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.
Jim Becker, our ace trumpet tech, just got a nice shout-out from a happy customer on the Trumpet Herald (Here’s the link):
Hi All — Last year I had Jim Becker at Osmun do a valve job on my 1968 Olds Special. He turned a “Special” into a “Fantastic.” This past week, he did a valve job on my 1954 Olds Recording, with the same result. The horn is the off-the-map good. In my view, for a vintage horn, there’s no bigger bang-for-the-buck than a valve job, as long as the rest of the horn is sound. Jim also goes the extra mile, always finding other things to correct along the way (my Recording came back with the bell straightened out and with O-rings on the third valve slide). He’s an expert’s expert, fair in pricing, and a nice person to boot. Thanks, Jim!
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.
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
When Dan Ryan brought his Conn double-bell euphonium in for repair, it needed more than the usual TLC. Somewhere in the far distant past, before Dan had acquired it about thirty years ago, this euph had lost its second bell.
Double bell euphoniums enjoyed a vogue during the early years of the last century (this one was made in 1923). In addition to the regular large bell a smaller, trombone sized bell, controlled by a piston valve, made it possible for a skilled soloist to make it sound like he was playing duets with himself.
Jim Becker did a major restoration of this instrument to return it to good cosmetic and playing condition and was able to locate, in our vast collection of spare parts, a Conn alto horn bell of the appropriate size and about the same age, as evidenced by the engraving, as the missing one. The original bell faced forward and this one is bell up so the sound was not as directional, but we felt that this was acceptable. It would have been possible to construct a 70 degree elbow to match the original direction but it would have been, we felt, a very expensive solution to a minor problem.
Jim cleaned up the bell, tested it and trimmed it to length, and made a new tenon ring to attach it to the body of the instrument. Play testing confirmed it’s pitch and sound quality and now it’s ready for the next hundred years.