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Review: Heritage 4AL and 4ABL Mouthpieces

Rating: 7 votes, 5.00 average.
I am just finishing a very enlightening test of two new mouthpieces from the Denis Wick Heritage series: the 4AL and 4ABL. My regular mouthpiece is a "classic" Wick 4AL, and according to my measurements, the Heritage 4AL maintains the same dimensions within the accuracy of my digital caliper. The comparison between my mouthpiece and the Heritage of the same size proved (in case there was any doubt) that the distribution of mass on a mouthpiece makes an easily noticeable difference.

Rather than trying to describe the essence of the design differences, it is more efficient to use the description that Denis Wick provides. According to company's website:

"All brass players know that mouthpiece selection is a very personal choice, and best performance is obtained when player, mouthpiece and instrument are in perfect balance. The mouthpiece is the interface between player and instrument, and its acoustic performance is governed by a complex interplay of shape, material, mass and stiffness. Over the last ten years, many players have discovered that using a heavier mouthpiece can reduce energy loss, resulting in increased efficiency and a powerful, louder sound. However to achieve power, such mouthpieces can sacrifice other beneficial characteristics, notably sensitivity, essential to precision playing at lower dynamic levels.

"The new Denis Wick range of HERITAGE trombone mouthpieces has been optimised for both power and sensitivity. A combination of careful design expertise and evaluation involving extensive player trials has evolved the design. The proven internal shape retains high mass at key points to provide power when it is needed, whilst sensitivity is provided by an innovative new idea to make the cup wall thinnest nearer to the rim. This gives undreamt of sensitivity and response, also providing crucial vibrational feedback to the player. The area at the base of the cup has more metal around it, allowing greater maimum volume. Research has shown that this idea, now long forgotten, was originally used in the 1880s by the Hawkes company. Modern technology, using the most modern computer controlled machinery has extended the principle, making it even more effective.

"In developing these mouthpieces, Denis Wick has drawn upon over 35 years experience of mouthpiece design, blending modern technology with historically proven features to offer players the best of both worlds - power with sensitivity. The additional overtones which this system generates give a beautiful extra sheen to the sound. It has never been easier to produce a perfect and effortless pianissimo."

Photos of both are shown for comparison of the visual characteristics. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I find the Heritage series striking. Contributing to that impression is the very high-quality finishing. The silver and gold are as smooth as I have seen in a mouthpiece, and both seem to be plated generously. My test was much too short to determine how well the gold-plated contact surfaces will wear, but if the plating is really as thick as it seems, it should help a great deal to make the finish last.

Classic Denis Wick Design:

Denis Wick Heritage Design:

There is something about the shape of the Heritage that seems to make the 2-tone color scheme more appealing than on a typical silver mouthpiece with a gold rim. While this is no justification for choosing a mouthpiece, anyone with a gold-trimmed silver euphonium would find this a great finishing touch to the appearance. The shape is also intended to evoke images of the golden age of bands, I think. In this grainy photo (below) of the late Harold Brasch playing, you see some similarity in the shape of his mouthpiece and the Heritage:

But the important issues have to do with playing. The first thing I noticed is that the rim feels different on my chops. The outer edge of the rim actually felt sharper at first. I was able to get used to it after a few days and it doesn't represent a concern now. One just needs to be aware that the Heritage rim may not feel exactly the same as the classic Wick rim.

Because I normally use a Wick 4AL in my daily playing I started my comparison test with the Heritage 4AL. Despite the identical dimensions, the Heritage has a noticeably different sound. I would classify it as somewhat lighter overall (not brighter, just lighter). Much of the character is the same - it just doesn't have quite as much "weight" as the standard Wick. After a little more playing I realized the other distinct difference is that the Heritage 4AL was more consistent from note to note. When I switched back to my classic 4AL, I heard a more heavy sound on some notes and a less heavy sound on others. Oddly enough, it was nothing I ever noticed before, even during many rounds of comparisons with other mouthpieces over the years. That is a compliment to the Heritage's smoothness. I'm not an engineer, so I can't attribute the smoothness to a particular design feature. I suspect it is due either to better control over the inner dimensions, or, more likely, to the distribution of weight in the brass shell. The classic Wick has a lot of mass around the rim and much less mass at the bottom of the cup where the outer profile narrows. The heritage is cut away around the rim and has much more mass around the bottom of the cup. In any case, the smooth flow of notes out of the mouthpiece is a feeling one could happily get used to! Perhaps the trade off is that the classic Wick can put out a little more sound when you really pump air into it. As always, it is important to consider the pairing of horn and mouthpiece. When I played a Sovereign 967 in the 1980's, the sound was huge but would sometimes feel out of control. I suspect the Heritage 4AL would have tamed that "wildness" without giving up too much in the way of sound output.

Next I went on to test a 4ABL, which is a newer model. The company describes this as, "The 4AL cup with the 4BL throat and backbore. Very big sound but easier high register. 90% of the 4AL volume." Denis Wick himself believes it to be an excellent choice for euphonium. He says the combination of a large cup with a tighter backbore will make a good tone with a better high range and easier intonation. That seemed to hold true in my testing. It is just the kind of mouthpiece I was looking for when I played the Sovereign, which had a sharp 6th partial and no trigger. The 4ABL would have made it easier to control the intonation, but I would not have had to give up the general type of sound the Wick 4AL gave me. To the left is a photo showing the classic and Heritage 4AL, each with a pencil stuck in the backbore. You can easily see how much further the pencil goes into the 4AL (right side) compared to the 4ABL (left side).

When the 4ABL was mated to my Sterling Virtuoso it was very satisfying to play. The mouthpiece was easier to control than the 4AL and did make the high range easier as well. Subjectively, I would say that it was easier to play up to about a high B-flat concert. Above that the 4AL was easier to blow and produced more ring. So that would make the 4ABL a good choice for the "meat" of the euphonium range. It offers a slightly more centered sound than the 4AL. It would be an especially good choice for someone who likes some of the playing and tonal characteristics of the Schilke 51D (or the BB mouthpieces) but would like a more open, singing tone.

Either of these Heritage mouthpieces would probably make endurance a little easier for most players because of their more consistent response from note to note. That makes it easier on your chops because you do not have to work as hard to play consistently. The 4ABL would do the most to enhance endurance because the tighter backbore does not require as much embouchure strength to produce notes in the middle and upper registers. The 4ABL would also be a better choice for some chamber work, such as playing the trombone part in a brass quintet.

I also found the Heritage to offer a bit better flexibility. During fast slurs over intervals the difference was most easily noticed. The Heritage just made such passages sound more facile.

In summary, these mouthpieces are a great addition to the range of models on the market. There is a definite choice to make between the classic Wick series and the Heritage series, based on more than just appearance. It's nice to see a company with such a long tradition of making popular mouthpieces step up with a substantially different line.

To facilitate this review, mouthpieces were kindly provided by Dan Fisher of DF Music Enterprises (contact: 630-267-9828):

They offer the complete Wick line (classic/Heritage mouthpiece, mutes, valve oil) at great prices!

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Updated 12-19-2016 at 12:44 PM by davewerden

Euphonium-Tuba Blog , General Tuba-Euphonium Blog


  1. iiipopes's Avatar
    I agree that the distribution of mass makes a difference. I noticed similar differences on tuba between the two versions of the Wick 1 tuba mouthpiece. I also found, not only from the comparison of the different Wick models, classic and heritage, but also from as far afield as a Kelly mouthpiece needing a ring of golfer's lead tape around the throat to stabilize the dynamic extremes and provide better flexibility.