Journal: 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!