Steve Lacy’s Otto Link Tone Edge: made by Arnold Brilhart ?

So, the roots of that short-lived, radically different Otto Link Tone Edge that was played by Steve lacy has always puzzled and intrigued me. Not many of us have had a chance to play on one of them, as they were available for a very brief period in the 1980s. Prior to that, Otto Link produced their Tone Edge soprano piece in its original form (larger inside and out than the Lacy piece). And, after the short-lived “Lacy” Link, they returned to the same design they had previously issued.

I always wondered why; why the radical change, and why the return so quickly to the earlier design?

I had my suspicions but no real leads.

My suspicion: that, for some reason, in the mid 1980s, Otto Link  (JJ Babbitt) decided to purchase hard rubber soprano mouthpieces from another source and to imprint them with the TONE EDGE designation. But, for what reason?

Well, it might have been because of production problems in Elkhart, or it might have been for economic reasons. Or it might have been because the new, smaller “Lacy” design was such an improvement. Alas, the reason is unknown to me. But there are only a handful of possibilities, I think.

But, where might they have sourced  this “Lacy” design? That has been the puzzle for me.

My initial thought was that perhaps it was with Riffault in France and, while there are certain similarities in playing characteristics between the classic Riffault soprano piece and the “Lacy” Link, they are not similar either in external or internal design. Riffault would have had to produce an entirely new model, and I have never seen another Riffault stencil (of which there are many) that looks anything like the “Lacy” Link. So, I never felt comfortable thinking it might be sourced from Riffault.

But, recently I acquired a very rare mouthpiece and I noticed immediately its similarities with the “Lacy” Link. So, I put them side by side and….. they are one in the same! There are subtle differences in finishing ( tip, rails, chamber, throat) but the blank is the same, the window is the same, the position of the throat is the same and they play the same. They come from the same place.

I am 99% certain that I have found the source of the “Lacy” Link. And, it turns out, the history of this rare mouthpiece seems to confirm my conclusion.

In the mid 1970s, the great mouthpiece designer and maker Arnold Brilhart sold his company to Selmer and, as part of that sale, Arnold Brilhart agreed to refrain from making mouthpieces for 10 years. At the end of those 10 years, he began a new venture producing ARB ( Arnold R. Brilhart) mouthpieces. Among those ARB designs is his design for soprano sax. I have only seen one of these and I have it now. I also have an Otto Link “Lacy” Tone Edge mouthpiece. They are identical, with the exception of a very short shank on the Brilhart. That shank is clearly shortened, either in the factory or afterwards.

The clincher for me came when I realized that the appearance of the Lacy Tone Edge piece coincides with the reemergence of  Arnold Brilhart as a mouthpiece manufacturer in the mid 1980s. And that also seems to explain why that very special design was never again “produced” by Otto Link. It seems almost certain that they never produced it in the first place. They may have purchased blanks from Brilhart for a period of time and then, for some reason, stopped and returned to making their own Tone Edge design again. Perhaps Brilhart stopped producing the ARB soprano piece (they are exceptionally rare); perhaps it was no longer good business for one or both of them.  Soprano mouthpieces being such a small market, Babbitt may have decided to buy what they required. Or perhaps there was a period when production of the Tone Edge soprano piece was interrupted by mechanical problems. Alas, I do not know.

But, side by side, played and measured, these mouthpieces are identical and I am convinced Arnold Brilhart is the source of perhaps the most famous Otto Link Tone Edge soprano mouthpiece in the world. Steve Lacy’s famous Link Tone Edge # 12, certainly made for him by JJ Babbitt, seems to have been a Brilhart all along.  Amazing.