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Mouthpieces What is special about re-faced vintage mouthpieces?

nigeld

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I have been wondering why some people think that vintage mouthpieces are so special, and why they command such high prices.

I presume that this is partly due to the nostalgia for a lost golden age that seems to pervade the saxophone world. And I also presume that the high prices are partly due to collectors competing over a limited resource. But I doubt if it is just that.

Most vintage mouthpieces that I see for sale seem to have been re-faced - often to provide a much wider tip opening than the original. And that makes me wonder what is “vintage” about them.

As a thought experiment, let us suppose that I buy a vintage Otto Link tenor mouthpiece with, for example a 5 tip opening and get it refaced by an accomplished mouthpiece maker (let us call him, or her, AMPM) to an 8. In my ignorance, it seems to me that the result is an AMPM mouthpiece rather than a vintage Otto Link. So to what extent does the the sound of the re-faced mouthpiece depend on the original and to what extent on AMPM’s handiwork?

If the original mouthpiece is an essential part of the result, then what is it about the vintage Otto Link that survives the re-facing process and is so special?

If the result is mainly due to the re-facer, then why not buy a brand-new mouthpiece from AMPM?

So why would a similar design or a direct copy made by AMPM not be as good as a vintage mouthpiece that has been re-faced by AMPM?

I am genuinely keen to know. I don’t have a pre-conceived view on this. I have never tried a vintage Otto Link.

This discussion is not about whether a vintage Otto Link is a “good” or “the best” tenor mouthpiece. For the purposes of the discussion, we should assume that it can produce the sound that I want. My question is whether I could obtain the same result cheaper with a new mouthpiece from the same re-facer.

Nor is this a discussion about whether the sound comes from the mouthpiece or the player. If you believe that a player will sound more-or-less the same on any mouthpiece, then clearly it makes no difference whether the mouthpiece is vintage or not.

There is a related discussion about whether mouthpiece design has improved during the last 60 years. (If so, in what ways has it improved? If not, why not?) But I would like to keep that discussion separate from this one, which is about whether there is some special quality of a re-faced vintage mouthpiece that is not present in a modern copy.
 

Phil

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You have an excellent point and some good questions.

Vintage pieces sell for a lot mostly because people believe they are better. Some of the time they are better. Your example of Otto Links is a great place to start. Otto links made today are not the Links designed by the original company and maker. Regardless of tip size they sound different and play different. That is the case with both metal and hard rubber tenor versions. The alto has changed less.

Additionally, workmanship on earlier pieces tended to be better. However, that is not so much an issue if you send a piece to a good refacer.

Are refaced links still Links? Yes but they can be souped up or made darker than the original...or the refacer can stick to the original spirit of the piece. Its up to the customer. You have to keep in mind that vintage or production pieces are rarely play tested. Links were assembly line pieces. One vintage or modern link may sound and behave significantly different.

SO...you can get a new link and send it to a refacer. It WILL NOT sound like a slant or an early babbitt. The chambers on the modern Tone Edge is much significantly larger and the floor is considerably lower which makes the piece project less. It makes it more spread and can trend towards being tubby. If you get a "New Vintage Link" it also is not the same as a slant or EB. The chamber on those pieces is smaller than Slants or EB pieces. I consider them to be closer to a medium chamber than a large chambered piece. This is not to say either a TE or a NVL cannot be made into a good piece...it just will be different than its vintage counterparts.

Now lets talk modern boutique pieces (for lack of a better term). There are a number of pieces made in the spirit of, or copies of vintage pieces. I make several, other makers do as well. Are these as good as a vintage...a lot of players (including me) will say yes. However, you cannot dismiss the cult value of "Vintage". Players believe they sound better so in their slanted perceptions they do. If you pay 1300 dollars for a mouthpiece you are inclined to emotionally invest as well. Its basic human consumer psychology. Placebos have an effect, its proven over and over.

I can simply say that hell would freeze over before Id spend the price of a horn for a mouthpiece. Yes, my favorite player X played Y mouthpiece...he played it because that was what was on the market 60 years ago. That does not mean I need to go get one. It also does not mean that is what he would play today.

So those are some off the cuff thoughts. Its not the gospel...just my 2 cents and that wont buy anything.

take care
 

Colin the Bear

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Some vintage mouthpieces are very collectable. Being collectable bumps up the price. Gerry Mulligan's alto piece was on Ebay a while back for thousands of pounds. Lord knows what the asking price for his Baritone piece would have been.

I play vintage pieces on alto and tenor. They were reasonably priced, by which I mean less than half the price of a comparable new piece. I bought the alto piece because the tenor piece was so suitable. Sop and Bari are both S80. The bari piece is a vintage piece but only because I'm a vintage player and bought it new in the 1980's.

A lot of early pieces have a large chamber and there's little choice in this style with new pieces. It's true to say that some vintage horns play more accurately with a piece from their era. As these get used up, get smelly or are refaced the price inevitably increases with rarity.

There's a lot of players who like to show off with trophies and why not if you can afford it. Owning a piece of history can be quite satisfying. A souvenir of a time gone by.
 

nigeld

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I quite understand the enjoyment of owning a piece of history. I have a vintage Brilhart Ebolin Streamline tenor mouthpiece, which is the same type of mouthpiece that Lester Young played. This gives me great pleasure, even though my mouthpiece is clearly faulty, since I don't sound at all like him. And I choose to assume, without evidence, that my 1940's Brilhart is better than a modern Brilhart. (It sounds better than my Selmer S-80, which cost more.)

iu


But do vintage mouthpieces possess some technical quality that is not replicated in a modern well-made mouthpiece. @Phil doesn't think so. What do others think?
 
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altissimo

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do vintage mouthpieces possess some technical quality that is not replicated in a modern well-made mouthpiece
no - antiquity in itself is no guarantee of quality and it's quite possible that a modern well made mouthpiece is better than a vintage mass produced mouthpiece, although that depends on your definition of 'better'
A modern copy of a vintage Link may be too perfect - the accuracy of the facing curve and the perfected baffle shape may make it too good and you lose the imperfections that some people may actually like about their beloved vintage mouthpieces. It might be too easy to play a modern vintage Link-a-like and some people might prefer the extra resistance and the hard work required to get the best out of certain vintage pieces - all that practicing long tones and putting plenty of air through the horn etc may be what some people want in the same way some people may prefer the heroic struggle of driving a vintage sports car... the view from the top of a mountain my feel different to someone who's climbed all the way to the top instead of taking a cable car.
But I think most of the appeal of vintage Links etc is the mystique and romance of playing a mouthpiece that is of a similar era to the one's that Coltrane (or whoever) may have played. The whole 'vintage is better' belief system pervades the musical instrument market - if you think vintage saxes are expensive, take a look at the prices of vintage guitars - not to mention vintage microphones, amplifiers, tape machines and other musical equipment. There's a sizeable sector of the musical instrument industry devoted to selling vintage or vintage reproduction gear and of course it's de rigeur for bands to release their albums on old fashioned vinyl these days. Music itself often looks to the past for it's inspiration, authenticity and 'roots'.
I think in a world where the future seems uncertain, people want a bit of the past to cling on to, it helps them feel secure.
 

saxyjt

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The title says, what is special about re-faced vintage mouthpieces?

To me the most important word here is re-faced. The vintage element is just a way to ensure the fondation is probably right to start with. IOW, if you have a reputable mouthpiece that doesn't give you the expected results for whatever reason, you can safely guess that it will be improved by a knowledgeable re-facer.

I have bought a few Brilhart mouthpieces over the last few years, Ebolin first then Tonalin. I really like the Tonalin I have for alto, so naturally I looked for a tenor version to see if it would be as good. The one I found was a bit on the narrow side. It's a 4 Made in England but I need a hard 3 or 3,5 to make it sing. It's good, but lacks the flexibility of a wider opening.

So when I found a 5* at a bargain price, I jumped on it even if it had been rather violently opened to brutal 130 or so. I only managed to play it with a baritone Marca Jazz 2. Not comfortably, but at least it gave me the assurance that it could sing! Since it had been modified already, attempting a DIY refacing was not a good idea (if it is ever). Since I like the other two Tonalin I have, I decided to send it to @Phil after a quick exchange over email, to make it right and close the tip to a more reasonable 120.

I have been using it almost exclusively since it came back about 3 weeks ago and I love it!

I can't really spend too much theses days, so I'll have to wait for better days, but I will most likely repeat the experience with a few other mouthpieces that I have and feel they could be improved if re-faced. I think its worth every penny. :cool:

Using the vintage cars comparison, the mouthpiece chamber (shape, width, etc.) is the engine, the reed is the tires, the ligature is the suspensions, but the facing is the gearbox! May not be the best analogy, but sounds about right. :rolleyes:
 

Alice

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The title says, what is special about re-faced vintage mouthpieces?

To me the most important word here is re-faced. The vintage element is just a way to ensure the fondation is probably right to start with. IOW, if you have a reputable mouthpiece that doesn't give you the expected results for whatever reason, you can safely guess that it will be improved by a knowledgeable re-facer.

I have bought a few Brilhart mouthpieces over the last few years, Ebolin first then Tonalin. I really like the Tonalin I have for alto, so naturally I looked for a tenor version to see if it would be as good. The one I found was a bit on the narrow side. It's a 4 Made in England but I need a hard 3 or 3,5 to make it sing. It's good, but lacks the flexibility of a wider opening.

So when I found a 5* at a bargain price, I jumped on it even if it had been rather violently opened to brutal 130 or so. I only managed to play it with a baritone Marca Jazz 2. Not comfortably, but at least it gave me the assurance that it could sing! Since it had been modified already, attempting a DIY refacing was not a good idea (if it is ever). Since I like the other two Tonalin I have, I decided to send it to @Phil after a quick exchange over email, to make it right and close the tip to a more reasonable 120.

I have been using it almost exclusively since it came back about 3 weeks ago and I love it!

I can't really spend too much theses days, so I'll have to wait for better days, but I will most likely repeat the experience with a few other mouthpieces that I have and feel they could be improved if re-faced. I think its worth every penny. :cool:

Using the vintage cars comparison, the mouthpiece chamber (shape, width, etc.) is the engine, the reed is the tires, the ligature is the suspensions, but the facing is the gearbox! May not be the best analogy, but sounds about right. :rolleyes:
Wouldn’t the person be the engine and the mouthpiece the pedals?
The pad saver can be the fluffy dice, I guess.
 

nigeld

Too many mouthpieces
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The title says, what is special about re-faced vintage mouthpieces?

To me the most important word here is re-faced. The vintage element is just a way to ensure the fondation is probably right to start with. IOW, if you have a reputable mouthpiece that doesn't give you the expected results for whatever reason, you can safely guess that it will be improved by a knowledgeable re-facer.

I have bought a few Brilhart mouthpieces over the last few years, Ebolin first then Tonalin. I really like the Tonalin I have for alto, so naturally I looked for a tenor version to see if it would be as good. The one I found was a bit on the narrow side. It's a 4 Made in England but I need a hard 3 or 3,5 to make it sing. It's good, but lacks the flexibility of a wider opening.

So when I found a 5* at a bargain price, I jumped on it even if it had been rather violently opened to brutal 130 or so. I only managed to play it with a baritone Marca Jazz 2. Not comfortably, but at least it gave me the assurance that it could sing! Since it had been modified already, attempting a DIY refacing was not a good idea (if it is ever). Since I like the other two Tonalin I have, I decided to send it to @Phil after a quick exchange over email, to make it right and close the tip to a more reasonable 120.

I have been using it almost exclusively since it came back about 3 weeks ago and I love it!

I can't really spend too much theses days, so I'll have to wait for better days, but I will most likely repeat the experience with a few other mouthpieces that I have and feel they could be improved if re-faced. I think its worth every penny. :cool:

Using the vintage cars comparison, the mouthpiece chamber (shape, width, etc.) is the engine, the reed is the tires, the ligature is the suspensions, but the facing is the gearbox! May not be the best analogy, but sounds about right. :rolleyes:

If a you can buy an old mouthpiece, get it re-faced, and end up with a result that is cheaper and better than a modern mass-produced mouthpiece, then that makes a lot of sense.

But my original post was more about why people pay hundreds of pounds for re-faced Otto-Links, and what is so special about these mouthpieces. In particular, I don’t understand why a re-faced Otto-Link is still considered to be “vintage”, and why a modern mouthpiece by the same re-facer would not be just as good. I am guessing that there must be something special about these old mouthpieces, but I haven’t heard an explanation of what it is, other than the pleasure of owning a bit of history, which I understand completely, but which will not necessarily make my saxophone sound better than a Yamaha 4C would.
 

Phil

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The difference between cintage and modern links, aside from workmanship, is design. Chamber shapes, baffle styles, and size mean just about everything.

I bet money you would sound better on a higher end piece. A 4 C is ok but if you have good tone you have worked really hard. Take that hard work and put it on good gear and you should expect a richer, thicker, and more complex sound.

Anyway...back to vintage...the pieces are simply different. All otto links are not equal. They have been designed and redesigned MANY times through history.
 

Colin the Bear

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My center of gravity has moved forward since my younger days and as far as stiffness...well you get it where you don't want it and lose it....any way I digress, what was I going to say about geometry?
 

InWalkedBud

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Phil, you give a very clear idea of what's changed in the geometry of Links., and Otto Link Corp. must know that too. I wonder why they don't try to reproduce more exactly the vintage geometry that so many love when other manufacturers, like Retro-Revival, are doing so successfully, and commanding a good price for it as well?
 

Phil

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I cant begin to understand that either. Part of the fact is that they sell as much product as they produce. Despite what we as players would like, when a business consistently operates at capacity there is little impetus for change. From a business and psychological standpoint that is a LOT of positive reinforcement.

Just as a side note...and Im not knocking the product BUT Retro may be successful but they are not replicating pieces. Many models are not even close to accurate copys. They Meyer piece does not even have a floor or baffle like a Meyer. That does not mean it cannot sound similiar to a Meyer...It may even sound better than modern Meyers...there is more than one way to skin a cat...However, its not a replica.
The Double ring is not a double ring. It is a large chamber piece with a significant rollover baffle. DR pieces did not have that type of baffle.

There was a recent thread on STOW where someone challenged them and they said they are making piece to approximate the tone. That does not make it a replica. But anyway...it seems that some players like them. I have not played the DR tenor piece. I bet it sounds good because that kind of a chamber with that size of a baffle would sound pretty cool. But it aint a double ring.

Again, Im not knocking their product...I do find the marketing a bit more than deceptive....However, others do worse. I have seen some asian makes that call pieces florida links...they had straight sidewalls and a non link chamber. It not look, sound or play like a link. It wasnt a bad piece but it was not a link. Company's use catch phrases like this and I find it offensive..

If you are selling a Florida it dang well better be a Florida. Theo and I went to great lengths to digitally master the interior of a Florida. No shrinking from casting...no souped up baffle...straight up duplication. Im just a stickler for transparency and honesty in business so pardon me if I appear to be hopping on a soapbox. When one company or one guy behaves this way it reflects on all of. A lot of us are just trying to run a business and provide a service.
 

saxyjt

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Speaking of the far east, I might buy this just for the cap and lig :)

Mouthpiece Metal For Buckle Patches Pads Jazz Alto Sax Saxophone Cap Cap Golden | eBay

Well, the images are a bit strange, showing two different types of ligatures (single and double screws) then the description says:

"Package includes: 1 x Saxophone Mouthpiece(other accessories demo in the picture is not included.)"

after writing:

"Comes with a metal cap to keep it clean and a metal buckle to fasten reed."

So, I'm confused!

But, in any case, "Buckle Up!" before you play... :D
 

nigeld

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Speaking of the far east, I might buy this just for the cap and lig :)

Mouthpiece Metal For Buckle Patches Pads Jazz Alto Sax Saxophone Cap Cap Golden | eBay

The user review says that the tip measures 3mm - 0.118". I think that's about an Otto Link 11, so the buyer will need strong chops.

The text says:
Please allow 1-2cm error due to manual measurement.

So if you are lucky, you might get a baritone mouthpiece instead of an alto one.
And if you are unlucky, you might get a mouthpiece with a tip opening of 2.03cm!
 
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