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M/Pieces - Ligs Mouthpiece manufacture

McCruiskeen

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I am puzzled by much of the advertising blurb about mouthpieces and their manufacture, especially the claims that they are "made by hand." They are presumably machined from blocks of metal, ebonite or whatever and the machining must surely be preset to the required tolerances etc. With computer-contolled machinery it must surely be possible to automate the process, with a human operative checking and finishing. So when Geoff Lawton died and his son Jason took over production does this mean that Geoff and Jason were working together, making mouthpieces, and now only Jason does it, or are there several "operatives" at the Lawton factory operating machines and maybe Jason checks the finished products? Are the Lawton mouthpieces currently being produced under the name of Jason Lawton the same product that was being produced under Geoff Lawton? Obviously there is a name to uphold and they must be using the same design and the same machining parameters as well as the same machines (and possibly the same operatives, unless there really is only Jason sweating away!) So how does one separate the hype from the reality and are the mouthpieces currently coming out of the Lawton factory under the auspices of Jason, identical to those that came out under the auspices of his father, Geoff?
The "Spin" from Sax UK is that one may have to wait a few weeks for a Lawton, implying that Jason is on his own and at full stretch. Just what is the reality here?
 

griff136

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I live in Exmouth Devon.
Hand made saxes are generally made from "blanks" which are basically machined materials such as ebonite(hard rubber)metal and other materials such as delrin,wood or ceramics. These blanks are then drilled, filed, shaped measured, re shaped re filed re measured etc until the desired tip opening is achieved, and most are then extensively test played before being cleaned up and sent out for retail. Some makers "buy in" blanks from other companies like Zinner in germany and other makers manufacture their own like Freddie Lebaye

heres a video of freddie lebayle making some of his http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tH2hipayKu4

As far as Lawtons are concerned Jason did take over after Geoff passed away I dont play on lawtons but I imagine there will be differences in the way they play as there are in two mouthpieces made in the same size by the same person. IMHO they will all have subtle differences - some folk will like the older ones and some will like the new ones. I dont play on Lawtons so I wouldnt know.

Rhys AKA rhysonsax in this forum has a few Lawtons so you may want to get his opinion on the new versus old makes of lawton pieces.

As for sax.co.uk's "spin" on it who knows maybe they're out of stock and are waiting for some new ones or maybe Jason only makes them to order - I think to get to the bottom of this you would need to get if from the horses mouth i.e. Jason Lawton.

I for one would not want to purchase a mouthpiece without having it on trial for a week. I think Howarth's is probably one of the only places where you can do this with mouthpieces and they stock lawtons also- Ed Pillinger does this approval system too for his mouthpieces.
 

jonf

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Betelgeuse
Are the Lawton mouthpieces currently being produced under the name of Jason Lawton the same product that was being produced under Geoff Lawton?

So how does one separate the hype from the reality and are the mouthpieces currently coming out of the Lawton factory under the auspices of Jason, identical to those that came out under the auspices of his father, Geoff?

The "Spin" from Sax UK is that one may have to wait a few weeks for a Lawton, implying that Jason is on his own and at full stretch. Just what is the reality here?

I've had both 'old' Geoff Lawton Mouthpieces and the current range made by Jason. Couldn't tell the difference, both were great.

Hype - I don't see any 'hype' coming out of a tiny firm like Lawton. Whatever, I'm not interested in it, I just play the things, and if they play well, then that's all I'm bothered about.

Are Sax.co.uk spinning anything? Aren't they just low on stock, demand exceeeding the supply which can be maintained by a very small outfit?
 

rhysonsax

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You might be interested in this interview with Geoff Lawton in the UK Clarinet and Saxophone Society magazine Vol. 21/4 (winter 1996). I had a go with scanning and OCR (please excuse any spelling mistakes) so here it is:
*****************************

THE MOUTHPIECE MAN: GEOFF LAWTON in conversation with JOHN ROBERT BROWN

Recently world-famous mouthpiece maker Geoff Lawton visited the City of Leeds College of Music, to chat to the students about his work. After Geoff s chat to the students at Leeds I visited him at home. This friendly, quiet, but still wonderfully enthusiastic mouthpiece guru lives in a leafy road in Macclesfield, in a house which has his mouthpiece workshops ingeniously (and almost invisibly) built in.

Three things impressed me about that day in Macclesfield. The first was the thing I've already mentioned, Geoff s keen enthusiasm. After four decades of spending every day thinking about saxophonists' mouthpiece problems he could be forgiven for finding the subject threadbare, there was no evidence of this. Geoff still seems happy to talk about mouthpieces all day.

The second impressive memory was the tidiness and order in which Geoff works. I served an engineering apprenticeship before I was a professional musician. I have seen - and worked in - a few machine shops and tool rooms. Geoff Lawton's workshop is a model of cleanliness and logic.

Thirdly, and most impressive, is Geoff s generosity with his knowledge and discoveries. At no time did he balk at telling me about his methods or materials. No secrets, just skill, patience, enthusiasm and generosity. Lots of each.

JRB To go back to fundamentals; who first decided on the optimum size for a saxophone reed?

GL I believe it was largely to do with trial and error. I've every admiration for people who were around in the 'thirties and before, because some of them were brilliant. They didn't have computers, but they had horse sense. You can go a long way with a bit of horse sense. It's unfortunate that not many people seem to have it today.
JRB It's been educated out of them?

GL I'm sure that, very largely, it was due to trial and error.

JRB So it's not the outcome of calculations?

GL No. It's the same with mouthpieces. A lot of it is trial and error. There are certain things that you can do, and certain things that you can't, do. For instance, you can't make a great big long lay. As you make the lay longer it means you've got to put more into your mouth. Otherwise you can't get a seal. The air blows out from the side. If you make a very short lay, you're in trouble again. You can't get the amplitude of movement on the reed. Consequently the high notes are OK, but you can't get the bottom notes. You lose the control. So what you've got to do is produce a mouthpiece that will play the entire range of the saxophone. Today everyone prefers to be able to play another couple of octaves above. You have to try and build that into it.

JRB So a modern mouthpiece is different from a 'thirties mouthpiece?

GL Not necessarily. Brilliant players like Sigurd Rascher have been playing two or three octaves above top F for years. But there's no doubt that a high baffle helps you to play high harmonics. It excites the upper partials of the note. It helps, but it['s not essential; you can still play harmonics on an ebonite mouthpiece with a big bore, if you've got that sort of embouchure. I make the complete range in three chambers in ebonite, but I've never advertised it much. I'm pretty busy making metal mouthpieces.

JRB Which material is most satisfactory to work?

GL Metal. If you prefer ebonite, here's no point in forcing yourself on to a metal mouthpiece. Ebonite does give a different sound, a more woody sound. Even if you go to a high baffle, you still get a more woody sound. And it's very comfortable in your mouth; you've not got this problem of a cold mouthpiece. Although it's quite rigid, it feels quite rigid in your mouth. I've just had a card from John Williams, who plays with the Count Basie band. He's used one of my mouthpieces for over twenty years. He started off on metal because that was the only one I made. He loved it. When I started making ebonite, he changed. Now he occasionally plays metal, but by and large he plays ebonite.

JRB You must have met the greatest players.

GL Yes. When I first started making mouthpieces, it was the heyday of visiting American bands, to a man, I don't think I've ever been put off by any approach I've made to any musicians I just said, 'I'm Geoff Lawton, I make saxophone mouthpieces.' They would say, 'Oh, great - we know about you. Come and have a talk.' I remember meeting Gerry Mulligan when he first came over with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet. I was with him in the band room. He played the mouthpiece and said, 'It's a wonderful mouthpiece, but it isn't me. It's not the sound that people expect to hear when Gerry Mulligan plays the baritone, although I would love to play it. It's so easy to play, and it's so big and resonant.' He was only in his early twenties all those years ago, and was extremely nice. Roy Reynolds played with Stan Kenton. He's still playing today, in Canada. I met Harry Carney. He was absolutely wonderful. The Ellington band were here for a week and I went with him to several of the concerts, including one in Leeds. It was the ultimate Duke Ellington band – Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope, Paul Gonsalves, and Carney. I really got on wonderfully with Harry Carney. He was terrific. He introduced me to everyone in the band, and I was with them more or less all the week that they were here. He played my mouthpiece most of the week. While I was with him, musicians in the band were coming up and saying, 'Hey, you sound really good tonight, Harry. What have you got, some new reeds?' But again he said. 'It's the best mouthpiece I've ever played. Except it's not me.'
JRB Both Mulligan and Carney had characteristic sounds.

GL They both played on 1930s mouthpieces, with cavernous chambers. Anyone else playing on one sounds as though the saxophone is blocked up.

JRB Somebody once told me that Carney used a wooden mouthpiece.

GL No. Ebonite. Made by the Woodwind firm. Roy Reynolds played on my mouthpiece. He's English; a wonderful player. He went to America and played with Kenton. He introduced me to the Kenton band, and they all played Lawton mouthpieces. I was at a particular concert and Stan Kenton knew I was there. He told the audience that he'd led bands for forty-odd years, and he'd never known a time when two saxophonists played the same mouthpiece. Bob Cooper would come on the stage with a shoebox full of mouthpieces, and every time they had a two bar rest he was changing mouthpieces. He was missing cues because he was changing a mouthpiece. Kenton said, 'I'll bring them all out. I think they sound the best they've ever sounded. I'll feature them and see what you think.' He was really chuffed about it. Funnily enough when Basie was over here for the last time, Frank Foster (who has played n my mouthpieces for twenty-odd years) said, 'I don't do this very often, as it's not the type of music you expect from the Count Basie band. But we've got Geoff Lawton in the audience tonight, without whom I wouldn't be playing today. Then he said, 'I'm going to play a number for him.' He played Milestones, with the rhythm section. It was great. I met Wayne Shorter a few years ago. Twenty or thirty years ago you could go to these concerts and they'd let you in without any trouble. Now they all have this ridiculous security, and you can't get near them. I think he was in Manchester somewhere. It was, 'Oh no, you can't come in.' It just so happened that one of his people heard the name Lawton, and he said, 'You're not Mr. Lawton, are you? I've been trying to find you for years. Every time we go to a different country Wayne has us going round the different shops seeing if we can find Lawton mouthpieces.' So I was in.

************

continued in next message.
 

rhysonsax

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JRB About your beginnings. You started making mouthpieces for the players you were playing with?

GL There were two other players. They asked, so I made them. They seemed to be rather more than highly delighted. I thought maybe there's something in this. Then Les Lovelady, who played baritone with the BBC band, liked the mouthpieces I made him. He introduced me to the Bob Sharples band, and I got two or three in that band. Then I met the guy who played baritone in John Dankworth's band. At that time the Johnny Dankworth band was very big. Very quickly I sold quite a few to London session musicians. At that time there was very little in the way of metal mouthpieces. I concentrated on the baritone for that reason. I said to John Dankworth, 'Would you like one?' He said, 'I'm an ebonite person.' I said 'Take it, you never know.' The next thing he wrote to me to say that he was playing on it, and it was absolutely superb. For thirty-five years he's been paying on that mouthpiece of mine, and he loves it. So that's how I started. Then I met Harry Carney. He was friendly with someone in Manny's in New York. He went in and mentioned my mouthpieces, and that got me going with Manny. I've sold thousands of mouthpieces through Manny in New York. I'm a bit of a perfectionist. I even do the plating, because I could never be happy with someone else doing it. They either knock the mouthpiece, or the plating comes off, or they don't put enough plating on. When you're talking about gold, you're talking about money relative to something you're trying to sell for around $150. That's after the shops have taken their profit and the Government have taken their thing. Gold has been $850 an ounce! It's not that expensive now, but it always teeters around $500-$600. You can't put too much on ...Underneath the gold it's silver plated, which is also expensive. The base metal isn't brass, like most people use. I just use the best materials available. I use nickel silver, which is one of the most noble alloys you can get, 50% dearer than brass. There are so many possibilities with a mouthpiece relative to the lay, the width of the rails, the shape of the interior, the height of the baffle, the size of the throat, the thinness of the tip, the angle of the bite, the width of the mouthpiece, the material it's made of. Then there are all the different openings. I make from four star up to fifteen star for America. If you compute all that you find it's completely endless. If you're going to copy something, which one should you copy? You might be copying the wrong thing. For many years George Coleman played one of mine. I'm a big fan of Ernie Watts, and he uses one of mine on alto. Pepper Adams played on one of mine for about four years before he died. Charlie Fowlkes played on mine; he was a great baritone player. The sound that he used to get was unbelievable. You could almost see the sound coming out of the end of the baritone. Christiane Wickens plays mine. Ron Holloway, who was with Dizzy Gillespie for four years, must have fifty or more of my mouthpiece. He wouldn't sell you one for anything. He plays with Gil Scott-Heron. His forte is the ability to play harmonics. The best player of harmonics I've ever heard. I'm expecting him on the doorstep any day now. He must have been here fifteen or twenty time; he's mouthpiece mad! When he first got a Lawton mouthpiece he got a flight out here right away, from America. I get people who are jibbing at coming forty miles. He comes three thousand miles. Sonny Rollins played my mouthpiece for many years. He's had terrible problems with his teeth. He's got a rubber mouthpiece at the moment and he's playing on that.

JRB And your rivals?

GL I think they are extremely expensive. People have been brainwashed into the idea that you get what you pay for. If you go to a shop and buy the most expensive thing in the shop, it's going to be the best thing. In a lot of cases that's true. If you want a good car you buy a BMW or a Rolls Royce. You pay a lot of money and you know right away that car is going to be a good car. So that mouthpiece is £350 and this one, which is a Lawton, is £150. But this Lawton is better. Some young people can't think that that could possibly be true. They think that there's something in that mouthpiece that must be better, otherwise how could he sell it for £350? However, until recently mine was the dearest on the market. Considerably dearer than a Link. Links are made in a different way. Not machined from the solid, they are made in two halves, silver-soldered together. There's a minimum of hand work that can be done by less skilled people. Guardala are made from a piece of brass, machined. I don't use brass, I prefer to use something that's a more noble material. I have a complete range of mouthpieces made from surgical stainless steel. I defy any of the people who make mouthpieces to make one from stainless steel.

JRB It's horrible to work.

GL Unless you were an absolute fanatic, and you'd done twenty years in a tool room, you wouldn't know how to start with stainless steel. Brass is like a boy's material. The big advantage, if you like stainless steel, is that it will last for ever. It will never need replating. It will never wear. You could drop it on the floor and you'd be very unlucky if it dents. Larsen made some. They went through a period that was laughable. The reed used to overhang the mouthpiece by a thirty-second of an inch on either side! But they overcame these problems. Much better made now. Good luck to them. It really has amused me that people will pay as much for a mouthpiece as they will for a saxophone. You can buy a soprano saxophone, beautifully made, or £600. You can pay £650 for a baritone mouthpiece. There's no comparison with the relative amount of work. There isn't £600 worth of work in a baritone mouthpiece. I couldn't charge people for the time spent on mouthpieces - talking about them, worrying about them, trying different ideas. I'm never satisfied. I'm still trying new ideas. I can show you a box of mouthpieces where I've tried every mortal thing that it's possible to do. I've had round bores, square bores, diamond bores, ribbed bores, curve walls, concave walls, areas near the tip lowered, high baffles, V baffles, reflector baffles. Long lays, short lays, flat lays, curved lays.

JRB Movable baffles?

GL The problem with movable baffles is that no matter how you make anything that you stick into a mouthpiece, you can never get away from a certain amount of air noise. No matter how well you make it there's always an edge. When you blow the air through, it hits that edge and creates air noise. You can only get a mouthpiece that has no air noise if you have a perfectly aerodynamic shape. You have a few people in the world who think about saxophone mouthpieces. Eventually - if you are like Arnold Brilhart, who's been making mouthpieces all his life, and a damned good saxophone player - you've tried everything. I make saxophone mouthpieces in nickel silver, brass, some in pure bronze - basically high tin and copper.

JRB Bell metal?

GL I also make a tenor mouthpiece in bell metal. Pure bell metal. It's extremely hard, but if you dropped it on a hard surface it would break, crack like a pot. It's similar to bronze, but contains more tin. Proper bell metal has 20 tin, 80 copper. Very similar to what Zildjian make their cymbals out of. But it's all a matter for the individual player.

*********************

I have spoken to Geoff Lawton and to his son, Jason, on the 'phone and they were both very interesting to talk to. It is very much a personal business and not a factory. Unlike many other makers, Geoff (and now Jason) machined everything from solid rod and did not use moulded or cast blanks. They probably contracted out the gold plating and maybe even manufacture of the special ligature and cap. Geoff was constantly experimenting, and trying new ideas out, although I believe that Jason sticks to making the most popular models, without 'unusual' or new ones.

Rhys
 

TomMapfumo

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Skabertawe, South Wales
I for one would not want to purchase a mouthpiece without having it on trial for a week. I think Howarth's is probably one of the only places where you can do this with mouthpieces and they stock lawtons also- Ed Pillinger does this approval system too for his mouthpieces.

Dawkes also do a similar service currently, which is helpful. A number of mouthpiece manufacturers are actually one person operations. In some cases, like with Morgan Fry (http://morganfrymouthpieces.com/), they start from scratch and machine tool and hand finish everything, producing their own blanks to start with out of solid material. Many more probably have certain companies producing blanks to order which they then work on both internally and externally until they reach a required standard and design. Phil Engleman (http://www.phil-tone.com/), who has produced 5 of my mouthpieces actually hand makes them all, with a two week turnaround on average, after an exchange of emails discussing requirements of sound, tip size etc. Phil, like several other mouthpiece manufacturers I know, will adapt the mouthpiece if necessary until the desired sound, tone, volume etc. is achieved, at no extra charge. At the same time lots of folks seem to know just what they are doing.

So lots of people make them to order - even if they are advertised by a retailer who, supposedly has several different tip openings in stock. They will often take an order, contact said mouthpiece maked and arrange for a specific type and size of mouthpiece to be supplied, often with a waiting time specified. I imagine that such people have several mouthpieces on the go as the process may stretch over time without constant working, and allowing for play testing.

Hope this helps answer your question in addition to the other contributions made.
 

aldevis

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Many more probably have certain companies producing blanks to order which they then work on both internally and externally until they reach a required standard and design.

Outsourcing?
Please have a look here:

(Edited Link.
Original page had a picture of Vandoren mouthpieces)
Hard rubber
 
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Jules

Formerly known as "nachoman"
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brighton by the sea
I
The "Spin" from Sax UK is that one may have to wait a few weeks for a Lawton, implying that Jason is on his own and at full stretch. Just what is the reality here?
I deal with Jason Lawton a couple of times a week at least. He is definatley a one-man operation with a backlog of orders....
 

tzadik

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Friulandia, Italy
To me... it's not important how the mouthpieces are made.
The main "problem" is understanding what you need and what you expect to have from a mouthpiece.

Hand made vs. CNC maching?
No winner.
I own astonishing hand made pieces, and astonishing CNC pieces.
CNC machining is more expensive... you have to have the CNC machines, great CAD/CAM skills, a large factory.
A 5-axis CNC cutter can do almost everything (except coffee, sandwiches and few other important things) but you have to program that to do that things.
Some internal geometries are almost impossible to realize without CNC tools... think about Theo Wanne pieces.

I think we don't be influenced by the marketing hype... but just we just have to consider how the piece works/sounds... or can work/sound.
 

TomMapfumo

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Outsourcing?
Please have a look here:

(edited link)

Not sure what point you are making? I did try to work it out but the article is rather long, and gave up.

Kind regards
Tom:thumb:
 
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aldevis

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Not sure what point you are making? I did try to work it out but the article is rather long, and gave up.

Kind regards
Tom:thumb:

It is a big company producing ebonite. I just noticed the brand of the mouthpieces on the first photo...
 

McCruiskeen

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Locality
North East England
Thanks for your comment - I am beginning to feel my way into the subject with yours and the earlier ones.
 

McCruiskeen

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Locality
North East England
Thank you, Tom. The collection of answers from so many kind people (like ypourself) who have taken the trouble to post considered, informed and informative replies has been invaluable. Thanks to all!
 

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