Otto Link Tonemaster Marinated Masterpiece .097

This is a wonderful player, “Bluetrane” period Otto Link Tonemaster restored to a tip size of .097.  I would classify this as a chocolate butter rich complex tone. It has more clarity and projection than an original Tonemaster by a large measure, but is also not a super bright modern vibe at all.  It is very much accurate to the aesthetic of the original Tonemasters but extremely clear and brilliant with a true facing making it very reed friendly and not stuffy in any way.

For modern mouthpieces this would be considered dark I guess, but for a vintage Link this is probably in the middle tonally, and for a Tonemaster it might be just a bit bright and shimmery- still not a bright piece.  It is very organic and flexible.  It’s a joy to play this one, no effort was spared in making it the best it could possibly be without hyping or altering the inherent character.

Obviously not a whole lot of plating left on this one.  Biteplate shows some use (because it really was always just an inherently great piece) but the biteplate is functional and I will leave it.  Will work fine with or without a patch.

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Otto Link “Missing Link” 4-Ring Transitional Rare Mouthpiece (Part 1)

I just got this amazingly rare and special piece, an otto Link 4-ring transitional piece from Tonemaster to ‘Super’ Tonemaster; this is the first Super Tonemaster before the ‘Double Ring”.  It is a NY production piece from the Otto Link (not Florida, Ben Harrod).  This has the first super tonemaster body and from my feeling a slightly different chamber from Tonemaster as well, but not exactly the same as double ring.  Of course the double rings models vary plenty amongst themselves but this still feels a bit different to me.



This type of piece was immortalized in photos of John Coltrane, specifically this set by Charles Stewart taken in 1964.  He was always switching mouthpieces of course but it is interesting that this is somewhere near the ‘Love Supreme” recording time period.

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Horned Toad’s Vintage Otto Link Survey Videos!

Marin Spivack, veteran restorer of vintage mouthpieces takes an in-depth journey through the different models of vintage Otto Link tenor (because they are a lot less famous for alto) saxophone mouthpieces. We will cover the 1940’s to the 1970’s. Not ALL models and examples will be featured but plenty of detail based on what is available. Be prepared for corny humor and some time wasting, it’s a bit long, but you may learn to identify and understand the differences in the models. There may be mistakes and contradictions, we do our best. This is for the true nerds and enthusiasts.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Vintage Saxophone and Mouthpiece Currently For Sale


For availability of vintage saxophones and mouthpieces in stock please see the above link: “Vintage Saxophones & Mouthpieces For Sale”.  That will show current offerings, sold and on hold offerings, as well as up and coming “in-shop” projects.  Please feel free to ask about future offerings.  Additionally there are many items that ARE NOT listed on the for sale page that are packed away, not operational yet, or just not fit into the schedule to list. Early inquiry is a good way to beat the crowd to get the special item you have been searching for.  Thanks!

To French or not to French; the question of the French Curve and a new solution

I am now offering a very special service that I have pioneered with very interesting results; the Table/facing Transplant, which as far as mouthpieces are concerned is really a heart transplant.  No need for the piece to be suffering from congestive heart failure to justify the treatment, but it is about as involved and tricky as a heart transplant.

Many vintage mouthpieces, and especially hard rubber pieces, have what we call a “French Curve” on the cut of the table.  What is a French Curve?  It is a rounded cut of the table, a concavity of one form or another.  In many cases the concavity of the table runs back to front of the mouthpiece table, in other cases it is concave side to side.  In some cases it is both, and in many it has not made up its mind.

I have been told by professional well known saxophonists over the years that what made those vintage otto Links and Dukoffs play and sound so specially was the French curve, which makes the reed respond in a particular way.  For a while I also considered holding this somewhat mystical belief, but years of hand work, experimentation and observation of results on mouthpiece have shown me the truth of this question.

The “French Curve” as it is called, can contribute to a certain response or sound from the mouthpiece, but not to any extant that a ligature of different material, construction, or shape can, and that is pretty subtle, unless it simply does not fit well, which can be very obvious and a different issue.  The specific positive contribution of the French Curve is really that it creates a space underneath the reed (at least temporarily) creating more possibility for vibration, or less dampening of the reed.  It was suggested to me by Ernie Sola that the problem with the French Curve was that while the first few minutes of playing might be thrilling, eventually the reed absorbs enough moisture and surrenders to the shape of the curve that the ligature presses it into.  I also carefully considered this for a long time working on various mouthpieces, and I have found it to be true.

My favorite Slant Signature Otto Link had a very pronounced concavity in the table.  it is one of the earliest Florida models, facing marking on the side, a short blank with a very high barrel shelf over the beak.  This was my best sounding Slant Otto Link, for approximately 17 minutes, at which time it became my, ‘sounds a lot like my best sounding Slant Otto Link, but a whole lot stuffier and diffuse sounding Slant otto Link”. This happened repeatedly of course.

One day I had been playing that mouthpiece with a specially good reed, in between sessions working on a clients Dave Guardala tenor piece.  When I took that reed out to test the Guardala piece, it squealed like a hog named “BBQ”, chirping and squeaking any number of the most ‘out’ but uncool notes my ear could imagine.  of course I could not imagine what the heck was going on because I had done a great job on the Guardala setup.  After examining some other possible reasons for the ill wind blowing, I took that reed off and as I did I notice that I could rock that reed on the flat Guardala table on three different facets, which really should not happen.  This meant the reed was bent into three separate angles.

As I looked down the length of the reed I could clearly see the relief imprint of the curved table from the Slant otto Link, who’s shape that reed had surrendered to.  Now, the problem with the French Curve here, is that it renders a good reed useless on any other mouthpiece, and then beyond that it becomes useless on the mouthpiece it conforms to within less than half an hour anyhow.

The problem with the French Curve situation is also that it tends to be present on old and very nice vintage mouthpiece with usually small facings, or at least facings we would prefer not to have any smaller than they are. In some cases we may even want them larger.  The usual solution for the French curve involves sanding the table down until we reach a fully level surface that has one angle AND fully seals the pressure under the reed.  Not only does the French Curve allow the reed to be squeezed into an undesirable curve, but that non-level table surface also allows air to leak pressure under the reed and behind the table when it should stop at the facing break.

The problem with the normal approach to addressing the French Curve is also that on these old mouthpieces it would not be at all uncommon to lose one whole digit of tip size reducing from, for example, 7 to 6 (.100 to .090) while sanding that table to level, because the concavity can be quite deep.  This is not a reduction I am comfortable with, seeing as many of those piece are already small and many people would even want them larger, certainly not smaller.

So I have found a good solution, based on a lot of thought and years of experimenting.  I am at this point able to transplant a new table ONTO the mouthpiece, and even a new facing curve if one wanted to enlarge the tip and curve size without affecting the tip or baffle of the mouthpiece.  When opening up a mouthpiece for example we have only a few options:

1) Working the tip, we can re cut the facing curve and sand the tip open provided we have enough material at the tip.
1A) Shortening, if the material at the tip is not enough, we can shorten the tip to achieve a thickness that we can then open.
** results of working the tip will necessarily include an enlarged or lengthened baffle due to the change in angle and increase in material present at the newly angled tip.
2) “Butt Cut”, we can change the angle of the table, rocking it open from the rear, resulting in a larger tip provided we have enough material under the table and height of the table above the shank.
** results of Butt Cut will include a thinning of the floor under the table and the widening of the table itself, as well as a chance in reed angle relative to facing, which will absolutely affect response.
3)  Hammering or bending. we can flew the tip open on metal mouthpieces provided the metal is thick/strong enough.
** results of hammering will be an increase in baffle material, weakening of metal at the tip, and even breakage.  I never hammer unless it is to straighten a damaged tip, or repair another issue.

The easiest method for opening is of course hammering, which I do not do because it is destructive to the mouthpiece and does not provide a result that resembles how most old mouthpieces were intended to play or sound. The next in line for “easy” (cue sarcasm here) would be the standard working from the tip.  It is certainly not easy, but still less involved and troublesome than the Butt Cut, which takes a LOT of sanding and will just as likely result in failure, because it is hard to predict the final angle and whether or not the metal available is sufficient.  Most often I would not choose to embark on a Butt Cut, because it is just too tiring, too long, and too unpredictable.  The important point here, is that ALL of these methods do involve a change of either angle, or baffle to the mouthpiece, there is no way to avoid it.

The Table Transplant method, while very involved and labor intensive for sure, is one way to avoid changing either the angle of the reed or the configuration of the baffle.  With this method we can actually open a piece without affecting the initial design of the mouthpiece, besides the distance of the reed from the tip.

At this point, it IS a very laborious and time consuming process that I would recommend on the smaller scale (Table Trasplant) for mouthpieces that are great but suffer under the reed killing French Curve, and on the larger scale (Facing Transplant) for special mouthpieces we might want to open up without altering significantly.



Big Tip Lust

A while back it seemed online that one could not avoid reading descriptions of vintage mouthpieces for sale with gushing exclamations of their virility based on the …. large tip sizes.  What a popular refrain, ‘everyone likes their mouthpieces BIG’ or ‘bigger the better’.  It’s been a long running joke between myself and other mouthpiece interested friends.  In husky tones of an old pervert we muse about the hotly desired “BIG TIP”.

Well it’s funny really.  The joke itself is funny, but the really funny part is that it actually became the fad it did and swayed a whole section of the population of saxophone players looking for the right equipment as well.  That is actually a troubling part.

There are of course a great number of pro players, well known and otherwise who play larger tip sized mouthpieces to get the sound they want, with varying results.  That is of course what works for some people, so I am not trying to speak AGAINST it.  The practical way to look at this is of course, use what works for you, period.

One of the funny aspects of the rise of this fad, though, is that some people, who spend a lot of money on mouthpieces, who got caught up in this chase, would also at the same time be asking how they could get a sound like Coltrane, or Dexter Gordon, or those old cats etc.  I think it became en vogue to buy the ‘rarest’ or most expensive vintage mouthpiece, thinking that would get you the ‘best’ sound, regardless of what the sound you really wanted was.  Unfortunately, the rarest most expensive mouthpieces get you the rarest most expensive mouthpieces, and that may or may not have anything to do with the sound they help create.  Their price is mainly determined by a set of collectors and the demand that they create.

For people who are asking how they can get a ‘vintage’ sound like Coltrane, like Dexter Gordon, like Parker or later hard boppers like Joe Henderson, or many of the other old time players, large tips are more often the antithesis of that sound.  Very many of the jazz saxophone names of the 1940’s and 50’s made their sounds on smaller tip sizes.  it was not until the 1960’s that most of the mouthpiece makers even offered larger sizes with any frequency, and even then they were not ubiquitous.

Coltrane was well known for playing Otto Links with a tip size of usually 5* and apparently no more than 6.  This is specifically how that focused clear sound is delivered.  There is an opinion out there that larger tips allow for ‘more air’ to be put through the horn, creating a ‘bigger sound’.  of course that may be true, I have also experience it, since I have been through many many mouthpiece configurations.  However, I am not convinced that putting more air through the horn is essentially the most important thing if what you are focusing on is tone.

In my view, the most important thing regarding tone and articulation on the saxophone, is control of the air and the reed.  A larger tip may allow more air to pass, but it also reduces control of that air, and essentially reduces a kind of resistance.  That resistance is what one can use to avoid running out of air for example and allowing for more comfortable longer lines to be played. Some people will add resistance back by using harder reeds, but that top has side effects.

Again, it is a choice, not a wrong or right one, just a personal preference and it often relates to personal physical realities as well.  However, there are also physical realities of the saxophone, such as smaller tip mouthpieces physically have the baffle and tip rail closer to the reed, creating more natural brightness without the need of a higher baffle.  This closer proximity also creates a more reliable altissimo note as well.  As we move towards larger tip sizes the baffle and tip rail are further from the reed and brightness is definitely lost, so generally, larger tips will require an additional level of baffle height to reach a similar brightness.  The larger baffle on its own creates a change in what we call ‘venting’ at the tip, which determines the thickness of notes, and especially the higher notes on the horn.  Higher baffles create more bright, and less venting, so can lead to a kind of thick feeling on some notes.

Generally the quest towards larger and larger tip sizes can (not in all cases) become a sort of trap in which one really wants better venting and thickness so goes for a larger tip, then loses brightness so then wants a larger baffle, then loses venting so wants a larger tip.. then again and again until thoroughly confused.

Some of the same comfort can be found on smaller tip sizes of the piece is vented properly, faced accurately and combined with the right reed.  However, like everything else in this combination of variables we call the saxophone, there are compromises.  The smaller tip will have better air control, but a slightly more balanced sound, meaning sacrifice some ‘large feeling of sound’ in favor of clarity and control and brightness.  Larger tips will have that perceived large feeling, but sacrifice control clarity and bright.  Of course each person has their preference and people can get used to almost anything and make it work if they want to.

I have just received so many messages, inquiries, with people asking me how I can help them sound like whatever famous name from 1957, how can they get that sound?  Can I make them a piece that will help them sound like that person?  I always ask them what size they play, and I have too often got the response something like “I feel most comfortable on a 0.118 tip size or something like that.  “I like to play a 9* Otto Link but I want to sound like XXXX player” … and that player often played a 5*.  Sometimes people watch my videos and ask me how I get my sound.  I am not the world greatest saxophone player, not the greatest technician on the instrument, but I focus on TONE and communicating musically what *I* want to communicate.  I was never interested in being a technician really.  I play usually 0.090 – 0.100 in tip sizes, and currently 0.097 and not an extremely hard reed either. That is how I do it.

Vintage Sound; Great Mouthpieces “on the CHEAP”

I am absolutely a fan of old and ‘vintage’ Otto Links for example, I am playing on one addictively at the moment myself, however, for those looking to get into and educate themselves on the vintage mouthpiece thing, it is good to know there are alternatives the expensive ones.

There are a number of vintage mouthpiece blanks of varying designs that regularly sell for very little money on ebay, or can be found as junk for free or close to it in the normal mouthpiece pickin’ places.  Some of these pieces cost almost no money, have no basic collector value and can be turned into absolutely excellent, professional, and sonorous pieces by yours truly.

I have offered finished versions of them for sale on several locations in the past, such as the notorious SOTW forum, and even had people telling me I was trying to rip people off with my low prices for junk and ‘worthless mouthpieces… what can I do?

Anyhow, some pieces to consider in your travels if you like ‘on the cheap’ are hard rubber woodwind sparkleaire, or steel ebonite.  There are a range of chamber designs and the same mouthpiece also comes in different brand names, but I have made a few of these that simply blew the regular $1300.00 otto Link Slant totally out of it’s throne.  Some of these I have made are simply better than the expensive pieces.

Also the Johnston Selmer Elkhart mouthpieces have a couple of interesting blanks, one of them is actually a Dukoff/Zimberoff ‘supersonic blank, and one of them is similar to a Woodwind NY blanks.  Same goes for the simply Selmer Elkhart version.

For a really killer hard rubber mouthpiece, I mean, just old short shank Selmer C* is a great starting point.  I make these into luxury sports cars, they are just so good.  Not everyone likes that big profile, but the sound is wonderful and was apparently good enough for both Joe Henderson and John Coltrane frequently as well so that ought to mean something.  They run very cheap as well, which means just as much.  Even cheaper are the long shank versions, which may be easier to tune in a lot of situations.

More on this topic later as I rummage through my boxes.