What's a "stencil" mouthpiece? As with saxophones, stencil is a term applied to designate a mouthpiece that was ordered by a woodwind manufacturer, an instrument wholesaler, or a music store to be used as a private label piece for their exclusive sales. Most mouthpieces are stencils. Don't believe me? Read this blog.
Let's get back to Lester Young's mouthpiece. It's an obscure stencil. I know, you've heard about Mr. Young playing an Otto Link 4 Star and maybe you've seen a picture that sure looks like he is playing an old Link. And you've heard that he played a Brilhart Ebolin and seen a picture of him playing a black mouthpiece with a white tooth guard. Fine, maybe he did. But I'm talking about the other mouthpiece. The last mouthpiece. The one that he still owned when he passed away in 1959. The one that we really know that he owned.
His last horn and mouthpiece sat in his brother's basement for 56 years. Mr. Young had given away his Conn tenor years before he passed away and he had kept a Dolnet tenor that had been presented to him a few years earlier. Any prior Brilhart or Link mouthpiece was also given away, sold, stolen, or whatever by the time of his death. But the Prez still had a Dolnet horn and a mouthpiece. In fact, here's what Dave Pell, the first person to play the Prez's set up, said when he got ahold of it.
What the heck is an Emil Lyon tenor mouthpiece? Turns out that we have to go off into stencil land again. I've seen a few Emil Lyon clarinets. They show up on Ebay once in a while.
I have never seen or heard of an Emil Lyon saxophone, so I don't know why there are Emil Lyon saxophone mouthpieces. It could be that Emil Lyon was a sufficiently popular trade name in clarinets such that the distributor decided to try and branch out. First with a sax mouthpiece and then maybe an actual sax? I don't know. But I have seen an Emil Lyon saxophone mouthpiece. It's white plastic. And it's not uncommon. That is because the identical mouthpiece was stenciled with trade names other than Emil Lyon in the 1940s, 50s, and maybe as late as the 1960s.
The actual plastic material used in making these pieces was never really addressed by the various sellers of these stencils (if the sellers even knew). When these pieces were stenciled for Sorkin Music under the trade name Revere, a 1958 catalog said that the mouthpiece material was ivory (third picture) when shipped with the Revere Paris Model saxophones. That's just advertising hype. I can't find what the mouthpieces were called when they were stenciled King for H.N. White, although they shipped as one of the standard mouthpiece with the Super 20 horns (and changed over the years). When stenciled True Tone for Buescher and shipped with the Aristocrat saxophones, this 1949 catalog said the material was Lucite (at page 7). That's possible.
Lucite was developed in the 1940s and first prominently used as the "plexiglass" gunner's window on the B-17 Flying Fortress. It is still used in making everything from jewelry to dentures. The fact that it can be injection molded to make "fake teeth" shows that it can be produced in mouthpiece colors that look like ivory, as well as some of the later plastic mouthpieces that were red, blue, etc.
Whether these old stencil mouthpieces are actually Lucite (a trademarked recipe) or simply some form of injection molded polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) isn't important. The generic term most people use is white plastic. White plastic mouthpieces became popular because of injection molded mouthpieces being produced (maybe in house) by Arnold Brilhart in the 1940s. The stencil pieces we are looking at appear to be a knockoff of the Brilhart plastic mouthpieces.
Brilhart made injection molded PMMA mouthpieces in white (Tonalin), black (Ebolin), and clear (Tonalite). Mouthpiece princesses, as discussed in another blog, can hear the difference between these different colors, despite the fact that the mouthpieces were produced in identical injection molds using the identical material. I believe that the differences that they are hearing, if any, are caused by the varying quality of the individual facings, not the colors. Or, possibly auditory hallucinations based on a preconceived notion of what they should be hearing from a certain colored mouthpiece.
The weakness in these plastic mouthpieces is the brittleness of PMMA (watch out for cracks in the shank). If you click on this picture, you can see one. It's easy to see because the plastic is white. Black PMMA mouthpieces, like the Brilhart Ebolin series, also commonly have these cracks. Most people never notice the cracks, especially on the black pieces.
One solution to reduce cracking was to use rubber toughening, whereby small amounts of rubber are added to PMMA to try to stop the cracks from developing. It makes the material slightly less brittle, more resistant to shock and stress cracks, and often results in surface crazing that doesn't actually progress to a larger crack. Brilharts are famous for needing a metal band on the shank because of developing cracks, and the other plastic mouthpieces of the era can have the same problem.
Rubber toughening does not seem to add any protection from surface wear, and Brilharts and other PMMA mouthpieces seem to suffer more than most from tooth gouges. Click on the picture below and you can see that the tooth gouge has also spawned a crack. Because these pieces are white, little stress cracks are more obvious than with the black PMMA models. The black plastic mouthpieces have cracks just as often, but they tend to go unnoticed. With care, and especially with a shank band and a tooth guard, these can easily go another 50 years.
Although the gouges can be fixed, it generally isn't done because vintage plastic mouthpieces aren't collectible (yet). The tooth guards on vintage Brilhart pieces are the same PMMA material as the body of the mouthpiece, just a different color, so it is a guard in name only.
Okay, back to Lester Young's mouthpiece. You probably want to see what it looks like. Here is an Emil Lyon mouthpiece.
Here it is stenciled as a Medallion and with a black after market tooth guard (recommended, for reasons that you saw above).
There is really nothing about the exterior shape that gives a clue about the interior shape. In fact, the Revere trade name was later used on a different exterior shape. Below is an example of the later exterior with the same narrow or "late Brilhart style" chamber. If you are selling one of these generic pieces, you could also call it a "Dukoff style" chamber. Or, to be honest, you could call it a standard Babbitt PMMA chamber, as discussed below.