Tuesday, December 24, 2013

1958 Sorkin Music Catalog - Featuring Revere Saxophones

Well, look what I got a peek at today.  A 1958 Sorkin Music catalog.  That's just what I needed to confirm my hunch that Revere branded saxophones are a house brand of Sorkin Music.

The catalog also shows the Stra-Do-Lin line of Sorkin house branded mandolins, as discussed in the prior Sorkin blog.  

But our interest here at Stuff Sax is in saxophones.  Unfortunately, the quality of the pictures is not good enough to read the text in detail.  Still, there is plenty of information, especially if you are familiar with vintage saxophones.

The catalog hypes the special features of the horns, but the special features are not common to each of the horns, in part because these horns were stenciled by different manufacturers.  The advertised "Cantilever Neck Brace" is only on the tenor and it is an easily recognizable brace.  It is a Beaugnier Special brace, just like on my Revere tenor.  The Kohlert tenor neck brace in 1957-58 was a "man in the moon" style like the old Buescher True Tones.  Plus, the B/Bb key guards are individual and rounded, which Beaugnier was still making in the late 50's, when Kohlert was using a single stamped piece.

The catalog also mentions the special feature of "Rolled Edge Tone Holes."  Those aren't on the Beaugnier stenciled tenor, but they are on the Kohlert stenciled alto, just like on my 1957 Revere alto.  The special feature of "New Designed Guards" shows the stylish Beaugnier deco pant guard, hardly a new design and clearly Sorkin was reaching for something to say about the horns.  Same with "Raised Grouped Keys," which were just the standard Beaugnier and Kohlert key arrangements.  And then there's calling the saxophones the "Revere Paris Model Saxophones" with a picture of the Eiffel Tower.  My Revere alto is stamped "Made in Germany."  It's a little difficult to see how a German alto can be from Sorkin's "Paris Model" saxophone collection.  The baritone is likely a Beaugnier, as Kohlert '57 and '58 baritones had right hand bell keys.  All of the Revere baritones that I have seen have been Beaugnier stencils.

Sorkin did later go to Kohlert for their tenors.  I've seen a Kohlert '58 stenciled as a Revere, so sometime after this catalog Sorkin switched from Beaugnier to Kohlert for all of its saxophones, including tenors.  Here is a Kohlert 58 with rolled tone holes (serial number 55133) stenciled as a Revere.  It has the man-in-the-moon style of neck brace. 

 Even though there isn't a accurate serial number list for Beaugnier saxophones, I had estimated that my Revere tenor was from about 1957 (like my Revere alto, for which there is an accurate list).  Now, based on this 1958 catalog, I'm even more certain.

Sorkin had used Kohlert for its stenciled altos back at least to 1955.  Here is a Kohlert 55 (serial number 25956) stenciled Revere.  It has the same fake alligator skin case and the gold Revere logo as my Kohlert 57 stencil.

One of the interesting "special features" with the Revere horns are the mouthpieces, hyped as the "Revere Ivory Mouthpiece."  I have one.  It isn't ivory.  It's white plastic.  Like the horns, it isn't even really a Revere "Paris Model" mouthpiece.  It's also a stencil.  As are the Revere cases.  Let me explain.  My 1957 Kohlert Revere and my 1957 Beaugnier Revere both have their original cases, and they are identical.  Same fake alligator skin covering with darker trim, same hinges, same clasps, etc.  It's not likely that Kohlert in Germany just happened to use the same design, hardware, and materials for its case as did Beaugnier in France.  It's not even likely that they would use the same European sax case manufacturer (especially prior to the EU).  And why would Sorkin pay an import duty on cases when it could buy generic saxophone cases in the U.S.?  Sorkin bought the cases in the U.S. and had them "stenciled" with the Revere logo.

 Same with the "ivory" mouthpieces.  Sorkin had them stenciled in the U.S. for the Revere "Paris Model" saxophones.  I did some research on them.  They are American made.  They play very nice.  I play one on both tenor and alto as my main pieces.  In fact, they were the mouthpiece played by Lester YoungI'm not kidding.  Everybody guesses from old pictures as to what mouthpiece Lester Young was playing, and it changed over time, but there is one mouthpiece for which it is absolutely certain that Lester Young played.  It's shown right there in the Sorkin catalog.  But that's for another blog. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Refacing a Saxophone Mouthpiece - Hot Rodding the Cheapo Piece

I recently bought a vintage saxophone that had a few mouthpieces in the case.  It is strange how often this happens on Ebay.  Some sellers list every little item, including used reeds and empty cork grease tins.  Others don't even mention that there are several mouthpieces, often worth about the same as the horn.  No such luck with my last horn.  Its mouthpiece was a damaged Selmer Goldentone.  It had a substantial chip out of the tip rail.  You can click on the pictures to enlarge.

I know what you're thinking.  Goldentone!  Those are student pieces that sell for $20.  That's not worth messing with.  Well, let's just use this as a test case.  

The first thing to notice in the picture is the amount of "meat" there is on that tip.  It's over a millimeter thick, so there is plenty of material to work with.  The tip opening on these pieces (this is a #3 and I don't know if they even make any other facing) is tight, only .066 of an inch (1.68mm).
Feeler gauges don't fit.

Feeler gauges do fit under the tip at .066.  That's our tip opening.

There is the complex method of measuring tip openings for people who like to push buttons and change batteries.  I've never found it to be all that much better, in fact the digital readout to ten-thousandth of an inch is as dubious as it is unnecessary.  

Here's what I use.  These depth gauges are available as "tire tread" gauges for under $10.  You can find somebody who will gladly sell you the same thing as an "official mouthpiece gauge" for $50-100 because they claim that it is an "official mouthpiece gauge."  As you will see in a moment, the tip opening is the least important measurement on a mouthpiece, almost of no importance, but it continues to get a lot of attention.  It is actually about as important, from a performance perspective, as the color of a car.

First, you zero out the depth gauge from the glass ruler to the glass topped work bench.

Then, you measure the tip opening.  It reads .066", same as the feeler gauges.  It isn't any faster or more accurate, but it looks more "professional."  

Just for fun, I measured the chipped area.  .0685", so it's still a very close tip on a tenor even when we open it enough to remove the damage.

I went ahead and mapped out the original lay.  I normally would skip this step, unless I was really curious on a pristine example on a nice-playing vintage piece and wanted the information for my files (which I sometimes later use on other pieces).  I mapped this just to show you what a $20 student piece lay looks like.  Keep in mind, this piece plays even with the chip.  A scratch on the side rail can stop a piece from playing, but a nick on the tip rail usually doesn't.  Try this for yourself.  Put your reed on so that it's barely just short of the tip rail.  Most will still play, although stuffy.  This Goldentone plays, but not well and with no personality.

I mapped it as shown in the Mapping a Mouthpiece blog and printed out this graph.  The smooth brown line is kind of a generic 7* Link tenor curve.  The other two lines are the left and right rails of the Goldentone. 

You can see that the rails are not even as they leave the table (shown on the left side of the graph).  When I measured with the .0015" feeler gauge, I got a Brand number of 49.1 for one side and 45 for the other.  Both are long for this small of a tip opening.  And the difference in facing length means that the reed will be canted towards one side.  That's going to "add resistance," and probably not in a good way.

The further measurements for the curvature on the rails actually cross at the flat center, and then split apart again at the tip.  That means that the rails actually tip one direction at the table and then the other way at the tip.  Reeds don't like to do that.  I often wonder if this is the problem with those players who find only "one good reed" in a box of 10.  Are they searching for an abnormal or warped reed that can flex to fit a goofy curve on their mouthpiece?  The "one good reed" could be the worst one in the box.

Even with the asymmetrical curvature issues and the flat center, this is a fairly typical student curve.  It has a longer, flatter, and smaller tip opening than a "professional" or "custom" mouthpiece (hopefully).  My goal is to make a professional custom mouthpiece out of a damaged Goldtone.  I've got my work cut out for me.

The first thing I need to do is check whether the table is flat.  It could be that a warped table is what is causing my extremely large Brand number differences where the curve leaves the table.  I take a couple of swipes across 1500 grit sandpaper just to see where the paper scuffs up the original milling marks on the table.  My bench has a plate glass top and that is what I consider flat.

You can see that the table is slightly convex right in the middle.  You can see that it would be possible for air to leak out of the top of the window and through the convex table.  But that's actually okay for my project.  In fact, that's good.  Remember how uneven from side-to-side that my rails are?  Now it's possible to bring them more in line with each other as I level the table using the sandpaper.  I press slightly more towards the tip on the side with the longer Brand number.  A big change in the "jump off point" from the table to the lay hardly effects the tip opening (which is already uneven, so no problem). 

The first column is the original curve.  The rest of the columns are sort of in an arrangement that works for me but is difficult to explain, so I won't.  But I start out with a left rail Brand number of 49 (i.e., the .0015" feeler gauge slips in to 24.5 mm from the tip), which is way too long of a lay for this tip opening.  It is even too long for my intended final tip opening (unless you like long lays, which I do, but that's not covered in this blog).

Getting the table closer to flat.  You can see that my emphasis has been towards the front of the table to get the take-off point even.

Once I've got the table flat, I'm really ready to begin.  As part of leveling the table, I moved the Brand numbers for the .0015 feeler (the "start" of the facing) down to about 45 (22.5mm), which is now workable for my intended tip opening.  It also brought the first couple of measurements down so that, when re-graphing the rail lines, they are now underneath my "generic 7*" curve.  That means that I can carefully refinish that area to match the curve.

This first part of measuring the full curve was mainly to show what I might do with a mouthpiece that was already very close to what I wanted.  This piece isn't, so I'm going to depart a little from a normally careful tune-up process. 

That's 100 grit sandpaper.  I'm going to take a few swipes on it.  There's just too much material to remove to mess around by beginning with something like 320 grit.  But check your initial lay numbers before you begin!  I have to stay away from where the lay begins, as removing small amounts of material there has a huge effect.  If I inadvertently remove too much material from the rails, I would have to go back and really remove a lot of material from the table to get back to something around 45 with the .0015 feeler.  If you look at the graph, you can see that I basically need to stay away from the first third of the lay and mainly concentrate on the tip for now.

That's what the tip looks like after a couple of swipes on the 100 grit.  You can still see just a dimple remaining of the chipped spot just left of middle.  100 grit was taking away more than .001" per swipe.  Careful with that axe, Eugene.
Even with the chipped spot no longer showing on the tip rail, there is still plenty of material at the beak.
This is just to show the difference between a plastic piece and a hard rubber piece.  Hard rubber leaves a light brown powder shown at the top of the picture (from another piece that I was working on).  Black plastic usually leaves a purple residue (shown at the bottom) and white plastic is just white.  Hard rubber is nicer to work on, in my opinion.  Other than that, there is no evidence that mouthpiece material affects how a piece plays or sounds.  But maybe it's a situation like the Princess and the Pea.  I can't hear or feel the difference, but a true mouthpiece princess can.  And there are plenty of mouthpiece princesses.  Material also matters if you are selling mouthpieces made of one material.  That material is always the best.
I've been measuring as I go along.  Just thought you should know.  I have my computer generated "generic 7*" curve that I am working towards.  I tend to work from the table to the tip and try to keep at least two measurements in mind at a time.  

For example, lets say I'm working to get the .0015 feeler gauge shown above to the 31mm mark (which would be a Brand number of 62!!! and only encountered when working on a contrabass clarinet mouthpiece).  Before I remove any material at that point, I would also check with the next thicker gauge (.005) to make sure that I could remove material further out on the curve.  In other words, I don't want to pay so much attention to the spot where I am working such that I screw things up further down the lay. 
Here's one quick way to do that (this picture is through my lighted desk magnifying glass, which is really nice to have).  One feeler gauge is the .016 and the other is the .024 sticking out the other side.  Then, I can make sure that I don't over shoot the next marker if that next larger feeler gauge is really handy.  If you click on the picture, you can see that the feeler gauge will leave a small shiny spot right where you have measured.  So I know exactly where I just measured and may need to remove material or it might be just perfect and I need to leave that area alone

Most often, if I'm working from table to tip, I don't want to touch anything to the left of the marking in the picture below, as I've already gotten that perfect (actually, I usually get close and then go back over the whole piece with really fine paper).  But I still need a way to keep track of my progress.
I'll often do this.  The pencil marks towards the tip (left) are where I have just measured and need to remove material.  The second marks further back are where I have just gotten the lay as it should be and doesn't need further material removed.
I then mark the outside of the piece where I need to remove material.
I can then place the piece on the sandpaper and rock it a little so that I can see exactly where I need to remove the material.  Good lighting and the ability to sight on level with the bench is required.
The first markings (corresponding to the side mark) have been sanded off and the second marking (higher up) isn't completely removed.  I re-measure, and if necessary, remark and do it again.
The same can be done with wide marking on both sides of the single line where material is to be removed. In the picture above, the tip is okay, but the spot with the single thin line needs to have material removed.  Further back, I have also marked with the pencil because I don't want to remove material there.  All I need to do is remove the single line and a tiny bit of material right at that point.  I try to avoid this situation because I find that it's easier to constantly work towards the tip.  You may have noticed that this picture is out of sequence as the interior baffle has been changed and has a rough finish.  The tip rail is also thinner.  More in a minute.

This Goldentone has a big problem with the rails being uneven from side-to-side.  If I just place one rail on the sandpaper, I can work one side down, but that will actually put a "tipped" surface on that rail because that rail is "up" on the paper and other rail is "down" on the glass surface.  It is a tiny difference, but the feeler gauges will only measure the highest side of a rail (here, to the outside of the rail) while the reed might actually sit towards the inside of the rail.  Either way, here is one way to reduce the problem of canting the mouthpiece rail when removing material from just that rail.
Above, a piece of the same sandpaper is flipped over next to the working paper so that, even though mouthpiece material is only being removed from one rail (the closest one), the rail surface stays level side-to-side and in relationship to each other.  See the burnishing paragraph below as a final check.  

You can also remove more material from one rail by putting more pressure on that rail during the drawing process, or draw the piece in an arc so that the high rail travels a longer distance and is therefore reduced more.  But when one rail measures perfect, it gets put on the upside down paper so that I can't possibly remove more material on that side while removing material from the other rail.

Here's the new reworked curve compared to the computer generated Link 7# line.  The lay could be improved, but remember, it could also get worse.  When I'm this close, it's time for a play test and forget about graph points.

Time to work on the innerds.  The first thing that needs to be done is to fix the really thick tip rail that was created by opening up the piece.  I usually do that in several steps rather than all at once when the curve is done.  In fact I always do the vast majority of the baffle work before finalizing the tip.  Here's what the fat tip looks like with the increased tip opening almost finished.  Yikes.
Notice that the inside arc is not perfectly symmetrical.  This piece had no chamber work done by the manufacturer after molding (which is why the piece is inexpensive), and the molding process is never perfect.  But the exact same thing happens on hand worked pieces.  They can be made to look perfect at the tip rail, but they are not really perfectly symmetrical further in on the baffle, nor do they need to be.  Why would a mouthpiece that is perfectly symmetrical play better?  If it bothers you, you can "fix" it.  But keep in mind the story of the Princess and the Mouthpiece.
I have a lot of material to remove, so I'm using a riffler file.

There was a strange sharp mold line inside at the bottom of the chamber (under the end of the window) that I decided to smooth out.  See, I'm not anal about the baffle being perfectly symmetrical, but sharp mold lines must go! 

This mouthpiece has a very deep baffle characteristic that I think is common with plastic pieces like Brilharts, but I've also seen it when examining old hard rubber Tone Edges.  It's so far into the piece that I'm not even sure you can call it part of the baffle.
This is probably the best picture I can get of it.  It's the dark spot right before the chamber.  The light reflection shows that after the initial rollover, the baffle is very flat, except for a dimple at the bottom of the reflection right before the chamber.  Anyway, I used my curved riffler to accentuate the dimple and eliminate the tiny mold line at the start of the chamber. 
Here I'm doing a final on the baffle using an Exacto knife.  I know the blade looks cruddy, but I just sharpened it and I couldn't find my new ones for a picture.  I can draw it across the baffle using it as a scraper and it smoothly removes material and polishes the baffle.  This also works nicely on hard rubber pieces.  The angle shown is actually too shallow and would likely produce squeaks, but you get the idea.
That's getting close to final.  Then I do a final step that isn't necessary.  I have a tiny abrasive gun that I can use to shoot different media though and clean up all of the tiny scratches, file marks, etc.  If you go back and look at the pictures where I was marking the rails with a pencil, you can see the effect of my coarsest media (actual sand).  A milder media produces the effect shown below.
As a final step, I burnish the tip and rails on the smooth glass top of the bench.  Take one nice smooth pull and look at the rails under magnification.  If they are uneven side-to-side, it will show as one side of a rail polished smooth and the other side of the same rail still dull from the 1500 grit paper.  If you have been careful, burnishing will not effect your Brand numbers.  It simply perfects the curve.  How's that?  Well, here's my theory.

The final graph curve looks nice and smooth, because the graph program averages the measured points to artificially produce a smoother curve, but it's not ever going to be a true representation of the lay.  Think about it.  The lay could be a series of 12 flat planes, with each feeler gauge measuring the center of the plane, and the computer program would artificially smooth the number series to make it look like a perfect arc.  

As you smoothly draw the mouthpiece across the sandpaper using the professional refacer's super-secret magic wrist motion (not discussed here), you have greatly reduced the possibility of 12 flat planes.  But it is possible that the actual curve is not as beautiful as the graph implies.  I could A) use every feeler gauge in the set and graph all of those hundreds of numbers, or B) use the flat surface of my bench to burnish out any microscopic imperfections.  I choose B.  I pull the rails back and forth over the smooth glass until the rails and tip are shiny, thus smoothing out any imperfections.

So there you have it.  A "free" hot rodded Goldentone with a .111 tip, ported and polished.  How does it play?  Better than your expensive mouthpiece.  No way, you say!  Don't worry, mine still has one huge unforgivable flaw on the outside.  It says Goldentone.

I think I can fix that.  In fact, I did in a later blog.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Hippolyte Marius Chiron - Vibrator reeds for woodwinds -What Happened?

Anybody who has bought more than a couple of old saxophones has found Chiron Vibrator reeds in the case.  They are very distinctive.  Although they changed a little over the years, the most distinctive aspect is the grooves cut longitudinally into the stock of the reed.  Over the years there were slight changes, however, the grooves remained (although they didn't remain the same width and depth).  The grooves were actually part of a 1924 patent.  You can open any of these links in a separate window in order to refer back to them throughout this blog.

Here are a couple of pictures of an alto and tenor saxophone reed.

Some of the earliest reeds not only had the curved butt, they also a little nip off the end much like a reversed or rocket ship transom on a sailboat.  Some were French filed with the amount of bark removed, and the shape of the removed bark differing.  The alto shown above is filed and the tenor isn't.  The tenor has the flat heel and the alto is curved.  The tenor is made "handmade" in France and the alto is made in the U.S.  You can see that the width and depth of the grooves also varied.

That's not too surprising, as they both vary considerably from the patent.  The patent shows more longitudinal grooves (five) and the patentable claim is for the longitudinal grooves and for "the additional plurality of grooves of similar conformation extending angularly transversely on the curved surface of the reed, the last named grooves communicating with the longitudinal grooves and dividing the longitudinal ridges into ridges of shorter length."  What?  Anyway, the Chiron Vibrator reeds were not even produced with the special ridges that were patented.  The transverse grooves would be very difficult to manufacture economically on a reed that (then) sold for twenty cents or less.

The Chiron Vibrator reed had a long success from the late 1920s, when it was patented, until the mid-1960s, when it disappeared.  And I mean disappeared.  It's easy to work back from when and where it disappeared from, but what happened right at the end is a mystery.  At the end, the offices of H. Chiron and Company were at 1650 Broadway in N.Y.  That's the same building as Alden Music, run by Don Kirshner.  If you haven't heard of him, maybe you have heard of some of his contract song writers, Neil Sedaka, Carol King, Paul Simon, Phil Spector, Neil Diamond, etc.  It was an important address.  Maybe some of those people remember Hippolyte Marius Chiron and Vibrator reeds. 

If you are hoping for me to tell you what happened, I can't.  I was only able to work backwards.  For instance, who was Mr. Frederic Parme, the co-owner of the patent?  Turns out that Mr. Parme was on several of the patents filed by Mr. Chiron.  A 1924 patent (same year as the reed) for a complex adjustable mouthpiece (which seems to be the one used as an example of the mouthpiece shown in the reed patent).  The same year, Mr. Parme and Mr. Chiron filed a patent for a ligature that had a rubber insert to allow the reed to vibrate more.  There is also a later U.S. patent applied for in 1925 that is just Mr. Chiron for a combination mouthpiece and ligature.  In 1928, he got a patent for is for an underslung octave pip actuator.  The latter application lists Mr. Chiron's residence as Paris, so he may have returned to France.  The Vibrator packaging and advertising refers to H. Chiron Company as being in New York and Paris, but I could find nothing about a Paris location.  Maybe that was just Mr. Chiron's residence.

Like many patent claims, it is often difficult to see what is new, non-obvious, and useful about the design.  Those are the three elements required for a patent.  Not so much for a patent to issue (you only have to claim that they exist in the application), but if the patent holder decides to try to defend the patent, those elements will have to be proven in court.  So a lot of patents are granted, few become products, and not all can be successfully defended.  If some body decides to put grooves on their reeds (vintage Isovibrant brand reeds come to mind) or to use an underslung octave mechanism (the vintage Conn 10M comes to mind), then Messrs. Chiron and Parme would likely have been advised to just walk away.  The true value of a patent is often that you can stamp the product "patented" and impress the consumer.  But back to our players, no pun intended.

When trying to find out who these men were, it turns out that there is plenty of information about Mr. Parme and little on Mr. Chiron.  Mr. Parme was born in Avignon, France in 1872, where he studied music in the Avignon Conservatory before moving on to the Paris Conservatory and studying saxophone.  Adolphe Sax was a professor at the Paris Conservatory, however he died in 1894, shortly after Mr. Parme arrived.  Mr. Parme became good friends with Sax's son (also named Adolphe) while studying at the Paris Conservatory.  Mr. Parme and Mr. Sax (also a musical instrument developer like his father) often discussed possible improvements to the saxophone.  Mr. Parme then became a professor at the Conservatory in Versailles, where he won awards for piano and saxophone compositions.

He then came to the United States in 1911 and played with the New York Philharmonic under Gustav Mahler (who died shortly after Parme arrived, which is a creepy trend).  In 1914, Mr. Parme, still a French national, returned home to fight in WWI.  Upon returning to the U.S., he joined the NY Symphony, playing saxophone, soprano clarinet, bass clarinet, and contrabass clarinet.  He also became a professor at the Institute of Musical Art (now called Julliard).  Also upon returning from the war, he saw that the saxophone had been adopted by jazz musicians.  Here is a quote from Mr. Parme in a Julliard publication regarding the purpose of the saxophone:

"In France, the saxophone is not relegated to the realm of dance music.  Such famous composers as d'Indy, Debussy, Massenet and Bizet have written saxophone solos both for the theatre and the symphony orchestra.  The sonority of this instrument, as understood by these great writers, tends to imitate the sound of the human voice, the French Horn and the viloncello.  This shows that there is nothing in common between that sonority and the hideous groan heard everywhere in jazz bands.  If Debussy, d'Indy, Massenet or Bizet had heard the saxophone under these conditions, they would certainly have omitted it from their masterpieces."

Saxophones produce "the hideous groan heard everwhere in jazz bands."  Nice. 

It would appear that Mr. Parme's role in the patent process was to add an air of legitimacy to the patent claims.  He had the resume, but I've never seen an advertisement where he endorsed Vibrator reeds.  He was well known, having had a write-up in the New York Tribune for his playing of Debussy's Rhapsody for Orchestra and Saxophone (This is not Mr. Parme, but a great example of the sax as a classical woodwind.  Plus, you can open it in a separate window for a dramatic accompaniment for the rest of the blog.) 

I'm not convinced that Mr. Parme even read or looked at the Chiron patent applications.  The drawing of the reed looks more like a popsicle stick than a reed.  The applications repeatedly refer to reeds made of "bamboo."  Surely Mr. Parme knew that woodwind reeds are made from the canes of arundo donax, not bamboo, with the best material coming from the Var region of France.  Vibrator reeds were later labeled as coming from the Var.  Referring to cane reeds as "bamboo" would not go uncorrected by an accomplished professor and internationally known woodwind virtuoso.

Despite Mr. Parme's insistence that the purpose of the saxophone was for classical music, the H. Chiron Company actively sought endorsements for Vibrator reeds from the popular and jazz music contingency of reed instrument players.  Click on these to enlarge them.

H. Chiron also started another line of reeds that I had never heard of.  In fact every reference I could find for Deru "Speciale" reeds was to this single 1953 advertisement.

You can go to Ebay any day and see advertisements featuring different famous and semi-famous endorsers for Vibrator reeds.  How did H. Chiron have so many endorsers for Vibrator reeds and then just disappear?  And how did Mr. Chiron himself disappear?  If he sold the rights to the patent, why was it always marketed by the H. Chiron Company?  I don't know, but I do know a little about where he came from and it is very intriguing. 

The reed/ligature/mouthpiece patents were not his first, last, or only patents.  There are some later U.K. patents having to deal with saxophone key arrangements and mouthpieces.  And here's some historical trivia.  When a patent application is made, it is common for the subsequent patent applications to reference earlier patents, sometimes to differentiate the new application from existing patents.  It is possible to find out which applications reference an older patent like Chiron's underslung neck octave pip (later cited by Martin Band Instruments for their saxophones).  Another patent application that referenced Mr. Chiron's patent for a ligature was the application of a Mr. Phillip Rovner for a ligature design.  We all know Rovner ligatures.  Small world.

But the majority of the subsequent references were to Mr. Chiron's patent for his very complex mouthpiece with all of its adjustments (and which I don't believe was ever produced).  Oddly enough, those references were in patent applications for game calls, like duck, goose, elk, etc.  Do you want to patent something that makes a weird squeaking honky animal-in-heat noise?  You'll need to distinguish the H. Chiron mouthpiece patent.

Before we look at the older patents of  Hippolyte Marius Chiron, let's look at that name.  Hippolyte has two possible sources, both of which are from Greek mythology.  The 9th labor of Hercules was to acquire the girdle of Hippolyte, the queen of the Amazons (not Amazons.com).  The Amazons were a society of warrior women who, in order to more effectively throw spears, would cut off one of their breasts.  The girdle gave super powers to the queen, but as it turned out, Hercules was such a stud muffin that Hippolyte just gave him the girdle.  It's a guy fantasy, but a cool name.

The other source of the name is from Hippolytus, a Greek god who refused the sexual advances of his stepmother, Phaedra.  Fearing that Hippolytus would squeal, Phaedra told her husband that Hippolytus raped her.  The father secretly cursed Hippolytus's horses, causing the horses to bolt and Hippolytus to die in a nasty chariot wreck (sort of like cutting the brake lines).  Hippolytus translates basically to "unleasher of horses."  Okay, now you can probably see that I'm just stalling because I've go no more info on Mr. Chiron.  Correct, but first, Chiron in Greek mythology was a wise centaur who tutored Achilles and Hercules.  So Hippolyte Chiron is a really cool name. So fantastic that my French friend insists that it must be an alias.

I do know that Mr. Chiron was more than an inventor of just musical instrument parts.  Prior to the reed instrument patents, he had other patents.  One 1923 patent was a gizmo for washing windows in a tall building without having to send a person outside on scaffolding.  It was limited to washing single hung windows and so it isn't really applicable to today's high rise windows (and might have been of limited use in 1923).  It kind of looks like you clean the window by opening and closing it, or by pulling on some spring loaded scissor mechanism.  It was later referenced by a patent application for a windshield wiper system.  I didn't study this one.
An even earlier 1916 patent was for a "safety boat."  The safety aspect of the boat (actually a ship is depicted in the patent application) was that it had a sponson that ran around the entire waterline which provided extra floatation and "protection from collision and torpedoes."  The Titanic sank in 1912 and the first real use of torpedoes started in WWI about 1914, so the patent seems to fit the requirement of "useful invention" under the patent laws.  However, from looking at the patent I can tell that Mr. Chiron was not a naval architect.

Again, Mr. Chiron had a co-applicant on the patent, a Mr. Berriex, with both Chiron and Berriex listed as residents of San Francisco at the time and Mr. Chiron as a citizen of France.  Mr. Berriex, like Mr. Parme, then went off to fight in the war and later returned to the U.S.
It is easy to get information on Mr. Jean Berriex.  Here's a picture of him and his wife in 1970.
But what about Hippolyte?

I could only find one other thing, and it's an even earlier patent.  It is a U.S. patent, but it lists Mr. Chiron as a resident of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and a citizen of France.  It is a 1914 patent for a "flying machine."  Keep in mind that the Wright brothers' first flight was in 1903.  You've got to click on this one or, better yet, open the patent application in a separate window for a better view.

No, that picture is not from Monty Python's Flying Circus.  Yes, that is a little man sitting in the bottom of the umbrella plane.  That's the third page in the patent application.  In fairness to Mr. Chiron, this one tops the charts for inventiveness.  If you look at all of the drawings you will see that the fuselage of the airplane is the skeletal framework for the parachute contraption.  It is a "safety flying machine" along the lines of his later "safety boat," i.e., the "safety" part is the allegedly patentable idea.

At the top of the picture (#18) is the rudder of the flying machine (now called an airplane or just plane).  #56 and #57 are the plane's rear horizontal stabilizers, now automatically turned sideways to "help slow the craft's decent" when in free fall.  The umbrella pops out from the fuselage, the flaming engine and spinning propeller are jettisoned, the front wings pop off, somehow missing the opening umbrella, the pilots seat drops into the shown position where the pilot has control of #18, 56, and 57 to steer safely to the ground, where the automatically extended legs allow for a safe three-point landing.  Good luck with that.

This patent application was Mr. Chiron all on his own, although I suspect that he may have secretly partnered with Rube Goldberg.  There are so many physically impossible assumptions in this contraption that I can't even begin to point them out.  If you don't see them, you need to take 5th grade physics again.  But in fairness to Mr. Chiron, he filed a later patent application in 1918 for an improved aeroplane that popped in half at the cockpit, "allowing the pilot to descend by parachute."  That sounds better, except for the popping in half part, which is the only "novel" part of this patent claim.

What was most interesting about the aeroplane application is 1) that Mr. Chiron was then living in Hog Island, PA, and 2) that I found it by accident after searching for H. Chiron, Hippolyte Chiron, and all variations.  It is entirely possible that there are many more imaginative patents by Mr. Chiron, in the U.S., U.K., and who knows where else, than those that I have found in researching this article about woodwind reeds.  As a side note about researching this issue, don't Google "vibrator" without adding the term "chiron."  You will get side tracked.

Which gets me back to the H. Chiron Company and Vibrator reeds.  I still wish I knew what happened to the company and to Hippolyte Chiron.  The latest patent I could find was a 1928 U.K. patent that listed his residence as Paris, so I may have to concentrate on France.  But after looking at his patents, I did determine the true purpose of the grooves cut into Vibrator reeds.  They perform the exact same function as the fins on an old Cadillac.  They look cool, they catch your attention, they make you want to try it, own it, drive it, or maybe fly it.  The making of a successful product is often just in the presentation. 

And the H. Chiron company was clearly aware that it had a successful product and trade name.  They should have used that name to diversify.  How about a Vibrator branded mouthpiece?  It could feature the patented longitudinal lines on the exterior of the barrel to promote "brightness and even tonal qualities" just like Vibrator reeds. Whether or not Hippolyte was back living in Paris in the early 1930s when Vibrator reeds became well known, he would have known about the French mouthpiece company Riffault, which was producing mouthpieces for C.G. Conn, Martin Band Instruments, and many, many others. 

Here is a made-in-France, U.S. patent pending, mouthpiece with longitudinal grooves.  Vibrator is kind of crudely stamped on the top ridge.

There are several problems with this early Vibrator mouthpiece.  First, unlike milling grooves in a reed, the longitudinal lines on the mouthpiece would add noticeable complexity and expense to the production costs (Riffault, as with most mouthpiece manufacturers, had stopped milling mouthpieces out of solid ebonite bar stock by this time).  Second, although the distinctive Vibrator logo appears only on the bottom of the H. Chiron reeds and is therefore not visible when in use, the logo appears prominently on the box and in advertisements.  There is no place on a heavily ribbed mouthpiece to feature the Vibrator name with the script ending by underlining the distinctive logo.

So, what is more important, the visibility of the Vibrator trade name or the patented longitudinal grooves that create the rich, beautiful sound that is so distinctive that it could be patented?  First, I couldn't find any evidence that the first Vibrator mouthpiece had ever been patented.  Second, we have the answer based on these pictures of a subsequent Vibrator mouthpiece.  Those of you who are familiar with vintage mouthpieces may be familiar with versions of this piece, although not necessarily when sporting the Vibrator logo.

Does that trade name look familiar?  This is another stencil piece, meaning that it was made by a mouthpiece manufacturer and stamped with the trade name of the wholesale purchaser.  These were made by Riffault.  90% of Riffault's production was stenciled for the foreign market, mostly the U.S. and are seen with Brilhart, Penzel-Mueller, Woodwind Co, etc., logos on them.  The shanks of these pieces appear to have been milled after the molding, and there are some slight variations, but more similarities than differences.

If stamped "Brilhart Hard Rubber" these can sell for over $500 and are claimed to be made of super-duper hard rubber (although Mr. Brilhart simply said that he bought some stock pieces or "blanks" from various suppliers to make his hard rubber pieces).  If stamped Penzel-Mueller or Vibrator," then they sell for under $100.  If not stamped at all, then about $30-40.  Such is the power of a trade name or a famous endorser.

It is slightly more complicated than that.  Below is a picture of the chambers of the two mouthpieces shown above.  The Vibrator from "Paris" has a full chamber like a Dukoff hard rubber piece, while the Vibrator from "France" has a straight sidewall type chamber, sometimes referred to as a "Brilhart-style" chamber.  So identical exterior shapes and even identical brand names on a stenciled mouthpiece doesn't tell you the chamber shape (as I've learned from buying vintage pieces on Ebay).  It would be honest to say that a vintage mouthpiece, as with life, is like a box of chocolates.

To further complicate matters, notice that the word "France" on the first piece in the top picture starts before the b in Vibrator and the "France" in the second picture starts after the b in Vibrator.  Those are likely from two different production runs.  They may also have different chamber shapes despite both being Vibrator "France" pieces.  As a final complication, Riffault molded these same chamber shapes in pieces that don't look like Brilhart, Dukoff, Vibrator, etc. mouthpieces on the exterior.  Oh, and some of the so-called Dukoff blanks are just that.  Completely blank with nothing engraved on them.  Those sell really cheap.  (I need to write a blog on American Hard Rubber Co., JJ Babbitt, and Riffault stock blank mouthpieces, although the stories would be even more sketchy than trying to chase down H. Chiron.) (Here it is).

Getting back to Vibrator, one could always claim that it is the exterior shape of the mouthpiece that matters, for instance, claim that exterior longitudinal grooves "add an evenness of tonal qualities to both jazz and classical playing at all volumes in all registers,"  like in the H. Chiron patent where it is claimed that the heel of the reed produced a tone.  That argument had been made and was even patented (or patent pending).  I find that argument as bogus as claiming that engraving the piece Dukoff makes it way better than when it is engraved Vibrator.  

Unfortunately, the power of the Vibrator name was not enough to  give the Chiron mouthpiece the financial success and cult following of the identical Brilhart or Dukoff mouthpieces.  The H. Chiron Company had the alto saxophone player Julius "Cannonball" Adderly as an endorser of Vibrator reeds back in the 1950s (see advertisements above), but apparently it didn't think to have Riffault engrave Cannonball instead of Vibrator on the mouthpieces that Chiron had stencilled.  Now that might have created success in the day and definitely would have a cult following at present.  Somebody else later figured out how to take advantage of "Cannonball" as a trade name and the H. Chiron Company faded away along with Vibrator reeds.

(to be continued if I ever find out what happened)