This project dates back to when I first began collecting vintage trombones when I was 12 years old. My fascination with antiques and fine craftsmanship predated my trombone addiction, but ended up becoming a constant source of inspiration for me as I amassed my personal museum of brass instruments.
As I progressed in my trombone career I found myself (probably along with many other trombonists visiting this page) searching for the "holy grail" trombone. This drove me to locate the best equipment that I could find. After spending a small fortune over the years, literally trying every trombone and maker I could get my hands on, I finally found my beloved 1939 Conn 66H which in my opinion is possibly one of the finest trombones ever built. The sound of this instrument is everything that I want it to be. It has a vibrant spirit and I can feel and hear the tone coming out of the bell when I play it and know it is exactly the way I want to sound! I quickly realized I would never be able to find another trombone that would replace this instrument. What if something should happen to my irreplaceable 66H! After all, this is 75 year old trombone… it will eventually wear out if I use it. I decided to try to find a modern trombone that gave me this timeless sound quality. The quest began again…
I certainly found some great new trombones. The technology for free blowing valves, better intonation slotting and partials, consistency between components and of course the whole "modular" trombone thing was overwhelming. I found fantastic playing instruments, trombones that were so easy to play that I almost thought I could stop practicing… but they all lacked that one X factor thing that gets me excited when I hear it. It's a feeling, the instant recognition that you know you've grown up with and heard on all of those classic recordings that shaped your sound concept. I was certainly satisfied with all of the expensive custom trombones and frakenhorns I had built, but at the end of the day I couldn't find anything that could replace my Conn.
In December 2012 my dear friend, Thomas Zsivkovits, came to visit me from Austria for 10 days. Thomas and I have been trombone pen pals since we were both in our teens… meeting each other over an eBay transaction for a slide crook and hitting it off. If there is another crazy vintage trombone obsessed nut out in the world, it is Thomas. One night, over some beers of course, we were discussing vintage trombones vs. modern trombones and all things in-between and both thought it would be a cool project for The Brass Ark to offer a new trombone that was both a nod to the classic trombones of the past century but also to something unique and modern. And so it began!
We started pulling every trombone and every piece of trombone I own out. It was like a trombone tornado came through my house! After hours of playing and drinking, we finally zeroed in on a bell flare in my collection, an original one piece bell made by the legendary LA trombone guru Larry Minick. This bell has a wonderful modern sound and it projects like crazy! This is not a new bell to me… and I always loved many things about it. The upper register is phenomenal and the response is very predictable… but it didn't sound like my vintage Mt Vernon and Conn horns. After some debate, we both came up with the idea to use the taper of this bell but fabricate it like my 66H bell, with a cross brazed seam and soldered rim (this means that the flare is made from sheet brass and hammered rather than a traditional 2 piece bell where this piece is spun from a disk of brass on a lathe with a scissor tool). What a great idea! We decided to take it a step further… why not do something radical and make the stem of the bell out of thin gold brass and the flare from a yellow brass. Now I'm not going to make any claims that the mixture of metal alloys does anything other than look cool, which is does! But, I tend to hypothesize that having the mixture of both contributes in some way to the unique tonal qualities of this bell.
Continuing through the plethora of parts and horns, we settled on a Minick rotary valve, which was designed to offer a straight passage through the neck pipe of the trombone. Not only does it give an amazing response through the open horn, but the valve register is very smooth on the transition from side to side. This idea has since been working into other valves like the Shires Tru-Bore (which is similar but not identical to the Minick design). Precision German valve maker, Meinlschmidt, offers the "Radial Flow" valve which is nearly identical to the Minick design so we decided this would be our best valve option.
Now I probably have about 30 tuning slides from various makes and models and all sorts of vintages and oddities. After trying every permutation we found that the tuning slide from my 1947 Conn 88H special worked the best with the bell we had chosen. It's this tuning slide that we decided would be our model for this project. We thought to continue with the vintage theme, we'd have it made from sheet brass and hand bent, as they did in the old days.
Handslides are always a challenge… and proved to be the most difficult. There are so many factors going into building a slide to make it a good one. The expectations for "great" slide action is so high these days especially with the amazing products being built by Shires, Rath, Edwards and Greenhoe. The bar is practically "flawless" action and we knew our slide had to be this good. We sourced our inner tubes from the best tube maker and chrome plater in Europe. The chrome plating is very hard and gives an excellent surface. We also decided to go with a wider slide, like a Bach 42 width, because that seems to be most popular among players these days (narrow slide players, never fear Should you so desire, we can custom order you a Brassark narrow slide using our Elkhart 88H replica slide crook). The slide bow is handmade from sheet nickel silver and is in between a Bach 42 size and Conn 88H size crook, at .585" inner bore, with a dual radius bend. We didn't want to use a bass trombone bow like the Bach 42 does to avoid sounding tubby but we also wanted a little more "core" to the sound which is sometimes lost on a true tenor sized bow. So we arrived on a size in between and I think it is a great success. We chose gold brass outer tubes with nickel over sleeves and our leadpipe is press fit removable for options. Each instrument comes stock with the Brassark/Brassmedic Mt Vernon 42 replica leadpipe made in seamed copper which I will say is the best leadpipe I've ever played.
We were lucky enough to partner with Stephan Schmidt, a fantastic brass craftsman in Germany, who agreed to make our trombone as an exclusive to The Brass Ark. HSM Brass has been building quality brass instruments for over 35 years. Each part of our trombone, with the exception of the flare, the inner tubes and the valve are made in house by Stephan. Our bells are made by a world class bell maker in Germany exclusively for this project.
So, did we accomplish what we set out to do… to create the "Holy Grail" of trombones? I don't know if I can honestly make that grand of a claim… but I do think we created a new instrument that is unlike any other modern trombone on the market! The sound is an homage to the great instruments of the past but the playability is on par if not better than some of technologically advanced trombones currently available.
So, I implore you to try out our creation and know that our motivation behind this project was not to become the next greatest trombone maker… but simply to create a beautiful piece of playable artwork that can be appreciated by those few trombone geeks out there looking to find a new toy that could possibly come close to replacing their "old friend"