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.
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.
Here I’m showing you the beginning of a complete repad job then the end, the finished product. The complete repadding process takes too long to show, way too many hours of work.
Photo #1 – I have disassembled the horn and you can see how ragged the current pads are. These pads are dirty, torn and a mismatched mixture of different styles of pads. You want all the pads to be the same style for the horn to sound consistent.
Photo #2 – The keys have been cleaned and I have placed all new pads into the pad cups. Notice how much nicer they look than the pads in the previous photo.
Ok, here all the pads are brand new, all have the same type of resonator, that’s the plastic disk in the center of the pad. The resonator reflects the sound out of the horn.
Photo #3 – This is a naked saxophone. Actually, a naked alto saxophone waiting for its bath. Plus, I need to level and “round out” any un-round tone holes. Look at one of the large tone holes on the bell section. It is obviously flat on one side. That will just never do.
Photo #4 – Here is the finished product all padded, reassembled and completely adjusted.
So here we have the sax all cleaned, repadded and ready to play. This horn will play as good as it did when it rolled off the assembly line, brand new, at the factory.
Photos #1 & #2 are the rotor section, rotor valves, of an old Mirafone tuba. Mirafone’s are a classic German made tuba. The reason this horn is in my shop is the 3rd & 4th rotors aren’t moving smoothly. Why, you ask? Because the bar, photo #1, that holds the rotor keys, or paddles, is bent and the rod, photo #3, that goes through the rotor keys and holds them to the bar is also bent. In photo #2 you can see that I have straightened the bar and what you can’t see is I had to fabricate a new rod. The old rod was sooooo bent that I couldn’t straighten it. In photo #4 I’ve zoomed out so you can see the complete valve section, rotors, rotor keys and the bar. Photo #4 I’ve zoomed out even more so now you see the entire tuba. It doesn’t look any better than when I started but, mechanically, it plays dramatically better.
The first photo below shows a regular flute and 4 alto flutes. It’s kind of rare to have this many alto flutes in one place at the same time. Actually, I think there’s a law against it. The first photo is a regular flute and 4 alto flutes in their cases and in varying states of repair.
The second photo is, from bottom to top, a regular naked flute. It is disassembled because I’m preparing to repad it. Next up you’ll see a yard stick. I threw this in to give you a reference point on the size of these creatures. Next, you will see 3 alto flutes with regular head joints and the top one has a curved head joint. The curved head joint is for people with short arms or for people that would rather not have to take a weight lifting class so they can hold up the flute longer than 1 minute.
Since I was writing about alto flutes I though I’d give you a quick rundown of the flute family.
In flute world there are several different sizes of flutes. First is a piccolo which is the key of C, next is a regular flute which is also referred to as a soprano flute, also in the key of C but an octave lower in pitch than a piccolo, next is an alto flute which is in the key of G, a fifth lower than a regular flute. Then we have a bass flute which is also pitched in C but an octave lower than a soprano flute. Next, the Contrabass flute which is pitched an octave below the bass flute, 2 octaves below the soprano flute and 3 octaves below the piccolo. And finally, the subcontrabass flute also called the double contrabass or the octobass flute which is, as you might guess, pitched an octave below the contrabass flute. Both the contrabass & subcontrabass flutes are mounted in a stand and played while standing up. The subcontrabass is over 8 feet long! Yea baby, that’s what I call getting down. Check out YouTube videos of contrabass and subcontrabass flutes.
Here is a flute that came into the shop recently and has been disassembled. What you are looking at are the pads in a few of the keys that were assaulted, munched and eaten by Pad Bugs. First, flute pads have basically 3 components, a cardboard back, a felt disk on top of the cardboard and then they are covered or wrapped with fish skin. The fish hate that part. Second, you stop playing your flute for months or years and leave it in a closet, under the bed, in the basement or some place that is damp, whatever, then the Pad Bugs move in. They feed on the felt in the pads. So, they eat through the fish skin and munch on the felt, which destroys the pads ability to seal the tone hole on the flute. Third, years later you decide you want to start playing your flute again. You retrieve your flute from the dank, dark, funky basement and assemble it. You blow into it and can only get a couple of notes to play. Then you think to yourself, “I suck”, and most likely you do suck but the flute also sucks. I don’t care if you handed the flute to Jean-Pierre Rampal, a world class flutist from back in the day, he couldn’t get the thing to sound good either. Fourth, you do a Google search for flute repair and Elswick Band Instrument Repair pops up. You call me, make an appointment and bring the flute to me. I look at your flute and tell you the exact story that you just read and also tell you that the flute needs a complete overhaul. This means replacing all the pads and replacing the flute case. Why replace the case you ask. Because it is also infested with the lovely Pad Bugs and they don’t vacate easily if at all. So, once again, welcome to my world.
Yesterday I was disassembling a flute so I could overhaul it. None of the keys on the main body moved freely, none! A & Bb were stuck together. The G key rod, the 3rd one down in the photo, was so badly stuck that I will have to fabricate a new rod. The right hand keys, F#, F, E & D….. well, move one and they all move. They are not suppose to work that way. They should all move freely and independently. Exciting, hey! Welcome to my repair world. In the photo, from top to bottom, 1 – R.H. key inner rod, 2 – L.H. key inner rod, 3 – G key rod and 4 – C key rod. Now you are asking yourself, “How could such a think happen?” Nobody seems to know how it happened. Apparently it was just magic. I think either the flute was rained on or someone misted it like a plant for about a month or the player sweats profusely. I know the sweat option sounds crazy but over the years I have encountered a number of kids that sweat constantly. Hard to imagine but it’s true.
Charles Owens stopped by the shop today. Back in late June he brought his 1953 Selmer Super Balanced Action tenor in for some major work. I did a complete repad with chocolate Roo pads with gold dome resonators plus some major mechanical tightening up. Today’s visit was a little check up before he starts some lengthy rehearsals. Also check out his new CD, The Charles Owens Trio, “A Day With US”. Google Charles Owens Trio, “A Day With US” and a boatload of stuff comes up.
I recently had 7 euphoniums and 2 tubas in the shop at the same time. They were all grubby as hell but the last one was especially gut wrenching. Ready? The photo below is of the valves out of a Yamaha 4 valve euphonium which hadn’t been cleaned in a very, very long time. Notice the lower holes in the two valves that are standing up. The obstructions in the holes are sheets of crap that hasn’t been cleaned out since Christ was a corporal. When clean, all the “port holes” should look slick as glass and crud free. I know I usually do Before & After photos but this horn sucked my will to live. When I finished it I put it in its case and sent it on its way.