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© 2017 Sebastian Knox Woodwind Services

1940's Berg Larsen mouthpieces: innovation in design.

June 14, 2016

 

 

The saxophone is not, strictly speaking, a musical instrument.  It's an invention.  The earliest people to use this technological device in an orchestral setting were sometimes referred to as 'operators' and the instrument itself was regarded somewhat as a novelty.  Before you start getting mad at me, I'm aware that  the history is of course more complicated than this and I don't consider myself an expert on this subjet. What I do know is that since then, the instrument has achieved acceptance in all manner of musical idiom including orchestral music. 

 

OK.  What does this have to do with Berg Larsen mouthpieces?  The connection is thematic, in that the spirit of the saxophone is very much innovative and that Berg himself was a real forward thinker in the history of the instrument.  While the original patent for the saxophone provided a brief description of a mouthpiece that had a round chamber and some other details that escape my memory. We can thank old man Berg Larsen for thinking outside the box in an era when live music was king and big bands worked a lot.  There was also a new sound emerging with the dawn of the Bebop era.  Many saxophonists were defining what it was to be 'modern'.

 

This new mouthpiece was totally unlike anything that had come before it.  Firstly, there were stainless steel versions, a heretofore unused material in the saxophone.  Otto Link's pieces were made from brass and final plated in gold.  This mouthpiece didn't need plating and could stand up to years of use with little to no effect.  But this detail wasn't the most important one.  All versions of Berg's  pieces (stainless or hard rubber) had a chamber that looked like a bullet that made the transition into the chamber after a long flat baffle.  The finish work on these early gems is obvious notably with the excellent detailing behind the tip rail into the corners, particularly on the ebonite versions.  

 

As a result, many of the greatest musicians from this time gravitated to these avant-garde pieces.  Coleman Hawkins, Don Byas, Sonny Stitt, Yusef Lateef and later on Harold Land, Sonny Rollins, Tina Brooks, JR Monterose and a host of other Hard Bop era players used these to great effect.  

 

Here are a few pictures that include a stainless so-called Duckbill tenor, and beautiful hard rubber alto and tenor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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