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I saw that fake Jody Jazz mouthpieces were appearing on Ebay. The text in the Buy-It-Now "auction" was constantly changing. It first appeared as a Jody Jazz mouthpiece. Later, it said that the mouthpiece was a "JJ" brand, however the name on the mouthpiece was obviously Jody Jazz in the same gold font as the real thing. Some auctions said it was hard rubber, others said that it was bakelite. Bakelite (the real name is polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride)
is a thermosetting phenol formaldehyde resin that is not universally considered "food safe." It might not be something that you would want to put in your mouth every day (or ever). Apparently, the people manufacturing this fake don't know or don't care about what woodwind mouthpieces are made of.
It is obviously made in China. In fact, mine was shipped directly from China (although the Ebay store was located in Indonesia). Authentic Jody Jazz mouthpieces are hand finished in the U.S. and, according to their advertisements, are individually played prior to sale by Jody Espina (or somebody at his facility in Savanna, GA). Mine, being shipped directly from China, obviously was going to miss out on this quality control.
There were other telltale clues that mine would be a fake. The Jody Jazz HR* sells for about $200 in the U.S. The Ebay Buy-It-Now price was $26. I bought one and was immediately told that it was out of stock and my purchase price was refunded. I went back to the same site, where the price was now $28, and bought it again. Same thing happened. I went back and bought it at $30 and that transaction went through. It appeared that the seller had some kind of automated "sucker pricing" algorithm. That is exactly what one would expect from an Ebay scammer selling knockoff products. The mouthpiece showed up in two weeks with a cheap ligature and cap. Guess what? It was fake!
Although most fake Jody Jazz mouthpieces had disappeared from Ebay by the time I wrote this blog, many other fakes of various brands have recently appeared. Many of them also claim to be made of Bakelite. If you search Ebay for Bakelite saxophone mouthpieces, you may find fake Vandoren, Meyer, etc. Here is a picture of the fake plastic Meyers (falsely claimed to be made of Bakelite, but who cares). Notice that they have faked the current Meyer mouthpieces. Don't they know that the saxophone lore that the fake vintage Meyer Brothers mouthpieces play much better?
Late model fake altos.
$26 for a fake Meyer medium chamber. I have no idea what these are made of or what the chamber, lay, etc. looks like. You should not expect that it looks anything like an actual Meyer.
Back to my fake Jody Jazz. Here is what a real Jody Jazz hard rubber HR* looks like. This is a 7 tip (.105 inch). The shank has a smooth "bugle" shape.
Jody Jazz refers to their HR* model as having a medium round chamber. Because the chamber is slightly larger than the shank bore, I would refer to it as a medium large chamber. Here is my "chamber designation" rule for this type of mouthpiece.* If I look in from the tip and see the mold line between chamber and shank, it's large, i.e., the chamber is larger than the shank bore. If I look in from the shank and see the mold line, it's a small chamber. If there is no mold line, i.e., the end of the chamber is the same as the shank bore, it's a medium chamber. That's my test. Probably too simplistic and it's not too important here.
If I can't see the mold line from this direction, that means a large chamber. On these the mold line is very small viewed from the tip (previous picture), hence my calling them a medium large chamber.
Below is the fake Jody Jazz mouthpiece viewed from tip and shank. The view from the tip makes it look like it is a large chamber, but that "line" is just where the chamber drops into the larger shank bore. When viewed from the shank, it is obvious that this is a small chamber not anything like a real Jody Jazz. It is actually similar looking to an old Selmer.
A pea shooter chamber.
We don't have to go into much detail about the differences between a Jody Jazz HR* mouthpiece and my fake Ebay piece because they are clearly unrelated. First, it didn't even look like the picture used on Ebay (which might have been a picture of a real Jody Jazz mouthpiece).
The shank shape is wrong
The embossing on my mouthpiece was a complete ripoff of the Jody Jazz logo, but was apparently laser etched from directly above. This distorts the font a little.
The logo is distorted because it was printed from directly above. This makes the font lines thicker as it wraps around the mouthpiece, shown here as the "J" is further from the center of the logo.
Second, it isn't Bakelite or hard rubber. It appears to be injection molded ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), the same plastic used for black plumbing pipe and Legos toys. Is it food safe? Some say yes, some say no. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration stated in 2015 that some ABS formulations are food safe. Is my fake Jody Jazz one of those formulas? I wouldn't bet on it.
The rear edge of the barrel by the table shows the "flash line" common with injection molding. Not Bakelite, not hard rubber.
Yes, I put it in my mouth and played it in the name of scientific discovery. It played, sort of. In the Ebay advertisement, I had my choice of tip openings. I chose a #7 tip (listed as .105 inches). What I got was about a .060 tip opening. I'm guessing that, no matter what tip opening you request, you would get a .060 tip opening. A lot of players would never measure and many would never know. They find a mouthpiece that they like and simply assume that the tip opening is related to the embossed number. This fake didn't have a number (no surprise).
The tiny tip opening on my fake Jody Jazz is okay because the "finish" on the facing curve looked like it was put on with 100 grit sandpaper. There were obvious milling marks on the tip and rails and slight less, but still visible, marks on the table. The rails were tipped, the curvature was flat, etc. Just what I would expect from a fake $30 Ebay mouthpiece. Still, I was hoping that it would actually be hard rubber. It turns out that you have to pay $40 to get a hard rubber mouthpiece.
The first thing I did was to flatten the table. As is common with many mouthpieces whether new, old, Chinese, French, whatever, there was a sunken spot right at the top of the window. I suspect that this is a result of the temperature increase from milling the table flat. Fixing it gave me a chance to use a butt cut while flattening.
This is what I'm talking about.
I wiped this mouthpiece across 1000 grit sandpaper to show me if the table was flat. It revealed a high spot before the end of the window and another at the heel of the table (both shown as a lighter "scuffed" finish), This indicates a sunken spot in the middle of the table where you can still see the original milling marks. It could be that a reed is flexible enough to fill this area with enough ligature pressure, but it might also flex the reed in a way that effectively increases the tip opening and throws off the curvature. The picture above is an old Rico "Gregory" alto mouthpiece, but it is common to many mouthpieces.
Even with a butt cut to cant the table, that only opened the tip to about .072. Fortunately, the tip was thick enough to allow for a larger opening. And, given that the piece was a $30 fake, I didn't care too much how I altered it. The crooked rails took some time. Also, even though I thought that I was being careful, I kept getting the lay too long for my intended tip opening. I generally like long lays, but it was really easy to take a swipe and find that I had increased the "takeoff point" for the curvature by a millimeter too much. Frustrating.
I decided to concentrate on simply putting on a lay for a .095 inch tip opening and not worry about the length of the lay. This is not the accepted procedure. If you get the lay perfect from the .005 feeler gauge to the tip, and then go back and adjust the table so that the .0015 gauge measures perfect, you will find that you have altered every measurement. Your "perfect lay" will no longer be perfect. That is true in theory. But . . . .
You are measuring the "start" of the curvature with a .0015 feeler gauge and a rigid piece of glass. You don't play with a inflexible piece of glass. You play with a flexible piece of cane (or resin infused carbon fiber if you're smart). Try this test. Measure with the .0015 feeler and mark the side of your mouthpiece with a pencil. Put your reed on and slide the .0015 feeler in. Are you close to your mark. Further? Less? You will find that you don't end up in the same place. The reed, under pressure by the ligature, doesn't result in you starting at what you thought was the starting point.
Even if you accidentally end up at exactly the same point, you don't play with the mouthpiece and reed outside of your mouth (at least I've never seen anybody that could do this). So, put a tiny little bit of pressure on the reed and see where that moves your curvature "starting point." Just the softest kiss of pressure. You will see that you are well past what is commonly considered the "take off" point. Your .005 measurement will be different. Your .010 measurement will be different. They will all be different when using a reed and a tiny little bit of pressure.
The measurements will all still be "fair," meaning that there are no lumps or anomalies in the curvature (assuming that you have done a good job). But I'm not convinced that the "starting point" is all that important because the reed has flexed past that point just from holding the mouthpiece in your lips. A crooked starting point might have some effect (although I've enjoyed playing some remarkably crooked tables and only learned the condition after measuring).
Anyway, I chose to simply give up on getting the take off point exactly right. It's a $30 mouthpiece. A good mouthpiece has to cost at least $200, right? Based on current mouthpiece prices, this one shouldn't play at all. It turns out that it plays just fine, except that I thought that it sounded a bit abrasive. Abrasive is my terminology for the sound that the vast majority of saxophone players are striving for. Most seem to be looking for the Superman of mouthpieces while I'm happiest with Clark Kent. Although that sounds boring, keep in mind that Mr. Kent can turn into Superman when necessary. Constantly walking around in blue tights with red trunks, red boots, and a flowing cape isn't my style. But I digress . . . .
Opening the tip tends to leave one with sufficient material to add more baffle, sometimes considerably more baffle. That seems to work okay when putting a new opening on an old large chamber zero baffle piece. There is more to it than that, however, because my old Link Slant Signature appears to have very little baffle, yet it can speak with authority when required. But I have to admit, it can't scream with authority like high baffle pieces. It yells with authority instead of screaming.
The fake Jody Jazz after opening, I basically removed the baffle at the tip.
The fake Jody Jazz piece opened to .95 inches had the tendency to scream. Yes, it was louder, but I wasn't thrilled about the tone. So I got rid of the baffle that had been created from enlarging the tip opening. I removed it to the point where many players would say it didn't exist, like my old Slant. Then I took it out to a practice session. I admit I also took my Slant with me in case things didn't work out. I told the alto player about my $30 knockoff and he said it sounded fine. Afterwards, the guitar player said that I had played louder tonight (louder = good for guitar players).
So the verdict is that, for fellow musicians, the difference between a +$800 vintage Link Slant Signature 6 and a $30 obviously fake Jody Jazz HR* is that the Jody Jazz knockoff is louder. True, I had to reface the fake to a 7 and I spent way too much time doing that (probably an hour and a half). On the other hand, it has now gone out of the house twice, and will again tonight. It is my new love that probably won't last. I'm guessing that the Slant need only wait. Strange how that works.
* I'm talking about older style pieces that have undercut rails and no exaggerated wedge baffle. Dukoff Power Chambers don't count because of the huge baffle. Brilhart Tonolins don't count because of the flat sidewalls. Those pieces are always going to be medium to small chambers regardless of how the chamber meets the shank bore.
I figured that this would happen. Just when I thought that I was done with the M.C. Gregory Saga, something else comes up. Technically, the M.C. Gregory Saga is done. Malcolm Culver Gregory was involved in the designing of mouthpieces ("Model A" and "Model B") for his employer (Rico Products, Ltd) until the late 1940's. Rico later used the Model A mold rebadged as the M.C. Gregory "Master." Mr. Gregory may have been involved with designing the "Mickey Gillette" for Rico. He and his wife may have finished mouthpieces for Rico. End of Saga.
But there is the loose end caused by Malcolm Gregory's ex-son-in-law starting a separate business (Gale Products, Inc.) along with several of the principals of Rico Products. That business failed within a year and some of its assets were sold to a local jewelry salesman (Cesar Tschudin). Tschudin partnered with Elmer Beechler's business (Remlé Musical Products ) for about a year, that joint venture ended, and then years later Tschudin sold the remains of his business to Charles Bay. As part of the purchase, Bay ended up with some of the original Gale Products, Inc. molds. People have speculated that he may have also ended up with the Rico "M.C. Gregory" molds, in part because Bay hinted at that years later. Bay provided no corroborating evidence. We could find no corroborating evidence. There was no direct contrary evidence until a few days ago.
Charles Bay passed and months later things started showing up on Ebay that were listed as being from his estate. It was kind of odd in that his son, Jonathan Bay, continues on with a well respected mouthpiece and ligature business, yet the items sold on Ebay were clearly being liquidated by sellers who didn't have a clue as to what they were selling, other than the items were claimed to be from the Bay estate. It would appear that his son decided that the items had no value to the ongoing business and maybe little value overall such that the could simply be liquidated by someone without any idea of the item's value, or even purpose. The listings said things like "I think this is a saxophone mouthpiece" or a "mouthpiece shaping tool mold." Things like that.
Having yet to find a shred of evidence (or even likelihood) that Malcolm Gregory was ever affiliated with Gale Products, Inc., or later with Cesar Tschudin making mouthpieces he branded as Gale, we can now look at the molds that were in the possession of Charles Bay and see if there is any possibility that they are the Rico Gregory molds. Nine molds appear to have been sold so far on Ebay, most of them for tenor saxophone (no clarinet molds). I contacted the seller and he said that there are no more.
Here is the first one.
Click to enlarge
This one is interesting mainly because it is so different from the others. It appears to have been gouged out of two solid blocks of steel.
The table area wouldn't be flat, the shank isn't symmetrical, the casting would be rough, and there would be a huge seam flash, all of which could be milled off with hours of finish work. The purpose of molding is, of course, to eliminate the subsequent milling. When you compare this first mold to the following ones, you will wonder if this one was ever used more than a few times. It does have a shank plug that has a ring to create a space for a subsequent metal shank band, but that's not enough for me to believe this mold has anything to do with the Rico trademarked "M.C. Gregory" Model A or B (not even an attempt to mimic a Rico piece).
Here is a more refined mold with much more complex milling and machining in its fabrication.
We have seen this model of mouthpiece before. It is a version of the Gale "Companion," which had a cone-shaped shank and no metal band.
The alto mold above was created by drilling a cone shaped hole through two joined blocks of steel. Then an exact fitting cone shaped piece of steel was shaped to make the beak and another shaped to make the reverse shaped shank and neck opening. A plate was added on both halves to create a flat table. And, as above, a section was formed for the chamber plug to be held in place with pins. Note that the pin arrangement for the chamber plug on this mold is different than for the first mold. A careful examination of the chamber plugs for the Gale molds sold on Ebay shows that they are not interchangeable and the molds are stamped as to which chamber plug works with which individual mold.
Along with the molds, there were some blank mouthpieces from the Bay estate that showed up on Ebay. Most of them were chipped or had some other defect. Some of them may even be from other makers and just ended up in the same box. Regardless, you can find the "band-less" cone-shank Gale "Companion" (like the mold above) in the blank selection shown below.
There were no clarinet mouthpiece molds, so it is likely that all Gale clarinet mouthpieces were based on blanks from obtained from Babbitt or another manufacturer.
The above mold would produce the alto piece that is in the top row 5th from the right. When polished, it would produce a finished mouthpiece like this.
Here's another alto mold. This one has a fitting to create a spot for a metal shank band. It also has a fairly short cone-shaped shank. Note that the separate chamber plug could not be used on the alto shown above because of yet another different guide pin pattern.
This mold was listed as "30-16," with 16 possibly referring to the chamber size. The chamber plug is actually stamped #1. You can see where the chamber plug meets the shank plug that it is smaller than the shank opening (which has been rounded off to make a smoother connection. The chamber sizes in the various Ebay auctions were 16, 18, and 20, which is the same designation that Rico used on its "M.C. Gregory" line of mouthpieces. That makes some sense, as we now know that Rico Products, Ltd. was involved in the ill-fated start of Gale Products, Inc.
I don't think that using the Rico chamber designation is enough to claim that these are really Rico "Gregory" molds or to make the further leap that Malcolm Gregory ever worked directly with any of the various Gale business ventures. The lack of any connection is even more obvious given that Bay knew nothing about the various Gale business ventures or the individuals involved.
Like the previous mold, even though this next mold has a spot for a shank band, the shank itself is a simple reverse cone, not the graceful flared cone used on all of the Rico "M.C. Gregory" line of saxophone mouthpieces.
The above mold could be the mold for a Gale mouthpiece like the alto shown at the bottom left.
This picture shows some clarinet blanks. No clarinet molds were sold, and Bay stated that Cesar Tschudin purchased his clarinet blanks from J.J. Babbitt. That may also be the case for the Rico "Gregory" line of clarinet pieces.
The next mold is for a tenor. It was listed as mold #492, as that was a number stamped on the mold block. Most all of the molds had numbers stamped on the exterior that are probably impossible to decipher.
This would make the tenor version of the conical shank Gale.
None of the molds seem to indicate a Gregory Model A, Model B, or Master. And although chamber designations are stated, each mold was sold with only one chamber plug and none of the chamber sizes seem to be interchangeable. Some of the shank plugs do not seem to fit correctly at the band area and might create a bit of work to clean up the area for a shank band.
The only Charles Bay mold that I thought vaguely resembles a Rico "Gregory" mouthpiece is this one for baritone.
It is possible that this is the mold originally used to make a Gale mouthpiece played at one point by Gerry Mulligan, assuming his was a #20 chamber size (the only chamber plug sold with this mold). Of course, Mulligan also used other mouthpieces. This website shows a Gale baritone (which were all banded) and then Mulligan playing an unbanded mouthpiece that appears to be a Riffault Superfini. I've never heard that Mulligan sounded bad early in his career when he was actively recording, so despite the internet lore, it wasn't the Gale mouthpiece that made him famous.
Maybe it's time that we looked closer at the claim that Bay purchased any "M.C. Gregory" trademarked molds as part of his purchase of Cesar Tschudun's Gale (CTG) mouthpiece business. Bay purchased in 1969. In 1971, The Purchaser's Guide to the Music Industries still listed Gale Products, Inc., the dissolved corporation started by Maier, de Michele, and Satzinger. Frank de Michele died in 1954. Satzinger died in 1971. Maier was basically retired from Rico. And, of course, Bay didn't realize that any of them were involved with starting Gale Products, Inc. In 1971, Bay's mouthpiece business was not yet listed in The Purchaser's Guide.
A trade listing in The Purchaser's Guide to the Music Industries is available to anyone who subscribes to Music Trades magazine, a monthly trade publication for retailers and wholesalers. As part of your subscription form, you can provide a blurb or two about your business. A business can also, for an additional cost, place paid advertisements in Music Trades and The Purchaser's Guide. Unlike a paid advertisement, the business blurb can lie dormant for years and is simply inserted in the next annual edition of The Purchaser's Guide. In the case of Gale Products, Inc, the corporation was still listed as active in 1971, complete with a long abandoned business address, despite the corporation having been administratively dissolved by the State of California in 1949.
In 1973, Bay obtained a subscription to Music Trades and changed the old Gale Products, Inc. listing to refer to Bay-Gale Woodwind Mouthpieces. The new listing stated:
Gale Products of Hollywood, Calif., formerly the manufacturer of Gale mouthpieces as well as the Master Model Gregory for the Rico Corp., was acquired in 1969 thereby making available to Charles Bay the excellent Gale saxophone (legitimate and jazz) mouthpiece line, and also manufacturing equipment to increase productivity without sacrificing quality.
Bay had purchased what he thought was M.C. Gregory's business (Gale Products, Inc.), from what he thought was Gregory's family attorney who was still running the business after who he thought was Gregory's daughter Gale had taken over the business but had, he thought, died in a house fire. Ergo, he thought that he had bought the company that used to make the "Master" by Gregory for Rico. Because he believed that M.C. Gregory had a company that made the "Master" for Rico he concluded that Gale Products, Inc. made the "Master" for Rico. Unfortunately, the facts show that the M.C. Gregory Saga isn't connected to the Gale Products, Inc. Saga. Malcolm Gregory was an employee of Rico and designed several mouthpieces for Rico that bear his name as a Rico trademark. But in order to purchase the company that made the "Master" by Gregory, Charles Bay would have had to purchase Rico Products, Ltd.
There were other interesting things in this original revised listing in Purchaser's Guide. The 1973 revision of the Gale Products, Inc. listing states that the acquisition of Gale only made available to Bay the ability to manufacture "the excellent Gale saxophone (legitimate and jazz) mouthpiece line." First, I have never heard or seen evidence of Gale having a legitimate and a jazz line of saxophone mouthpieces. More important, in 1973 absolutely nothing is said or implied in the Purchaser's Guide that Bay could produce an "M.C. Gregory" mouthpiece with what he had purchased from Cesar Tschudin.
It seems that the story may have continued to evolve such that, years later, Bay might be able to produce Gregory mouthpieces. The molds recently sold on Ebay have put the fantasy which originated in The M.C. Gregory Saga to rest. None of the molds sold on Ebay are Gregory molds and, as we have seen, the requisite M.C. Gregory chamber plugs are in the possession of Judy Beechler Roan, as shown in this prior blog.
Also, the above photograph of the actual Gregory alto, tenor, and baritone chamber plugs makes it obvious that they will not work in a Gale mold. The part of the plug that forms the "window" is clearly shown. Each has a threaded hole tapped in it. On a Gale molds shown above, the window area of every plug is a tab with the alignment pins. I would suggest that first, without the Rico Gregory plugs one can't make a Rico Gregory mouthpiece. Second, the Rico Gregory plugs will not work in a Gale Products (or Cesar Tschudin) mold. So much for wishful thinking based on an inaccurate Saga.
Had Bay attempted to produce an "M.C. Gregory" mouthpiece, he likely would have learned the full history. The final sections of the The Purchaser's Guide contain tables of various trademarks and trade names used by the subscribers to Music Trades magazine. The brand names of "Master," "Gregory," and "Gregory Master" are all listed as the trademarks of Rico Products, Ltd. We now know that Malcolm Gregory was an employee of Rico, but Rico claimed both his name and the various model designations (including the "Gregory Diamond") as their own trademarks. Had Bay announced the production of an "M.C. Gregory" mouthpiece prior to the dissolution of Rico in 1992, he would likely have received a cease and desist letter for trademark infringement from "a real attorney" for Rico Products, Inc.
Well, not quite. By the mid-1980's and through the 90's, the allegation that Gale Products, Inc. had produced the "Master" by Gregory was dropped from the listing in Music Trades. The allegation has since reappeared, claiming that Bay now produces "Gregory clarinet and sax mouthpieces." Actually, anybody could start making M.C. Gregory brand mouthpieces now. Rico dropped its rights to the brand name in 1992 when it was dissolved, so the trademark is available.
Somebody has recently trademarked "Chedeville" mouthpieces, although the new mouthpieces are completely unrelated to the original Charles Chédeville mouthpieces. So it is not uncommon to play off of expired trade names. The same could be true with a new line of "M.C. Gregory" mouthpieces. It would be an M.C. Gregory mouthpiece in name only, but it would renew the trademark and likely create a viable mouthpiece business. One could even use the "Gregory Diamond" logo. Here is what an example might look like.
* The pictures of the Gale Companion molds do provide some insight into how the Gale "Triple Rail" was produced. It still isn't clear whether that design was one of Carl Satzinger's ideas or something that Cesar Tschudin came up with later. I'd vote for the former. Like the embossing stamp with the Satzinger designed Gale logo (see Part V), it could be that Tschudin's purchase of some assets from Gale Products, Inc. did not include the Satzinger chamber plug required to manufacture the Triple Rail, as it apparently was not sold to Bay or later sold on Ebay.
Were one of the chamber plugs shown above cut in half lengthwise to the chamber, a shim the size of the saw kerf could be inserted in the guide pin/shank area. This would allow unvulcanized rubber to be compressed in between the two halves of the chamber plug. Each half of the plug would be removed, leaving a strip of rubber down the center of the chamber. Getting the alignment perfect might be difficult and it would require some additional finish work. Since the center rail added nothing from a performance point of view, it is easy to see why the additional complexity caused the Triple Rail to be rare and ultimately phased out. And for successful Gale business partners like Roy Maier and Frank DeMichelle, finding out that their new partner had wasted time and effort developing the Triple Rail mouthpiece would be a clear indication that the new venture was in trouble. Time to abandon the idea of a line of Gale mouthpieces (which they did in 1948). They apparently didn't care if somebody else later chose to use the same name.
When researching Malcolm Gregory, and how he was mistakenly associated with Gale mouthpieces, I came across the fact that Roy Maier and Frank de Michele had briefly been involved in the startup of Gale Products, Inc. Maier and de Michele were known to have also been involved in Rico Products, Ltd., a woodwind reed manufacturing business. It turned out that Mr. Gregory had never been involved with Gale and lumping all Gale mouthpieces in with Gregory mouthpieces is based solely on some erroneous history.
I did chase down Maier and de Michele a bit, and I found some mistaken history surrounding them, as well. That is to be expected. We are talking about musical accessories after all. As musicians, we love to hear fantastic stories about musicians, there instruments, and even their mouthpieces. I kept looking at the history of Rico Products, Ltd and its various changes over the years. It turns out that there were a few twists and turns in that story as well. Once again, the documentary evidence about Rico Products was different than the common story.
Some of you may have read the Rico history on the internet. When Rico sold to D'arddario, a brief history was published and that has become the present day "Rico Story." Here it is in its entirety from the D'addario website.
Born in Italy, Joseph Rico (1876-1957) attended seminary school near Naples, where he showed special talent for music. As a teenager, he and his brother, Libereto, ran away from seminary school one night, embarked on a ship, and fled to America where they heard there was a world of opportunity for eager minds. Joseph was a harpist, pianist, and guitarist, and his brother was a mandolinist and violinist. As a result of their hard work, both musicians became quite well known in Chicago and New York. Joseph Rico started composing and conducting, and went on to Paris where he became a sought-after composer. His Valses Lentes are still played today.
In 1926, Joseph's nephew, Frank De Michele, a clarinetist with Walt Disney studios, wrote to him complaining about how hard it was to find good reeds in Los Angeles. He wrote: "Uncle Joe, you are so well established in the musical scene in Paris, I'm sure you could find all kinds of good reeds for me." Joseph easily found reeds to send him, however three weeks later, Frank wrote again: "My friends liked the reeds you sent so much; I have none left for myself. Could you please send me more?" After a series of similar letters, Joseph's reed supplier regrettably explained that he could no longer provide reeds due to a cane shortage. His nephew asked Joseph if he could at least send some cane so that he could try making his own reeds. Joseph had a vacation cottage in the Var region of southern France where he found excellent reed cane. In 1928, Joseph Rico sent the first shipment of 350 kilos of reed cane to America.
To honor his uncle, Frank asked if he could use his name to launch his first reed line named "Rico." Soon thereafter, Frank De Michele found four partners, including musician and engineer Roy J. Maier, to create the first Rico reed factory.
When I started looking into the story, I needed to find out how Maier and De Michele began.
Frank de Michele was born in XX in XX. Historical research on him is made difficult by the fact that his last name was spelled a variety of ways on official documents. It appears that his preferred spelling was "de Michelle." But on public records it might be De Michelle, DeMichelle, or Demichelle. It helps if his full given name (Frank Vincent) was used, but often it is only Frank or even just the initial F. Every mention of his name had to be cross-checked against a time line to make certain that it wasn't one of the other Frank De Michelles in the U.S. at the time. I'm going to use "de Michelle." Or maybe just "Frank."
Mr. de Michelle was a bit more than a studio woodwind musician as related in the Rico Story. Before he left Chicago in about XX, he was already listed in various directories as a band leader. He was married in XX to Monna XX and, as a music composer, he had registered a copyrighted composition called The Mamonna Waltz (Mamonna being, I assume, some kind of tribute to his wife Monna). Although the score is listed in the Library of Congress, I have yet to locate a copy.
He was also involved in the sales of woodwind reeds long before 1928, as the Rico Story would have us believe. He may have contacted his uncle Rico in 1926, but he had started marketing his own brand name clarinet reeds (ANDRÉ) beginning in January of 1919. Here are a couple boxes of them.
Click to enlarge.
Made in the U.S.A.
In a later trademark filing for ANDRÉ with the U.S. Patent Office, the logo included the Rico Diamond, also used on the Rico M.C. Gregory brand of mouthpieces. Mr. de Michelle also verified that he began personally using the trade name ANDRÉ for his reeds over a decade prior to the existence of Rico Products and Rico reeds.
Also notice once again that the name ends with an acute É. Very French looking.
The claim in the Rico Story
To honor his uncle, Frank asked if he could use his name
to launch his first reed line named "Rico."
is not accurate. Frank had already launched is first reed line and it was named ANDRÉ.
Like many mid-west musicians, Mr. de Michelle came to California, where in 1926 he was working as an owner/manager of a music store (Monterrey Park Music Co.) in the Garvey building in Monterrey Park, CA. Although the Rico Story implies that he was a musician at Walt Disney Studios in 1926, that doesn't appear to be the case based on city directories and Music Trades magazine. He may have, while working in the music store, moonlighted as a musician. He may also have made woodwind reeds at his store. I'm just not certain that it would be possible to be the owner/manager of a music store in Monterrey Park at the same time as a studio musician at Disney Studios.
Frank did have an Uncle Rico, as stated in the Rico Story, however, Rico was his mother's family name. We have already seen that he was a bit of a romantic and named his 1918 composition after his wife. So it is also possible that he named his company Rico after his mother, Assunta Rico. But there was also a good reason to name the company after his uncle Rico. While understated in the Rico Story, Frank's uncle Rico was more famous than him or anybody else at Rico Products.
Uncle Joe had cut a few records prior to Frank asking him about reeds. Joseph Rico played the harp. This record, "I've Cried So Much," was one of his big hits.
The Rico Story sort of implies that Frank partnered with Roy Maier to start Rico. He actually first joined forces with somebody of whom I had never heard, Mr. Lloyd Garrison Broadus. Mr. Broadus was also a musician from the mid-west who had moved to California. In the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, Mr. Broadus, then 14 years old, was listed as a full time musician. Tracking down information on Mr. Broadus was difficult because his name (like de Michelle) was also often misspelled in various documents. But here is an item with his name on it that shows that he was involved with Mr. de Michele very early on.
The "Swiss" reed meter. Mr. Broadus was of recent Swiss dissent and, presumably, he developed the meter.
It is the back side of the meter that is interesting. Click to enlarge.
I found this item because early entries in the Publisher's Guide to the Music Industries lists the "Swiss Reed Meter" (for decades) as a product of Rico Products, Ltd. I had heard of the Macafferri reed tester, in fact, here is a picture of mine. (It would make a great gag gift.)
The bag was useful for carrying a tenor mouthpiece.
Prior to Rico Products, Frank de Michele had a business in addition to just ANDRÉ reeds. On the back of the Swiss Reed Meter is a business venture called the L.G. Broadus DeMichele Co. I haven't yet located this company through the California Secretary of State, but Lloyd Broadus was definitely around at the start of Rico Products, Ltd.
On April 19, 1938, it was Mr. Broadus and Mr. De Michelle who applied for a Rico trademark (RICO printed over a treble clef and staff lines.)
The application states that Frank De Michele was President of Rico Products, Ltd., a California corporation (which I also have yet to obtain the corporate filings). Rico claimed that it had used the trademark since 1936, and as we have seen in another blog, it had been using the Rico trademark on its "M.C. Gregory" brand of mouthpieces in the 1937-38 Selmer catalog.
These were good years for de Michelle. Rico had both the new Gregory brand mouthpieces and its reeds in the Selmer catalogs and de Michelle was getting work as a musician. I know that from the only musical credit that I could find for him. Frank is given credit for playing the clarinet in the 1939 smash hit Pinocchio for Walt Disney studios (in a studio listing, not in the screen credits). So he was eventually a studio musician for Disney, although more than a decade after claimed in the Rico Story. Pinocchio is still impressive because of the animation, but also because of a constant musical score during the entire movie. And those of us of a certain age will remember Jiminy Cricket singing "When You Wish Upon a Star" from Pinocchio as the ending to Sunday night's Wonderful World of Disney.
The Rico Story says that de Michelle started making Rico reeds in 1928 and "soon thereafter" found four partners, one of them being Roy J. Maier, to start a Rico reed factory. Sort of. Lloyd Broadus was clearly already on board when Rico was founded. But Roy Maier didn't come on board quickly. He joined Rico in 1939, according to an award given to Rico in 1990. That would be several years after Rico launched its new mouthpiece, the M.C. Gregory. The fourth partner seems to be a silent partner. I think that I know who it was, but until I locate the corporate filings for Rico Products I'm going to hold off on my theory.
Roy Maier was a musician of some note (no pun intended). Here he is in a handout for the Paul Whiteman orchestra. He is on the upper right with his name and "reeds" underneath. How apropos.
Click to enlarge.
On the bottom of the page, on the right, is Chester Hazlett. He already had his name on a mouthpiece by 1935.
But look at the picture right under Paul Whiteman. A new singer, one of the "Rythm Boys, named Bing Crosby. Here is a recording with Bing Crosby and Roy Maier. Open in a separate window to keep reading with Bing in the background.
Roy Maier had also already been in the "reed fabrication" business prior to Rico Products. His first venture seemed to be with Anthony Ciconne before Maier left Chicago. Ciconne stayed behind in Chicago to run the reed business. Years later, Rico purchased Ciconne's brand "Symmetricut."
But here is Maier's first solo venture into the reed business years prior to joining Rico Products.
These are not the "Roy J. Maier Signature" reeds that you might have seen (that's not his signature). Signature reeds were not trademarked until 1942. These earlier reeds were marketed by the J.H. Schuler Company of Hanover, PA. Who are they? Well, get into your time machine. One of the products marketed by J.H. Schuler was a vending machine placed in high school band rooms that dispensed woodwind reeds. What a concept.
Bottom right corner. Click to enlarge.
The another thing that J.H. Schuler was known for back in the day was "bamboo" costume jewelry. It is now very collectible.
What's the connection? I don't know, but it is kind of strange. Roy Maier needed to fabricate delicate precision woodwind reeds from cane. His exclusive distributor is famous for delicate precision jewelry from cane. Hmmmm.
There was a second Roy Maier brand reed prior to his joining Rico, this one is affiliated with Selmer. It appears that Selmer just distributed some Roy Maier reeds. Selmer catalogs also featured at the same time Rico mouthpieces and Rico reeds. But in the late 1930's, Rico reeds and Roy Maier reeds were not affiliated. What is odd about these Maier reeds is that for a while Selmer seems to have had ownership of the trademark and exclusive distribution of "Roy Maier" reeds.
Finally, after Roy Maier joined Rico Products, he trademarked the "Roy Maier Signature" reed in 1941. Whew. His actual signature apparently separated it from the Selmer trademarked Maier reeds.
I have seen some articles that say that Roy J. Maier was an engineer who also had an interest in music (he has some non-musical patents to his name). I think that this might be a looser interpretation of "engineer" than most people today would use. I've also seen a reference to Arnold Brilhart as an "engineer" who came to work for Rico Products. I have not found solid evidence of Roy Maier's educational background, but I have on Arnold Brilhart. Arnold completed 8 years of school. So he (and I suspect Maier) was not a licensed engineer like we might imagine. They were engineers in the "inventor/designer" definition.
Roy Maier invented and patented the Rico ReedGard that shows up in every old saxophone case. But that's a story for another time.
I've seen this idea around in a few places and thought I would try it. I replace my own neck corks, but because I often rotate between several mouthpieces, I tend to wear them out fairly fast. By fairly fast, I mean that they usually don't last a year. Generally what happens is that the cork gets compressed by my mouthpiece that has the narrowest shank and then when I decide to play a mouthpiece with a larger shank opening it doesn't fit tight.
An example of this is that I sometimes play an old Otto Link Super Tone Master. That mouthpiece is one of my tighter shanks and needs to go on quite far in order to tune. Then if I switch to something like an old large chamber ebonite, which tend to be shorter and not need to go on the neck as far, it can be really loose on the cork. The neck cork stays resilient enough to go through this for several months, but then I'll notice something isn't right. Maybe a drop of condensation will leak out or I get a wobbly mouthpiece, or even worse, wobbly low notes that indicates a tiny leak.
The other way that neck corks seem to wear out is the contact cement letting loose. Contact cement is not completely waterproof, in my experience. It might say waterproof on the label, but constant exposure to warm condensation is different than a momentary contact with water. I've found that the cement tends to let loose at the front of the cork and it's only a matter of time before a little piece will fall of. By only a matter of time, I'm talking maybe a year of daily playing. Still, there might be a method of sealing a mouthpiece that is closer to permanent. And if not permanent, maybe a sealing system that is quicker and easier to fix than re-corking a neck.
The system I'm going to try uses silicon o-rings. These are available in many sizes, and choosing the right size might be the most difficult part of the project. I used a caliper to measure the outside diameter of the cork on the neck of my Martin Handcraft. Then, I eyeballed the thickness of the cork. In other words, I ended up sort of guessing what size o-ring to buy. I actually decided to buy two different sizes. And I didn't just buy two o-rings (as you will see in the following pictures).
The cork on the neck of my 1939 Martin was replaced when I rebuilt it a couple years ago. It is my backup horn and gets played less than once a week. I also play it with fewer mouthpieces. In fact, I tend to always use the original Martin Handcraft mouthpiece after refacing it to a Link 6. Here is a picture of the neck cork, along with some of the tools and materials that I will use.
I put masking tape on the neck because I sanded the cork down a little. The cork had compressed so that I could see where I normally tuned the Martin Handcraft mouthpiece. Past that area, the cork was not compressed and I would have a difficult time pushing that mouthpiece, or any other mouthpiece, past the "broken in" area. But the idea with this project was to create a neck gasket system that would work with a variety of mouthpieces.
I decided to put my gasket in about 2 cm from the end. I made a line and cut a groove in the cork about 1.5 mm wide (the o-rings are 1/16th inch wide). I'll probably have to switch back and forth between measurements in inches and millimeters.
I pulled the strip of cork out with a dental pick and then used a tiny riffler file to try to clean out the residual contact cement (or "boogers" to use the technical terminology). That went fairly fast, but without a tiny file the width of the groove, this part of the project could be fairly tedious. Because the groove will hold the o-ring, you don't want to damage the cork. Also, if there is any cork or glue left in the groove, that could throw your o-ring out of round. In the end, it may not matter too much because the silicon o-ring is quite flexible. But I spent some extra time getting in the groove.
Above is a picture of the o-ring in place. You can see at the bottom of the picture that the o-ring stands just slightly proud of the cork. This o-ring is the larger of the two sizes that I bought. The smaller size, even though the same 16th inch thick, would be stretched on more, meaning that once on it was stretched on it would be less than 16th inch thick. This one seemed to be the perfect size.
I put on some Dr. Slick cork lubricant and the fit seemed perfect. I could feel the shank slide over the o-ring. There was the tiniest amount of play in the mouthpiece as though the o-ring was acting as a fulcrum. I've had a similar feeling with worn out cork where the mouthpiece feels a little loose, so I decided to put another o-ring on to eliminate the possibility of wobble. I cut another groove, this time 13mm from the end of the cork, and put in another o-ring.
You can see that I have a lifetime supply of o-rings for a few dollars.
I'm not certain that cork lubricant will be necessary in the future. Wet silicon rubber seems to be just right for sliding the mouthpiece on and adjusting. I don't know if a mouthpiece were left on too long whether silicon rubber would grip to the shank, but I doubt it. If so and the o-ring were damaged, or if it should wear out, I obviously have plenty of spares for replacement. And rolling another o-ring on takes two seconds and costs 3 cents. In theory, this should be the end of neck cork replacement. Time will tell.
The o-rings I used for this tenor are 1/2" ID, 5/8" OD, 1/16" width. The smaller ones, which would probably work for an alto neck, are 7/16" ID, 9/16" OD, 1/16" width.
Here is a simple method for making your feeler gauges more accurate. Feeler gauges are already incredibly accurate, if you use them as they were intended. Unfortunately, when facing a woodwind mouthpiece we not using them in the traditional way. If you have ever adjusted valve lifters or gapped a spark plug, you know the traditional use. Feeler gauges are used to measure something based on the thickness of the gauge. They measure gaps and clearances. But that isn't exactly what we are doing.
The strips in a feeler gauge are made of steel or stainless steel. Most of us will be using just steel and will need to keep them from getting wet. They can rust and throw off the thickness of the gauge. But the more important issue is that we are using just the edge of the strip. The strips are likely very exact. If you put your digital calipers on a strip and it is off by .0002, it is just as likely that it is your caliper that is off.
But there is somewhere on the strip that is likely to be inaccurate. Unfortunately, it is right where we need it to be accurate. The little strips are "punched" out of a larger sheet that is accurate as to thickness. But the punching process tends to deform the very edge of the strip. Think of the process like a cookie cutter. Let's say that we have a sheet of cookie dough that is 1/4 inch thick and the thickness is accurate to .001 inch. As the cookie cutter passes through the cookie dough and cuts out the shape, it deforms the edge of the dough by rounding it off. The perfect thickness is retained on the entire surface, except at the edge where it is no longer 1.4 inch thick. That will become apparent if we slide it into a wedge shaped gap. And that is exactly what we are doing with our feeler gauges.
The amount of deformation on the feeler gauges varies with the brand of gauges and the thickness of the gauge. I haven't found any that are perfect right out of the box, but it is something that is easy to fix. And it is one of those things that is so easy to fix that there isn't much point in trying to determine which or how much a feeler gauge is deformed. It will drive you crazy trying to look at the edges under high magnification, which would be necessary (at least for my eyes). Some of these pictures are through my bench magnifying glass, and even still it is easier to describe than it is to see.
In the above picture, I ran a black Sharpie down the edge. I was then going to run it over the sandpaper to show that there was a little strip of Sharpie not removed. That would indicate the "rounded off" edge of the gauge that we are going to fix. Unfortunately, getting a good photograph was impossible and I was spending way more time getting a picture than it would take me to just finish the edge to 90 degrees and making it accurate for mouthpiece refacing. Think of this as "sharpening' your feeler gauges, although the sharp edge that we are looking for is 90 degrees.
This is basically all you have to do (with both sides to the right gauge thicknesses). I'm using 320 grit, which is aggressive enough to cut through the steel without leaving any burrs. I'm only sliding the gauge along its length, not crosswise. That ensures that there will be no burrs. This paper is on top of my glass bench, just like I was putting a face on a mouthpiece.
The above picture, believe it or not, is showing the "rounded edge" of a gauge that I am going to remove. I am holding the gauge under my lighted bench magnifier and rotating it so that first the flat surface reflects the light and then the thin edge reflects the light. If the edge were a sharp 90 degrees, the reflection would change abruptly from flat to edge. But in the picture, the flat surface is beginning to not reflect (except for some scratches), and the thin edge is not yet showing. What I have is a bright reflection line running right along the transition from flat to edge. That shows me that I have a rounded surface there.
The above picture is what I'm going for. A sharp, crisp transition from shadow to shine. It isn't really necessary to get carried away with magnification. You can feel the difference on the gauges, especially the thicker ones.
Run your thumb over the edges. Even before you start you will notice that on one side of the gauge both edges don't feel as sharp as the other side. (The rounded edge has always been on the etched side on the ones I have.) That is because of the punching. You want both edges to feel sharp. On a gauge like the .010 inch, that takes about 10 swipes back and forth on 320 grit. If you have some of the larger thicknesses, like .050, it will take longer. Also, if you have the longer gauges (I have some 1 foot long ones). It can take considerable time.
If you can remove the individual feeler strips, that makes it easier, but this can be done on the mechanic's sets that are permanently bound. Be careful on the really thin ones, as you can put a kink in the steel. Also use something like 600 grit and a light touch. And you don't have to do the entire set, of course. Do the ones that you use individually and in a stack. Even in the stacked blades, you don't have to do the one(s) that are always in the middle.
If you are concerned that you might have put a burr on the edge, run your fingernail down it. Or pinch a piece of bronze wool over the edge and draw the strip through. Be careful not to go over the chemical etching on the blade, as it is easily removed.
So how much does this increase the accuracy? By less than a whole Brand number (.5 mm) at the most on any that I have sharpened. But it makes enough difference that you will notice. I have measured, set that feeler down and measured with another strip, gone back to the first one and, wait a minute, it measures different now!! That's because I inadvertently flipped the strip over. When the rounded edge is on top it measures different than when the flat edge is on top. Sharpening the edges on the feeler strips gets rid of that.
This project came after a full rebuild of a Beaugnier/Vito tenor. As I was playing it daily to see if it would become my true love, I kept thinking that I wasn't completely happy with the thumb rest. It looked like Beaugnier had modified and "updated" the standard vintage type of thumb button. Here is my alto from the 1930's that has a pearl button for the thumb rest.
30's era Conn upside down. Click to enlarge.
This was a standard feature on horns of the era. In practice, it places quite a bit of pressure on a limited area of the thumb, depending on how you hold your horn. And how you hold your horn is probably the determinative factor in whether or not you are bothered by this style of thumb rest. If you play seated with the horn between your legs, then the horn is in an upright position and the full sectional area of the button might be used. In this position, a player could find this button style of thumb rest perfectly acceptable.
But if you play seated with the horn to the outside of your leg, or standing with the horn off center, you may find that the thumb pressure is on the edge of the button. That can become irritating after a while. I always play standing, if possible, with the bow of the horn either on one leg or to my right side. And I tend to not keep the horn at a constant angle. As such, the later Beaugnier flat style wasn't particularly comfortable. Here it is.
Beaugnier/Vito tenor, again upside down. Plenty of surface area, but it felt like it was at the wrong angle and provided less surface area than one would think based on the shape.
White plastic piece held in place with a tiny set screw.
Thumb rest removed, showing what looks like the traditional thumb rest minus the pearl.
You can see that the white plastic "slab" is probably a modification of the older pearl button. The same brass cylinder is soldered to the body tube, but instead of a pearl button, the cylinder is tapped to accept a set screw that hold a plastic thumb rest. The plastic rest is completely flat and, if the horn is held at much of an angle, doesn't feel right (to me).
Below is a picture of my other vintage alto with the thumb button modified. I also found the original thumb rest uncomfortable, although the prior owner(s) had the same issue and didn't modify the rest. This is a 1957 Kohlert with a brass thumb button. You can see on the left side of the brass (where the shiny spot is) that the lacquer is worn off, showing that the "edge" of the button was the major point of contact over the decades. I added Sugru to that edge so that my thumb contact area was larger and wasn't concentrated on the uncomfortable edge.
Sugru works great for this purpose, and even for building key risers, but I was not sure that it would work well on the Beaugnier. I would have to stick it down inside the button cylinder, and I know from experience, if I didn't get it right or wanted to remove it should I sell the horn, it would be difficult to get out.
What I wanted was an ergonomic thumb button more like that on my old Martin tenor.
I looked around at the hardware store for something that I might modify, but ultimately came up with the idea of fashioning one out of moldable plastic. You can find videos and information about this stuff on the internet, so I won't go into much detail here. Basically, you melt the white beads under fairly low temperature (140F), which causes the beads to bind together into a single pliable gob of clear plastic that you can mold by hand.
There were only a couple of things to note on this project. The first is that as the plastic cools, it hardens. Since I was pushing the warm plastic up against brass, and the brass, even though at room temperature, would cause the plastic to become stiff faster than I could mold the shape that I wanted. The second issue was that, unlike Sugru, moldable plastic would not "stick" in place. It cools into a plastic that feels much like Delrin. I would need to mold a piece that used the original set screw to hold it in place. Neither of these issues proved to be a problem.
I used a hair dryer to get the surrounding area warm (not hot).
The picture above shows the moldable plastic starting to cool. It is still translucent and you can see the thumb cylinder over which I am putting the thumb rest.
I used a pencil to poke a hole in through the soft plastic for the set screw. The plastic has now cooled and turned white. It is now hard enough to accept the set screw.
Here is the final thumb rest. It is contoured to my thumb. It even includes my thumb print. Although not easy to see in the picture, it is raised on the right side and lowered on the left compared to the original flat plate. More comfortable and it gives me greater control of the sax if I move it around.
I overestimated the amount of beads that I needed for this project. It turned out that I melted down about 3 times too much. That's not a problem because the excess can be put back in the pouch and used for another project. Like with Sugru, once you use it, you will start looking around for other possible uses.
I've got my carcass or blank for this project, but I haven't gotten around to finishing this blog. The project is to make a Rico "M.C. Gregory" brand mouthpiece just like our favorite player supposedly played during part of his or her career. That's the one that demands the high prices. It might play okay for us, but more importantly, it will impress some players when we tell them that we have one.
As I said in another blog, these particular blanks are hard to come by. Rico apparently kept tight control of the molds and didn't seem to sell many blanks to third parties. But they are out there.
Vintage Rico Gregory blanks.
No tip and lay number.
No "Rico," "Master" or "Model A" designation.
No chamber number.
The shank band and chamber. The mold lines between the shank and the chamber don't appear to have been polished.
The Rico "Gregory" alto blank that I will use has sort of a "preliminary" or maybe a "student" facing on it. The tip opening measures .064 inches. That was the smallest opening available on the Rico Gregory (a #3). There was a tiny amount of tip work done in the chamber of the blank I will be using. Just enough to clean up the tip.
My Rico blank.
A vintage 4A 18 from the website saxophone.org. It also has a minimal amount of tip work with the chamber interior still showing the "frosted" look of an unpolished ebonite casting.
My blank looks like the perfect candidate to use for a new vintage original genuine M.C. Gregory 4A 20, just like this kid is playing.
Or maybe he is playing a 5A 18. Oh no, we don't really know! Maybe somebody can tell me or, better yet, I could start a poll to find out which one I should make, i.e., which one is the most desirable. Or I can do the common modification of putting on a facing that works best for me (called re-facing) but make sure the embossing remains the "famous" combination. I will need to find out what the best numbers are.
As we learned in a prior blog, nobody really has any definite idea as to what the old Rico lay numbers were. Eric Brand published some numbers in the late 1930's, but they are thin on detail and bit lumpy when graphed. Rico's numbers (then the M.C. Gregory brand) are not exactly what we would expect. For instance, the difference between a vintage Rico 4A 16 and a 4A 18 is generally considered to be only a difference in the chamber size. 16 is small, 18 is medium, and 20 is a large chamber. But Eric Brand's old numbers have a difference in both tip opening and lay numbers for the Rico 16 and 18 alto. Nobody knows what the old numbers for a Rico 20 chamber would have been.
Click to enlarge or visit saxophone.org at the 1938 Selmer publication How to Reface Reed Instrument Mouthpieces (page 25) for more detail. The final number in each column (the tip opening) is based on a gauge available in the old Selmer refacing kit (see page 10 of the publication) that is no longer available. Mouthpiece tip openings are now commonly given in inches or millimeters.
I could just use the numbers from the new old vintage official Meyer Brothers alto piece what worked well for me. I'm going to have to think about this a bit before creating a new old vintage official M.C. Gregory "Master" or "Model A" alto facing curve. Measuring the lay on my no-name Rico blank would not be much help. Still, it was interesting to see how accurate the "take off" point was for the .0015" feeler gauge. This measurement is commonly used to see if the lay leaves the table accurately.
Not good. The right-hand side is about 23.5 mm (a Brand number of 47). The left-hand side is way off. Of course, both are really long for a .065" tip opening. Maybe that explains why nobody put a name on the blank.
I have played this blank and, on a scale of bad to good, it rates an okay. It doesn't inspire the awe one would expect for a Rico Gregory blank, but it does play. I tried my hardest reed, a NOS #3 Olivieri (a vintage reed for a vintage mouthpiece) and it still wasn't impressive. If only the mouthpiece had the Rico Diamond embossing and chamber stamp, especially something like 5A-18, it might convince some that it has a cool West Coast sound. To me, it plays surprisingly well, but the notes don't pop out, especially the bell notes.
Based on what I am hearing and seeing, I can do no harm in altering the facing.
I wrote a Part 3 about a year ago concerning Riffault mouthpieces and how often they are miss-identified on the web. After 34 people had viewed it, I went back to add more to the blog and I managed to delete the entire blog! Operator error. I was so discouraged that I left the topic alone for a year. I may try to rewrite the entire thing, but for now I'm just going to concentrate on one area that I found interesting. That is some common and continuing misrepresentations about Gerry Mulligan's mouthpiece.
You have probably heard that Gerry Mulligan's baritone mouthpiece was a Rico M.C. Gregory brand. You may have read the Stuff Sax blog on Lester Young's mouthpieces. Like Mr. Young, Mulligan actually played a variety of mouthpieces during his long career. No surprise and I have no doubt that Mulligan could have played a Rico Gregory at one point, or a Gale brand mouthpiece, but does that mean that is what a baritone player needs to sound like Gerry Mulligan? I don't think so and I'll try to explain why.
First, we should just look at a few Rico Gregory baritone mouthpieces. These are from various mouthpiece websites.
We should notice a couple of things about these pictures. First, M.C. Gregory baritone pieces varied over the years. Not just the band material and its placement. The actual mold. The first M.C. Gregory piece shown above has a shank that tapers and then goes to a final straight section before the band. The second picture shows a slightly longer and slimmer Gregory piece that has a continuous taper down the entire shank (which is also longer) and a different style of metal band. The third picture isn't really an M.C. Gregory brand. It is a Gale. That picture is from Theo Wanne's website, which states that Gerry Mulligan played a Gale mouthpiece, not an M.C. Gregory. Here is the accompanying picture from the Wanne website.
What does any of this have to do with Riffault mouthpieces? Well, forget for a moment about Gerry Mulligan and his famous M.C. Gregory mouthpiece that was really a Gale mouthpiece. Enlarge the picture above by clicking on it. We know that both Gregory and Gale baritone mouthpieces have metal bands on the shank, as shown above. The area where the metal band was added was actually molded into the shank. It had to be thinner where the band was to be placed and then thicker further up the shank to be even with the thickness of the metal. Look at Gerry's mouthpiece. That is not a Gregory or a Gale. It looks suspiciously like a Riffault.
A Riffault baritone piece with the thin shank and no metal band.
Check out these well known pictures of Gerry at his finest.
No band on this baritone mouthpiece.
Maybe it's an Ideal (one of many trade names used on a Riffault stencil) like this one below.
No band on this mouthpiece, either.
What? Was this picture taken during the "he sounds like crap" phase of his career?
Check out Mr. Mulligan's discography. Most of his recording career was not with a Gale mouthpiece (and apparently never with an M.C. Gregory piece). If you like his recordings, and you think that the mouthpiece makes the player, you don't want a Gale mouthpiece (unless you want what he played at the end of his career). I'm guessing that you would be better off with a stencil from Riffault. Play what he played when he made his name.
Judy Beechler Roan has the original M.C. Gregory brand chamber plugs. They are shown below in their cardboard tubes stamped with the Rico trademarks.
Notice that we can see the flat "window" areas of these Gregory size 18 chamber plugs (on the top left and middle right). That is the area that the reed would eventually cover up in the finished mouthpiece. The M.C. Gregory chamber plugs had a threaded hole in that area. The Gregory molds have not yet been located, so it isn't clear exactly how these plugs were fastened into the mold for compression of the uncured rubber.
Here is a picture of a baritone mold sold as part of the estate of Charles Bay and likely acquired from Cesar Tschudin.
Notice that the window area of the plug passes out through the mold and is secured in place through machined pin holes. It may be possible to produce a Gale baritone mouthpiece with this mold, but the M.C. Gregory baritone chamber plugs could not work with this mold. I don't know whether this mold would produce a piece similar to the Gale played by Mulligan. It can't produce a Gregory baritone piece. And it most certainly would not be identical to the baritone mouthpiece(s) that Mulligan played most of his career (as we have seen above).
Someone who is willing to purchase a piece pressed from this mold based on a representation that it is "Mulligan's M.C. Gregory mouthpiece" would probably disagree.
For others, you might want to try a $40 vintage Riffault piece first. It appears to be what Mulligan did.
This tenor saxophone came up on Ebay and, for some reason, Ebay notified me of it. They have my number. They showed it to me in a little sidebar when I was looking for something else. I don't need another tenor, but this one was really clean. I had a Beaugnier tenor in the past that was a Revere stencil for Sorkin Music. This one was made for Leblanc U.S.A. and labelled Vito. It doesn't say "Made In France" or made in the U.S., so I don't know where it was assembled. Because there is no "COOL designation," I would guess it was assembled in the U.S.
U.S. trade law at the time was controlled by complex tariff laws or "schedules." For instance, a imported rubber ball that was solid rubber paid a different tariff rate than a hollow rubber ball. How your imported item was classified made a huge difference in your profit margin. The first Toyota 4-Runner was essentially a pickup truck with a fiberglass cap (turning it into a SUV) added after importation. That U.S. addition allowed a lower tariff on the major value of the vehicle, as pickups were taxed much lower than SUVs. Competitors, notably British Leyland, maker of the Land Rover, brought suit claiming Toyota was bending the tariff schedules which, of course, they were.
The same hanky-panky went on with saxophones and accessories. Rico Products found that if they claimed reeds were made of wood there was one tariff rate. If they claimed that they were made of grass (arundo donax is a giant grass), there was another rate. If they are cane, they have still another rate (the same rate as rattan furniture). Finally, there would be a different rate if the imported sticks were classified as "sticks" or as "fiberous vegetable matter." There are at least four federal cases of Rico Products vs. United States that argue about the proper tariff rate for the material used to make saxophone reeds.
The tariff rates on musical instruments was at least as confusing. It appears that if you had a Congressman who liked accordion music, that instrument would have a lower import tariff. Or maybe it was because there were no U.S. accordion manufacturers to argue for higher U.S. tariffs. It was often the case that a U.S. instrument manufacturer would be behind the request for a higher tariff on imported competing instruments.
Vito Pascucci, the CEO of Leblanc U.S.A., began by importing and selling Leblanc instruments made in France. In France, Leblanc made their clarinets in there facility in La Couture Boussey (southwest of Mantes). Their saxophones were made in Mantes by Maurice Beaugnier at E. Beaugnier et Cie, a company later purchased in part or in whole by Leblanc, France. Beaugnier made saxophones for Leblanc, France, Leblanc, U.S.A, as well as stencil horns for U.S. wholesalers (as we saw for Sorkin N.Y. in another blog).
Either because Beaugnier didn't have sufficient manufacturing output or, more likely, because of the U.S. tariff schedules, Mr. Pascucci realized that he could have the saxophone delivered un-assembled. The tariff on "parts, musical instruments" was way less than for "musical instruments." Further, if greater than 50% of the value was added to the completed item by finishing assembly in the U.S. that had additional tax, tariff, and even future export advantages. So that is likely what happened with my Beaugnier/Vito tenor. Parts from France and assembly in the U.S.
You can find internet references to Leblanc and Beaugnier factories being located in Paris. I don't think that this is accurate, even if Leblanc and Beaugnier had "Paris" stamped on some items. More accurately, they were near Paris. Many French woodwind manufacturers claimed Paris as their headquarters. Some even had mailing addresses there (usually a music store who sold their goods), but not really an office. It is sort of like Italian clothing manufacturers claiming that they are in Milan. It sounds good to the consumer.
The woodwind company G. Leblanc et Cie became well known in part because George Leblanc employed a well know acoustician, Mr. Charles Houvaneghel. Houvaneghal is credited with designing the Leblanc Rationale system (a true Boehm system saxophone) that had innovative alternative fingerings and incredible intonation. I have owned one and it had all the indications of being a Beaugnier built saxophone.
Houvaneghel also designed the famous Leblanc "paperclip" contrabass clarinet. Here he is with a BBb octocontrabass paperclip, which apparently never went into production. In 1960, the year of this picture, the paperclip contrabass was in full production. Mine is #441, and is silver plated rather than the nickel plating on the later paperclips.
The octocontrabass compared to the paperclip contrabass. There is a Leblanc octocontrabass on display at the Musee des instrument a vent in La Couture-Boussey.
Since Beaugnier was responsible for Leblanc's brass wind production (they are also known to have produced trumpets), I wonder if Beaugnier had anything to to with the Leblanc metal clarinets? Regardless, Leblanc and Beaugnier had a very close relationship on saxophone production and it is likely that Beaugnier's reputation for accurate intonation is related to Mr. Houvaneghal's long association with Leblanc.
My tenor was purchased in 1965 and played for three years in middle school, then put in the closet. How do I know this? When cleaning out an old case I always carefully slide my fingers in to every nook and cranny. Carefully. Once I found a hypodermic needle. Usually I will find missing screws. This time I found a little luggage tag with the name of the Thompson - Kramer Music Company in Decatur, IL. On the other side was the name of the original purchaser, written in a kid's handwriting. I contacted the Ebay seller and learned that this is his uncle and a little more about the history of the horn. It had been played in middle school from 1965 to 1968.
I could deduce some of the history just by looking at the sax. It had been put back in the case wet a lot of times (a classic kid maneuver). There wasn't a pull through swab in the case and putting it back wet is a killer on pads, especially the low Eb pad.
The Eb pad sitting on my list of replacement pad sizes to order.
The hairy looking stuff on the Eb resonator is from the fuzzy lining in the case. The inside of the horn was covered with it, indicating that the sax probably hadn't been swabbed regularly. The effect is not only to ruin the pads, but the moisture is also hard on the tone hole chimney rims. This particular horn apparently had the tone holes leveled after being lacquered. The effect is that the tone hole rim has raw brass exposed. Combine that with wet leather on the normally closed pads and it produces a thick layer of verdigris gunk that makes pad sealing difficult.
Click to enlarge and you can see the green gunky tarnish on the upper tone holes. The lowers were the same. Every tone hole was cleaned and checked for level. All were level, the sign of good build quality and no subsequent trauma.
There was sufficient moisture that it even affected the Eb key guard. This corrosion cleaned up, but the lacquer is gone.
Other than a few issues, the horn was in great shape.
Because the springs are gold plated, there was no rust on them.
Vito inside of the oval is the only engraving and it was apparently engraved prior to the application of lacquer. This makes the engraving appear shallow. On the plus side, when horns are engraved after the application of lacquer, it tends to break through the lacquer and cause corrosion to start at that point. That would have been particularly bad on a saxophone that was put back in the case before completely dry.
As often happens when the horn is put in the case wet, the neck is put away with the mouthpiece still attached. The mouthpiece soon fuses to the cork and the cork is ruined when the mouthpiece is finally yanked off. Not a problem here because my plan was to rebuild everything anyway. I started with the neck cork.
I taped the lacquer above the old cork and began removal. What you can't see here is that the Vito mouthpiece (the original) had been pushed far on to the cork. That combined with the extreme height of the pads made me think that there might be some tuning issues once I got the neck corked and pads installed.
The neck opening wasn't perfectly round (very common). I rounded this out before starting but, as you will see, it ended up that this did not matter.
The neck was then cleaned off and a piece of cork was prepared. It is possible to buy ready-made neck corks, but I'll show you the way to quickly make them out of 1/16" sheet cork.
When I purchase a few sheets of 16th inch cork, I always set aside the one that looks best for neck cork. I cut a piece to the approximate width that I need. Length is just a guess at this point. I put it up to the edge of my glass desk top and use a razor knife to make the initial taper cut because it is faster than rasping all of that material off.
I then use a rasp to finish the taper, pulling it towards me. When tapering the outside edges of the cork, I make sure and draw the rasp slightly towards the center of the cork as I pull. That way I'm less likely to "chip" the edges. As it tapers, I can hear the rasp grating on the glass when my taper is finished to a fine angle. If there is a flaw in the cork and the edge tears, the piece is long enough so that I can start over.
The side view showing the taper.
Contact cement is applied to the back of the cork and to the neck.
The glue is almost dry with only a few shiny wet spots remaining.
The tape shows me where the old cork was, keeps me from getting glue too far onto the cork, and prevents scratching the lacquer when I sand the cork down.
I apply the cork starting "in the middle." I actually try to keep the overlap seam at the bottom of the neck (not terribly important) and the cork wrapped around "clockwise" (also not terribly important). The clockwise part is so that when I put the mouthpiece on initially I twist it on in a way that tends to "wind the cork on" instead of off (being as I'm right-handed). Regardless of how you install the cork, the first couple of times you put the mouthpiece on it helps to only twist it in the direction of your wrap.
The cork is stuck on so that the tapered edge (to the left) will wrap halfway around and end up on the bottom side of the neck. This neck cork is quite long (+1.5"), but so was the original and I need to cover up the old glue area.
Starting the wrap.
The tapered edge is laid down and glued tight against the neck.
Contact cement is applied to the tapered area and a little more on the cork that will be glued down on top of it. Another 10 minute wait.
Once glued, a wide shoe string is wrapped tightly around the cork, winding it in the same direction as the cork was glued down.
Almost 90 degrees of overlapping cork. Better too much than not enough.
The wrap goes over the end of the mouthpiece to make sure that the end edge is glued tight.
Twenty minutes later it's time to unwrap and begin finishing the cork.
Being very careful, I cut away a lot of the overlap using a razor knife. This saves a lot of time and usually 1/16th inch cork is plenty thick, allowing for some inexactitude.
A fine rasp, like was used to create the cork taper, is very helpful in speeding up the sanding. Make sure and file the right direction on the overlapped area.
A strip of sandpaper is then used like a "shoe shine" to finish the surface.
I then use Doctor Slick to lubricate the cork. If you use regular cork grease and then decide that you need to sand some more to make the cork thinner, the grease will load up the sand paper and make a mess. Doctor Slick can be washed off and doesn't gum up the sandpaper.
So, why all of this neck cork stuff when the blog is about the rebuild of a 1965 Beaugnier? Because once I got the tenor rebuilt I had to do the neck cork all over again. What?
First the pads had to be installed (more on that later), and then I learned why the original Vito mouthpiece had always been pushed on almost to the end of the long original cork.
This is where the Vito mouthpiece "almost" tuned on the new cork (which I put in exact position as the original cork). Even though the cork was long, the mouthpiece was pushed in so that the neck "bottomed out" in the mouthpiece..
I promised those of you who play alto saxophone that I would write a blog about how you can save hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars. For tenor players, you can check out my "Making Your Own Otto Link Slant Signature" blog. The vintage Link Slant Signature doesn't command ridiculous prices for alto pieces. For that, you need to buy a vintage Meyer Brothers alto mouthpiece.
That's right, $2,500 asking price and $25 shipping.
The Ebay text says that the 5M is the "Holy Grail," so I guess somebody famous played that tip opening. I always thought that the 6M was the "Holy Grail," because that's what usually plays better for me. Actually, a little larger tip plays even better but, like the Otto Link Slant Signature, the vintage mouthpieces didn't come in modern tip openings. So we are going to make a larger tip opening, but label it a 6M.
You should know that the $2,500 5M shown above has a gouge on the tip rail.
You could pay somebody to fix this, although you won't have an original 5M then.
Instead of altering the tip opening to get rid of the damage on a $2,500 carcass, lets just make ourselves a genuine new vintage Meyer Brothers alto 6M and save at least $2,400. We can use the money that we save to buy a nice alto saxophone to put on the end of our mouthpiece.
We don't want to make a later "Babbitt" Meyer alto mouthpiece because the earliest version of any mouthpiece are always better (for some unknown reason). But, as with the Link Slant Signature, we will need a carcass. Fortunately, the later unworthy Meyer blanks are easy to recognize. On the later Meyer blanks, the two lines on the shank are very thin, as though they were cut in on a lathe rather than molded into the ebonite. Some of the no-name blanks don't have the lines at all, which makes me believe that they were cut in on Meyer pieces (but not on other maker's use of the identical blank).
Here an example of the thin lines.
A later Meyer New York USA with the thin rings. BAD.
Meyer Brothers New York with the wider molded rings. GOOD. Well worth the extra $2,000 if you are a collector.
So, where are we going to find a blank carcass without the Meyer name on it to reface? Babbitt only sold these to a few other companies besides Meyer Brothers back in the day. Good thing that we now have a new source. An enterprising company has chosen to make these again. Out of ebonite. For a reasonable price ($39). And free shipping.
Here it is. It ships with an okay facing (no gouges like on an original), but it is a little smaller tip opening than a vintage 6M. And it only comes in a medium chamber, which is also okay because that seems to be the most popular vintage Meyer Brothers chamber.
The wide cast-in rings that indicate a genuine vintage new Meyer Brothers piece.
The official Meyer Brothers medium chamber made with secret recipe vintage ebonite.
All it needs is an official vintage Meyer Brothers facing. Even better would be some Meyer Brothers embossing. The embossing is what players need to see to justify spending $2,500. These are less than $40, including shipping.
Our blank does not come with anything embossed on it, and that will likely be one of the difficult aspects of creating a genuine vintage new Meyer Brothers alto 6M.
But first, the numbers. As with the prior blog on making a Link Slant Signature, we will rely on Keith Bradbury's website Mouthpiece Works for our alto 6M lay numbers:
I should note that some of the tables for Meyer tip openings show that a #6 alto is .076" and the lay shown above results in a .078 feeler gauge just barely slipping under the tip. First, it is more important that the lay is smooth than the exact tip opening. Second, tables for Meyer tip openings varied over the years, so there is no agreed upon tip opening for a #6. Third, Meyer Brother mouthpieces were hand finished and varied from piece to piece. Fourth, if this inaccuracy bothers you, you cannot be a mouthpiece finisher. You are what mouthpiece finishers call "customers" and you should not be reading this. If hand finishing variances bother you, just look at the number stamped on the side of a mouthpiece and be happy.
I should also note that, according to one mouthpiece finisher, the standard tip openings of Meyer alto pieces actually changed over the years. Ralph Morgan provided numbers for 1939 Meyer alto pieces (Meyer Brother pieces) and 1970 Meyer alto pieces (then completely fabricated by JJ Babbitt). A 1939 6M had a tip opening of .085 inches and a lay of 20.6 mm (a Brand number of 41.2). A 1970 6M had a tip opening of .076 inches with the same lay of 20.6 mm. Obviously, the difference in tip opening would require different Brand numbers all the way down the curvature.
To further add to the confusion, as noted by Mr. Morgan, the designation "M" is generally related to the length of the lay, and not a "medium chamber." So the above "M" for medium lay at 20.6 mm might be correct despite the decreased tip opening over the years. The problem is that for the Meyer 6M tenor mouthpiece, unlike the alto, Mr. Morgan shows that the "M" medium lay went down from 24.8 mm to 20.6 mm over the years. So, like the Otto Link Tone Edge numbers shown in a prior blog, we basically don't have any idea what a vintage Meyer 6M alto piece should be.
And again, that can work to our advantage. We are not forced to adhere to some musty old numbers that somebody may have measured incorrectly or copied down wrong from a mouthpiece that might have been altered. We could, if we want, use some old "official vintage Meyer Brothers #6 tip opening" of .085 inches and a lay of our own choosing. For instance, the chart given on Mouthpiece Works shows that a .085 tip opening should have a lay of 22.2 mm. And we can, if we choose, use Excel to alter and smooth the curve between any numbers that we choose. What is important is that, when finished, we stamp our new vintage Meyer Brothers alto with "6M" because that is what our favorite player used.
To save time, here are "new" computer-generated Brand numbers for an "old" Meyer Brothers #6 alto with a .086 tip opening.
These are closer to the numbers that I prefer and will be using on making my vintage Meyer Brothers 6M alto. My tip opening will actually be about .095 and I don't care that Meyer Brothers never made a tip opening that size. It doesn't matter.
I've spent $39 for the blank and I already have the other required tools and materials on the work bench. If you have read the some of the other Stuff Sax blogs, you know what to do to put on the facing curve. Getting it to play like a vintage Meyer 6M is the easy part, so I'll just skip to the difficult part of making an official vintage $2,500 Meyer Brothers 6M alto mouthpiece.
There is another required expenditure. I bought this a while back, when making the world's only official vintage Rico M.C. Gregory C Melody mouthpiece. I don't remember exactly what I paid for this little laser. Probably about $50. Maybe the prices have come down, I don't know. Anyway, after putting on the lay of your choice, here is the important part (for most players) of making your Meyer Brothers 6M. It involves the use of a laser discussed at various sites on the internet. Just Google "NEJE DK - 8 - KZ 1000mW Laser Engraver Printer " and you will find lots of information.
Be sure to carefully check that you have the right font and size. Here, I'm printing the vintage logo on paper before applying it to my new vintage Meyer 6M.
Cameras don't like taking pictures of laser beams.
Here it is resized to fit the mouthpiece.
Even better is to practice on an alto mouthpiece. This is a Selmer Goldentone. It has a higher plastic content in it and the laser melts and raises areas around the etching. Not really a problem because those can be polished off. It is also possible to paint the etching so that, when polished, the letters are white or gold or whatever is required to make the vintage mouthpiece. Meyer used gold. Hard rubber, as we will see, doesn't deform and the paint can simply be wiped in the etching.
Regardless of the new facing that I choose, I need to make it into a vintage Meyer Brothers 6M with a medium chamber. I put it in my laser engraver and center it.
Held in place with tape and ready for the vintage Meyer Brothers chamber size.
Look, a vintage medium chamber. That adds $1,000 in value.
Ooooh, a real vintage "New York" Meyer. Well, vintage 2018. Still, the engraving adds another $1,000 in value. But is it a 6M? Not yet. It needs just a little more work.
Now the big question. Does it play like a vintage New York Meyers Brother alto 6M? Yes. It did before I put the engraving on it. The difference is that now others will agree.