C-Link Super Melody C-melody mouthpiece design

I have finished the first prototype design for what I'm calling the "C-Link Super Melody" mouthpiece.  I was not able to get a good photo quality, rendered image in SolidWorks on my laptop computer as the file size was huge and it required far more memory than my computer has. If I get a chance to sit at a desktop station in the next few days I'll upload some fancy photo renderings and glam shots of the mouthpiece.  That said I have taken a few screen shots from different angles, a cut away as well as altering the colour of the body so you can appreciate the inner geometry.

I hope to 3D print a prototype in the next couple of weeks.  I'll spend a bit of time cleaning up the facing before giving it a play test.  Keep in mind that my C-melody is in dire need of an overhaul so I won't be able to give the mouthpiece a thorough play test.

The expected tip opening is about 0.095" which would be about an 8* or 9 on C-melody.  There is a slight roll-over baffle and large chamber, much like an Otto Link Tone Edge or Meyer hard rubber mouthpiece.

Designing a new C-melody saxophone mouthpiece

I'm no expert on mouthpiece refacing but I did learn a lot designing my first tenor mouthpiece.  I ended up going though the motions of facing three 3D printed mouthpiece blanks.  One of the prototype tenor pieces I ended up sending to my nephew as a birthday present.  For that piece I reduced the opening to that of a typical student mouthpiece as he is still in high school and has only been playing for a few years.

Each of my three prototypes had slightly different openings, by choice.  This gave me some experience with re-facing and what it takes to open up or close the tip dimensions.  I have a old cut-off from a marble counter top that I used as a surface plate with which I could lay the wet/dry sandpaper on and carefully remove material.  Being a mechanical engineering technologist I have several precision measuring instruments in my tool box which helped considerably to do the job with some degree of accuracy.  Other than a make-shift surface plate, sand paper and measuring tools I used some of the miniature files I had in my garage workshop and a Dremel to smooth out the interior of the shank.

I was lucky that I did not have to remover very much material on these pieces and hence did not need to use my miniature files or Dremel on the baffle or rails. I have a couple of other mouthpieces I could treat as blanks and gain further experience if the time comes to do more of this type of work.  There seems to be an abundance of inexpensive metal mouthpieces from China that are made very well and are available in several different tip openings and would be great test pieces to treat as blanks to develop a sound refacing technique, but for now I'll attempt to design another mouthpiece from the 'ground up'.

The inspiration for this new C melody mouthpiece will come from hard rubber Meyer and Otto Link Tone Edge mouthpieces.  I have both an alto and tenor hard rubber Meyer with similar tip openings and an Otto Link Tone Edge alto piece.  I plan on scaling the dimensions of the alto and tenor Meyer mouthpieces close to that of the stock C-melody mouthpiece that came with the instrument.  The two alto pieces have similar characteristics, however the Link seems to have a more comfortable beak shape overall.  I'll try and reproduce the proportions of the beak to suit the new C-melody design.  I'll aim for a large bore design on the first prototype keeping with that of a Link but not quite as large as the stock C-melody piece.  I'll try and measure the volume of my stock C-melody mouthpiece by weighing the amount of water it can hold and converting that measurement into an approximation of the volume needed to allow the mouthpiece to play in tune.  I can then calculate the volume of my design in SolidWorks or Fusion 360 as I go.

The one thing I learned from my first mouthpiece design is to pay closer attention to the inner volume of the mouthpiece.  My first design plays flat, which can be attributed to having a longer overall length than normal.  This design ended up being a fair bit longer than that of a Super Tone Master which I took my initial inspiration from.  Maybe it will work as a Baritone mouthpiece with a minor tweak here and there?  If not I'll reduce the volume/length to bring it back in tune.  but for the time being I'll concentrate on the C-melody design.  I don't plan on making a commercial venture from this experiment, so If anyone is interested in printing a copy of my design I will be happy to send the .stl files in an email for free.  I don't have a 3D printer of my own so you will either be responsible for having the design printed and faced or I can have one printed, faced and shipped but will levy a small charge to do the grunt work for you.

I may consider using instructables.com as a medium from which to access the .stl files depending on how successful the initial prototypes are.  I am aware of a at least one American mouthpiece manufacturer who is now providing 3D printed mouthpieces for sale.  I don't plan on going down the route of protecting intellectual property as I consider this a hobby and I certainly wouldn't want anyone profiting from my design without my permission.

Alto, C-melody and Tenor Mouthpieces from The Woodwind Co.
Meliphone Special 'steel ebonite'.

More to come....

Al McLean-tonal characteristics of a '53 Grafton alto on Sophisticated Lady

Here is a performance of Sophisticated Lady from 2015 featuring Al McLean (alto), Jim Doxas (drums) and Jason Davis (bass) recorded at Upstairs Jazz bar, Montreal Canada.  Al McLean performs on a 1953 Grafton alto which he painstakenly restored.  The trio dig deep into Ellington's ballad taking the time to let McLean bring out the darkness of this plastic horn with haunting melodic lines of the middle register and the essence of a shrill cry in the upper register courtesy of the alloy neck.  The performers give a masterclass in playing within the changes.

The Grafton Alto has always peaked my curiosity as a horn which could paint many different tonal characteristics not found in horns based on the classic french design.  Ornette and Bird knew something was special about these Italian-British masterpieces.  It's unfortunate the horn was only produced as an Alto and since the last horn was made the remaining tooling to manufacture them was sold for scrap.  These are no Vibrato Saxophones, they are the real deal!

More information on the Grafton from Wikipedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grafton_saxophone

Free mouthpiece on instructables.com

I designed this mouthpiece last year when I had access to an industrial 3D printer in hopes of winning  an instructables contest with the grand prize being a 3D printer.  I didn't win.  I learned a ton about mouthpiece design in the process.  

I printed three prototypes one with a huge throat and chamber and the other with just a large chamber.  I extrapolated the measurements from my Yanagisawa 7 metal mouthpiece and scaled a reference image from which to begin the design work.  I think that the design needs to be altered to reduce the chamber volume.  I found the piece to play flat and I was forced to lip it up considerably (either that or jam the mouthpiece way too far onto my neck and risk ruining the cork).  I compared this to my 'new' and recently acquired Otto Link Super Tone Master tenor piece.  It is about one centimetre longer than it needs to be. The Yanagisawa has a VERY long shank like a Berg Larsen or a Miami Dukoff.  I'll alter the files and perhaps upload them to instructables.com or just create another instructables post.

I wonder if the current size of the prototype with the larger throat would work on a baritone sax?  If I can get my hands on a bari in the next little while I'll give it a try.  If anyone out there that has printed either of these designs has a baritone sax, let me know if it works.


Free Mouthpiece on instructables.com

A 1922 Conn New Wonder C-Melody

I recently purchased a vintage horn from a Canadian seller on eBay.  Now there is nothing groundbreaking about purchasing a horn from the internet, however there don't seem to be many players waxing about acquiring vintage C-melody saxes.  So why on earth did I buy a C-melody?  Many consider the C-melody in particular, useless, antiquated,stuffy-sounding,  a dinosaur from the past and a worthless investment.  There may be some truth to these statements however the C-melody for me presents a unique opportunity to explore a tonal range and darkness that falls between that of the alto and tenor and a tool to improve my transposing skills.

The last statement may contravene what many people have associated with the C-melody.  It's in the key of C why on gods earth would you need to transpose a concert pitch instrument!  This is true if you are reading from piano charts, but sadly I don't own a piano nor do I have piano charts!  I do however have plenty of Eb and Bb charts for my alto and tenor.  Some of these charts I transpose from alto to tenor or vice versa to experiment with the tonal qualities of the natural range of these instruments.

It should be said that my primary instrument has been the alto, it was and to some extent still is my main horn.  I started playing the alto at the age of 13 and only dabbled with the tenor around the age of 16 at the same time as I branched out to the baritone sax.  I have long considered myself to think in Eb when listening to music, but that has begun to change a bit.

I bought my first and only tenor sax in high school from an upstanding pawn shop here in Toronto, it was a Selmer.  It was not a Mark VI, but an early Mark VII from about 1975.  It was in relatively good shape but could have used an overhaul.  I offered the price of the horn less what a professional overhaul would cost and they agreed!   I eventually got the horn serviced professionally but I immediately began to play it in school with a cunning fix when the high D# palm key pad suddenly popped off (I used the gasket from the cap of a 2L plastic pop bottle as a replacement pad).  I was all about exploring the tone of the instrument in those days and began to enjoy what the bigger horn had to offer.

Recently I have been thinking more about tonal characteristics of different manufacturers and vintage versus modern instruments.  I have had the opportunity to play test a load of various instruments over the years when visiting music stores and pawn shops.  At one point in time I was less than impressed with some of the vintage C-melody saxes I tested in the 'other' pawn shops.  I think the reasons for this was because most of the ones I tried had the original mouthpieces with small openings and were often way past due for an overhaul.  I often was curious as to if the lack of pad resonators on these older horns played a major role in the vintage sound.

I noticed that all the C-melody saxes I tried were lacking resonators and most were stuffy sounding.  Sadly I didn't think to try these horns with my alto or tenor mouthpiece.  Fast forward a few years and thanks to YouTube I came across Al McLean performing on the JazzPeriod. channel.  Low and behold there are a few videos of Al playing vintage C-melody horns that he restored.  I found the tone of these horns only somewhat familiar to the ones I tried several years previous.  The tone was absolutely striking, far more impressive than anything I have heard.  Here are a few videos of Al McLean on C-melody, one a beautifully engraved Martin and the others a straight necked Conn with micro-tuner.

Here is Chris Potter playing a rare 1938 Selmer Balanced Action C-melody and James Carter on the same horn and a 1957 Mark VI C-melody at Saxquest in St. Louis.  The comments for Carter get a bit colourful with regard to his showmanship, but he is able to let the horn speak unlike most of the YouTube videos posted by amateur saxophonists on their vintage C-melodies!

Two things solidified my decision to pick up this C-melody with regard to exploring tonal qualities.  I began listening to Coltrane on alto and Ornette Coleman on tenor and wanted to explore a middle ground between the two horns.  I have come to love the lower register of the alto and as it turns out the C-melody is just an extension of the lower range on the alto.  The other was the price of the horn! $150 Canadian!  That's way cheaper than most mouthpieces on the market today.  When the horn arrived I was impressed with it's overall condition. It's an early Conn New Wonder model from about 1922.  It pre-dates the straight neck and micro-tuner that are most often the hallmark of Conn C-melodies.  And as a plus (for me at least) it does not have rolled tone holes.  This will make the overhaul process a bit more straight forward.

The body is straight with no significant dings or dents, the neck tenon and receiver seal well and the finish although nickel plated, is almost 95% intact.  It even came with an early C-melody mouthpiece.
It's barely playable at the moment but from what I can hear the tone of the horn has an incredible centred quality to it and with either the stock mouthpiece or my Otto Link Tone Edge alto piece it speaks very well and seems to have a good amount of projection.  This could be attributed to the heavy nickel plate.

One interesting aspect of the C-melody is that it is a bit of a chameleon in that it can be set-up in three unique ways.  In the videos above, none of the performers were using a stock C-melody mouthpiece.  McLean used a Selmer Super Session hard rubber alto mouthpiece, Potter a Vintage Otto Link Super Tone Master tenor piece and Carter a modern Lawton metal tenor mouthpiece.  Using either alto, tenor or C mouthpieces imparts different tonal colours and allows the horn to play either more like an alto tenor or C-melodly with the characteristics derived from the mouthpiece of the native instrument.  I have mostly explored the characteristics of the instrument using alto pieces.  The small opening of the C-melody mouthpiece was a bit of a challenge to find a stronger reed that suited my playing style.  I considered refacing it at home to open it up to .086" but in the end decided against that strategy as the mouth had previously undergone a tip repair.  

One of my experiments is to actually design a new C-melody mouthpiece much like I did in my "Free mouthpiece on Instructables" post.  I hope to create a mouthpiece with characteristics of a hard rubber Meyer or Otto Link Tone Edge with the correct volume and chamber size for the C-melody.  I feel this will modernize the otherwise conventionally stuffy sound of vintage narrow tipped C mouthpieces.  I will aim for a tip opening of around .090", just a bit more open than my alto piece.

I have found that of my two primary alto mouthpieces (Meyer 8M Small Chamber, Otto Link Tone Edge 7) the Link plays better due to the larger chamber.  I originally purchased the Tone Edge in a 7 exclusively for the C-melody but found that it actually plays better on my alto than my small chamber Meyer does.  Better is maybe not quite the best word to describe it, but on the whole a larger chamber size seems to suit my current alto in terms of tempering the intonation.  I digress, I will write another post on my alto set-ups over the years in the future.

I may just try and overhaul this horn myself as I have not invested a whole lot in it and it seems like a perfect candidate if ever there was one.  I will order up some shellac and a couple of sets of Music Medic soft-feel thick pads with plastic domed resonators (Selmer style).  I hope that by adding resonators the sound of the horn will be a bit less dull and have a bit more punch with a slight trade off being a little less dark sounding.  There is one key cup that will need to be flattened and one or two springs that i'll try and re-temper.  I'll pick up a few sheets of felt and cork as well as some teflon strips.  All I will need after that is some time!  Before I start I'll get a quote for an overhaul, but I'm guessing that it will be north of $700 these days.  That's still a fair amount and if I decide to resell the horn I will probably come out even in the end.  Nothing gained, nothing lost.  I won't start on the overhaul for a few months, but in the mean time I'll try and whip up a few mouthpiece designs in SolidWorks or Fusion 360.

A few minor dings on the bow.
The dented key cup.