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.  In fact, I prefer the Acousticut.

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 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.  Here is a picture of one for sale on Ebay for $85.  The seller says it has been refaced, but is still "original," whatever that means.  The original tip rail appears to have been torn up.  Maybe that is "refaced" but still original?

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.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Riffault Saxophone Mouthpieces - Part 2

Some, but not all, Riffault mouthpieces are stamped "France," generally to the left side of the table when the table is facing you.  Because not all are stamped, I'm going to start with a little about Country Of Origin Labels, or COOL.  COOL has been part of U.S. trade policy for a hundred years, but there are different facets of it that make it a little complex.  I'll  go over it a bit, mainly about the conditions that might not require COOL on a mouthpiece.

The first situation is where the piece was made for the French market and not intended for export.  Most businesses involved in an international market would simply stamp the COOL as a matter of course, but it wouldn't technically be required in a non-export situation.  As we have seen, in matters of woodwinds, stamping something "French sounding" is good business, so a consumer would generally not object to a clarinet or saxophone mouthpiece being stamped "France" or "Paris".  Stamping a mouthpiece "Paris" was a common ploy of U.S. wholesalers when marketing U.S. made items and that does not run afoul of the COOL regulations, as "Paris," although misleading, is not a country of origin. 

Where the mouthpiece is intended for the international market, specifically the U.S. market, there are situations in which a U.S. business might not want "France" stamped on the side of the mouthpiece.  This would likely be the case where the purchaser is a U.S. based finishing business.  A finishing business like Woodwind Co. New York, for instance, might want purchasers to believe that they fabricate their mouthpieces in house in New York.  How can they get around importing French mouthpieces that are not stamped with "France," the country of origin?

Getting around COOL is quite easy.  If the imported item is worked on in the U.S., and the value added by that work exceeds the original cost of the item, then it is basically deemed "Made in the U.S.A."  This goes on with car parts from Canada assembled in Detroit (the car would be "made in the U.S.A.).  Saxophone parts from France and assembled in Kenosha  (the sax would be "made in the U.S.A.").  And the same for a French saxophone mouthpieces refaced, embossed, and packaged in the U.S.  If the mouthpiece blank cost $6 wholesale from France, and is faced, embossed and packaged in the U.S., and that adds another $6 in value, the item can avoid the COOL requirements.  I think most mouthpiece refacers would agree that the final finish work always adds more than 50% of the value to a blank mouthpiece.

In the case of a Riffault mouthpiece, if a bulk purchaser wanted to avoid COOL, it would only need to have sufficient purchasing power and a long enough lead time to order pieces from Riffault without the standard "France" label.  Lacking that, or simply by mistake, some supposedly U.S. made mouthpieces did end up with "France" stamped on the side.  In many cases, those pieces can be identified as being produced by Riffault. 

Here is a style of Riffault that we will meet in a minute.  It was finished and embossed by Woodwind Co. New York.  It has the WWCo. "Steel Ebonite" trademark instead of the Riffault "Steelite Ebonite" trademark.  It also does not have a Riffault tip and lay designation on the side.  Instead, it has the WWCo. "K5" lay stamped on the top of the body.  Oddly, it does have the "France" country of origin label on the side.  I guess that slipped by on this one.  Question:  Which do you think is the better hard rubber, Steel Ebonite or Steelite Ebonite?

Here is a WWCo soprano piece marked with Riffault's trademark "Steelite Ebonite" and no country of original label.

This WWCo piece has the Riffault three bands and a later style Riffault COOL stamp that we will meet in a minute.  

In some cases, the finishing business was right up front about the source of the blanks used for their pieces.  The following is from an Ebay auction for some remaining stock of Ponzel mouthpieces.

HI, This is Peter Ponzol and I want to tell you about "The Ponzol Store". I've been in the mouthpiece business since 1985, so you can imagine how many mouthpieces I have collected over that many years that are discontinued, B stock, prototypes, samples and one of a kind. Up for auction is the last of the original hard rubber alto mouthpieces from 1990 in a C* opening. This is one of the last made from the old French Riffault blank. Its probably never been played except by me for testing. I have two of these and this auction is for one of them. I'm listing this to call your attention to "The Ponzol Store", which is where I have listed the entire collection of these odds and ends. Please note that I am no longer selling my products to Musicians Friend and their affiliate companies. The new Ebay and online seller of Ponzol products is Octave Music. Contact me if you have questions. Shipping to the Cont US is included. I will ship to the UK, the EU, Japan and Canada. Shipping of one mouthpiece between $26-$39 depending on country. Please do not bid unless you have positive feedback. Payment expected within 48 hours.  Thanks and many greetings. Peter

Here are the mouthpieces that were being sold.

These mouthpieces have a flair shank and are some of the last produced by Riffault et Fils before the sale of the company to Hérouard & Bénard in 2001.  I was told by H&R that this particular model is not presently in production (although shown in their catalog).  The chambers can vary, but the model is usually issued as the Superfini, which was explained to me as having a interior polishing to remove all mold lines (probably using some of the purpose-made tools shown below).

Click to enlarge.

Of course, Mr. Ponzel would likely have altered the lay and possibly even the chamber in producing his own pieces.  But using Riffault French blanks (or JJ Babbitt U.S. blanks) seems to be common for a startup business and even some longtime businesses.  It eliminates the need to invest in expensive molds or, more costly yet, vulcanization equipment.  

Riffault blanks also show up, apparently in their original unaltered form, as "student" mouthpieces rebranded with U.S. names like Revelle and Harmony.  Because there would have been no further finish work done in the U.S. on those inexpensive pieces, they would need to meet the COOL requirement and often also carry the Riffault trademark "Steelite Ebonite."

I have seen three different COOL stamps used on Riffault mouthpieces.  They are kind of a generic font, so it may be the consistent placement as much as the font that would help us identify a Riffault piece.  I have always seen "France" stamped to the left of the table (when facing you) as shown below with the smallest font .  And by small, I mean really small (1 mm).

Look closely, it's here on this older piece.  Sometimes the COOL is very faint.  Maybe there was an attempt to remove it from this piece, which does not have any other markings than a #3 facing.

The Riffault trademark "Steelite Ebonite" appears on many pieces in a 1.5 mm font, although this piece does not have any other Riffault identification other than an R7 facing (.080").

The facing numbers for Riffault mouthpieces are shown in this recent brochure from Hérouard & Bénard. 

Riffault also used a 2mm France stamp.  Here it is on a Vito Melodia tenor.

And here it is on a seemingly identical "no name" tenor.

I said "seemingly identical because, even though they both have #3 facings, there is a difference.

Vito 3V and a no name 3.

The no name 3.

The Vito 3.

The Vito is one of Riffault's Superfini pieces.  The mold lines have been polished out, as mentioned above.  Does it improve the piece?  I'll have to play them later and see.  

And here is my third "identical" piece, this one marked "N2."  Sometimes the number is before the letter, sometimes after.  Does that mean anything?  I don't know.

The #2 designation is supposed to be .060 inch, but this one measures .066.  

And this chamber is different in that it is smaller and doesn't blend as smoothly into the bore.

Again, since there is no Noblet brand name stamp on it, I'm not sure that it sold with a Noblet saxophone or if "N" is a chamber style or what.  It makes buying Riffault mouthpieces a guessing game if the seller doesn't provide a picture of the chamber, which is generally the case.

I think that the third COOL font came last.  It is a color embossing, which means that the mouthpiece is stamped with a thin layer of colorant between the mouthpiece and the stamp.  That is what gives the white, gold, or yellow color to the etching on a mouthpiece.  Riffault's COOL stamps over the years did not have color except for this COOL France stamp with the fancy "R".  When this stamp was used, Riffault's trademark "Steel Ebonite" was usually colorized as well, even in cases where there was no brand name.

An older style "bulb shank" with a colorized swooping R.

Steelite Ebonite is now colorized as well, but there is no other name on this tenor piece.  Not even a facing designation.

Even though this is an old bulb shank style on the exterior, it has a raised baffle the length of the chamber.  And even though there is a molded drop off point where the chamber and bore meet, it has been "poli à l'intérieur" as Madame Mimault said of the Superfini models.

Some of you may recognize the above chamber as the vintage scroll shank Selmer Soloist.  Here is a side-by-side comparison of a Riffault and a Soloist.  

Choose carefully.  There is a $100 difference between the two.  Here is a sound clip comparison of the Riffault and the Selmer Soloist when both have a good facing. 

I haven't yet figured out the exact meaning of the facing "letters."  Riffault had production contracts with various woodwind manufacturers, and it appears that some manufacturers had specific facings (or maybe specific chamber designations for their particular saxophone?).  A "V" facing often appears on Leblanc U.S. (Vito) mouthpieces.  An "N" facing on G. Leblanc (Noblet).  "C" on Buffet.  Roman numerals on Dolnet.  "R" on Riffault and many unbranded pieces.  But an "N" facing can show up on Vito pieces, "V" on no name pieces, etc., and occasionally no letter designation at all on some pieces that have a numeric tip opening.  And then there are the blanks finished by others who stamp their own tip and lay designation on their pieces.  It appears that I may have to spend several more months in France to figure it all out.  Darn.

Finally, the best help in identifying a Riffault mouthpiece is if it just has the Riffault logo stamped on it!  I learned that Maurice Riffault was reluctant to use the Riffault name on his own mouthpieces.  I don't know if the logo indicates a piece from the mid-70's onwards, when Jacques and Bernadette Mimault convinced him to start marketing under his own name.  Here is some advertising from 1989 that shows the Riffault logo.

Some pieces that I have seen stamped with the Riffault logo don't have the COOL stamp on the side because "France" appears in tiny print under the Riffault name.

Here is a piece with the Riffault logo on a later "bugle shank" piece like the shape of the Vito shown above.

Riffault inside the scroll work frame.  The three parallel lines used for decades on their clarinet pieces now starts to routinely appear on their saxophone mouthpieces. 

Here is a later "bugle shank" Riffault with the same Soloist style chamber.

They liked their logo so much that they may have used it for other clients.

I'm running out of mouthpieces to photograph right now and will have to go through a few drawers to locate some more Riffault saxophone mouthpieces.  So that's the end of this blog for now.  I'll show some other Riffault models in the next blog and link to it here when it's written.  

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