Theo Wanne's saxophone mouthpiece museum was created as a historical study of the major vintage mouthpiece brands.
Otto Link Mouthpieces
MASTER LINK MOUTHPIECE (Early 1930s):
The first mouthpiece Otto Link made in the early 1930s was the MASTER LINK. It had cut out ridges beside/under the table, allowing the ligature to slide on. Later models replaced the slide on ligature came with the same band ligature as the FOUR**** MODELS (see below).
These mouthpieces have a very low baffle, a huge chamber and typically a very small tip opening (usually a 3 or 4) with a long, deep facing. Hence, they had a very warm, dark, sound.
A version of this mouthpiece was made for Coleman Hawkins and was named the HAWKINS SPECIAL. At this time, Kohlert, Connetable and Meyer mouthpieces were made from this same blank. Ike Quebec played on the Meyer metal mouthpiece, which had very distinctive scooped out, or fluted, external walls.
FOUR**** MODEL (1935):
The next model was the FOUR**** MODEL mouthpiece. This mouthpiece was named after the four stars of the saxophone world at the time: Charles Strickfaden, Henry Wade, Pat Davis, and Ross Gorman. These are exactly the same mouthpiece as the previous model, except they used a standard strap type ligature. The brass plate that holds the reed on these ligatures was very thick, unfortunately producing a deadening affect on the reeds vibration.
Both the MASTER LINK and the FOUR**** MODEL did not have a ligature ridge on top of the mouthpiece like all Otto Links to follow. They did have serial numbers. Both of these mouthpieces were made in New York as marked on the shanks. Noted players who played these mouthpieces were Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins. Coleman later switched to a Berg Larsen.
Unique facings of this mouthpiece include one designed for Coleman Hawkins which said HAWKINS SPECIAL on the side and FACING NO H S on the table. Another is the VIDO MUSO model.
THE FIRST HARD RUBBER MOUTHPIECE
In the 1930s, the first hard rubber mouthpiece by Otto Link started production. They were less expensive versions of the metal mouthpieces; a budget line so to speak. They had the largest chamber in the history of rubber Otto Links, and the lowest baffle. Interestingly, they tended to play best with small tip openings. The serial numbers and tip openings were marked on the table. They had Otto Link written at an angle across the back of the mouthpiece with a pretty chain link band going around the largest portion of the body. They also sported an attractive machined shank, matching the look of their metal mouthpieces.
"TONE MASTER" METAL:
Otto Link started putting a ridge on top of their metal mouthpieces to make it easier to center the ligature. These mouthpieces were made in New York and had a bit more projection then the older models. They had very long and deep facings (like the older models), playing better with small tip openings. They did, on rare occasions, make larger tip openings, such as a 7 or 8. However, these mouthpieces still retained the very long and deep facing, which curtailed their responsiveness. The TONE MASTER models had silver under gold plating. The serial numbers were on the side and the tip openings were stamped on the table. The ligatures truly improved at this point. The reed contact plates were much thinner, allowing the reed to vibrate more freely. The top of the thumb screw now read, OTTO LINK.
The first models had four smaller digits for a serial number. The later models had three larger digits.
Some of the musicians that used the Otto Link "TONE MASTER" included:
Ben Webster (tenor)
Lester Young (tenor)
Coleman Hawkins (tenor)
Georgie Auld (tenor)
Buddy Tate (tenor)
Charlie Barnett (tenor)
Benny Carter (alto)
Vido Muso (tenor)
"RESO CHAMBER" HARD RUBBER:
These hard rubber mouthpieces were made in conjunction with the TONE MASTER. They have RESO CHAMBER written in a circle on the back. The very first of these did not have a tip opening marking. Later, a tip opening number was put on the bottom of the table. They have a dark mellow sound.
Some of the musicians who used the RESO CHAMBER included:
Woody Herman (clarinet)
Bud Freeman (tenor)
Georgie Auld (clarinet)
Joe Allard (alto, clarinet)
Joe Marsala (clarinet)
Vido Musso (clarinet)
"SUPER TONE MASTER" (1950s) - THE 'DOUBLE BAND' MODELS:
The first SUPER TONE MASTER mouthpieces were made in New York, as shown on the shank. They had a serial numbers on them identical to the later TONE MASTER mouthpieces. The tip opening was marked on the table.
All of these mouthpieces are characterized by two parallel bands traversing the shank. They are known as the Otto Link double band mouthpieces. The first pieces had a very long bite plate. Later, they permanently switched to shorter bite plates. They had silver plating under the gold like the NY TONE MASTERS.
The first ligatures looked identical to the NY TONE MASTER ligatures, only missing the OTTO LINK name on the ligature screw top. They were the best sounding of all Otto Link ligatures due particularly to the reed plate design.
THE MOVE TO POMPANO BEACH, FLORIDA:
While making the SUPER TONE MASTER mouthpieces in the early 1950s, Otto Link moved to Pompano Beach, Florida. The mouthpieces made in Florida looked like the earlier SUPER TONE MASTER models with a few exceptions. The serial numbers were larger and NEW YORK was no longer stamped on the shank. They also sounded brighter due to a bit more baffle material right behind the tip rail.
Interestingly, Otto Link also started putting rhodium (nickel) plating under the gold plating, instead of silver. As gold does not adhere well to raw brass an intermediate material is usually used. Silver worked will, but as it is as soft as gold, it would wear quickly. Rhodium is much harder, and lasts a lot longer; however, gold does not stick well to the rhodium. Many of the Florida mouthpieces we see today are a shiny nickel-silver color due to the gold plating rubbing off and leaving the hard rhodium exposed.
At this time (1950s), musicians began playing larger tip openings. Otto Link recognized this and began producing mouthpieces in larger sizes. Standard facing went up to 10. Previously, standard tip openings only went as high as a 5*. The facings radically changed from the NY models as well. Instead of using the longer facings with smaller tip openings (like the NY models), Otto Link started producing their mouthpieces with medium facings, allowing for bigger tip openings.
The first versions had a very shallow roll-over baffle (like the NY Otto Links). By the end of the double band model run though, Otto Link started putting a lot more roll-over to their baffles, creating a much brighter sound.
The ligatures had a thinner screw and a cross-hatch pattern.
"SUPER TONE MASTER" (1950s -1973) - NO USA & USA MODELS:
The Next Florida Generation did not have serial numbers. The name SUPER TONE MASTER was placed in-between the two bands on the shank. All later models had USA stamped between the two bands on the shank, opposite the SUPER TONE MASTER, but the first version of this mouthpiece did not. For this reason, it is deemed the No USA model.
The first no USA models had a very high and deep arced roll-over baffle. This made them very bright. Since this roll-over was completely done by hand, the sound from one piece to the next varied greatly. By the end of the no USA model run, Otto Link started using an elongated flat baffle. This generated less buzz to the sound, but increased the warmth, fatness, and projection that made Otto Link famous.
OTTO LINK once again appeared on the screw top, but this was dropped after only one year of production. Otherwise these two models are identical.
Around 1960, a stamp reading USA was placed on the shank opposite the SUPER TONE MASTER marking. They had the step baffle like the later "no USA" models. They all had Rhodium (nickel) plating underneath the gold plating. As gold does not stick to Rhodium very well, it is very common for the gold to wear off from normal handling showing the Rhodium plating underneath.
These ligatures were characterized with a T stamped on the screw head for tenor saxophone ligatures, and an A for alto ligatures. The baritone ligatures did not have a stamp. Like all the previous TONE MASTER and SUPER TONE MASTER ligatures, the first run of had a cast support built into the ligature body giving the screw more thread contact. Later ligatures did not have this feature.
Through the years, Otto Link provided a refacing service to their customers. You could send in a mouthpiece to get the tip opening changed or copy the facing from another mouthpiece.
SLANT SIGNATURE HARD RUBBER "TONE EDGE":
The first Florida Rubber TONE EDGE mouthpieces had Otto Link written at a 45 degree angle across the back of the mouthpiece, invoking the name Slant Signature Otto Links. The first versions had the tip opening stamp on the table. The shank was rounder and they had a slightly larger chamber than the later Florida models.
The Slant Signature TONE EDGE is the rubber version of the SUPER TONE MASTER and is still the most sought after rubber version of the Otto Link mouthpiece. There were three models produced. The first model had the facing stamp on the table. They were the darkest of the three models. The second model had the facing number on the side, with a much wider table and noticeable machine marks on the table. The third model still had the facing number on the side, but added USA to the shank. The latter two models had a bit more baffle material, generating more bite to the sound. Larger tip openings started hitting the market as well.
VINTAGE OTTO LINK HARD RUBBER MOUTHPIECE LIGATURES:
Otto Link had two similar styles of ligatures for the NY and Florida mouthpieces. The tenors all had a T on the back, while the altos had an A on the back. Depending on the vintage, these stamps came in three various fonts.
Their ligatures came with two different screw-head shapes. Two different cap designs were produced. The NY model had a closed end to it, while the Florida had an open end and looked more like their metal mouthpiece caps. The ligatures were made from a very thick brass, generating a fairly weighted sound.
TRANSITIONAL EARLY BABBITT "SUPER TONE MASTER" (1974):
These mouthpieces were made, but not finished, in Florida. They were finished at the Elkhart plant in Indiana after the company moved in 1974. They had more material in the baffle and floor than any other Otto Link ever made, creating a unique sound. This is due to less finish work being done to them.
They had smaller bore diameters and were Rhodium (nickel) plated under the gold (like the Florida models). They had a larger font number stamped on the side of the body like the Early Babbitt models. All Florida Otto Links were hand faced, leaving length wise and often slanted lines on the table. These lines were from the sandpaper used to flatten the tables and put the facing on. These transitional mouthpieces were the first to use the new facing machine which sported a grinding wheel. This new facing machine left very distinctive, denim like grinding marks on the table of the mouthpiece.
EARLY BABBITT "SUPER TONE MASTER" (1975 to 1979):
These mouthpieces were the first produces at the Babbitt factory after Otto Link's move to Elkhart, Indiana. They tended to have very good projection, and were quite bright due to a high step-baffle. The window was narrower at the tip, adding a bit more focused sound than the earlier Florida models. They had a larger font number stamped on the side of the body, had a larger bore diameter, and were silver plated under the gold. The metal soprano pieces moved permanently to a very small chamber, providing a brighter sound. They were faced with the new grinding wheel, leaving very distinctive denim like patterns on the table of the mouthpiece.
The ligature on these mouthpieces was quite different once again. It had a very large and flat thumb screw.
EARLY BABBITT "TONE EDGE": (1974 to 79):
These mouthpieces are the first to have the signature of Otto Link written straight across the back of the mouthpieces. They read USA on the shank and had a larger inner bore diameter. They had about the same amount of baffle material in them as the Florida models, but with a slightly narrower window. The hard rubber altos gained some material in the baffle area and floor, increasing their projection. The sopranos moved to a smaller chamber (just a little larger than the vintage Selmer Soloist pieces), giving them a very nice sound similar to the vintage Selmers.
CURRENT MODELS (1980 TO PRESENT):
These mouthpieces, in both metal and rubber, have less material in the floor of the mouthpiece than the more vintage models, and hence tend to have a darker sound to them. The tips are a little narrower as well. The first of these had a very long body, but these were only made for a couple of years then the body was taken back to their more traditional length. In the late 1990s Otto Link made a New York model for tenor, which has a wider width at the tip and a larger chamber. All of these metal models have silver under the gold plating and a large tip opening font stamped on the shank. This includes the long body, standard and NY models. The picture below shows a current model metal NY Otto Link on top, with the long body 1980s model under that, and a Florida model for comparison purposes at the bottom.
The hard rubber tenor pieces are darker sounding and have an almost concave area right behind the initial baffle. The alto pieces retained a lot of material in the baffle (particularly in the hard rubber version) so can have a large amount of projection like the early Babbitt hard rubber altos. Here the tenor mouthpiece is shown:
VARIOUS OTTO LINK VINTAGE BOXES:
Several saxophone mouthpiece boxes are shown below. On the left side we see the Tone Master, NY Super" Tone Master and the Florida Super Tone Master box. On the right side we see three NY vintage hard rubber mouthpiece boxes, with a Florida hard rubber mouthpiece box on the bottom.