Osmun Music has been servicing fine horns for almost fifty years. The chemicals and processes we use have been exhaustively tested and are safe and effective. However, we do adhere to Schmid’s repair protocols when servicing Engelbert Schmid instruments. That means no chemical baths are used on rotors and corrosion is removed by mechanical processes. We will be happy to explain the process in detail and respect your wishes.
Brass instruments have traditionally been cleaned with a combination of soaps and chemical baths, accompanied by a good deal of hand scrubbing. In recent years ultrasonic cleaners have come into the picture, offering a different cleaning method. Which method gets your horn cleaner, which is safer for the horn (and you)? How do you choose?
As a brass instrument is played, deposits build up on the inner surfaces. These include old grease and oil, food particles, dental plaque and bacteria, calcium, and copper carbonate, the material formed by the reaction of the acids in your breath and the copper in the alloy. Copper carbonate builds up green, rock-hard deposits. It’s the primary cause of sticking and other action problems in rotary valve instruments. If the mouthpipe is brushed out once a week or so and the instrument is oiled frequently enough, a brass instrument can go for years between Chem/Ultrasonic cleanings. In actual practice, however, this rarely happens and a cleaning is needed every year or so.
A Chem Clean starts with a scrub with brushes and detergents to remove old oil and grease. The instrument is immersed in a mildly acidic solution which dissolves the calcium and copper carbonate. Areas of heavy buildup can be addressed with acids on a
q-tip. Then the instrument is scrubbed again with detergent to remove any residue and is re-assembled.
Ultrasonic cleaning replaces the hand scrubbing with sound waves. The disassembled instrument is put into a tank of cleaning solution and bombarded with sound waves. The sound waves cause microscopic bubbles to form in the fluid. These bubbles immediately collapse, converting the sound waves into kinetic energy. This process, called “cavitation”, creates the scrubbing action that cleans the horn. One of the big advantages of ultrasonics is that that scrubbing action reaches all through the inside of the horn, even into areas unreachable by brushes.
When using ultrasonic cleaners it’s important to be aware of their power and potential for damage. The microscopic bubbles are very good at finding their way into the pinholes left by dezincification and opening them up. So, older instruments and instruments that show any signs of dezincification (red rot) should not be ultrasonically cleaned. Ultrasonic cleaning can also remove some lacquers. So, it’s important to use the least power and the shortest time that will do the job.
Some people have the misconception that ultrasonics replace acids in the cleaning process. This is not the case. The acids are needed to dissolve the calcium and copper carbonate deposits. The cleaning solutions we use are mild enough to be handled without gloves. We have tested samples for up to four hours of immersion with no measurable loss of metal. (Repair shops and manufacturers used to use Chromic acid to produce a bright brass surface. This material did remove metal and is also a carcinogen. It has been banned by the EPA although, amazingly, you can sometimes still find people using it.)
In our shop, a typical cleaning may involve both ultrasonics and traditional techniques. We choose the combination that’s safest and most effective for the instrument.
Like it or not, it’s still a 440 world. Many ensembles in the US are sticking resolutely to the old standard; in Europe, it’s different. Most orchestras tune to A=442, 444, or even higher. And European instruments reflect this.
It’s common here to see players of Schmid triples and descants playing with the tuning bit pulled out just about as far as it will go. In addition to the obvious stability issues, pulling that far out creates a long cylindrical chamber at a crucial point in the bore. This unwanted increase in bore can cause intonation, response, and focus issues.
The solution is obvious. We’ve made a couple of new bits that are longer than stock. This allows them to be played pushed further in. We’ve also created a longer taper and minimized the disruptions between different sections. Right now these bits are in the development stage. We’re gathering feedback from players and tweaking to optimize the design. When we have something that’s better it will become a product. Stay tuned.
Here are a couple of new projects Bob’s been working on this week. The rims are Neil Sanders models in a metric size (17.5mm). Neil was one of the post-war generation of British players that also included Dennis Brain and Alan Civil. (He can be heard playing second horn to Dennis Brain on the legendary London Wind Soloists recording of the Mozart Serenades.) His rim featured a very wide, slightly inward sloping contour that provided great support with reasonable flexibility. Nowadays, they are particularly useful for players with braces or lip injuries.
The mouthpieces, in Delrin, were made for a player in a prominent German orchestra. Delrin is an ideal hypo-allergenic material for mouthpiece since it machines well and holds a true dimension.They are designed with integral tuning bits for a Cornford triple horn. By making the mouthpiece and bit in one piece we’re able to eliminate the point of turbulence at the end of the mouthpiece and also able to extend the mouthpiece backbore right to the bore of the instrument.
We’ve added a new rim model to our offerings. The LS rim is a copy of the Laskey rim. Our goal was to make it easy for players who are accustomed to Laskey rims to try different cups, ours and those of other makers.
The LS is a medium width rim, with a rounded contour. The LS75 inner edge and crown are virtually identical to our 7S rim, which is itself a copy of a Bach 7S. The only significant difference is in the wider contour on the outside of the 7S. This would not be felt by anyone except those using a very pronounced einsetzen embouchure.
We’ve made our rims in the same sizes as Laskey: 17 to 18.5mm, in .25mm steps and marked them with Laskey’s numbering system. Our measurements are slightly smaller because we measure all our rims at .050″ down from the crown. Laskey’s are measured slightly higher (.035″) so they measure a little wider. Models 70 to 775 fit our standard cups and any cup with a 750-36 Giardinelli-compatible thread. The 80-85 rims fit our metric series and any PHC cup.
Visit our Osmun Mouthpieces Pages to see all the cups and rims we offer.
When the part calls for stopped horn, horn players have a decision to make. Obviously, you can stop the horn with your hand. It’s always there when you need it and you never embarrass yourself by dropping it on the floor. There are some problems, though. You have to play everything on the F horn (stopping raises the pitch 1/2 step on the F horn and 3/4 steps on the Bb) and it’s very hard to get any volume in the lower register. And some players’ hands just don’t work well for stopping. So, a good stopping mute can be a great addition to your arsenal.
One of the best stopping mutes we’ve come across is the Powerstopf. Made in the Netherlands, the Powerstopf has several features that make it stand out. The wooden cone takes a lot of edge out of the sound and makes it sound much more like true hand stopping. The rubber seal helps the mute stay put and does a good job of sealing the bell. Maybe the biggest advantage is that it works on the Bb horn so it’s much more secure.
Here’s a Youtube clip of Richard Burdick demonstrating the Powerstopf:
We’ve got Powerstopfs in stock so please check them out at osmun.com
It never ceases to amaze me when I see a horn player come into the shop with a new, very expensive instrument, who’s playing it with a mouthpiece that someone gave him or her in high school or a teacher fished out of his junk drawer. It seems almost like an afterthought. It shouldn’t be. The mouthpiece is the interface between the player and their instrument and choosing the right one can make a dramatic difference.
Choosing a new mouthpiece can be a daunting task. But, it doesn’t have to be. Every mouthpiece needs to meet three requirements: 1. It has to suit the player, 2. It has to suit the horn, 3. It has to produce the desired sound and response.
The first step is to find the right rim. It should be comfortable and allow clean articulation and a smooth legato. The inner diameter of the rim can vary to suit thick or thin lips or to accommodate uneven teeth. A wider ID (inner diameter) allows more of the lip to vibrate and can help a stronger player play with greater volume and flexibility. The contour of the rim can be wider or narrower, flatter or more rounded, or have a reverse peak. Generally, wider flatter rims provide better endurance and thinner, more rounded rims allow greater flexibility.
Next, the cup and throat should compliment the instrument. The key here is the venturi, the narrowest point at the beginning of the mouthpipe. Large bell horns like Conn 8D’s have a slower overall taper and the venturi is quite small. Medium bell instruments, like Alexanders, start larger and have a much quicker taper. So, what’s needed is balance. 8D’s work well with large throat mouthpieces that balance the small venturi. Alex’s need smaller throats to perform well. Generally, mouthpiece throats in the 10-16 range work well for most people.
The shape of the cup affects sound quality and response. More curved, cup shaped side walls make a brighter sound and work well with both large bore instruments and some smaller horns, like Alex’s, Paxmans, and Yamahas. Deeper, straighter sided cups have a darker, less focused sound quality and work well with Geyer-style instruments. Shallower, more cup shaped mouthpieces favor higher harmonics, deeper, straight sided mouthpiece favor the lower register.
There just isn’t one mouthpiece that will work for all players, all instruments, all music. When you settle on a mouthpiece be aware of its basic design and dimensions. Then, if you want to make a change, you will be starting from a known quantity and you can be systematic in your search. No mouthpiece is perfect, the question is: “Does this mouthpiece help me move in the direction I want to go?”