I'd like to add some info for you here as to the situation at Link (JJ Babbit). First, Links are not made from a mold; they're made from a die and are not cast like my mouthpieces or Dukoff’s. I don’t mean to start an argument but you can’t get an accurate result by holding something like a business card on the table. I mean come on, the edge has to be perfectly level and I doubt a business card or a reed is level. Also, I never see a Link with anything but a really flat table and the facings are perfectly even too. There is however lines that run across the table as a result of the method they use for leveling the table. They use a grinder. But I’ll tell you something, it really doesn’t matter that much because reeds aren’t perfectly flat or symmetrical anyway so it may actually be advantageous to have tables that aren’t perfectly flat. What matters is if it gets suction. Anyway, everyone has the right to believe what they want and I respect everyone’s opinion.
The facing themselves are perfectly fine unto themselves. Facings have been standardized for years and years and usually, except for some crappy Bergs (actually I think all Bergs are dogs) the facing begins to break away from the rails at 7/8 2/32's of an inch. I don't know what that is in metric but it doesn't matter.
Now, I'll tell you something. Facings don't mean squat provided it's a reasonable facing. I'll tell you why in a different way. Because our reeds mirror the facing and when you pick a reed with a standard 7/8 2/32 length facing, you're picking a reed that MIRRORS that facing well, understand? A reed that works well with that facing. So, if that's true, and I don't expect you to believe me just because I've been making mouthpieces for twenty-five years, then that means that if the facing is slightly longer or shorter we're just going to pick reeds that are heavier or lighter in the front or the back, understand? For clarification I'd just like to point out here that I'm not talking about tip openings. That’s a separate issue entirely if we’re speaking on a high level here and I trust that we are. Remember to keep the variables low for simplicity sake.
My mouthpieces all have slightly different length facings but it doesn’t matter because we automatically, subconsciously, unknowingly or I suppose knowingly play reeds that work better on that particular facing or mouthpiece. Also, the saxophone leaves a lot of room for compensation, a LOT of room, so we also adjust with our embouchure and air stream. That’s provided you know how to play. I’ve been saying around here for a while now, based from what I read, sometimes there’s more time spent screwing around than practicing. STOP IT! Stop fumbling with equipment and put your nose to the grindstone if you really want to achieve the goal of being a good player. It’s takes a lot of discipline and diligence to be even an average player so stop concerning yourself with two thousandths of an inch or some nonsense like that because the difference between reeds is going to easily eclipse or negate the difference between .002, dig?.
I’m a perfect example of someone who threw a perfectly good music career away and became a mouthpiece maker. I became obsessed with mouthpieces and you can’t be obsessed with two things at the same time. Maybe some of you are not as drawn away from your playing as I was but it’s safe to say that the mouthpiece quandary does distract you to some degree from what could be time better spent PRACTICING, okay? Thomas said it best, “learn to play the Link you got”. Whether you know it or not, that’s deep. They’re not THAT different once you find the reed that works best with that individual piece. I’m not saying that there’s no difference between a 10 and a 7, one’s more open but two #7’s aren’t that different especially when you start playing them back to back and you end up sounding the same after a half hour or so by compensating. And believe me, that’s exactly what will happen if you practice the saxophone enough, enough so that you begin to transcend the equipment. I know, I did it and so can you. That doesn’t mean that one won’t FEEL better than the other but the difference in sound alone will be negligible. I mean, I’d be really surprised if you were playing a gig and people said ”uh oh, he’s playing that number two Link #7 made on December 12, 1972 that he had tweaked by that master crapsman again!”. “Yeah, the left side rail just below the table looks slightly uneven and sort of swings to the left in an arch then twists upward causing the high Eb to be slightly off center”. Come on, a good player can play just about anything and make it sound great.
I remember when I used to play with my customers when they came over and in a short time I would start sounding like the guy that I was playing with. That’s because we pick up on nuances in PHRASING, it’s a phenomenon, understand? It’s like a little miracle, they happen all the time but we don’t see them that way because we don’t want to. Its part of what happens when you practice enough and it doesn’t take being a Coltrane or a Sonny to do it. It takes listening. Check out Brecker when he played a Link and you’ll find it’s bright, funky and beautiful and it ROCKS. Even when he played a rubber Link. He did it by PHRASING in the rock or funk tradition, by listening and playing what he hears. He also played closed Links which are brighter; he told me he never played more than a #6. Here’s another secret: More closed mouthpieces are brighter than more open mouthpieces. That doesn’t mean that a Link #5 is brighter that a Dukoff #9, it means that a Link #5 is brighter than a Link #8, understand? That’s why mouthpieces with high baffles are usually more open unless of course you are talking about someone who doesn’t hear the difference and believe me, there’s plenty of people like that. So remember, high baffle mouthpieces are thinner when they’re more closed so the bigger opening compensates for the higher baffle, okay?
Now I’m going to tell you something that you may not like. You may not like it because all you hear about is facings this, facings that and baffles. This facing stuff has been going on for decades and it’s almost 100% folklore and I hate it. I hate it because it propagates ignorance, stupidity, even if it is on a small level and I read it all the time and remain in silence afraid that I might be politically incorrect and get slammed. Well, I say take what you like and leave the rest; if you don’t like what I say then don’t utilize it. Ignore me. So here it is: Facings are a small part of what’s REALLY happening. The chamber is where it really happens. Every one of my mouthpieces from the very dark Jazz model to the super bright Rock/Fusion have the same facing radius i.e. ellipse aka spline and yet they all have totally different playing characteristics. That is unto themselves when there is no player present. Bobby Dukoff does the same thing and in fact every mouthpiece maker does. The facing radius is always the same but different chambers/baffles are what really distinguish one sound from another.
Now, I'm going to tell you the primary reason why older Links play more live than new Links. Notice I don't say they play better because some players like more dark pieces which IN GENERAL the new Links are. Let’s say that they’re deader which translates into more resistance which some people prefer. I don’t really like the term “deader” because it gives a negative connotation which I don’t like but it gives players the feeling that they're blowing up against something. Some people call this resistance and don’t like it. For some reason which I don’t know, consumers think that the products that they buy are made in a certain fashion for reasons usually other than what they really are, okay?
In other words we think that mouthpiece makers are Gepetto like fine craftsman whittling away in their little shops, taking pride in their work, going about in a jolly way. WRONG. Most mouthpiece makers are ordinary manufactures like any other one that makes light bulbs or cough drops. THE BOTTOM LINE DICTATES WHAT PROCESS THEY USE. Cost analysis, understand? Quality control? THERE IS NONE as long as they continue to sell. It’s not about arts and crafts or respect for music or musicians, it’s about money. It’s business, understand? When I first got friendly with the Babbit people, I asked one guy if anyone in the factory played sax and he told me no. Then I asked him what saxophone players he liked and he told me that he listened to country music. Just because a company makes Spaghetti Os doesn’t mean the company president eats them.
Okay, we’ve hopefully established that the new Links are not as vibrant or are deader. That’s in general anyway. So if that’s true then that means that the baffle is lower, right? Well, not quite because if you compare an old Link to a new one they are about the same. Of course you have to take into consideration that they variations from Link to Link too. I’ve been promising to tell you why the old Links are “better” now for a while so here it is. The TABLES are HIGHER on the new Links so the baffles and the entire chamber are lower which translates into a darker piece. If you look inside any new Link and compare it to an old Link, you’ll notice that the distance or thickness between the inside of the chamber under the table and the top of the table is heavier on the newer Links. It’s thicker so if you’re buying a new Link look for the one with the thinner table and that will be the most live one.
Why? Why would they do that when it makes the mouthpiece less vibrant especially when the most vibrant Links are still on the dark side? Well, in a nutshell, money. There’s less waste if you make them heavier there. When you machine the table flat before traversing into the facing, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure being placed against the table. So much that as the cutting tool gets closer to the window where the table is thinner because of the angle the table is on, it sometimes cracks. Believe me, I know because I spend hours on mouthpieces that end up in the trash for that very reason. Thus, resulting in the high price but also resulting in a better product. Hopefully. Sometimes you can cut the window back but only a little before the whole mouthpiece starts looking like one big hole.
So, you have a brand name that’s been around since the thirties, they sell like crazy, Coltrane, Dexter, Sonny, Stitt, Bird, Getz, Brecker, and just about every tenor player used them and you’re selling about five thousand a year so what do you have to do? You have to keep the price low because we’re looking for some minor nuance that’s barely noticeable except probably psychologically and we’d rather buy ten okay pieces than buy one really good one that we have to wait for a few months. It’s exciting looking for the Holy Grail but if you think about it, it’s stupid. We continually buy the same mouthpiece hoping, praying that it will be “BETTER”.
Which brings me to a great movie called “The Red Violin”. There’s this scene where this super violin player is in Duval’s, a high-end violin shop trying violins. He’s trying a Strad when his eyes pick up on a red violin and asks Samuel Jackson what it is and he replies “That’s nothing, really nothing special at all”. Because Jackson is trying to acquire the violin himself he discourages the guy from buying it. I’ve done the same thing : ) The violin player insists on playing it and concurs that it in fact is really nothing special. But, when the word gets out that it’s being auctioned off and that it’s this world famous red violin that’s been missing for a few hundred years, the violin player gets infuriated and says “That son-of –a bitch! He lied to me!” I hope by now you’re starting to understand. OUR WORLD IS MADE UP OF PERCEPTION. Similarly one day a player called me up very upset and told me that he dropped his solid silver Hollywood that I made and that it no longer played at all. He made an appointment and when he came over I couldn’t find anything wrong with it. I told him so and within a few minutes it was playing just as before. I have a hundred of these stories just as dramatic, many with heavy hitters too. We’re very easily influenced. So I tell you, get a good piece if you can and stick with it until it becomes home. Phil
The Red Violin
What the Bleep Do we Know
Animated Earth by Daniel K. Statnekov (out of print)
My Mouthpiece Philosophy by Phil (Free for the asking)