October 17, 2020
Hello friends! Can you believe it, another blog update within the year! This is a special one, as it is a continuation of my last journal entry! We completed our sterling silver trombone mouthpiece and I wanted to share some photos of the process with you!
Back in April, we finished making a sterling silver rim for my 5G mouthpiece and while initially we were going to stop there, curiosity and ambition pushed us onward to try to make the rest of the mouthpiece out of solid sterling silver. It was quite a journey, some failure and a lot of learning. With each failure, we learned something new and we're finally getting really good at casting. I wanted to give you a little behind the scenes tour of what goes into making a special mouthpiece like this one and also let you know that we will be offering sterling silver for our customers, so you too can have a mouthpiece in this special material!
Step one in casting our underpart was to melt down our silver. Here's a photo of Brett (in his protective gear) topping off our crucible in order to have enough material to be able to turn the underpart. That crucible is about 1750 degrees! We have to be very careful as it will literally melt through whatever it comes in contact with.
Once the molten silver has cooled, Brett removed it from the crucible. After a few failed attempts, this time we decided to cast the underpart in a rough shape of the underpart of the mouthpiece. This one turned out just perfect! After that, Brett faced it up on the lathe and aligned it to start cutting the taper in the outer shank
Once the shank was straight and correct, it becomes easier to hold in the lathe. Brett was then able to start turning the piece down and cut threads into it. It mated up perfectly with the sterling rim we made back in April and things were going along smoothly! Once the rim was on there, he began to hand carve the outer shape of the mouthpiece with special tools. I opted to go with our Mercury shape because that's my favorite design, Brett is quite the artist as he was able to replicate this shape by eye! Things were getting exciting!
Then it was time to cut the cup! We'd gotten this far before on a previous piece and that's where things started to fail. Sterling is extremely difficult too machine and the cup cutting tools generate a lot of force and a lot of friction as the piece turns on it. Getting your lathe speed correct and having the right tools are imperative to success working in sterling (plus a lot of patience). It took us a few hours to finally get the cup correctly cut without destroying the piece. I credit Brett's amazing skill that he was able to do this so well and have it be so accurate.
After the cup was done, we cut the backbore, another stressful and time consuming step, but then, the piece was done and ready to play! What can I say… my first notes were shocking. I own an Almont sterling piece which is very cool but extremely small and not practical for modern use… having a piece in sterling silver in my normal size mouthpiece is amazing, I was speechless at how focused and responsive and clear the sound of the mouthpiece is. It's a challenge to put playing characteristics into words, but the best way I can explain my first reaction was that I could really "feel" the notes vibrating and responding in my chops. There was a depth to the sound and a feedback that I wasn't prepared for… the sound was smooth and full and brilliant and dense all at the same time. Upper register felt extremely solid and flexible and the low range wide and full but the middle register so focused and direct. The guys at the shop were just as taken aback… we had expected a drastic change but nothing quite this drastic! Brett then stamped the mouthpiece up for me and gave it a final polish. No plating since its already silver! The results, a totally unique and special mouthpiece that I will be playing the rest of my career!
Bravo to my friends and partners at Bob Reeves Brass for indulging me with this crazy project and I hope that you all enjoyed this blog post as well! I always enjoy getting comments and messages if there's something here that you like or have any questions! I wish you all health and safety right as we round out the end of 2020. Please follow The Brass Ark and Bob Reeves on our social channels, facebook and instagram. Until next time! - Noah
April 6, 2020
Hello loyal Brass Ark fans. It's have been a long time since I've updated this blog… a long time… and I sincerely apologize for that. Things have been very busy around here. I've opened my own recording studio with my colleagues at Hollywood Scoring and we've been producing lots of music content for companies all around the world and that takes up a lot of my time. I still love The Brass Ark and I dedicate as much of my free time as I can to answering your emails, working on leadpipes and mouthpieces, finding rare gems of instruments and restoring them and finding them new homes. I thank you for all of your support and patience with me. I'm writing this blog and we are currently in the throngs of this Covid-19 pandemic… like many of you, all of the sudden we have time on our hands without being able to go about our daily routines. I thought I'd post here about some exciting things at The Brass Ark.
Firstly, I am starting a podcast with John Snell from Bob Reeves Brass, called The Trombone Corner. We'll feature hour long interviews with trombonists, makers, repairmen, composers and all things trombone. We've already recorded interviews with David Rejano and Martin Schippers… Jay Friedman is on the schedule this week. It's sure to be a lot of fun and informative for all. I will be posting links to The Trombone Corner soon, so stay tuned!
The other fun thing I wanted to post about was a neat project I collaborated on with Bob Reeves just before we all went into quarantine. As you all know, I've developed a line of mouthpieces with Bob Reeves (thanks for all of you that have ordered and play on our stuff, it's a honor to bring these pieces to market and makes me really happy to know that I can help musicians achieve the sound they desire with these mouthpieces). Al Almont has always been a mystery to me. For those that don't know about Mr. Almont, he was a trombonist and mouthpiece maker and is famous for making mouthpieces for the Tommy Dorsey trombone section. His pieces are very rare, they were all handmade and you had to be in the know to get one. What sets these pieces apart was that they were made from solid sterling silver… yes SOLID SILVER. Now, I've seen a lot of instruments and gear over the years, but I have yet to see an Almont piece in person… it is something I'd love to experience (if anyone out there has one you'd be willing to sell me, let's chat). I've been bugging John and Brett at Reeves to make me a sterling trombone mouthpiece for years, to no avail. Material costs along is really expensive and finding bar stock in the correct size is nearly impossible.
So I took it upon myself, unannounced to the boys at Reeves, to order a bunch of casting grade silver. Reeves makes their own tooling, and as such, they have hardening ovens that can achieve extremely high temperature… enough to melt silver. Much to their chagrin, they reluctantly were willing to experiment with me and see if we could cast and fabricate a solid silver trombone rim. The rim being smaller, would be a first test to see a proof of concept. After all, this hadn't been done before, at least not by any of us. Enjoy a quick tour of the project! John made a whole video of the process, we'll post that online soon.
We took the casting silver and put it into a high temperature vessel, I found one that was the correct size to cast an ingot large enough for the diameter of the rim. Doing all the necessary preparation, we placed the crucible into the over and waited for it to get to temperature. The result… molten metal.
Ok! Super cool… don't try this at home. We had protective gear, this is so hot it would melt anything it touches. After the metal cooled and solidified, Brett cleaned it up and prepared it to go into the lathe. After facing the end (making it flat), he drilled the center bore in order to prepare to cut threads. Finishing this allowed us to thread the ingot onto the underpart (made of brass… this time)
Next, it was time to flip the rim around and actually cut and shape the rim! We used our 5G cutting tool (which is a hardened steel cutter in the shape of our 5G model, which was based on my best playing Mt Vernon 5G) by slowing inserting it into the rim until it perfectly forms the rim shape. We now have a rim made of sterling silver! Check out how much sterling was left over from the scrap chips from the original ingot!
Then it was time to make the 5G "Gladstone" underpart… we used the cup portion of the cutter to remove the brass from the blank to just the right shape. Brett then cuts the backbore using a special cutter (sorry I didn't get a photo of that) and then we plated it up! This underpart is for my Conn, so we put a Remington shank on it and then silver-plated. While I was there, I had Brett thread my rose gold plated 5G Gladstone model with a morse shank to accept the new sterling rim.
Fun fact, don't need to plate the sterling rim, it's just polished and raw! So you want to know how it plays… of course! I like it a lot, the extra weight of the sterling vs brass feels very good on the face. It feels a little bit more "grippy" to me, but I'm not sure if that's just in my mind.Here are the final glamour shots! You can see the subtle color different from the plated silver and the sterling and of course the silver colored threads inside the rim.
I do hope you enjoyed the blog though and please drop me a note if you have any comments or questions. I wish you all health and safety right now during these trying times. Please follow The Brass Ark and Bob Reeves on our social channels, facebook and instagram. Until next time! - Noah
July 19, 2017
Hello Brass Ark Fans. It's been over a year since I've updated this page, I apologize. Seems like a trend, me neglecting to post on this journal… but things have been busy! We've launched our full mouthpiece collaboration with Bob Reeves Brass Mouthpieces and have already sold over 300 mouthpieces since they went into production last year. Some prominent players are using our pieces: David Cantero from the LA Phil, Jay Friedman and Charlie Vernon from the CSO and most recently, my pal Raymond Lam from the China Philharmonic. As much as I enjoy rambling about mouthpieces, my post today actually is something I'm very proud and excited about. This project has been something I've been working with my close friend, Markus Leuchter, with for the past year and its a collaboration I've always dreamed about doing with the right partner. It took some arm twisting, so its nice to see the project near its final stages, of which I can now share with you!
Markus is one of the best brass makers in the entire world. I am 100% confident in that statement. I personally own his instruments and would have kept a handful of others that have come through the shop but people keep buying them! Markus was Heirbert Glassl's apprentice and learned his craft from great beginnings. I think Markus is now at the top of his game, making some of the best brass instruments available anywhere. He "gets it" making each instrument with love and passion one at a time. You'll see this care and attention to detail in the following photos. He was exactly the perfect partner for this project.
I've always been fascinated with the early trombones from the Conn factory. I make no attempt to hide my obsession with them. The holy grail is of course, the Fuchs bass trombone. I had the opportunity a few years ago to acquire one, which you'll see in the journal entry below. The wheels began turning in my head… what would it take to make a modern reproduction of this instrument, made as close to the original as possible but updated to be used in the rigors of contemporary professional use… and thus my collaboration with Markus Leuchter began! We decided that it is impossible to create the exact feel of a 100 year old instrument, after all, the brass has seen 100 springs, 100 summers, 100 falls and 100 winters not to mention all of the concerts, rehearsals, shows and parades its seen. We can't duplicate time, but we can duplicate fabrication techniques and materials.
The first step was to find the right bell from the right bell maker. Markus took a trip to the mountains to meet with a bell maker who does things the old fashioned way. He found a mandrel that matched the Fuchs bell taper and fabricated a bell for us from thin red brass, two pieces with a cross brazed seam, just like the original.
We decided to do all of the horn from thin red brass and the trim in all yellow brass, just like the original. All of the tubes are rolled, seamed and hand bent to fit. Here's some photos of the tubes, the big back bow before bending and bent into the "J" bend of the Fuchs.
Valves were the next thing to tackle. We didn't want to use the easily available Meinlschmidt rotors. The Meinlschmidt is a high quality rotor but for this kind of project, reproducing a vintage classic, we needed something special, smaller and all yellow brass… which meant custom making the valves. Markus was able to find an unparalleled rotary valve craftsman in Germany who was able to fabricate special rotor valves exclusively for this project. They were at great cost, but the valve is such an important part of the design that we decided we couldn't do justice to the project without having this specifically made. Here's a photo of the raw valve set in dependent configuration and a comparison to the modern Meinlschmidt rotor (nickel casing on the left)
Getting closer to completion, our target was to debut at the recent ITF in Redlands, but some delays meant we were just off the mark. In addition to this passion project, Markus has regular orders to complete for the full line he already offers, so he had to fit the work in when possible. Happy to say that the first prototype is nearly completed and the early testing is proving happy results for all involved.
Stay tuned for more updates on this project. We hope to be able to offer two Fuchs style bass trombones per year and I will announce that more formally soon. Until next time, Be well! -Noah
May 17, 2016
Howdy folks! Been a while for updating the page and I apologies for that… hopefully this new post will make things right, as it is a very exciting one!
I wanted to post about a very popular subject and one that is near and dear to the hearts of all of bass trombonists out there in the world. I'm talking about the Conn 70H bass trombone… no other bass trombone model is shrouded in myth and legend like the Conn 70H bass trombone. Originally knows as a "Fuchs" model, this single valve bass trombone was one of the first American made large bore and large bell bass trombones and featured tuning in the slide, which was very popular during the day. Designed with Robert Fuchs of the Chicago Grand Opera around 1915, it was marketed as the pinnacle of bass trombone development at the time. These "Fuchs" models are in great demand today as they are quite rare and feature many design features and measurements that were used for inspirations for many modern bass trombone models still produced today. The legendary bass trombonist Robert Harper was famous for playing a Fuchs model in Philadelphia. This Fuchs trombone was later sold to Los Angeles Philharmonic bass trombonist, Jeff Reynolds, who modified it with a removable plug in 2nd valve (I believe this is the horn pictured on the stage of the Dorothy Chandler on the cover of Jeff's Except Album from Summit Records). More on the Fuchs bass later.
So what came next? When did the 70H show up? That's hard to say, as most of the Conn records for instrument models were not preserved by the factory. The Conn trombone shop, in the 20's and 30's, was basically a custom shop, producing an incredible amount of different models of trombones in all shapes and sizes. Jake Burkle, trombone design chief was working with the top professionals from the period and as such, there are many special orders, variations and one offs from this period, which makes collecting them so much fun! The production Fuchs models were given the model number 70H for instruments produced from about 1920-26. Here's where it gets confusing… around that time, Conn introduced another version of the 70H, a dual bore version with a smaller bell taper and back bow, but still tuning in the slide (you'll see one of the first one of these below, although mine has a special order .562" slide). This version was made until the late 1930s when a batch of 70H SPEC horns were made, going back to a .562" single bore production version of the instrument. It has been well documented that there were lots variations in between of this model during this period and I'll get to that with some photographic evidence shortly. I speculate that this SPEC version is what evolved into the classic Elkhart 70H that was mass produced and very popular… as was made famous by George Roberts. The yellow brass, tuning in the slide, small throated bell version that was in the catalog until the mid 1950s and also morphed into the bell tuning 72H. Interestingly, it has been said that the Conn 60H and 62H reused the large throated taper and back bow of the original Fuchs model for its design and of course we all know the popularity of this model.
Ok, enough of that, I know you want to see some photos!
Recently, I was lucky enough, with the help of my good pal, Gabe Langfur, to acquire a very early Fuchs model. It isn't perfectly preserved: the slide was modified from its original setup, but the bell section is more or less fully intact. I immediately had our local historic brass expert, Robb Stewart, give it a once over. He fabricated a new bow guard from period Conn yellow brass, as the original was worn and buffed through. He also modified the trigger lever to make it a bit more user friendly, as we didn't want to alter the original braces (the instrument probably had a German style leather sling to actuate the valve originally) to get it back into prime playing condition. The German made rotary valve is very small but works quite well. Since the slide was modified, I don't have a serial number on the instrument. Judging from the bell engraving as well as the brace trim and decorated ferrules (check those out!), both Robb and I agree that this instrument was fabricated around 1916-1918, making it one of the earliest Fuchs models. I know y'all want to know how it plays… it plays incredible. Here is a photo of it with the next instrument I will discuss, another from my collection, the 1927 variation of the 70H.
Pretty wild huh? Check out the differences in the bell throat and the back bow. Here's a close up of the guts of both horns. You'll also notice that they are almost the same length but the Fuchs is much larger.
The next horn I want to mention is a very special one that recently came into The Brass Ark for a cleaning. It's such a piece of history, and happens to be here with all of these other 70Hs that I was inspired to write this entry! I'm talking about this wonderful 1939/1940 Conn 70H Spec that was originally owned and played by Lewis Van Haney. Indiana graduates may remember this instrument as the one that hung on the wall of his trombone studio, used by many during impromptu quartet readings. The trombone currently resides with a well known trombonist here in LA. There is also a wonderful handwritten note to Jeff Reynolds about this trombone, which is scanned below, from Van Haney in which he gives some backstory on this instrument. I won't spoil it for you, worth a read… but I will say he did pioneer a special technique for Bartok Concerto for Orchestra using this 70H discussed in this note! Here it is compared to my 1927 70H which you'll notice has a shorter slide, longer bell and much different proportions. Also interesting to note, Haney's 70H has three bell seams on the flare (one goes straight through the engraving) and is also a gold brass construction.
And here's that letter I was talking about:
So, as you see, there are lots of interesting Conn bass trombones out there! I'm always on the lookout for more Conn trombones from this early period. If you have one, I want to hear from you! Send me an email and tell me a little bit about yourself and your horn! Until next time! Cheers!!!- Noah G.
July 3, 2015
Hello BrassArk fans. My sincere apologies for not updating this section of the website in a long time. I have been incredibly busy performing but also keeping up with the emails, shipping, designing, fabricating and customer service needed to keep the Ark running smoothly. I sincerely thank you all for the support and I'm excited about bringing new and interesting products to market that help brass players around the world find the inspiration and equipment to produce the music they desire.
The entry today is about a rare early Bach New York bass trombone that recently came to the shop here from one of my friends and clients. It is quite unique and because of the interest in vintage Bach trombones, I thought it was a good one to share with you all.So, without further delay, I present to you the model "B" New York Trombone, circa 1936 :
So… what is it? Turns out, this is an early model 45B before there was a designation as a model 45. It has a narrow .547" straight bore slide, 9.5" bell flare and a German made rotary valve. The model 45B was originally designed for the "third (bass trombone)" in medium to large sized orchestras. I'll let Mr. Bach give you the description himself in this excerpt from an original Bach New York catalog.
Some notable details on this instrument. There is no model number stamped on the bell flare (only a "B" is stamped on the slide), but rather the bell mandrel #451 is stamped below the maker's mark. Like other early New York trombones, this one has a nickel silver neckpipe. The F attachment is all hand bent tubing (and assembled a bit crooked) and uses expensive solid nickel hex stock for the brace but also uses less bracing than a later model 50, a nice detail. The bell section is a wide as a model 50 (a 50 tuning slide would fit on it with the exception of the tubing size), but the tuning bow is a narrower bore. The bell taper is in between a model 42 and a model 50, it is a tighter bell despite being a 9.5" flare at termination. It has a steel rim wire and a small fully rounded bead. How's the sound? Very light bass trombone, wider than a 42 but retains many of the qualities of a 42. I love the blow of the slide, and it really works with this combination.
Because this slide is an early .547", I can only hypothesize that this slide uses the leadpipe mandrel that would become the model 42 leadpipe, however, upon measuring it, there is some variation on this pipe and we'll be offering it as a replica as part of our leadpipe line.
Interestingly, you'll notice that production model 45Bs feature a 9" bell and a dual bore .547"/.562" slide which more fits into the line of instruments in between the model 42 and the model 50… which leads me to believe that this particular instruments was probably one of the earliest bass trombone designs that Vincent Bach developed, it being sold to a music store almost a year after completion leads me to believe that this instrument was a work in progress and eventually sold to a store as a "one off" . Because the slide is stamped "B" and not a model number, I can only speculate that the "B" stands for bass. You'll notice on the shop card that it was at a later date that someone added "45B" in pencil to the top of the card. I'd like to thank, my good friend, Benn Hansson, for all of the help figuring this one out and for his assistance obtaining the shop card for me to share with you all.
I'd love to hear about other early model Bach large bore and bass trombones that exist out in the world, so if you have something of interest, please Send me an email as I'd love to hear about your oddities and continue to piece together some history on these wonderful instruments. Until next time! Cheers- Noah
June 9, 2013
Hello fellow brass nerds. Firstly, I want to thank the community for all of the support on the Trombone Forum and on my Facebook page for all of the new products that we are working on at The Brass Ark and Brass Medic. The first 50 MV5G mouthpieces are finally done at the machinist and will be prepped and plated over the next few weeks. I appreciate everyone who's asked to be on the list for one being patient as we roll these out. Also, I wanted to thank all of the clients who have purchased and continue to support our leadpipe project. I know it has been hard to keep up with demand and has taken some time to work our way down the list, but I wanted to let you all know that we understand how it is to wait for a new piece… it is important to us not to rush product. Brad hand makes each piece in house and we try to keep up a high level of quality control.
The entry today has to do with a new leadpipe prototype we have been testing out at our shop. With the great success of the seamed tuning slides, I asked Brad if he thought he could create a leadpipe out of seamed material to see how it would perform compared to a traditional seamless pipe. Brad made two MV50 pipes, one in .020" yellow brass and one in .016" copper. Both are quite successful: The yellow pipe being extra focused with much more center (a great pipe for loud players that are looking for something to reign in their power), The copper pipe being just sublime to play with instant response and beautiful bloom to the sound color and fantastic slotting. This is one of my favorite pipes Brad has created so farHere is a shot of the finished copper MV50 leadpipe :
So, I thought I'd give everyone a little bit of a behind the scenes tour of how we make a seamed copper leadpipe! First thing to do is cut a piece of copper material to the right size (we use MATHS to figure out what size piece to cut). After the piece is cut and cleaned in the acid, the seams are filed to make them smooth
Once the material is smooth, it is ready to be formed into a tube on a steel mandrel. Brad does this by hand, matching the seam as he goes. This is time consuming work as the seam can't overlap or be too far apart, but must be just right. The tube is then hammered into shape and the seam is joined by brazing (super hot flame that basically melts the brass together making it one piece of material.
After the tube is brazed, we place it on our leadpipe mandrel and draw it on our draw bench. Brad finishes the leadpipe on the lathe and builds either the press fit ring (as shown) or fabricated a threaded collar depending on what brand the leadpipe will fit. A quick polish and we have a Brass Ark/Brass Medic seamed copper leadpipe!
Our seamed leadpipes will be available to order right away. Send me an email if you are interested. Seamed pipes add $60 to the price of a standard pipe and are available in yellow brass, nickel silver and copper: a yellow brass seamed press fit pipe would be $180, a copper seamed press fit pipe would be $210. Seamed pipes are not returnable as they are custom made to order.
April 25, 2013
I started collecting vintage brass mouthpieces and instruments when I was around 12 years old and it quickly became a passion of mine. Here it is, 20 years later and I have quite an extensive collection of mouthpieces and instruments. So many that they are in every room in my house (driving my wife crazy constantly, she is very understanding about my trombone problems!). Some people collect artwork and to me these instruments and mouthpieces are each a piece of handmade art. Each detail, each seam, each bend, each stamp gets me excited… and I know I'm not alone with this passion, which is why I started The Brass Ark. My vision is to create a collective place where brass players can come to find the coolest gear (not only used and vintage, but high quality recreations), learn some history about the instruments they play and makers who made them and get to see and appreciate fine brass craftsmanship at the top level.
It has always been a dream of mine to create unique and playable artwork for our wonderful brass community. When I started collecting mouthpieces and instruments, it was always with this purpose in mind. If you've been following this website for the past two years you'll know that I've already embarked on the creation of high quality leadpipe replicas of rare pieces from my collection, all made in house at The Brass Ark in La Crescenta by our resident brass guru genius, Brad Close. With the help of my dear friend Thomas Zsivkovits and maker Stephan Schmidt in Germany, we are weeks away from debuting our own custom Brass Ark trombone (the first of many new models I hope), using parts and design concepts from rare instruments in my collection. Seamed tuning slides and slide crooks are in production and are both stunning to see and play.
Since I started playing the trombone, I was always a bit obsessed with finding a comfortable mouthpiece. Like many people I know, I have been searching for the "holy grail" mouthpiece from the beginning… you know, the one that lets you play higher, faster, louder, softer, cleaner, more in tune, darker, brighter… all of these things on demand and without practicing of course. I've collected over 300 mouthpieces both vintage and modern. Multiples of the same size, custom sizes, unusual sizes… everything. As a result, I'm sad to say that the holy grail mouthpiece does not exist, practice is what gives you the skill to acquire those traits in your playing… but I have learned that all mouthpieces are not created equal. One of my best and longest friends and terrific trumpeter here in LA, Mike Davis, shares this crazy passion for mouthpieces that I do (maybe he has 400 mouthpieces, so worse than me!)… So we began throwing the idea around of designing our own mouthpiece line, using our collections as starting points. We were lucky enough to find a phenomenal local machinist that has experience making brass mouthpieces and understands the concepts and acoustic design that makes them function… although his primary work is machining parts for NASA/JPL and most recently made most of the solid parts on the Mars Rover, he enjoys the challenge of making brass parts that make music. Having him local is important because he works with us in great detail every step of the way to make sure our feedback is incorporated into the mouthpiece design. Our first prototype, the large tenor trombone 5G mouthpiece was recently completed and I thought I'd share a small photo journal of our inspiration and design. Next up is our trumpet 1.25C mouthpiece, followed by our bass trombone mouthpiece and 4G sized tenor bone and some more trumpet pieces. As this aspect of Brass Ark grows, it is my hope to offer more and more sizes to the line.Here is a shot of one of my Bach New York mouthpiece cases:
One of the most interesting mouthpieces in my collection is a rare Vincent Dell'Osa large bore trombone mouthpiece. Dell'osa was a famous brass repairman in Philadelphia back in yesteryear. There was not a better place for custom brass work in the day, and somewhere in his history they began manufacturing french horn mouthpieces, which are regarded as some of the best original designs for modern french horn mouthpieces. Many of the great players, especially in Los Angeles, played on Dell'osa mouthpieces, including the legendary Vincent DeRosa and it has been said that the Giardinelli horn pieces were based on Dell'osa's work. I've never seen a trombone mouthpiece before the one I own, and I've not seen another. I think it is a beautiful looking mouthpiece! It has all of the characteristic design shape of the 19th century but it is much more modern, having quite a bit of mass and also being on the larger side both rim and cup (quite rare for a mouthpiece from the 1930s). As cool as it looks, it really doesn't play all that well… but there was always something enticing about this particular mouthpiece in my collection… the way it looked made me always come back to it in my mind and wish I had one that played great… I knew it would play great if the inside dimensions were right!
On my birthday one year, I found the closest thing I've come to my "holy grail" mouthpiece. It was my first Mt Vernon 5G and it was everything I'd always wanted in a mouthpiece. The rim was perfect, just the right combination of a flat crown with a perfectly comfortable bite. The cup was a thing of beauty, probably right when the cutting tool was perfectly worn but not worn out. Backbore was balanced and focused… It is a great mouthpiece and I still think to this day the best one in my collection (I have a good variety of other MV5Gs and they are all different!). So I thought to myself, wouldn't it be cool to have the outer shape of my Dell'osa with the inside dimensions of my best MV5G? Of course it would be awesome!
So, we did it! I gotta say, my machinist made a great copy. After some minor tweaks, I've been testing the prototype and it is damn good! I think the sound is almost identical to the original MV5G but with a bit more balanced EQ, a slightly more robust lower end and amazing clarity in the high range. The trombonists I've showed the prototype to here in LA all agree that it's great and an excellent copy.
So here are the photos of Brass Ark trombone mouthpiece #1. It's raw brass and not yet buffed shiny, but you can get the feeling for how epic it is. Brad will lightly buff and prep each mouthpiece in house so we have control over the dimensions (no buffing monkeys touching these babies!). We hope to have the first run of 50 mouthpieces available to the world in about one month! Anyway, Stay tuned for more Brass Ark fun as we anticipate the arrival of the Vintage Orchestra .547" trombone in a matter of weeks!
March 1, 2013
What can I say, it's been a long time since I wrote a journal entry on this website. Lots of stuff has happened since my last update. My daughter, Emmeline, was born and is now one and a half years old! It's been quite an experience trying to juggle the amount of work it takes to keep The Brass Ark running smoothly. I am the only employee and it is quite an impressive work load, but my clients are the best and I really enjoy what I do! My apologies if you've sent an email or left a message and it's taken me a while to respond. I'm grateful to all of my friends and clients and can't say how much I appreciate the support!
This past Christmas my dear friend, fellow trombonist and Brass Ark Europe sales manager, Thomas Zsivkovits visited with me in Los Angeles for about 10 days! We had a great time and totally geeked out with trombone parts and instruments and of course I took him to all to cool spots in LA. While he was here, we decided it would be cool for The Brass Ark to offer a new trombone that was both a nod to the classic horns of the past century but also something unique and modern. It's always been a passion of mine to find the "holy grail" magic orchestra trombone that has it all: a classic sound but an instrument that plays easily with an open and balanced response. Tom and I decided to set out designing a trombone that would give us the sound we both had in our heads. Our departing point was my collection of vintage trombones and we finally zeroed in on a bell flare in my collection from a respected Los Angeles maker whose initials are LM. This bell had the sound! A nice mixture of characteristics of my Elkhart 88Hs and Mt Vernon 42s but not a copy of these horns. Instead of doing a the same tired mantra of copying this bell, we decided it would be better to use this original taper but incorportate some of the manufacturing techniques that make vintage trombones sound the way they do. We also decided that we wanted to do something unexpected and arrived at the idea of a flare made of two materials. The result: a 2 piece bell made with a "cross braze" seam (as used by Pre WWII Conn trombones), thin red brass stem with a slightly heavier gauge yellow brass flare, very thin steel rim wire (also a characteristic of Pre WWII Conns) and a soldered rim bead. Here is the prototype bell:
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. In addition to the new trombone model, Tom and I also decided that we would offer various components of our new trombone available to modify existing instruments from other makers. Seamed brass tuning slides and seamed brass slide crooks will be available in March 2013 to fit a variety of sizes and materials. The tuning slide is a reproduction of my 1947 Conn 88H special tuning slide, which is a hand bent crook and plays amazingly flexible. I also had a cache of vintage Bach New York and Mt Vernon parts including some pristine examples of original slide crooks. Stephan has meticulously recreated these slide crooks out of seamed brass and we offer them in a variety of sizes. Obviously, a slide crook will need installation by a competent trombone technician, while tuning slides will fit right into your existing trombone without or with little modification (getting the alignment correct, depending on how the trombone was assembled).
I keep talking about seamed tubing, hand bending and cross seams and make a big deal out of that... and I know that maybe not everyone knows what I'm talking about. There are two ways to make tubing. You can use seamless industrial tubing and draw it (pull it through a draw ring on a draw bench, stretching the tubing to the correct diameter) or you can roll it from a piece of flat brass and braze or weld it together to the correct diameter. Obviously the seamed tubing takes a lot longer and requires a lot of handwork and skill to get a perfectly round piece of tubing from a piece of flat brass. To illustrate the process, I have photos of Stephan building some of our slide crooks and tuning slides and will give you a photo essay of the process of making parts from seamed brass. Enjoy!
First, you take a piece of brass and cut out the correct size using a template. The brass is rolled into a tube and using brass snips, little tabs are cut and folded over the seam. When the parts are brazed together with a very hot flame, this helps bond the brass and keeps the seam from splitting when you manipulate the material later to form a crook.
The next step is to hammer the tube on a mandrel to give it a rough round shape and flatten the seam. This is all done by an expert hand. Then comes the process of bending the tubing. Lead is melted and poured into the tube. As it cools it becomes malleable enough to bend but also strong enough to keep the integrity of the tube in the bending process.
After the lead is cooled, the tube is hand bent to the correct shape and taper. The lead is then "baked" out of the tube leaving a crude brass bend. The slide is then worked slowly with a hammer and is smoothed out. You'll notice the original 1947 Conn 88H tuning slide in the right hand side of the photo. Stephan is using it as a model to make our reproduction slides as accurately as possible. Once the slide is perfectly smooth, nickel pieces are fabricated to soft solder onto the bend, allowing the tuning slide to fit into whatever trombone you have!
That's seamed tubing in a nutshell. You may wonder, what does it do and what's the benefit? My thoughts are that with seamless tubing you get a very consistent product, but when you add the aspect of parts being hand fabricated you get much more nuanced characterisics. Does it mean that it will play better than your seamless tuning slide? Perhaps... you might find that certain aspects of your sound are changed. It may be more vibrant or be more open, you will probably notice a faster response and usually seamed tubes give a warmer more personal sound. I can't guarantee that it will fix everything about a trombone, but I can say that it will become a different instrument. Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this entry. If you have any questions about seamed tubing, our Brass Ark trombone parts or just want to geek out about brass instruments, send me an email. Till next time!
August 30, 2011
Greetings Interwebs! I know it has been a while since I last updated the journal section of the website. My apologies. I always say I will try to do more frequent updates, but alas, time gets sucked up into other projects. I find myself typing here tonight in a special place in my life. My wife is now home on maternity leave and we're about 3-4 weeks away (knock on wood!) from the birth of our daughter. We are incredibly excited... but stressed out too... lots to still prepare around the house, especially since my horns take up almost every closet space and are noticably present in nearly every room in the house... what can I say, I'm a collector!Today, I wanted to blog about a recent day I spent with John Cather at his shop in Manhattan Beach, California. John is an excellent trumpeter, trombonist, historic brass player and craftsman. He worked in Joe Marcinkiewicz's shop in Glendale back in the day, where he learned mouthpiece fabrication and brass instrument building. John makes a few boutique mouthpieces out of the shop in his garage. His alto trombone mouthpieces (they are quite cool, 22-23mm inner rim with shallow cup, for players that want a brilliant alto sound, check 'em out!) are well respected. He also makes some beautiful historic trumpet replicas that are stunning! My early music ensemble, Tesserae, recently performed a concert of Venetian brass music at the Contrapuntal Hall in Brentwood California. My new Eb alto sackbut, a beautiful instrument made by my friend Markus Leuchter in Germany, just arrived and I was searching for an authentic mouthpiece that gave me the sound I wanted but was easy to switch back and forth from the tenor to alto and back again, which I did quite a bit on this particular program. My Egger RT6V is my go to tenor piece, but I was having trouble finding good match for the alto. I wanted an alto piece that felt like the RT6V but a scaled down version for correct pitch and sound. Of course, it was a week before the concert so getting a new piece from one of the big European makers was out of the question. I decided to call up John, as his alto trombone pieces are excellent modern pieces that yield the brilliance I was after. John agreed to custom make an alto sackbut piece for me from scratch! He started by taking measurements and making lead templates of my Egger tenor piece. After completing a scale drawing, he began to figure out new specifications for the alto piece using calculations... which yielded our starting point for the new mouthpiece.
Once the shank was the correct taper it was time to start on the cup. Using a custom shank tool, the mouthpiece was flipped over in the lathe and held in place by the shank. John began to cut the rim and inner cup. Once we had the dimensions exact to our calculations, I began testing the mouthpiece on my alto sackbut. It didn't look like a mouthpiece, more like a chunck of brass with a shank on it... but it gave an idea of the sound and the feel of where we were. Surprisingly, it was nearly right on the money off the bat! I suggested some slight modifications and it went back on the lathe. We went back and forth a few times for fine tuning. Soon after we found just the right backbore for intonation sloting, rim contour (or lack of it, this is a sackbut piece after all!) for articulation and comfort and the proper depth of cup to match my instrument and my playing. I was satisfied and it was time to do the decorative outer shape. John did a great job using my Egger piece (which is basically of copy of a Geert van der Heide piece, also an excellent maker) as a model but still making his own shape, all free handed. Here is the end result!
The mouthpiece is a great success. It came out totally beautiful and sounds fantastic. The whole experience was a lot of fun and John is a terrfic guy and craftsman. Make sure you check out his website for his alto trombone mouthpieces, historic brass pieces as well as other fun stuff.
Apologies for the poor quality pictures, my iPhone was the best I had to capture the day. I'll try to get a clear snapshot of the completed mouthpiece (which I've since had gold plated). That's all for now. Till next time!
June 19, 2011
Hello again. My apologies for the big break in between journal updates. Things have been busy in my life, all good things! My wife and I are expecting a daughter in September. We are very excited. I just moved The Brassark into a new storefront with my good friend, trombonist, and business partner, Brad Close. Juggling my time with gigs, students, web updates, photo editing and family time proves to be a challenge. I'll try to be updating more frequently in the future.
Today for the journal, we have a really special horn that resides in my collection. I received a call last Novemeber from a woman named Stella. She had two vintage trombones that belonged to her father and she wanted me to come appraise them so she could donate them. Imagine my surprise when I opened the case and found a very rare Earl Williams bass trombone! Turns out Stella's father was Louis Castellucci and he played bass trombone in the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the 1930s and 40s, right after Spike Wallace (the original partner of Earl Williams Trombones) vacated the bass trombone chair. In addition to his orchestral work, Mr Castellucci played trombone on many of the great film scores of the time and conducted many bands and orchestras in Los Angeles. I plan on writing a entire section on Mr. Castellucci, as he was a legendary musician in Hollywood with an amazing musical story. In the meantime, here are some detailed pictures of his Earl Williams bass trombone.
I believe Earl used a variety of parts from various makers when assembling this bass trombone. The bell is unstamped but appears to be from a Conn 70H. The valve looks similar to the valves being used on the New York Bach 50B bass trombones. The valve section was hand assembled by Earl with his own braces.
The hand slide has the trademark Earl Williams curved hand grip, as well as his slide tuning mechanism. It is a wide slide, much larger than similar slides from other makers of the period. It is constructed from parts that Earl made, as well as, what I believe are Olds parts. Interestingly, there is no stamping or patent numbers other than a serial number on the bottom outer tube. From what Stella has told me about her father, I believe this horn dates to the early 1930s and it may be one of the first bass trombones Earl assembled.
The sound of this trombone is incredible. It has a beautiful singing timbre with a large powerful sound. Listen for the bass trombone in the soundtrack on Gone With The Wind (Yes, that's Mr Castellucci and this bass trombone) and you'll know exactly what this horn sounds like. It is an honor to be the caretaker for such a historic instrument. Stella and I have remained in contact from the first day we met. She's an amazing lady and a dear friend, as is her whole family. If you have any questions about Mr Castellucci or his trombone, drop me an email.
Till next time!
January 15, 2011
Greetings fellow trombonists and lovers of vintage brass instruments! Finally, my first entry into my journal! I plan on using this section of my website as a blog/musings/ collection of interesting information on brass instruments and all things in between. I will post photos of some of the finest and most rare instruments I encounter. These horns are not necessarily in my personal collection, but rather displayed here for all to enjoy
I was teaching one of my students and towards the end of the lesson I was presented with an old stinky Conn case... I'm thinking, OK another Conn 2H or similar generic old trombone. To my surprise, emerges one of the most stunning trombones I've ever come across in all of the years of collecting! Here is an Olds tenor trombone, tuning in the slide, silver plated instrument with a fully hand engraved bell depicting Jesus Christ emerging from the heavens flanked by Angels. I've seen religious engravings on instruments before, but never anything this epic! The detail work is stunning! The instrument dates to the early 1930s.
Turns out, this trombone was custom built by Olds in Los Angeles for one of the founding members of the Foursquare Church (founded by Aimee McPherson) in Echo Park. The artwork covers most of the bell, it must have been an incredible amount of work and time. Unlike the engraving of the Stemberg instruments from Conn, this portrait engraving is not as refined
I'm most impressed with the figure of Jesus Christ, which has stunningly detailed shading, texture and ornamentation. The portrait is much higher quality when compared to the Angel engravings.
It's hard to attribute this engraving to any specific artist. I assume that it was done by the best engraver at the Olds factory. It is possible that this work was outsourced... it's almost impossible to know. The style of this engraver reminds me of some of the Wallace and Williams trombones from this same vintage. Earl Williams was an employee of Olds and I am sure had access to their engravers. I can speculate that this engraver probably also did some of the art on Earl's trombones.
Until next time...