Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Stencil Mouthpiece Hoax Part 2

If you've read the Stencil Mouthpiece Hoax part 1, you've seen the comparison of different stencils based on the way the tables were cut.  Some of the mouthpiece finishing businesses changed the tables from the general design of the common blanks from which their mouthpieces were made.  This blog is just to add a little more understanding of the variations between pieces.

I'm going to talk about two different "lays" on a mouthpiece. Generally, the term lay is used to discuss the curvature from the table to the tip on a mouthpiece.  But there is another lay that effects how the piece plays.  That is the lay of the table to the shank or neck opening.  Normally, that is taken as a given and only the "curvature lay" is discussed when adjusting or refacing a mouthpiece.  But if you placed your various mouthpieces on a table (assuming that all players have dozens of mouthpieces) and thought of them as tiny cannons that shot out of the shank, some would shoot high and some low (although probably with only a 5 degree difference).  Still, that's a 5 degree difference on the angle of the baffle, it changes the aspect of the tip opening to the shank opening, the amount of material left to form a baffle, etc.  The overall thickness of the table can also effect how a mouthpiece plays.

I'm going to again look at the Dukoff hard rubber saxophone mouthpieces.  These are pricey little buggers.   Most of them play nice.  Most of them are blanks from JJ Babbitt (like my Selmer I'm going to use for comparison).  Most of them have different "table lays" than the JJ Babbitt blanks used to make their "cousins," as discussed in Part 1.  Here's what I mean.

I used my calipers to measure from the table to the top of the beak lip on a Dukoff hard rubber alto piece.  I've already measured the barrel diameter, length, etc. to ensure that it is the same Babbitt blank as my Selmer.  The curvature lay hasn't begun at this point, so it doesn't influence this measurement.  I'm just getting a measurement as to how much was ground off to produce the flat table from which the curvature lay was then formed.

Now, I'm going to put the calipers on the Selmer Elkhart-NY that is one of the mouthpieces often erroneously claimed to be a Dukoff clone or a Dukoff blank.  I changed the aspect of the calipers so that the white background could show through better.  

There is a difference of about 1mm less on the Selmer Elk-NY.  That means that the table on the Selmer was ground down 1mm further at this point before the facing curve was put on.  This could mean one of two things.  Maybe the quality control was such that the generic blanks differed by as much as a millimeter on the table accuracy on every piece that they produced.  Or maybe Dukoff not only put on a different curvature lay (and baffle), but also put on its own table lay (or ordered a different table lay from Babbitt, the manufacturer).  

Not shown here is a similar measurement I took at the back of the barrel, measuring the distance from the mouthpiece table to the top of the barrel right before the shank starts.  For this measurement, the Dukoff is less than the Selmer, meaning that the mouthpieces don't just differ because of a butt cut that only lowered the back of the Dukoff's table as was shown in part 1 by just looking at the tables.  A closer examination shows that the Dukoff's entire table was canted such that more material was left at the front of the table as compared to the Selmer Elk-NY.  The effective difference is actually increased because the entire table is tipped.  Or, using a different point of reference, you could say that the tip opening and internals of the mouthpiece are effectively tipped different as related to the neck of the horn.

What does that mean to the claim that a Selmer Elk-NY can be used to clone a Dukoff Zimberoff?  Well you can do a butt cut to lower the rear of the Selmer to get it to the Dukoff"s reduced thickness at that end, but how are you going to add material at the front of the table to get it up to the Dukoff's additional thickness?  Answer:  you're not going to.

One of the many other issues in trying to mimic one vintage piece by modifying it's lesser known cousin is whether you will end up with enough material at the tip to form the same type of baffle.  Part one showed the difference between the generic blank baffles and the generally more refined "big name" baffles.  It looked a little iffy as to whether simply opening up the tip on the generic would leave enough material.  It could well be that a little rollover baffle commonly put on a generic piece precludes ever having enough material to mimic a "big name" baffle.

If that's the case, no need to despair.  You just need to pick which "big name" baffle you can imitate, if that is your desire.  Here's our Selmer Elk-NY blank on the left compared to an older Dukoff on the right (a Fluted-Chamber hard rubber piece).  Click to enlarge.

The Fluted-Chamber model, which also has a cult following, just has a simple rollover baffle.  So the Selmer can definitely be made into a "Dukoff Fluteless-Chamber," if you need to claim some type of strained pedigree.  If there is enough material after the tip is opened, it can be brightened by adding the exaggerated clam shell style baffle and then it will become an "Almost Dukoff Zimberoff," if you want some more strained pedigree.  Of course, we will need to ignore the difference in the cant of the table in making our feeble pedigree claims.

Or maybe, as I suggested in part 1, we should use the great vintage mouthpieces for guidance in improving their generic cousins, rather than slavishly following the fallacious idea that we can faithfully reproducing a great vintage piece (and paying huge vintage prices based on a mistaken pedigree).  It's quite an accomplishment to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but to then say that it's really a Louis Vuitton purse is a little too much.   Same with calling a modified generic Babbitt blank a Dukoff or a Brilhart (even though that's exactly what Bob Dukoff and Arnold Brilhart did).  Mssrs. Dukoff and Brilhart began by modifying generic blanks.  But when I do that, or you do that, it's a __YOUR NAME HERE__ mouthpiece.

The goal for me is to take my old $30 or less vintage Babbitt-made Selmer Elk-NY mouthpiece and make it into a fun to play, warm, interesting, med-large chamber vintage hard rubber mouthpiece.   It already has a little nick on one rail that could be fixed with some refacing work.  Looks like another blog is in the making.