far from brass, makes any horn feel more secure and cuts in a big band like no other material.

I’m also experimenting with Stainless Steel and Titanium but it will take a little bit before I can officially offer these options. I am not sure about the sound yet (not enough play testing) but they represent the only option for those who are allergic.

The way I test materials is by designing different shapes that allow me to vary both the mass and how it is distributed on the mouthpiece. This is why I recently changed my line entirely and I’m offering the “legacy shapes” only to those who need a classical look such as orchestral players.

When I first started I used to spend little time with mass placement but as I reached the performance I was looking for, thanks to the internal geometry, I started working with some top players who are giving me wonderful feedback that will help me refine my line more and more.

Your trumpet mouthpieces tend to have a wider throat as standard, than most other makers. Can you explain the effect of this, and how this came about?

Larger throats than the usual #27 are definitely needed to obtain a better sound and a MUCH better intonation. Unfortunately there is no way to avoid that, but what we can do is vary other parameters (backbore shape, overall length, the cylindrical section after the throat, mass, shanking, the shape of the curve leading to the throat and so on) so that the feeling matches what a player expects from the mouthpiece.

Virtually all of the people who try my mouthpieces love the sound and feel and most of them never realize they are playing “big throats” (4.00mm or 4.20mm, like #21 and #19 in American sizes) until I tell them. Each of the 10 backbore shapes I offer allow for a different harmonic spread, sound color, articulation and back pressure with the 42-10 being “the magic combination”, as Scott Tinkler says, the one that performs the best because it’s totally neutral in regards to the instrument. I call it WYBIWYS, What You Buzz Is What You Sound.

When I started experimenting with the mouthpieces, the most important parameter to me was the back pressure feeling: every musician I know plays relying on that, some do it consciously, some don’t, but they all work this way.

If you can find a way to offer a constant back pressure feel along the entire range of the horn, and if you can match it to what the player expects, he will naturally relax and this will impact the performance greatly.

On the contrary, throats too big make you sound great but at the expense of endurance – the horn slots less and less and the high register becomes extremely sharp. In my opinion only the greatest players can cope with huge throats but there really is no need for that, there are other parts of the mouthpiece and the instrument that can give you the sound and freedom you are looking for without punishing you.

Can you give us a brief overview of your trumpet range? 

I’m currently making 4 lines of trumpets, Estrema, Suprema, Feroce and Classica and I’m working on the Leggera prototypes at the moment. Each of them is made of exotic materials because I see no point in making yet another Bach clone. I also think that “non conventional” doesn’t need to be heavy, all of my horns are actually lighter than a typical Bach or Yamaha and they all use the Meinlschmidt made MAW valve block, a real gem!

Suprema is the first one I envisioned, a one piece medium sized phosphor bronze bell with a side seam, no wire on the rim, one piece leadpipe with an integral triple threaded receiver machined out of a single solid bar of brass. This is something never attempted in the trumpet world and takes a combination of CNC and hand crafting skills simply too hard and time consuming to be viable for typical factory production.

The result is a trumpet that doesn’t feel like a barrier for the player, extremely resonant, easy to play and stable. I don’t believe in horns too open that push players to their limits just to tame them, I think a high end product must be the easiest possible to play, both for the casual or the experienced player. The moment a trumpet or a mouthpiece needs acclimation I think the maker has failed. I’ve been through that as a player and I badly want to avoid making the same mistake, as a maker.

After Suprema, Estrema was the natural consequence: for the most part it’s the same instrument but the bell is super sized, 150mm, the same diameter as many flugelhorns but still made on a trumpet mandrel. It’s meant for those who play in small settings where you want to fill the room and not pierce a hole in a wall in front of you. The way it spreads the sound makes it extremely rewarding for those who want an intimate relationship with their horn, it’s smooth and warm when played soft, almost as a flugel but can be nasty when you push it. The only reason to not prefer it to the Suprema is if you want the horn to be more stable on the very high notes.

Feroce is what I call an acid horn, the bell is in nickel silver, smaller than the Suprema, meant to be extremely aggressive, trombonists in front of you might say it’s “annoying” for how loud and piercing it sounds. If it wasn’t for this sound it could be a perfect classical trumpet, the level of stability is unparalleled, responds very quickly, fast slurred passages almost sound lightly tongued. For this reason it’s perfect for big band, bop and section, latin and so on.

Classica is available in Bb and C (Eb is coming soon) and has a more tamed sound, still with a nickel bell to add stability and make articulations very clear. The valve block is again the MAW kind but with a more classical look. While it still sounds big and resonant it doesn’t sound too distant from a typical orchestral trumpet. This is extremely important when you want your trumpet to blend in a section of Bachs. The bell taper allows for a narrow projection compared to the other trumpets I make and doesn’t have the “wham!” feel when you step on the gas, it never “barks” as the Feroce does.

Leggera is due in a couple of months, it’s still going through the play testing phase but the idea is to make it super light and bright, not really an all around kind of horn, suited mostly for high note players and those who need a feather in their hands.

What new developments are you working on at the moment that we may see in the near future?

With my current setup I can make almost everything I need but some parts simply take too much time when you need a quick batch of prototype parts for play testing, for this reason I’m still expanding in terms of machines and tools and a big 4 or 5 axis CNC machining center will complete my “arsenal” soon. The goal is to be able to make everything in house with exotic materials – for example I’m now working on CNC machined Z braces for my horns that are a mix of high tech and hand finish and fitting. The first pieces I made are extremely promising and will make the horns even lighter and more resonant. Same applies to spit valves that hopefully won’t stick and will play a role on how the horn rings. Even the smallest details are important when you make high end instruments, that’s why I’m experimenting with different grades of springs in different materials, lengths, number of coils and shapes. I think my customers will love the result!

There’s a lot more I’m working on but time is limited, so some projects will have to wait a bit more than others. Two things that are coming soon for sure are surgical grade stainless steel mouthpieces (for those who are allergic to brass) and phosphor bronze backbores. A few selected customer are already testing them in gigs and the feedback is absolutely stunning. The down side is that they are both a lot more expensive and extremely hard to machine so quantities will be limited at first.

One crazy idea I have is to offer horns with all parts matching the bell material, this is hard but doable with Nickel Silver but it’s proving a real challenge for bronze, the lead pipe literally steams when you machine it!

The other big goal for the next year is to actively expand to new countries: so far I’ve literally kept the business on a leash as I couldn’t keep pace with the orders but with the new lathe I will finally be able to have some real stock parts to offer. I will also go to more conferences and give more talks in conservatories and music schools: I’ve met a number of teachers who

are willing to teach their student how to test the mouthpieces and instruments they will have to use for their careers, and to me this is extremely important.

Finally, I’m trying to help and promote young and talented players as much as I can – I have met some extraordinary ones thanks to this business and in a way I’d like to live through them the life I haven’t had the opportunity to live myself as a player.

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