Modern tools for the job

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TromboneSam
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Modern tools for the job

Post by TromboneSam »

Been thinking quite a bit about historic horns lately. Been also thinking about why historic horns have the reputations they do.

When a brand or model is thought of as historically good, it is usually because they got a lot of use from vocational musicians who were able to get the most out of that horn for the time. That, or one of the “greats” played the brand/model (i.e. Dorsey-2B, Miller-Bach 6, Sauer-8/88H [until recently], etc.).

What’s been catching my attention even more is that when we think about the greats and associate them with their sound, we often default to associating them with their equipment too. This often mystifies some kind of “xx” sound that people search for in order to sound like their idol/great. I don’t notice many people characterizing newer horn brands the same way though. “The Bach sound” tends to mean something to some people, whereas “the Shires sound” or “the Edwards sound” means far less, if anything.

I’m going to assert (maybe) an unpopular opinion that the players themselves are an immeasurably larger factor in their sound than their equipment. Sure the equipment is a factor for approach and internal sound concept, and a .480 bore will almost never resonate or blend like a .562 bore, but I do think that if your favorite trombonist played a .480 bore next to a .562 bore though that you would be able to tell it’s them.

Trombonists historically have chosen what works and what is affordable. I see artist endorsements throughout history playing a large role in marketing and establishing brand reputation. Do people hold onto these reputations and associations through the eras?

Would J.J. Johnson be playing a Shires today? Maybe a BAC? Or a Rath? Would Emory Remington play an Edwards? Maybe a Stephen’s horn? A Greenhoe?

What’s my point? I guess it’s to ask if the allure of vintage horns is really just placebo. What do you think? Are there modern tools that are just as sweet, if not better for getting the job done?
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Burgerbob
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Re: Modern tools for the job

Post by Burgerbob »

I think the fact that Joe has sounded pretty radically different in the details on Bach, Edwards, and now a Shires... The horn makes a difference. It all sounds like Joe, but not exactly the same.
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ithinknot
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Re: Modern tools for the job

Post by ithinknot »

Burgerbob wrote: Wed Sep 21, 2022 1:25 am It all sounds like Joe, but not exactly the same.
Yup

TromboneSam wrote: Wed Sep 21, 2022 12:56 am getting the job done
Thing is, "the job" is not a constant over time. It's changed, as have (some of) the instruments.

In any case, the "what if they were alive today" question reveals nothing. Would Bach have played a Steinway? Sure. Probably would have been a big fan of penicillin, too.


TromboneSam wrote: Wed Sep 21, 2022 12:56 am “The Bach sound” tends to mean something to some people, whereas “the Shires sound” or “the Edwards sound” means far less, if anything.
and
TromboneSam wrote: Wed Sep 21, 2022 12:56 am marketing
In fairness, Bach/King/Williams/etc came to prominence by making instruments with a particular house style based on specific design goals and manufacturing choices. Modular world trades on the perception that their components cover a wider range of possibilities.

Try finding a new instrument that sounds like a Bach 6. You won't find one. That's not for any mystical reason - no one bothers because there's a limited market for that sound, and there are enough examples already out there that anyone who wants that sort of thing can just buy a old one.

Of course advertising works. But it's also possible to overestimate the influence. Not everyone who still plays a 2B is trying to sound like TD. Good instruments often turn out to be useful even in contexts unimaginable to their designers.
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harrisonreed
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Re: Modern tools for the job

Post by harrisonreed »

The 88H has a very characteristic sound, and so did the Bach 42B.

I think you are confusing these individual models with the brand as a whole. There is no defined "Shires" sound, because Shires will build you either a better 42B or 88H. Same with Edwards, but to a much lesser extent -- they sort if go their own way.
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Re: Modern tools for the job

Post by blast »

harrisonreed wrote: Wed Sep 21, 2022 3:23 am The 88H has a very characteristic sound, and so did the Bach 42B.

I think you are confusing these individual models with the brand as a whole. There is no defined "Shires" sound, because Shires will build you either a better 42B or 88H. Same with Edwards, but to a much lesser extent -- they sort if go their own way.
Never heard a Shires that sounds like a Bach or a Conn. Simple.
Better ? Not really.....just different, often easier, but different.
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Re: Modern tools for the job

Post by harrisonreed »

Well, sure. Maybe that was phrased wrong. Shires makes such a spectrum that I can't define "the sound".
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Re: Modern tools for the job

Post by OneTon »

I had the opportunity to listen to Steve Turre at multiple live venues at Telluride, CO one summer. He appeared to be playing a 0.525 or 0.547 bore Yamaha. I did not have the presence of mind to ask him what he was actually playing. In a subsequent year I got to talk to Al Hermann there about horns. There was a TTF thread or Journal article about Joe Jackson taking a friend to listen to Joe playing different horns and picking one. I have seen a YouTube clip of Buddy Morrow probably playing a King 2B and pictures of JJ and Carl Fontana playing Yamahas.

People who master an instrument will sound good on professional grade instruments and tend to achieve their sound on like sized instruments. There are plenty of good quality new horns out there that will do the job as well if not better than vintage horns. There is some irony that Yamaha tends to limit choices in options as does Conn Selmer, somewhat mimicking the Big Three auto manufacturers. And then there are the US and UK manufacturers taking the Burger King approach: “We do it your way.”

Bert van Lier can get pretty close to Bach 6 or King 2B. And probably King 3B. Some people say the BvL is closer to Bach 6 but which model is not specified. Evidently there is a market somewhere. Schmelzer and Rath are probably chasing Williams, King 3B, and the 6H pretty hard. Semantics, subjectivity, playing halls, and recording engineers play havoc with perceptions. What is a small difference for one person is the Grand Canyon for another.

Joe Alessi and Jay Friedman will sound good on whatever flavor they choose to play on. I could probably find a Bach LT36BG or Conn 88H that I like better than my Bach LT42A. Like wise Shires or whatever. I have an increasingly hard time to justify paying for the difference, even when money is no object. My favorite symphonic horn is a straight Bach LT42G with a 9 inch bell. I guess we are old friends.

The old stuff is good. The competition is fierce. My King 2B seems to maintain a rich sound at low dynamic volumes better than the Yamaha 697. The real reason the King 2B makes it out the door to more gigs and rehearsals is that the slide is more damage tolerant. The 697 slide is a finicky old lady. What would TD play? Who knows?
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Re: Modern tools for the job

Post by Kbiggs »

ithinknot wrote: Wed Sep 21, 2022 1:56 am
Burgerbob wrote: Wed Sep 21, 2022 1:25 am It all sounds like Joe, but not exactly the same.
Yup

TromboneSam wrote: Wed Sep 21, 2022 12:56 am getting the job done
Thing is, "the job" is not a constant over time. It's changed, as have (some of) the instruments.

In any case, the "what if they were alive today" question reveals nothing. Would Bach have played a Steinway? Sure. Probably would have been a big fan of penicillin, too.

A similar thing has been said about the great English trumpeter Michael Laird. He’s played backup for The Beatles, Elton John, Grace Slick, etc. He’s released solo albums on trumpet and natural trumpet, taught at the Royal College of Music, etc.. Laird made from scratch a natural trumpet in preparation for a landmark recording of the Bach Brandenburg Concertos using period/reconstruction instruments. I think it was Trevor Pinnock, the keyboardist and leader, who said something like, “Michael is great at whatever he plays. No matter if it’s trumpet, cornetto, or natural trumpet, he always sounds like Michael. He always sounds musical.”

I believe the relationship between player and horn is quasi-symbiotic. Certain players gravitate towards certain hardware because it’s better at helping them produce their ideal sound, the one that’s in their head. Alessi would probably sound different if he played a Conn. Likewise, Lindberg would sound different if he played a Bach.

In the case of pros—the ones playing at a very high level—consistency and ease of production are (probably) given a higher value than we mortals might think. (“Probably” because I’m not a professional!) If a Shires, Rath or Edwards gives them the desired sound with good feedback, ease of production, and helps them play more consistently, then they don’t spend as much energy wrestling a chunk of metal to play the next note.

Performance = Potential - Distraction. The instrument can sometimes be a distraction: wolf tones, slide not quite right (out of alignment, not lubed quite right, etc.), valves that haven’t been oiled, registers/partials that respond differently, THAT DAMNED HIGH A-FLAT, etc. If you can control or eliminate some of the variables (Distraction), then you can increase the Potential of your Performance.

In the end, I believe hardware helps, but the soft machine is the one that makes the music.
I have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.
—Mark Twain (attributed)
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Matt K
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Re: Modern tools for the job

Post by Matt K »

Burgerbob wrote: Wed Sep 21, 2022 1:25 am I think the fact that Joe has sounded pretty radically different in the details on Bach, Edwards, and now a Shires... The horn makes a difference. It all sounds like Joe, but not exactly the same.
I kind of agree but it also isn’t clear to me that the change in sound was a result of being on different equipment or if how at a given point in time he is conceiving of his sound and migrated to an instrument that suited that sound more closely. (Or both?).

I have a suspicion if a given historic great was active today, they’d largely all pick something “modern”, fwiw.
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Re: Modern tools for the job

Post by blast »

I prefer easier horns. The Raths I have are easier and I'm told that I sound the same whatever I play, so......
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Re: Modern tools for the job

Post by GabrielRice »

blast wrote: Thu Sep 22, 2022 12:28 am I prefer easier horns. The Raths I have are easier and I'm told that I sound the same whatever I play, so......
You say that now... :wink:
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Burgerbob
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Re: Modern tools for the job

Post by Burgerbob »

blast wrote: Thu Sep 22, 2022 12:28 am I prefer easier horns. The Raths I have are easier and I'm told that I sound the same whatever I play, so......
Blink twice if Mick is holding your family hostage, Chris!
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Re: Modern tools for the job

Post by blast »

🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣.... genuine unforced comment
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Re: Modern tools for the job

Post by blast »

WGW180 has played my Raths, he can tell you. They belonged to one of my oldest, closest friends and even if they were ordinary I'd play them. Theŕe not.
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Re: Modern tools for the job

Post by paulyg »

harrisonreed wrote: Wed Sep 21, 2022 3:23 am The 88H has a very characteristic sound, and so did the Bach 42B.

I think you are confusing these individual models with the brand as a whole. There is no defined "Shires" sound, because Shires will build you either a better 42B or 88H. Same with Edwards, but to a much lesser extent -- they sort if go their own way.
I beg to differ, there is a very distinct Shires sound. There might be a distinct Edwards sound too, but it's less prevalent to my ear.
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harrisonreed
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Re: Modern tools for the job

Post by harrisonreed »

paulyg wrote: Thu Sep 22, 2022 9:17 pm
harrisonreed wrote: Wed Sep 21, 2022 3:23 am The 88H has a very characteristic sound, and so did the Bach 42B.

I think you are confusing these individual models with the brand as a whole. There is no defined "Shires" sound, because Shires will build you either a better 42B or 88H. Same with Edwards, but to a much lesser extent -- they sort if go their own way.
I beg to differ, there is a very distinct Shires sound. There might be a distinct Edwards sound too, but it's less prevalent to my ear.
Does this not go against the reason for all the options, though? If all the billion combinations sound the same "like shires", and also do not or cannot emulate the 88H or 42 sound, I guess I don't get it.

I'm not saying "The Conn sound", or the "Bach" sound, but the 88H and 42. There is no way that the vintage Elkhart shires and vintage Mt. Vernon shires both sound like just "Shires".
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Matt K
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Re: Modern tools for the job

Post by Matt K »

I don't think it's mutually exclusive to be customizable and to also have a particular sound. You can have variations with a core "standard"; that does seem to anecdotally match what I've seen. The Getzen lineup, until their somewhat recent addition to the artist series like the Bousfield, was a collection of popular Edwards parts. Similarly, on the Shires side a 7YLW, Thayer, TW47 is arguably the "Shires" sound. But you can turn around and do a T0825GLW with a rotor, "X" tuning slide and T1RH8 and it's going to stray quite afield from the "common" sound you'd expect.

But that's kind of the problem. In order to compare two things, you have to have a reasonable basis for comparison. If someone plays well with a certain set of components and not so well with another set of components... how much of the "sound" of "set of components a" vs "set of components b" is due to player dislike of the latter?

Extricating player preference from the equation is essentially impossible, so much of what I think we ascribe to the instrument is actually the combination of player and instrument. I might go as far as to say there isn't a "Bach 42" sound or a "Conn 8H" sound. There are, for example, players who like one or the other (usually) and the players who like one or the other often have certain characteristics that draw them to that instrument, which in turn causes us to label a certain set of components as being a particular sound... but it might be the other way around. Players who sound like "X" like to play "Y" instrument.

So there might be a "Shires" sound. But it might be simply that players of today have studied a certain way, have certain expectations, and have a common aspect to their sound that works well on Shires, perhaps even across what I'd consider to be pretty disparate configurations, and therefore choose "Shires". This could cause one to think there is a "Shires" sound and it might not be too far off the mark.
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Re: Modern tools for the job

Post by OneTon »

There can be a Shires sound as well as Bach and perhaps Conn. Mike Innes compares the 88H in 3 configurations on on one Youtube video, and the King 2B, Yamaha 897Z, King 3B, and King 3B+ on separate videos for Dawkes
music. At some point the respective configurations diverge and we may be left with apples and oranges. King and Bach get some consistency across their lines. I am not feeling that as much for Conn. Doug Bert can assemble a very good and consistent Shires “6H.” I can’t speak to what happens when other popular models are targeted. I think we could hear the difference if Mike Innes played a King 3B+ next to a Bach 36. And they would both still sound a bit like Mike Innes. That seems to be what happens with the King 2B and Yamaha 897Z.
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Re: Modern tools for the job

Post by hyperbolica »

When on bass parts, I sometimes play my Kanstul and sometimes a Holton. I always get great comments about the sound from the Kanstul, never from the Holton. I play them the same, with the same articulation, style, inflection and whatever else that I do to sound like me. Also I prefer the Holton and kind of dislike the Kanstul. My take on it is that the hardware definitely has its own sound. I overlay an accent, style or inflection on that sound. The combination of man and machine is definitely a collaboration.
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harrisonreed
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Re: Modern tools for the job

Post by harrisonreed »

I could be missing the point. For me, the classic 88H sound (not "the Conn" sound) is what you hear in, say, the Star Wars recordings. Those horns go a certain way when pushed hard, especially up high, and you don't get that effect with other trombones. A very distinct orchestral sound. You can build shires trombones that do the same thing. No, they aren't 88Hs, but I think where they differ is in the response and player feedback. Shires is great because you get those things and then some and it makes it easier to play. Players can confuse this with "sound". Just because a vintage Elkhart shires is easier to play and sounds one way on your side of the bell does not mean that the audience could discern any difference between that and an 88H. The high loud stuff is brassy either way. Now, if that effect, if that essential characteristic went away, and you played a trombone that stayed dark and full no matter how high or loud you played, the audience could probably subconsciously tell.
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Re: Modern tools for the job

Post by Matt K »

harrisonreed wrote: Fri Sep 23, 2022 4:28 pm Just because a vintage Elkhart shires is easier to play and sounds one way on your side of the bell does not mean that the audience could discern any difference between that and an 88H. The high loud stuff is brassy either way. Now, if that effect, if that essential characteristic went away, and you played a trombone that stayed dark and full no matter how high or loud you played, the audience could probably subconsciously tell.
Totall agree. Except maybe not subconsciously. Although I've had other instrumentalists listen to me and even brass players often can't tell the difference between horns I'd consider to be pretty different.
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