You have a dirty, dirty horn!

Once again I present to you some “Before & After” photos. These are the rotors from a Paxman French horn that came into the shop last week. The first photo shows the rotors from a double horn and as you can see there is a significant amount of bluish/green buildup on both the four rotors and the back bearings which are the pieces directly above the rotors. In the second photo, abracadabra, like magic the rotors and back bearings are clean as a whistle. Actually it’s far from magic. The rotors were scoured using a dremel with a small brass brush then they were put into a de-greaser to remove all unwanted sludge & grit and finally they go into a chemical cleaner designed to clean brass parts. The same procedure was also done to the rotor casings which are attached to the French horn itself. Next, I wipe everything down with denatured alcohol and then reassemble the horn. Nothing to it, a piece of cake, etc., etc., etc. The majority of French horns that come into my shop need this same procedure.
Paxman horns are British made and seem to be nice instruments. They are not as common in this country but they do pop up now and then.


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What Happened to my Bass Clarinet?

Before and After pictures. Aren’t they the best? Today you are looking at a Vito bass clarinet which is made of ABS plastic. This bass clarinet has an upper joint & a lower joint just like a regular Bb clarinet but this bass clarinet was designed to stay together, in other words, not to be taken apart. However, someone decided to push this instrument past its physical limits and they broke it right where the two joints meet. My photos are of the low C# or upper G# tone hole, depending on which register you are playing in. Obviously a chunk of plastic was broken out of the aforementioned tone hole. Luckily, as I scoured through the case I found the missing piece, still intact. So, this was a moderately easy fix because I was able to “super-glue” the missing piece back into place. A little bit of clean up where the seams met but that was it. This horn will live for another school year to be mauled by another non-caring, oblivious high school student that doesn’t have to pay for such damage. Oh yeah, this is not a privately owned instrument, this is an instrument that is owned by the school and our tax dollars pay for.


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What Brands Of Horns Should Be Avoided!

Here is a list that I put together, in about an hour this morning, of instrument brands that should be avoided like the plague. I’m sure that there are other brands that I have missed but this list should cover a majority of the “super hideous horns” that no one should buy. Some of the sellers of these instruments will say that they are made in Kansas City, Missouri, Rancho Cucamonga, California or wherever but they are lying through their digital teeth. Most of the Chinese horns are probably made in the same factory but they simply stamp a different brand name on the horn before it gets shipped out to unsuspecting and musically uneducated parents. Just because it’s “shiny” doesn’t mean that it’s good. Most decent horns will be brass, gold colored. that is lacquered. A few decent horns might have a black lacquer. However, when you see instruments that come in red, green, blue, yellow or purple you should run away screaming. Those horns are nothing but junk and would be best used as a doorstop or a wall hanging. Later today I’ll put together a list of brand name instruments that are OK and I’ll send that to you also. Now that I’m letting parents know “what brands not to buy” I guess I should tell them “what brands to buy”.  If you have questions please contact me.

Michael Elswick

Elswick Band Instrument Repair
434-973-4299 – shop

Allora – Chinese
Amati-Kraslice – Czechoslovakian
Antigua – Chinese
Artemis – Chinese
BandNow – Chinese
Bentley – Chinese
Berkley – Chinese
Bestler – Chinese
Blue Moon – Chinese
Bridgecraft – Chinese
Cecilio – Chinese
Cibaili – Chinese
Diamond – Chinese
Earlham – Chinese
Etude – Taiwanese
First Act – Chinese
Glory – Chinese
Grand – Chinese
Gruskin – Chinese
Harmony – Chinese
Hawk – Chinese
Heimer – Chinese
Heinse – Chinese
Iolite – Chinese
Jean Baptiste – Chinese
Jean Paul – Chinese
Jinyin – Chinese
Johnson – Chinese
Lark – Chinese
Laval – Chinese
Lindo – Chinese
Maxtone – Chinese
Mendini by Cecilio – Chinese
Monique – Chinese
Palatino – Chinese
Parrot – Chinese
Rex – Chinese
Roy Benson – Chinese
Schill – Chinese
Selman – Chinese
Simba – Chinese
Sky – Chinese
Steuben – Chinese
TaiShan – Chinese
Top Tone – Chinese
Venus – Chinese
Wexler – Chinese
Weimer – Chinese
Wernburg – Chinese

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Acclimating to Your Horn

Even after 43 years of repairing wind instruments, I continue to be reminded of subtle details of playing these instruments. Today I am addressing woodwind instruments and specifically saxophones because I have had so many sax repad jobs come into my shop in a very short period of time. Plus, I have recently repadded my personal saxes during this onslaught of sax repadding. Time and time again I notice how your, or my, playing changes as our horns age or more precisely as the pads age or maybe as we both age. These changes occur so gradually that you don’t notice anything different from one gig to the other.

First, let’s look more closely at a pad and we’ll dissect it to see what we’re dealing with. This is the part of a pad that you mostly see, the leather.



Here is the pad you saw above simply cut in half.



A pad consists of a cardboard back (R), a felt disk on top of that (C) then those two are covered or wrapped with a layer of leather (L).



The deterioration of the pads starts when you blow into your sax. The warm air you blow into the horn is filled with moisture or water vapor. As the warm air cools it loses the ability to hold the water vapor consequently, the vapor condenses and forms water droplets on the inside of your horn and on your pads. Every time you play your horn this process occurs. After the leather covering of the pads get wet and dries out, repeatedly, it eventually causes the leather to lose its suppleness. When this happens there is no longer a tight seal between the pad and the tone hole on the sax body. This is what we call a leak. The leaks start small…… a little pin hole leak here and there or a crack in the leather. So, you unconsciously blow a little bit harder assuming that the problem is you or your reed or the humidity level that day or whatever. The leaking has begun and progressively worsens over a period of months or years. On top of this, let’s say you leave your horn in your car when it’s really cold or really hot. Well, this just exacerbates the leaking issues causing the pads to deteriorate more quickly.

You don’t realize it but you have gotten used to this “love/hate” relationship with your sax. You like the sound of the horn but you hate the way it now plays. Some notes play well and others don’t. Next you bring your horn to me for repair. It might just need a few choice pads replaced and a bit of adjustment or it might need a complete repad.

Ok, we are going to jump ahead. I won’t bore you with all the minutia involved with pad replacement and all the work involved with a complete repad. Let’s just say that all the pads have been replaced and your sax should play like it did when it was new. So, you show up at my shop to retrieve your horn. Of course you want to play it just to confirm that it plays correctly and I also would like you to play it just in case you have any questions about what was done. Initially it seems ok but then you delve into the areas of your horn where you were compensating the most and it doesn’t play right. Why? Because you’re still compensating and you don’t need to compensate any more. Now, let the acclimating begin! It’s like starting out with a new instrument. You might even suspect that I didn’t do a good job or I missed something. Hey, I’ll be more than glad to look over your horn again. However, I can guarantee you that I have looked at every key, every pad, every tone hole, every post and every spring dozens of times. What this all comes down to is you need to unlearn a bunch of bad habits that you have progressively adopted over a long period of time. This can easily happen to all of us.

Here’s another scenario, let’s say you have just “had it” with your horn and you decide to buy a brand new sax. You are going for top of the line, Selmer Reference 54 or maybe a Yamaha Custom Z, 875EX or whatever. The point is it’s brand new, not a leak anywhere on this horn. So you try out this new AX and you don’t really like it that much. Why? Again, because you’re still playing like you did on your old horn. You wouldn’t think there is a “learning curve” or a “get used to it curve” but there is. This situation is neither good or bad it’s simply just the way it is.

In closing I am reminded of the immortal words of Buckaroo Bonzai, “No matter where you go, there you are”!


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A recent repair. A 1944 Selmer “55” Clarinet

This is a Selmer “model 55” clarinet that came into the shop last week. I did an overhaul on it meaning it was disassembled, the instrument is washed to remove the mold, (see the lower photo) the barrel, body and bell which are grenadilla wood are all saturated with bore oil. This keeps the wood supple so it does not split or crack. Then the keys, which are solid silver, are buffed, all the key corks and tenon corks are replaced and finally all the pads are replaced. Keys are straightened, if needed, and I regulate and adjust all the mechanisms.

This clarinet was made near the end of the second World War, circa 1944 -1945. I don’t always do research on all the instruments that come into my shop but I did on this one. One reason is I was recently reading about the history of the Selmer company and this clarinet just happened to arrive during my research. The gentleman that owns it wants it to go to someone that will actually use it. A man after my own heart. Horns/instruments should be used and not sit in closets or basements and deteriorate.




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Heading to a Wedding on the Outer Banks

I will be out of the shop Friday the 3rd and Monday the 6th. However, the wild and ever vigilant Martha will be here, both days, from 8:30am – 1:30pm. So, please call for an appointment if you have something to drop off or pick up. I will be back bright and early on Tuesday morning ready to do estimates on the previous weekends ill gotten booty, or is it ill booten gotty, Party On and remember, no matter where you go, there you are.

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Some Great Horns that I have for sale!

Here are a few of the instruments that I have for sale.
1 – Selmer Reference 54 Alto Saxophone – mint condition
2 – Yamaha YBS-52 Baritone Saxophone – plays great – SOLD
3 – Bach Stradivarius Trumpet, model 43, silver – smokin’
4 – Getzen Flugelhorn, 4 valve, silver, looks new
5 – Getzen “C” Trumpet, lacquered – hardly used
6 – Bach Stradvarius Trumpet, model 43, silver – smokin’ too.

For a better description and pricing go to the right hand side of this page to Product Categories. Click on the category of instrument you are looking for. Questions? Call me at 434-973-4299



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Olympic Torch, Playing a gig and Selling a baritone sax! Whew!

This past weekend was busy, a blur and fun. Saturday started for me at noon. I participated in, I believe, the 2nd C’ville Repair Cafe. You can bring things and get them repaired for free. For example; a hole in your jeans, a lamp or a vacuum cleaner that doesn’t work, bring tools to be sharpened etc., etc., etc. I was there not so much to repair horns as to evaluate them for future repair. It was a hoot. While I was there a gentleman walked in with an Olympic torch, as you can see in the photo, with a couple of dents in it. Really! This particular torch is from the 1984 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XXIII Olympiad, which was held in Los Angeles, California. This is engraved into a brass band on the handle of the torch. Too cool.
Next, I drove for 3 hours and played a Mardi Gras themed gig on Solomon Island, MD. with a band out of DC called the Moonshine Society.
After the gig I drove for almost 4 hours to Va. Beach and delivered a 1984 Selmer Super Action 80II baritone sax to a friend. He’s thinking about buying it. I hung out for the day in Va. Beach and drove back home on Monday.


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Cville Repair Cafe – Today – 3/5/16

Here is where I’ll be today. Bring your recalcitrant horns by for me to evaluate. If it is a minor repair I might be able to do it on the spot.
Cville Repair Café
Saturday, March 05
noon – 4 p.m.
IX Art Park
963 2nd St. SE
Charlottesville VA, 22902
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Conn “40B” Trumpet

Ok, this is my latest acquisition, a Conn “40B” trumpet. This horn was made circa 1932 and is covered with incredibly ornate engraving. Notice the 1st photo below and you will see the Greek god Pan sitting and playing his Pan pipes. The 2nd photo is of the 3 valve casings. These days, and for a long time, trumpet valve casings and normally round. Well, the valve casing on this “40B” are dodecahedrons meaning, they have 12 sides. Pretty snazzy for a trumpet from 1932! All down the full length of the bell are engravings of flowers, leaves, keystones and other art deco designs. For additional photos of this unique trumpet please go to my Facebook page, Elswick Band Instrument Repair.



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