Brown Spots, What Are They? Where did They come From? What Can I Do About Them?

brownspotsOccasionally, some lacquered brass instruments develop small brown spots or areas of discoloration. Brown spots are copper oxides formed when moisture is trapped under the lacquer during the lacquering process. Before an instrument can be lacquered it must be perfectly clean and free of any oils or greases. One drop of oil can spread out to cover about seven square feet, so it doesn’t take much to ruin a lacquer job.

In times past, instruments were commonly degreased with trichlorethylene or 1,1,1-Trichloroethane, either by dipping or by spraying with vapor. These chemicals, while very effective solvents, are toxic and carcinogenic and deplete the ozone layer, so they have been phased out of use. Their replacements, water based detergent cleaning systems, can leave moisture behind. Typically, brown spots appear in small fissures in the solder at ferrules or along the bell rim where moisture has been trapped.

Brown spots are purely cosmetic. They’re superficial and don’t cause any damage to the instrument. Don’t confuse them with pink spots. Pink spots are caused by the acidic components of the breath, which attack the brass alloy, eating away the zinc from the inside and leaving behind a pin hole all the way through the tube. Pink spots usually occur on the mouthpipe, slide bows, or trombone outer slide tubes and indicate a serious deterioration of the instrument.

When you see a brown spot, scrape it with a pin to open up the lacquer and allow the moisture to escape. It’s a good idea to scribe all the way around the rim to prevent future problems. You can use a non-abrasive polish like Simichrome to brighten the metal and then seal it with a drop of clear nail polish. Larger areas can be buffed and relacquered. Someday, maybe someone will figure out how to prevent brown spots. Till then, the best approach is to go after them early to keep them from spreading.

Off to ITG

Jim Becker showing off a new hand-made Osmun Bb trumpet

Jim Becker and I are off to the ITG conference in King of Prussia, PA.  We’ll be there with trumpets, mouthpieces, and all sorts of things to make your life as a trumpet player happier and more rewarding.

We’re very proud to display Jim’s latest hand-made instrument. It’s a large bore Bb trumpet designed for the lead player. The prototype was built for 1st call big band and show player extraordinaire Larry Pyatt, who provided us with valuable feedback every step of the way.

Jim will be available to talk about blueprinting and all the ways he can make your trumpet just a little bit better (We call it “The last 2%”). We have a Bach Bb and C that we’ve blueprinted for you to try. I think you’ll be amazed at the improvement over stock horns. Please stop by and say hello.

New Atkinson Horn

Atkinson AG2K horn

Atkinson’s new Geyer-style double horn.

We’re pleased to have the new Atkinson AG2K horn in stock. Mark Atkinson is a 2nd generation horn maker. He makes everything, bells, valves, mouthpipes, in his Burbank, California workshop with one assistant and his brother Jim, who makes parts in between Hollywood studio sessions. These horns are among the most “Geyer-like” of the various Geyer style horns out there. The principal horn players of both the LA Phil and the Boston Symphony are currently playing this model. (At last count, there were three in the BSO!) So, if you’re in the market, or if you’re just curious, we have the AG2K as well as Geyer style horns from Dieter Otto (Jeff Nelson model) and Hoyer in stock for you to try.

Why play a horn in eb-alto?

ES-in-workshopBy Engelbert Schmid

At the age of 20, as first horn in a professional orchestra, I already felt that a double horn that combined Bb and high Eb would be ideal for many passages.

Many years later, when I was able to hold such a horn in my hand for the first time, I had the feeling of always having played it. The fingerings came automatically, already being in my fingers. Nevertheless, some hornists are already so used to the fingerings of the high F horn that they can’t or don’t want to change. There are also many who wish in principle to play almost everything on the double horn. I have no objection to that. Continue reading


Why Are Some Trumpets Better Than Others?

As far back as I can remember, it’s been an article of faith for trumpet players: To get a good trumpet, go somewhere where you can try a lot of identical instruments and pick out the good one. That used to work, sort of. Years ago, large stores, and even some smaller ones carried multiple samples of the same instrument which they would dutifully roll out to be tried. The problem was that, unless you happened to be there when a new shipment arrived, you could safely assume that the trumpets you were trying had already been picked over by numerous players. Plus, it can be very difficult to access small differences in a short time span and in an unfamiliar acoustic. Now days it’s pretty much a moot point. The economics of the music business make carrying a large stock of instruments a losing proposition. Continue reading

Abbie Conant and the Munich Phil

By William Osborne

In 1980 trombonist Abbie Conant auditioned and one the principal trombone position with the Munich Philharmonic. The audition was held behind a screen and, due to the vague gender identity of the name “Abbie”, the orchestra did not realize that they had offered the job to a woman. When they found out they immediately recinded the offer, triggering an almost twenty year legal battle. This is the story. Continue reading