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...