JJ Babbitt and late 1970's Super Tone Masters.

April 22, 2016

Talk to any jazz tenor saxophonist about mouthpieces, and he or she will be all ears if you mention you have a great old metal Link.  Most every tenor player in history has owned one (or probably more) of these iconic pieces for a variety of reasons.  

Super Tone Masters are not always the easiest mouthpieces to play on and can be unforgiving of  reeds and so on, but most agree on its most important virtue:  flexibility.  Unlike some designs, metal Otto Links have, since the 1930's been catering to most every stylist in Jazz, Blues and a plethora of other derivatives. 


The Super Tone Master which was introduced in the 1950's, is a brass mouthpiece cast in halves, soldered together and then undergoes a variety of finishing processes to produce a mouthpiece with a medium-large chamber and a moderate baffle.  Of course, it would be only too easy to say that the story ends there because if it's too good to be true, it usually is.  


There is a lot of information online today where players and collectors alike have classified and codified the various incarnations of Super Tone Master, but in this post I want to talk a bit about the versions produced in the 1970's.  After Ben Harrod sold the Otto Link name to JJ Babbitt, the company moved from Pompano Beach Florida, to Elkhart, Indiana, the epicenter of musical instruments in America. These pieces have many of the hallmarks of their Florida-era brethren but with some key differences.  Namely, the baffle.  These pieces not only have more material in this key area, but also a different shape.  The baffles during this period are longer and flatter, yielding an inherently brighter sound with the potential for greater projection. While some have chalked this 'overage' in the baffle department up to less finish work, I look at the context in which they were produced and consider the brighter, more rock and roll sound that was prevalent at the time. 


I like these for this very reason because the extra material affords more flexibility for me as a craftsman to sculpt a baffle that is voiced to the taste of the player.  I'm able to take advantage of the 'overage' to create a piece that can be quite bright and commercial sounding or dry and modern with the same blank.  Here are some photos I took of a recent job that called for me to open a piece from an original 4* opening (actually about .080") to a 7 or in this case, .101".  The result was a piece that had a very lyrical sound with some brightness that felt very strong, even in the mid range which can sometimes sound hollow with a piece like this.









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