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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.