Jeff Holman- the quest for the Slant Link sound

Jeff Holman, an accomplished saxophonist living in the Pacific Northwest, has taken his time getting into the mouthpiece business. He started making adjustments to his own mouthpieces, then when he felt more comfortable he started refacing mouthpieces for his students and other professionals in Portland. Jeff has always been a player first so he has a very developed concept of what a good mouthpiece should feel and sound like. His tenor sound is dark and warm and his ideal piece is a hard rubber slant Link. On alto he plays an old Meyer 7 hard rubber piece.

I showed up at his house with both my horns and navigated through many kid's toys to his living room. Jeff broke out a large box of finished Zinner blanks that he had numbered 1-9.
Zinner blanks definitely have better rubber than what Babbit is turning out now and the shape is pretty close to a Meyer. I started trying the pieces out and soon realized that each one was totally different from the others. Some had too much back pressure and some were too open, they mostly reminded me of Meyers. Jeff uses his own Meyer 7 as his guide, so his alto pieces felt closer to Meyers than to Links. Meyers usually have smaller chambers than Links, which makes them less free-blowing and a little more nasal sounding than a Link. At this point Jeff only works on the lay, tip, rails and baffle, not the chamber. Jeff says that he starts out by putting the right curve on the piece he is working on. Then he tries to get the piece to look like his ideal, by shaping the baffle, tip and rails. The last stages of his work consist of constant play testing and minor adjustments. When he feels like he's has gotten all he can get out of a piece he stops.

Jeff's mouthpieces are much better than what is being manufactured by larger mouthpiece makers. They play evenly and have a complex and warm sound. If you're looking for a vintage Meyer or Link sound and don't want to pay over $600 then I think the a Holman piece would be well worth considering. Personally I wished the chambers were a little larger, like my slant Link, but I know my tastes are in the minority.

One thing a lot of people are using are the 'Tenny' Otto Link blanks, which Babbit claims are made using the actual Slant Link molds. Even if they are shaped like the slants, the rubber is shitty, giving a bright sound overall. These blanks are also very inconsistent and need quite a lot of finishing work before they're playable. Personally I don't think that Doc Tenney does anywhere near $200 of work to finish his, which go for around $300 (the blanks cost $100 retail). You'd be better off buying a Doc blank yourself and having someone like Jeff or Brian Powell finish it, costing under $200.

Jeff's current workshop is on top of washing machine in his narrow utility room. "It's the best light in the house", says Jeff. Even though he's starting on a very small scale I think Jeff has the potential to become a major player in the booming mouthpiece refacing trade. I would highly recommend Jeff's refacing work to anyone who likes what an old Slant Link or New York Meyer sounds like. You can see the high level of detailed craftsmanship just by looking at close. Jeff still has some work to do before he's ready to start selling his own tenor pieces, but his alto pieces are great and ready to go to some real players.

Because each and every one of Jeff's own pieces is quite different (not for a lack of workmanship, but because he's trying different things on each one) I would recommend talking to him so he gets an idea of what you need. Then have him send you a few at a time to try. It would be hard to find a new alto piece for $200 that plays as well as Jeff Holman's.

Further note: after playing on one of Jeff's alto pieces I've decided that they are excellent, rather than just pretty good, as I initially thought. I might even use it as my backup piece. It screams and is very pliable and free-blowing. The 7 that I've been playing feels a lot like an early Babbit 7 Link that I used to own. The core is huge and it feels like I could cut over a full Salsa band with no mic, and not sound too bright! I'm still not used to such a big tip opening so I think I'll have Jeff make me one that is slightly smaller. Beautiful work Jeff!

Jeff Homan:


Anonymous said...

Wow, interesting...it seems like there are 100s of new refacers popping up these days...zentara, powell, mojo, saxscape...there all trying to accomplish the same thing--making a new version of a great meyer alto, or tenor slant.

Can it really be that hard? I guess it is, I wonder why?

All these guys chasing the same thing, locked-up in their basements, trying to split the atom or come up w/the holy grail.


David Carlos Valdez said...

Most of the problem is the old rubber. It has a completely different makeup than the new hard rubber. It's actually illegal to make rubber the way it used to be made. They can use the old molds, but if the rubber isn't the old stuff it won't sound like a vintage piece.

As I have said before, just move the Babbit factory to China or India and use the old rubber formula.

Better to find an old piece with good rubber and have it refaced the way you like.

Anonymous said...

With all the talk about "greeness" and the enviroment that is in vogue these days, is it PC for one to say its OK to make that kind of rubber in India or China, but not in the "1st world"??

Like, hey, I need my 'vintage' sax sound, so I can play a $20 jazz gig & pretend that there is a future for me & jazz, so you little brown & yellow guys have to live in a polluted place over there, cuz of a bunch of obsessed woodwind players.

Maybe I'm being a little harsh for effect.

I think that, possibly, it can all be the rubber--or maybe so....

David Carlos Valdez said...

Maybe I should call this blog 'the Politically Incorrect Saxophonist'.

Seriously though, China and India have both taken courses for financial gain that destroy the environment and poison their own people. India dismantles toxic old ships and China's new factories spew copious amounts of filth into the atmosphere. A few Otto Links manufactured in either of these places won't add any significant amount of toxic materials to what is already happening.

Hell, I'm only saying to do it in the third world because it's illegal here. I'm sure the law against that particular rubber manufacturing process wasn't passed because of mouthpiece makers anyways. Babbit is really small time compared to car manufacturers.

So change the law for small manufacturers and move the Babbit factory to Texas, where the DNA damage has already been done! :-)

David Carlos Valdez said...

oh, and yes the rubber is EVERYTHING!

David Carlos Valdez said...

more from SOTW:

Originally Posted by saxophobia

Q:"why don't his "slant" (Doc Tenney) pieces look anything like a real slant on the outside? they just look like new links.

A: I don't think I'm divulging any trade secret here in telling you that the molds are cavity molds, not exterior molds, and so impact the interior only. If you look inside the chamber, on the side facing the table, you'll see a tiny raised number. I have an early-ish Babbitt mpc stamped '2', a modern Babbitt stamped '2', and 2 modern Babbitts stamped '1'. My Tenney Slant is stamped '2', but I am assuming that this identifies it among the Florida-era cavity molds that they "blew the dust off of" at Doc's urging. They are then sent to Doc for hand-finishing and, I believe, additional chamber and baffle work. I'm pretty certain that I've also seen current-production Babbitt Tone Edge mouthpieces with a '3' stamped inside. As to the significance of the differently numbered molds among any given era of chamber molds, I have no idea, but they did distinguish between them.

MonksDream said...

On Dave's recommendation in this blog, I went to see Jeff last week because of problems I was having with my modified Otto Link. I showed up and he did a couple of quick measurements, and told me that it made sense, from the transition from the tip to the lay, that I would be having problems with the lower register.

I was essentially having trouble with the notes below G and after about 2 5-minute sessions with a flat piece of glass and some sandpaper, Jeff fixed the problem.

I wanted to try one of his mouthpieces, but he said that he wanted to wait a while longer until he had a nicer finished product. He just wants to figure out a good way to make an engraving. He was playing a killer sounding original Florida Link 8* that I suspect will inform his creation of excellent saxophone mouthpieces.

Jeff Homan: ripping sax player, efficient effective mouthpiece customizer, and overall mensch.

David Carlos Valdez said...

That's great to hear.

Anonymous said...

I used to take lessons from Fred Hemke. He told me it doesn't make any difference what the MPC is made out of. Hemke said it could be made out of concrete, and still sound the same.

David Carlos Valdez said...

I'm sorry but I don't buy that for a second. Why are metal piece so much brighter than rubber, and what about wood or glass. Each material has it's distinctive tonal characteristics. Every mouthpiece professional I know would disagree with Fred Hemke on this issue. The old rubber has a much darker sound than the new rubber. Yes, you can make an old rubber piece brighter if you do things like thin the rails and the tip or make a bigger baffle. You can also make modern rubber or metal darker by doing the opposite, but take the exact same piece made with different materials and they will sound drastically different. It sounds to me like Mr.Hemke (who I the utmost respect for by the way) was doing a little boasting, which most of us are guilty of at some point.