Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Vintage Mouthpiece Resuscitation

I sometimes buy ugly mouthpieces off of Ebay.  Ugly mouthpieces, if the seller includes good pictures, sell inexpensively and I don't really care if the tip is chipped or there are scratched in the chamber from using a brush or something that causes this:

I don't know what caused this, but it looks like this  mouthpiece was repeatedly cleaned with a nail.  I had never seen a chamber that was so torn up.

This mouthpiece was obviously attacked with really course sandpaper.

Or maybe it was dragged across a cement sidewalk in an attempt to alter the facing curve.

Beginning at the ligature line, a "new" facing curve was rasped on to this Riffault alto mouthpiece.  Here is a close up of the "workmanship."

The table was also violated, and the artisan's spasmodic alteration continues on to the mouthpiece shank.

I suspect that it was not a person who modified this, but rather, a chimpanzee.  None of the pictures on Ebay showed this damage when I purchased it.  It was simply a vintage hard rubber alto mouthpiece with a nice brass cap and ligature.  I recognized it as a Riffault and spent $25.  

Be careful when buying an old vintage mouthpiece as a "carcass" to work on.  $25 is okay with a nice ligature and cap.  That way, after you put a new lay on the piece, you know that you have a ligature that fits and a cap that protects your new work.  

Keeping a cap on a vintage hard rubber piece is very important.  Little nicks and dents to the rails and tip will effect how it plays.  It also protects it from ultraviolet damage.  You can polish off discolored areas with some difficulty.  A brown residue will be left on your polishing cloth.  Undamaged (black) ebonite will not leave a residue.  This should tell us something.  Brown discolored ebonite is softer than undamaged ebonite.  You might not see sun damage on the rails and tip, but it's there, possibly making the area softer.  Keep a cap on it.

When shopping for a carcass, don't buy something like this!!!  Click on it to enlarge.

Yes, Dau-Han bought generic mouthpieces like this one from Riffault.  Yes, they are not common (I think that they may have been a small Eastern European distributor).  This is not a Dau-Han mouthpiece.  Dau-Han stamped their logo on the mouthpieces that they distributed.  Don't pay $300 too much, plus $3 too much on shipping.

Back to my $25 Riffault mouthpiece.  The damage to the shank will be hard to correct, but the rest of it doesn't matter that much, as I was intending to reface it anyway.  The goofy table and lay will make that a little more difficult at the beginning.

How goofy is the table and lay?  First, I slide my .0015 inch feeler gauge under the mouthpiece while it is on my granite bench top.  That tells me instantly the approximate length of the lay and whether it is straight.  This should be good.

As you would expect from the pictures, it is a mess.  I've never seen a mouthpiece this bad before.  Here goes.

First I need to flatten the table.  Because it is such a mess, I'm going to start with aggressive 220 sandpaper.

I used the outside calipers to measure the thickness at the back edge of the table and the thickness of the beak.  It's not really necessary, but just gives me some figures to work with.  As we have already seen from picture #4, the prior owner has ground down the back of the table near the shank just about as far as possible.  Still, it is possible to flatten the table.

Getting the table flat is not enough.  I'm going to have to work the table flat and make a decent "take off point" for my lay.  That means the table has to be flat past the window opening (about 1/3 of the window length).  That is doable, but when I flattened the table, I ended up with a tip opening of approximately 1.20 mm or .047 inch.  That's the smallest Riffault made for alto.  This piece started out as a Riffault 3 (1.45 mm).  I'm starting out by going backwards.

Once the table is flat and long enough, I have to start thinking about the tip.  But not the entire tip.  Before I open the tip back up to something that is usable, this is a good time to clean up the baffle and chamber.  It is a disaster.  As are the side rails.  But now it the time to clean up the inside and then I can put the lay on and not have to mess with the interior very much. 

Here is a purpose made tool for cleaning up all of the gouges on the inside.  It is a thin strip of emery paper glued on to an old reed that was split into thirds.  I use plenty of water so that the paper doesn't load up with dust.  Repeated rinsing of the sanding tool tends to loosen the contact cement that I used, but I can generally get by with two of these tool per mouthpiece chamber work.  The first one (shown here) is 320 grit and the second finishing tool will be 600 grit.  The paper extends past the sides of the reed, and that allows me to finish the chamber right up to the side rails.

Here it is with the big gouges polished out of the chamber and the rails cleaned and straightened a little.  I still haven't really done anything to the mangled tip rail.

You may have seen this aspect of mouthpiece refacing in my other blogs (which also show how to measure your progress).  What looks like a contour line inside is simply where I used my finger to clear some dust and get this picture.  Nothing has been done inside yet other than cleaning up the big scratches.  I'm putting on a curve from a Meyer 6.

Now that I am closer to getting the curve that I want, I can go back and do a preliminary finish on the tip rail.  Here, I'm keeping the baffle high.

Still working on the lay, I usually have to go back and forth a few times between getting the right lay and reworking the tip rail and baffle.  Here, the tip rail is thin, but I know that I'm still a little bit shy of putting on the final curvature and tip opening.

A little more finish work and the tip rail gets a little wider and needs some touch up.  But I now have the lay that I want.

Finally, things line up and everything gets polished.  There are still a few residual gouges from whatever was done to the inside of the piece (a white line on the right hand side), but I'm not going to worry about internal cosmetics too much.  A $25 mouthpiece, two hours of labor, and NOW it's worth $325.  Unfortunately, even cleaned up and playing wonderfully, it's probably only worth $60 on the open market.  

If you want to try something like a vintage Selmer or Rico Gregory, here is your chance at 1/10th the cost.  This Riffault now actually has more baffle than most vintage pieces but, if I reduced it, there is no going back (other than sticking goop on the inside to create a baffle).  I hate sticking epoxy and stuff inside to make a baffle.  All you are doing is putting a baffle in a piece that has a lay that you like.  Buy a piece with a baffle and put the same lay on it!  There is never a need to have a baffle booger stuck inside of your mouthpiece!!

I have some other blogs on facing junker mouthpieces.  It is surprising how often I find that they are junkers only because of bad facings.  Even a plastic Selmer Goldentone can make an interesting piece when it has a new facing

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Making Your Own Otto Link Slant Signature Mouthpiece - Part 3

I am assuming that you have already found your official Otto Link Slant Signature blank, as discussed in Part 1.  And you have already made your official Otto Link Slant Signature ligature, as discussed in Part 2.  You probably now have $40-50 invested, so you have already saved at least $800.  You will also need the materials used in the blog about refacing a mouthpiece (mechanic's ruler, feeler gauge set, sandpaper).

First, we start with a butt cut to both open the tip (without yet removing tip material), reduce the table thickness, and make sure that the table is flat.  Take a look at this picture and notice that one of the butt cuts on these No Name Early Babbitt (NNEB) blanks lowered the rear of the table such that there is a nick on the shank bulb.  It's only cosmetic, but it doesn't look right and I try to avoid this.  A really real Link Tone Edge has a shank shape that helps avoid this issue.

The butt cut on the center mouthpiece was deep enough that the area just prior to the bulb was nicked.  It isn't generally necessary to go this deep.  The shank shape of a "real" Otto Link Slant Signature makes this issue easier to avoid.  Maybe that's why it costs $800 more than our home made Slant Signature.

After modifying the beak thickness (see Part 1) and the butt cut, we are ready for our facing curve.  To make an official Link Slant Signature, we will need official numbers.  This is the most difficult part.  In fact, it might be impossible.  Not because it is difficult to copy the facing numbers on to our blank, but it is difficult because, unfortunately, the facing numbers do not exist.  If you go to various websites and look at Otto Link tip openings, you might find some approximate agreement, but that is just tip openings and not curvature numbers.  Unfortunately, there isn't any agreement on exact Link curvatures.  

We could assume that the oldest facing numbers that we can find are the most likely to be the "correct" vintage numbers.  Many Slant Signatures have been modified or touched up so, if we use newer numbers, how can we be sure that we are using "real" Slant Signature numbers to make our "real" Slant Signature?  Here are the oldest numbers that I could find.  These are from a 1938 publication written by Eric Brand where he gave these numbers for a Link #5 (at the time, the largest Link tip opening was the #6 Hawkin's Special at .090", but that was a huge tip and beyond what most players could handle).

Facing numbers for Link hard rubber.  You don't have to use Link numbers, as the facing numbers for the Rico "M.C. Gregory" mouthpiece and others will work.  Be careful using these numbers.  Brand did not use the feeler gauge thicknesses that are now considered "standard."

What the heck do those numbers mean?  It is all explained in the publication.  The bottom number is the tip opening in millimeters.  Right away, there is something odd.  At the top of the page are the numbers for the Otto Link metal tenor (Tone Master).  At the bottom of the page are the numbers for the Otto Link rubber tenor (Tone Edge).  The tip openings are the bottom number in the columns.  A Tone Master #5 has a 198 mm (.080 inch) and a Tone Edge #5 is 170 mm (.067 inch).  Nowhere can I find an Otto Link table that shows a difference in tip openings between a metal #5 and a rubber #5 mouthpiece except in pre-1940's schedules.

Working up the column from the tip opening are the "Brand" numbers.  These indicate how far in a particular feeler gauge (in thousandths of an inch) would slide, as in this blog.  We are going to run into more problems here.  Brand says that you won't need a gauge larger than .050" because you won't have a tip opening much larger.  Even on the vintage baritone Link mouthpiece (bottom right hand corner), the Brand number for the .050 feeler gauge is the last measurement provided.  Times have changed.  These old numbers are like having 15" tires on your pickup truck.  Nowadays, we need at least 22" wheels.  

Remember, bigger is better and nothing is too stupid.

We have other problems working with the old Brand numbers.  Look at the Otto Link "Rubber Tenor" numbers for the 4 and 5 tip.  A number 4 tip opening is 1.67 mm.  A number 5 is 1.70 mm.  But the lay numbers given for 4 and 5 are identical.  That would mean that the only difference is that the Link #5 takes an odd bend in the last couple of millimeters.  The same oddity occurs in the metal tenor lay numbers, where a 3 tip (.058 inch) and a 4* tip (.066 inch) have the same Brand number for the final (.050 inch) feeler gauge.  If you plot these numbers out on a graph, you will see that it is unlikely that they would produce a workable facing curve.

I think that we are going to have to resort to another source of Brand numbers for our official Otto Link Slant Signature Tone Edge.  But first, look at the numbers provided above for the Rico tenor.  At the time, these were the "M.C. Gregory" brand of mouthpieces.  Some of the Brand numbers are given as + or -.  I would guess that these mean the same as a carpenter calling out "Eighteen feet four and a three eighths inches, strong."  Or "A skootch over eighteen feet four and three eighths inches."  For all of the other Brand numbers, "whole numbers" (which are actually .5 millimeters) were sufficient. The + and - designation was just to give a little bit more accuracy.

We have to admit that we don't know what official Link Slant Signature numbers are.  Brand supplies some up to a #5 tip opening with an accuracy of only .5 mm increments.  For larger tip openings, we don't really know.  I've measured some pieces and they don't agree sufficiently to say exactly what are and are not official "Slant Signature" numbers.  And then there are Slant Signatures that have been refaced over the years, many of which are claimed by their owners to have been improved over the original Link facing.  

And that is possible.  If you enter the old Brand numbers into a spread sheet and produce a graph, you will see that the facing curves are not perfectly smooth.  In fact, some are a little lumpy, which doesn't mean that the Link's were lumpy.  It is possible, of course, that a particular "lumpiness" is the trait that distinguishes a Link tenor from say an M.C. Gregory tenor.  There are different types of curves, most of them defined by algebraic formulas, but I have not found where "lumpiness" is a trait used by present day mouthpiece facers in describing their goal.

If you are reading this blog, you probably have access to a computer and, therefore, the ability to generate your own "Link Slant Signature" numbers.  With that in mind, here are some different numbers from the excellent website "Mouthpiece Works" provided by master mouthpiece facer Keith Bradbury.  These numbers comprise a "computer aided" curvature and are given to the nearest 1/10th "Brand number," which would be 1/20th of a millimeter.  As we have seen, Mr. Brand did not attempt this accuracy in his 1938 facing numbers.  The exception might be the Rico "M.C. Gregory" line of mouthpieces for which Mr. Brand had numbers like 34+ and 10-, which would mean a "smidge more" than 34 and a "touch less" than 10.  Brand was a well known and respected mouthpiece facer, so maybe that gives us a clue as to just how accurate the facing needs to be.  Still, the Mouthpiece Works site gives us computer aided measurements in 1/20th of a millimeter instead of a skooch or a smidge.

Here are the numbers from Mouthpiece Works (more facings available to those who join the website).  These are for a #6 Slant Signature "Hawkin's Special," which at the time of the early Slant Signature, was the largest Link tip opening at .090.  As it turns out, these are basically identical to the measurements that I get from measuring my own Hawkin's Special.  And since our goal is to make a real vintage Otto Link Slant Signature Tone Edge, #6 is as big as we can go.  If anybody tries to sell you a Slant Signature with a tip opening larger than .090 inch, you now know that it has been ruined (according to Otto).


Instead of the 5 numbers given by Mr. Brand, Mr. Bradbury gives us 9 numbers and a computer graph for interpolation.  Those are the numbers that I will use on my vintage NNEB.  Starting at the top, after making sure that the table is flat, I create a lay so that the .0015" feeler gauge slides in 22.5 millimeters or a Brand number of 45.  That is sometimes called the length of the facing.  The next gauge thickness is .005" inserted to a Brand number of 39.6.  A .010" gauge to 34.6.  .016" gauge to 30.1.  .024" gauge to 25.3.

If you are using a standard mechanic's set, you may not have the next thickness of .035.  Simple enough.  That measurement requires the use of two side-by-side blades, the .017 and the .018.  Next we need .050, so we add .015 to .017 and .018.  Then we need .063, which is again three blades stacked, the .020, .021, and .022.  Next we need .078, so we stack four blades, .018, .019, .020, and .021.  This is what would be done to come up with larger measurements if you were to go beyond a vintage Slant Signature, which seems to be the thing to do recently.

Keeping stacked blades as accurate as possible requires cleanliness and careful alignment (some of which is covered in this blog).  You can achieve the accuracy of Mr. Brand and the vintage mouthpiece facings shown above, but you won't be able to assert that your facing accuracy is to the billionth of a millimeter, as some will claim.  I'm going to write a blog on how to increase the accuracy of your feeler gauges and (when this shows up as a blue hyperlink) will link to it in the future.

Depending on the tip opening that we were starting with, our tip rail might become quite thick when putting on the new Link curvature (one reason to start with a butt cut when flattening the table).  Below is a narrow tip opening changed to a new curve.  I don't worry too much about what the actual tip opening is, in fact, it tends to not matter, the accuracy of the curvature being way more important.  Any tenor piece that has a nice facing curve and a tip opening between .070 and .120 seems to play okay for me.  

¡Aye, caramba!  Look at that tip rail.  This is not one of my DIY Slant Signature projects using a NNEB.  I was just messing around taking a vintage .060 tip opening to a .125 tip opening.  As you can see, it's not just the tip rail that gets wider, the side rails gain width and are further apart.  There is a huge amount of chamber work and even exterior shaping required to get this thing back into shape.  Yet another reason to not go crazy with your new tip opening.  Most vintage NNEB pieces are in the .070 range and going to .090 (Link 6) is generally all you need.

Reed choice makes a difference, but if the curvature is proper for the tip opening, the only obvious difference that I find between small and large tip openings is that the smaller tip openings can choke closed when I play at volume and the larger tip openings tend to "blat" when played at volume.  Some players use harder reeds on small tips to get more "wood" sound and some players play softer reeds on large tip openings to get more "blat."  It's the player's choice.  

Now, what to do with the tip rail.  It really shouldn't look anything like the one shown above.  Maybe something with about half that width.  Even still, you may have reduced the thickness of the tip and created a sharp edge like this.

Христос на велосипеде! That's a sharp tip! Keep in mind that this is still my gigantic tip opening change as shown above.  Often times, a NNEB has enough material on the tip so that it isn't necessary to reshape the area.  It will be thinner, but not necessarily as sharp as this one.  This one has to be rounded off.

Here it is rounded off.  I've read a few places that this will effect the tuning of the piece because it is now shorter.  Ignore those claims.  I have actually shortened the piece by 1.5 mm and I will soon increase the chamber by a tiny amount when I rework the baffle.  So it might tune .035 MHz sharper (or flatter).  The mouthpiece might have to be placed differently on the cork .4 mm further (or .4 mm less) in order to tune.  If you are still worried, you should not be reading this blog.

Keep an old reed handy so that you get the shape to fit your choice of reed (although your choice of reed might change after some play testing of your new old real genuine fake vintage Slant Signature).

With this huge of a tip rail, I started with a riffler file to create a baffle while reducing the width of the rail.  

I have shown my favorite method for finishing the tip rail in other blogs.  I use a razor knife like this.

Reducing the tip rail width and forming the baffle.

The Slant Signature has a little roll over baffle.  It actually doesn't look like a baffle at all compared with most modern pieces.  But they do tend to be more prominent that you will likely find on your stock NNEB.  That little extra baffle and the little bit larger tip opening is the secret, assuming that you know how to eburnate your NNEB blank in spunk water (which also removes warts).

You will have a little choice in choosing a baffle style after opening the tip. Smoothing out the one I've started above is about all that is required if I am making an official vintage Slant Signature.  If you make the tip opening larger, as in a later Link Tone Edge, then you can make a larger baffle, as was done in the Vibrator piece in Part 1.  Of course, you could just buy a later Tone Edge.

In addition to the blanks noted above as starting points for making a Slant Signature, the first Acousticut shown in this blog also works great.  Also this model of Bundy, made by Babbitt using the alleged "Dukoff/Zimberhoff" blank (which might also have the identical "Link" chamber).  Because of the Bundy name, these sell for hundreds less than the same chamber on a Dukoff or Link.  

Below is a No Name Early Babbitt that does have a name embossed on it.  These came standard with the Martin Handcraft up until 1942-43, when Martin changed to a flat sidewall style of chamber for the new Martin Centennial.  The Handcrafts tend to be a little more expensive than the NNEB pieces that I showed above just because of the name stamped on them.  This one was $41 with shipping.  But, it is very clean and I play a Martin Handcraft, so I had to have it for making a real official new vintage Otto Link Slant Signature Tone Edge.  

Tiny baffle.

 Tiny #2 tip opening.

The super secret Otto Link Slant Signature tone chamber.
Or maybe this is my super secret Link Slant Signature tone chamber?  It's this one.

With a new facing, I'll have Martin Handcraft on the outside and Link Slant Signature on the inside.  The difference right now is that the Martin has a #2 facing.  That measures a .058 inch opening with a Brand number lay of 45.5.  That is an extremely long lay for such a tiny tip!!  For comparison, the smallest Link Tone Edge opening shown above was a 3* at .061 inches (later changed to .070 on more recent Links) and a lay number of 43.  

Above is a graphic representation of the curve on this old Martin mouthpiece.  The yellow line is curve created by the Brand numbers given earlier for a Link #6.  The green and blue lines are the left and right rail of my Martin carcass.  The lay is too long and, even worse, the curve is too "flat" because too much material has been removed in the middle of the curve.  This is the type of curve that is easy to play at low volume and with no character.  Perfect for a beginner.  

Even with a #3 reed, the Martin closed right up as soon as I tried to get any volume.  I would need to find a #6.5 reed to actually play the old Martin #2.  Instead, I'll just turn it into a $41 vintage Otto Link Slant Signature Hawkin's Special Tone Edge.  This Martin will require a butt cut that both shortens the lay and brings the middle of the curve (usually the .024" and .035" feeler gauges) down enough so that I can copy my Slant Signature facing.  Since one rail was consistently higher than the other, I also canted the table a little as I flattened and made the butt cut.

They will still look different on the outside.

The goofy original lay is just a slight wrinkle in copying the facing from the Link on to the Martin.  But it is actually mainly the chamber shape that interests us.  Which makes me wonder.  How many different chamber plugs did Babbitt have during this time?  Would it make any economic sense for say, Otto Link, to fabricate its own proprietary chamber plug for Babbitt to use when Babbitt  already had on hand what appears to be the identical chamber plug?  It is possible that the finish work is the only real difference between the NNEB and the Link.

If we can't detect any significant difference between a NNEB chamber and a vintage Link, was there really a unique "Link Tone Chamber?"  Or is that just another pile of eburnation?

Friday, December 29, 2017

Making Your Own Otto Link Slant Signature Tenor Mouthpiece - Part 1

I promised to write this blog about a year ago, but I was distracted and wrote Part 2 first.  In Part 2, we learned how to make an official Link Slant Signature ligature.  Now we need an official Slant Signature mouthpiece to go with it.  As with creating the ligature, we will need a blank, preferably an inexpensive blank.  We know where Mr. Link got his blanks.  He got them from the JJ Babbitt Company.  We might not want to admit that, but it is by far the most likely provider.  

As in prior blogs, I am going to proceed using the rule of critical thinking that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.  When we looked for proof that Mr. Link had a special recipe for his vulcanized rubber mouthpieces, we found none.  When we looked for proof that Mr. Link vulcanized his own mouthpieces, we found none.  When we looked for proof that Mr. Link cast his own metal mouthpieces, we also found nothing.  In fact, when we look for proof of manufacturing, we find just the opposite evidence.

Here is a little background.  Otto Link was born in New York on April 12, 1897.  Otto registered for the draft August 24, 1918.  At the time, he was working for Alexander Selmer at the main store at 1579 Third Avenue in New York.  He may have been involved in instrument repair or even instrument fabrication.  

The signature that will later appear on his mouthpieces.  He is married to Clara Link, although "wife" is in parenthesis.  There are two Selmer advertisements on this 1919 magazine page that show Selmer's 1579 Third Avenue address (in the Selmer Building).

Mr. Link enlisted on October 21, 1918.  He was discharged on December 21, 1918.  By 1920, he lists himself on the census and a salesman in the music industry.  Otto Link and Frank Meyer (later of Meyer Brothers mouthpieces) then partnered in an instrument repair shop in New York City in the early 1920's.  In the 1925 New York State census, he is living with his aunt and his one year old daughter, Claire, and is employed as an instrument repairman.

In the 1930 census, he is living with his wife, Adelaide, which I think is correct, and daughter Claire.  He is employed as a "repairman" in New York's musical district.  Again, instrument repair.  Not bronze casting and brazing required to produce a metal mouthpiece.  Not light industrial needed to machine and manufacture complex mouthpiece molds.  Not chemical engineering to develop a unique quality of vulcanized rubber.  Not pipe fitters to build and operate a steam autoclave for vulcanizing hard rubber mouthpieces.  An instrument repair shop.  By the 1940 census, Mr. Link list himself as involved in the manufacturing of musical items.  

I have seen some posts on the internet that claim that Mr. Link worked for the William S. Haynes flute company in Boston in the 1920's.  Since I don't consider internet claims evidence, I can say that I have never seen any evidence of that.  Documentary evidence shows that in 1918, he was in N.Y.  In 1920, he was in N.Y.  In 1923, he was in N.Y.  In 1925, he was in N.Y.  In 1930, he was in N.Y.  I'm going to conclude that he didn't work for Haynes in Boston.

I could only find a couple of pictures of Mr. Link in his shop and it consisted of Mr. Link at a work bench surrounded by light milling machinery consistent with the facing of woodwind mouthpieces.  

Facing a blank.

This next picture shows Mr. Link on the set of the PBS show Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.  Otto appears to be in the living room and wearing an official Fred Roger's uniform consisting of a tie and sweater.  

Just kidding, the second picture really is Mr. Rogers.  But none of the pictures that I could find brings to mind the light industrial manufacturing necessary for the vulcanization of rubber.  One can't cast or braze bronze mouthpieces wearing a tie and sweater in an office.  Let's look at the rest of his production facility shown at the bottom if this page.

Click to enlarge.

Again, there was no evidence of the fairly heavy manufacturing equipment required for actually producing a vulcanized rubber mouthpiece or the even more elaborate equipment required for casting molten metal to make metal mouthpieces. The Link pictures are consistent with the finishing and facing of blanks sourced from other providers.

The address of the above shop, and later Link shops, are readily available on the web.  Some of the addresses are even printed on old Otto Link mouthpiece boxes.  His various shop addresses also reveal that it was unlikely that actual mouthpiece manufacturing going on at any of his N.Y. locations.  Although I found that some addresses had permits for low pressure steam (for heat), there were no permits for the high pressure heat need for an autoclave to make mouthpiece.  In fact, several of his addresses were in buildings with other musical instrument repair businesses, student music lessons, and even above a restaurant.  Those are not the places where the City of New York was going to license a coal-fired steam boiler operated by a licensed engineer (as I believe would have been required for vulcanizing mouthpieces).  Nor would the casting of molten metal and the brazing of "bell metal" mouthpieces be allowed above a theater or a deli, which is where Mr. Link had his N.Y. shops. 

When somebody comes up with evidence of Mr. Link actually fabricating the mouthpiece blanks, we can change our minds.  But in the mean time, we can assume that Mr. Link obtained his blanks elsewhere, probably from JJ Babbitt in Elkhart, Indiana.  Why Babbitt?  Again, that's just where the evidence leads.  Babbitt made, and still makes, blanks for other businesses.  Babbitt ended up with the entire production of Otto Link mouthpieces after Mr. Link sold his business (if he sold it).  

There is a common nomenclature, which we will see is kind of silly, that in approximately 1974 JJ Babbitt begin making Links in-house and those pieces are called "Early Babbitt" Links or "EB" Links.  Kind of silly since the evidence is that Babbitt had been producing the Link blanks for decades prior to the "Early Babbitt" pieces.  Truth be told, "Early Babbitt" pieces go back at least to the "Slant Signature" Tone Edge.  It is possible that some of the "Eburnated Bar" Link pieces, supposedly machined from rod rubber, were actually molded, as there is no way for us to tell and the idea of "truth in advertising" has never applied to musical instruments or accessories.  

As we have seen, for musical instruments and accessories, when the item "sounds fantastic," that is sufficient reason to buy it.  When a story about the item "sounds fantastic," that is also reason to buy it.  Musicians then repeat the fantastic story to each other, and others buy it.  Then as now, an instrument seller can claim whatever it believes a potential customer might swallow.  A nonsense claim like "a silver-plated ligature adds sparkle to the sound" stills plays today, no pun intended.  The purchaser then tells other players the fantastic story and a it becomes a "fact." 

Regardless of who actually compression molded and cooked the ebonite pieces finished by Mr. Link, the early Link hard rubber piece did have several slightly unique feature when compared to its contemporaries.  Although some would like to think that it was the super special hard rubber recipe, or at least a unique chamber shape, I think that it is actually a couple of exterior features that tend to separate Links from the standard mouthpieces of the era.  

Many of saxophone mouthpieces in the 20's and 30's had a rather thick shank with a distinctive bulb on the end.  This picture is of a fairly common "Early Babbitt" mouthpiece that is not a Link (on the exterior).  I'm going to refer to these pieces as No Name Early Babbitt or NNEB.  There were, as we will see, other producers of large chamber mouthpieces, but calling them all NNEB will save time and space.

The bulb on the NNEB might cause us some problems in making a Link.  One of the things we probably will want to do is to reduce the thickness of the table.  That is one way that vintage Links often differ from their large chamber cousins of the same era.  

The second common difference between the vintage Tone Edge and the NNEB is material.  If you have read the blog on how mouthpiece material matters, you probably know where this is going.  We might need to change the thickness of the material.  Most NNEB pieces have a steep beak, even steeper than is needed with a large chamber zero baffle interior.  Look at the above linked blog (at picture #6) and, if your NNEB is thick enough, feel free to drop the shape of the beak.  If the beak material thickness is reduced, that gets us closer to a vintage Link Tone Edge.

It is also a good time to remove tooth gouges.  Here is a NNEB beak reduction that almost has the old tooth gouge completely removed (it is the darker spot).  After reducing the thickness of the beak, it is even more important that you use a tooth guard.  But when purchasing your NNEB, tooth gouges, if not too deep, reduce the price and do not matter when fabricating our Otto Link Slant Signature.

Now, it is time to go shopping for a NNEB "cadaver" or "carcass" to be modified into an Otto Link Slant Signature.  Here is a good one.

Click to enlarge.

This is the perfect candidate for several reasons.  First, it has the shank shape that we want.  It is a Babbitt with a "waist," i.e., an area that is thinner than the bulb on the end of the shank.  Even if the seller doesn't describe the chamber shape, these are the NNEBs that most often have the large "Link" chamber.  Second, there is no name on it.  Most bidders will not bid just because of that reason.  Third, the seller claims that it is a "Conn or Buesher" (sic).  Many bidders will see that the seller 1) does not know anything about vintage mouthpieces and 2) is willing to make stuff up.  That keeps many bidders away.  Finally, the mouthpiece has a century's worth of calcified spittle gunk crusted on to the interior, a little tooth gouge on the beak, and a tip rail that is worn and ragged.  This mouthpiece is what I call a NNEB POS.  Perfect.  Absolutely perfect.

It's the final item (the gross chamber) that is most important to us.  When a mouthpiece looks like this one, and the seller takes good pictures, the bid (or at least my bid) isn't likely to go higher than $15.  And the fact is, I don't care about the interior gunk, the tooth gouges, or the beat up tip.  I'll soak the mouthpiece over night in vinegar, then rinse it with cold water and a drop of sanitizer, and then something like this to neutralize any sulfur smell.  Now I'm ready to proceed.

But first, let's make sure that we are not mistaken in trying to create a real genuine vintage Slant Signature.  Are other people doing this?  Here is a recent Ebay auction for a vintage large chamber hard rubber mouthpiece, what I have been calling a NNEB.  This particular one does have a name.  It's called a "Vibrator," a trade name used by the Chiron Co. as we found out in a prior blog.  Here is one opened up to a Link 8 or .110.
The Link chamber.
The Link baffle (actually a later Link style of baffle).
The Vibrator name embossed on this Early Babbitt mouthpiece.
The mouthpiece refacer's name embossed on the mouthpiece.

So what?  Why would I refer to it as Link Slant Signature?  Here is the text from Ebay.

I have for sale a vintage Vibrator Hard Rubber tenor saxophone mouthpiece refaced by Theo Wanne to 8. They are made of very good hard rubber, have some baffle and large chamber with scooped side walls. According to Theo they are the closest thing to Slant Otto Link. Will ship worldwide.

We can learn a couple of things from this.  First, I'm not the only one who thinks that you can make a Link Slant Signature from a NNEB.  Other people, with more knowledge about mouthpiece facing that I have, also agree.  Second, NNEBs are made with "very good hard rubber."  I think that we can extrapolate from that and say that Babbitt mouthpieces are made of "very good hard rubber" (it is called ebonite).  Unless we can fabricate some reason why Babbitt would use one rubber recipe for Vibrator pieces and another for Link pieces and another for Penzel Mueller, etc., I think we have to drop our silly notion of super duper vintage hard rubber used on a particular Babbitt product.

Well, I didn't get to the end of my fabrication process.  Since I already did Part 2 of this blog months ago (regarding making your own honest-to-God Slant Signature ligature), I'm going to have to finish this blog as Part 3.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Acousticut Saxophone Mouthpiece and Ligature

Here's a little blog about the Acousticut saxophone mouthpiece and ligature.  Warren Sumner Swanson was a clarinet player and produced quite a few well-regarded clarinet mouthpieces as well as saxophone mouthpieces.  Although "Sumner" was his middle name, I'm going to use that as the name for him and his mouthpieces because that is the terminology player's are familiar with.  And I am going to concentrate on his saxophone mouthpieces.  

Some have claimed that Sumner started by making mouthpieces from rod rubber, but soon changed to using molded blanks.  I've heard that story about other "makers" and have seen very little evidence, in fact, in the case of Sumner, no evidence whatsoever.  I've quoted G. Langenus before, stating that by 1922 about 90% of all mouthpieces were finished from molded blanks (footnote 2), so if Sumner used rod rubber when he started in 1945, he would have been one of the extremely rare outliers.  And he would have invested in some expensive and unnecessary equipment for his first couple of mouthpieces.  Combine that with the fact that nobody has ever seen one.

Sumner was born September 24, 1919 in Minneapolis.  His father, an emigrant from Sweden, was a rail road engineer.  He was the youngest of five (17 years younger than his oldest brother).  Both of his oldest brothers became dentists.  He lived with an older brother while attending university (two years) and, although he registered for the draft, was not drafted. He married Helen Ormseth in 1961, when he was 42.  He was active in the University of Minnesota General Extension Division, which held occasional seminars on the manufacture, repair, and maintenance of woodwind instruments.

I have read a claim that he had specific molds made and shipped them to Germany to have his blanks fabricated at the Hamburger Gummi-Warren factory. As we will see in a minute, like many claims about mouthpiece fabrication, this is unlikely.  It is also implied that he had an exclusive U.S. distribution contract with Hamburger Gummi-Warren, as he reportedly re-sold "his" blanks to other mouthpiece finishers (including Kaspar and Bay).  We know that Kaspar and Bay also bought direct from Riffault et Fils, so the fact that they had access to the same blanks as Sumner does not mean that they bought their blanks from Sumner.  It is more likely that they also purchased directly from Hamburger Gummi-Warren.

The Acousticut tenor and alto saxophone mouthpiece comes in three iterations that I have seen so far, a fourth distinct shape for baritone, and a fifth for soprano.  On alto and tenor, the first is a large chamber piece, similar to an Otto Link Tone Edge.  In fact, when I put the facing off of my old Tone Edge on this piece, I couldn't tell much difference when played.  It is always impossible to tell if the variation in sound is some minute and invisible difference in the chamber or in the lay.  Players often say that they tried 5 or more "Tone Edge 6*" for instance, and picked the best one.  So even "identical" mouthpieces have differences.  My experience is that the Acousticut below, with a Link facing, can fit right into the spectrum of vintage Tone Edge mouthpieces.

The price has doubled on these, but they are still a good deal for use as a blank.

The "Five Band" ligature line is the most obvious characteristic of this model.

Big round chamber.

Large undercut on the side walls just like the Link Tone Edge.

The original embossing was in gold except for the tip number.  Three is common and might be the best for refacing.

Sort of a "zero baffle" look on the originals, but they don't play stuffy as would be expected.  The small tip opening allows for the creation of a little baffle when the tip is opened. 

A #3 facing opened up enough to create a baffle.  They don't need much, but be aware that it will never be a shrill screamer type of piece.  This was only opened to .081.

The Five Band Acousticut was one of my first experiments with putting a Link facing curve on to another old rubber piece.  I can tell the Acousticut apart from my Slant Signature only if I put on my reading glasses.  In the dark, they play the same.

Here is the second style of Acousticut.  It is identified by four bands on the shank and a medium sized round chamber.

I didn't think to take pictures until I had leveled the table and started to change the facing.

Here, the facing curve has been changed, the initial abrasive blasting of the chamber done, and the tip rail is being reduced and baffle formed.

A little polishing of the baffle using fine emory paper and an old reed split into thirds.


The chamber is smaller on these models and, maybe for that reason, I thought that they lacked the "color" of the Five Band.  Maybe it's just me.

The final Acousticut model that I have seen is also the rarest.  That's okay with me, because I liked it the least.  It has kind of a "wine bottle top" shaped shank.  It appears that they are still available, as this picture is from weinermusic.com where it sells for $115.

I didn't care for it and didn't even bother to reface the used one I got off of Ebay.  So my dislike may be unfounded.

Now, back to the idea that Sumner had his own molds at Hamburger Gummi-Warren.  Although the claim seems plausible at first glance, it appears less so when we now know that Acousticut saxophone mouthpieces evolved over the years.  There are at least three iterations of the tenor sax mouthpiece.  The alto and soprano also changed over the years.  Who knows how much the Sumner clarinet pieces changed over the years, but as we have seen, those were also available to other finishing businesses.  So my question would be "why change molds?"  And, unlike the minor changes to the Otto Link Tone Edge over the decades, why make radical changes to the exterior and chamber?  

The simple answer would be that Sumner did not have proprietary molds in Europe.  He, like many finishing businesses, was at the mercy of his supplier.  He didn't "sell" his blanks to others, but others did have access to the same blanks.  Here is an example of a Sumner Acousticut baritone piece.

Some of you may recognize this as a "Wagner" baritone mouthpiece.  Did Sumner sell to Wagner or did Wagner sell to Sumner?  More likely, it is another offering from Hamburger Gummi-Warren that was also used by Wagner and others.  It could be that the market share of baritone pieces was too small to worry about whether the Acousticut baritone was the same shape as the rest of the Acousticut brand.  But it does further weaken the claim that Sumner had proprietary molds.  

Any proprietary molds, had they existed, would have been sold as a part of the W.S. Sumner Company when it was purchased by The Saxophone Shop, Ltd. in 1980.  The new owner made no claim of taking possession of the Sumner molds.  In fact, the third iteration of the Acousticut mouthpiece appeared about that time, further evidence of a lack of proprietary molds.  The non-existence of proprietary molds does not, in my experience, weaken the claim that vintage Sumner Acousticut mouthpieces can be great.

Sumner also had some ligatures with his logo on them.

We have seen that ligature before in a prior blog.  It is a rare Otto Link Slant Signature ligature that was not properly stamped!!  Either that or Sumner, like Link, merely stamped a commonly available ligature.  

It is unique in that the thumb screws have little plastic or resin coated heads.

Look, there actually is an Otto Link "A" stamped on it!!  Maybe the ligature was a rare collaborative effort of Otto Link and Warren Sumner Swanson!!  Wait until the suckers collectors start bidding on these!!

The ligature is also different in that there is a "Patent Pending" stamp.  What is it about the Acousticut ligature that was new, useful, and non-obvious?  Those are the three main requirements for a U.S. patent to be granted.  Well, it has black screw heads.  Okay, maybe that is new.  What can we make up about black screw heads that is useful?  And what is ingenious (non-obvious) about black screw heads?  I can't come up with anything, and a search to locate either the patent or the application at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office revealed nothing.

When searching for U.S. patents on mouthpiece ligatures, it reads like a who's who of famous woodwind instrument personalities, including Anthony Gigliotti, Walter Gemeinhardt, George Bundy, Henri Selmer, Bernard Van Doren (several), Florian Tudor, Philip Rovner (multiple), Daniel Bonade, Frederic Parme (of Vibrator fame), Vito Platamone, Robert Harrison, Hippolyte Chiron (also of Vibrator fame), Mario Maccaferri, Vito Pascucci, Allan Theodore Wanne (sorry for the "unmasking," Theo), and hundreds of others.  I'll also unmask Clinton Runyun, aka "Santy."  (Santy was more than just a mouthpiece guy, here is his patent for a fishing reel).

Warren Sumner Swanson does not show up in any patent searches.  Not even for fishing reels.  So I guess that we will never know what is so novel and beneficial about the Acousticut ligature.  Maybe some Acousticut ligature owners can comment on the advantage of black screw heads on a ligature.