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.
This is a Bach student model trumpet that I recently purchased and am cleaning up so I can sell it. We disassembled the horn, cleaned it inside and out then reassembled, oiled and lubed it. Below are two sets of before-and-after photos. To see this horn just look to the right under Product Catagories then go down and click on Trumpets & Flugelhorns. Look for the Bach “TR-300” Trumpet (silver).
This week I have been working on and off at this Evette bass clarinet. It is in the shop for a complete overhaul meaning I changed all pads, all key corks, all tenon corks, secured numerous loose posts, fabricated 2 key rods, extracted the broken threads of one rod from a post, swedged many loose keys and countersunk many pivot screws to compensate for massive key wear between the posts. Other than that it was great fun. The metal that these keys are made from is very soft. This means that one needs to be cautious when assembling the instrument or it will go out of regulation. I’m guessing that this bass clarinet was made in the late 50’s or early 60’s. This was before “power forging” techniques were used to enhance key strength.
Another nice flute in for a tweak before going into a students hands. This is a Yamaha YFL-574HCT professional model flute. The list price for this bad boy is around $4000.00 but if you do a little searching one can be found for less than $3000.00! Such a deal. For that price I’ll take two please.
This past Friday afternoon I received a call about a trumpet that needed some repair and it needed to be done pronto. The caller was Airman 1st Class Mark Morgan who performs with the the Rhythm in Blue band based out of Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, VA. Rhythm in Blue is doing multiple performances for the next week in central VA. Well, Mark’s 3rd valve casing had gotten dented which means that the 3rd valve wouldn’t move, at least not very well. He needed the horn repaired no later than 3pm the next day because he was scheduled to play in Staunton, VA. We met later in the day and I picked up the horn from him. The dent did not easily pop out so I used a repair technique called “lapping” to remove it. This involves using lapping compound which is the equivalent of liquid sand paper. You coat the valve with lapping compound then insert it back into the valve casing and move the valve up and down multiple times until it wears the dent away. This is the same technique that is used to fit the valves to a new trumpet when it is being manufactured. After the dent is removed then you clean out the horn and valve to remove any remaining lapping compound and Ojala’, it works as good as new. This particular trumpet is a very nice professional model Yamaha horn. I see a lot of student model horns that get beaten within an inch of their lives, for example see my previous post, so it’s fun and exciting to periodically see a super nice instrument. Thanks for calling me Mark.
Yamaha YTR-8335LA Trumpet