The thought of starting a brass instrument mouthpiece company never really crossed my mind, it just happened. That doesn’t seem possible, but only in hindsight does it look like a logical progression.
When I started making trumpet buttons in 2003 on a manual lathe in my garage, it really wasn’t intended to be ‘big business’ or any business for that matter. I like to create things, bringing something to life that didn’t exist before. Something that serves a purpose whether for the art, for basic mechanical function, or for an organization that accomplishes something.
In economics, we hear about supply and demand on a regular basis. When consumers want something “the demand goes up and prices go up”. Subsequently, somebody else decides to start making that thing (the supply then increases) and at a certain point the supply and demand are balanced and all are happy. When the supply begins to get too high (somebody makes too much of something), the consumer gets enough, and so demand goes down (and prices go down as people don’t want it anymore).
This balancing act of supply and demand is what drives business success. Produce too much of something, the price drops, and as a result, the profit goes away. Produce too little, prices skyrocket and consumer sentiment can take a nosedive.
When I was making trumpet buttons in my garage, there was no sense of “demand.” Nobody wants or needs replacement trumpet buttons right? However, I was proven wrong, just one customer at a time in the first several years. One person would see the simple, brass buttons on my trumpet and ask me to make a set for them. At this point, the supply was very low and the demand was brand new for me. As I produced more sets of buttons, the supply increased and met the demand. However, the demand slowly leveled off and therefore I made fewer and fewer sets of buttons and ultimately demand declined.
At this pause, my curiosity shifted to mouthpieces - not because I thought “I can sell a ton of these”, but rather I had machines that were capable of making good mouthpieces and I personally needed a new mouthpiece at the time - so I returned to the “I like to create things, bringing something to life that didn’t exist before.”
Mouthpiece design is such an elegant exercise - these are beautiful objects that are full of graceful curves and shapes inside and out, and have such a high power function that directly brings music to life. The sound pressure level in the throat of a mouthpiece reaches spectacular levels, well in excess of 120db, close to the loudest exposures we can withstand. But it’s contained within and coupled through our instrument with the room to produce remarkable sounds and music.
The making of a mouthpiece proved to be rather unsuccessful in the beginning. The pieces I made resembled mouthpieces, but either didn’t feel very good or didn’t sound very good. And so, the long path to learning and applying past studies began for the sole purpose of proving to myself I could make a trumpet mouthpiece.
This ultimately led to a successful mouthpiece model of course, with lots of modeling, testing, prototyping and listening from both sides of the horns. When these new mouthpieces were initially taken to the National Trumpet Competition to exhibit in 2009, I found the demand to be low. Even though the supply was low (we had made 24), the low demand for the new mouthpieces unfortunately matched.
What I was missing at that time was experience, data, and patience. The experience and data that we have collected over the past 14 years has been invaluable to designing and creating manufacturing processes and mouthpieces for where there is actual demand. And the patience that it takes to listen to each and every player that walks in our door and that we see at a tradeshow - every person deserves to be listened to and respected. And we must listen to them or we risk becoming arrogant, or worse, irrelevant.
The “mouthpiece company” today, Pickett Brass, was created based on listening and partnering with players from around the world, helping musicians increase their confidence as we both continue to grow together. Without this collaboration, we are no better than ‘just another mouthpiece company’ that is trying to satisfy a non-existent demand with an unnecessary supply. It’s more than making mouthpieces, it’s about you.