Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

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Matt K
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Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by Matt K » Thu Jun 07, 2018 8:36 am

Hi All!

So there's been some discussion about an individual wanting to upgrade from a King 606 to something more professional on one of the Facebook groups. The HornGuys has a FAQ about how some student level instruments are made vs. professional instruments. But obviously it doesn't cover anything with any large degree of specificity.

Does anybody have any sources for how particular student models are made such as the Bach, King, Yamaha, Jupiter, or others? Or differences in the factory?

Things that have been suggested:

1) Quality of the brass used. Is there a way this is quantified at this level?

2) Type of construction. Horn guys indicates this might be a "hydro-formed piece of tubing rather than a sheet of brass" on some models. Would be interested in hearing about how this is different from the normal method of, say, making a hand hammered, two-piece bell. And what horns this applies to.

3) Weight. Obviously a lot of student horns are intended to deal with lots of "abuse".

4) Materials for bracing, cork-barrels, and trim. E.g. These are often brass on student instruments rather than nickel.

Would really be interested in #1 & #2 in particular, but I think any 'inside' info would be really useful.

-Matt
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by hyperbolica » Thu Jun 07, 2018 8:56 am

As a guy who deals with manufacturing methods, I'd like to chime in, but it would transgress the rules about discussing economics and science. Economics and science intersect to form engineering, which I presume is another topic someone is afraid of here.
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Matt K
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by Matt K » Thu Jun 07, 2018 9:17 am

Yes, absolutely! This shouldn't be a controversial topic at all. Just whether or not there is documentation for source of brass is of lesser quality on mainstream production student instruments relative to the same companies 'professional' instruments, differences between how bells are made within the same company (e.g. Xenos vs 600 series vs 300 series Yamahas) that sort of thing. No need to bring, for example, trade deficits like some of the other discussions devolved into elsewhere.
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by hyperbolica » Thu Jun 07, 2018 2:22 pm

Where are student models made? Why are they made there instead of somewhere else? Suddenly we're into topics that are banned. Which is a shame, because as you say, it's interesting and relevant.

By the way, I've been on boards or blogs where they used a certain color for certain emotions, like sarcasm. Possibly that would help us communicate more precisely here?
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by ghmerrill » Thu Jun 07, 2018 2:31 pm

I suspect this varies significantly across different brands, factories, etc. Historically, it has been common (think of Olds) to use the same tooling, mandrels, etc. to produce both the "professional" and "student" lines. The same is reflected in this statement from Miraphone concerning the difference between the pro and student models of their widely used 186 tubas: http://www.cerveny.biz/tuben/bbb_tuben/cbb781_4mr.php.

There's also a widely held view that one of the biggest differences is that the professional instruments receive more "individual attention" from the craftsmen making or assembling them. It may be that a big part of the difference is that the pro versions just get a lot more intense quality control, inspection, rejection for minor faults, adjustments, and testing. In the are of professional euphoniums nowadays, a big difference lies in the various "options" or "configuration" one can choose with the "professional" instrument. Exactly what size bell do you want? What alloy for that bell? Thickness of the bell? Where do you want water keys? (Often low end student versions leave out some water keys, pull rings, etc.

I think that it's particularly difficult in the case of trombones to make a lot of these distinctions because the trombone is comparatively such a "primitive" instrument. I mean, it's a flared tube with a long slide, eh? It's got ONE water key. It has ONE tuning slide. No valves. Compare this to a bassoon. Yikes! Where to even begin. Or to a flute (Open hole? Closed hole? Sterling head joint? Sterling body? Gold body? B foot?). There are just some instruments (a sliding scale based largely on their complexity, I think) where there is a HUGE difference between the professional, intermediate, and student models. Your basic straight tenor trombone? Not so much.

I guess I'd look for differences in materials, quality of fit and finish, plating materials and thicknesses, and so on. And also ... maybe ... the quality and length of the warranty.

But to me, I tend to think of "more professional" meaning more about how the instrument sounds and how it plays -- which is affected by things like materials and work quality. But I'd beware that a manufacture might be using "professional" as more of a marketing tool than a genuinely descriptive one. On the other hand, they sure do charge more for the "professional" models. So the question to ask them is "Why?"

Also, I seem to be missing where all this "banning" of discussions is going on. I must not be paying attention. Trying to be apprehensive about it, but can't quite get there. :oops:
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by boneagain » Thu Jun 07, 2018 2:49 pm

Not having worked for a mass producer of instruments I do not have THAT kind of insider information.

That being said, I DO have info straight from the horses mouth, so to speak, for a couple companies. Both of my sources have decades in the business. Both are capable of discussing all the topics hyperbolica refers to. Both can fully describe the differences in instrument levels without needing to resort to those other topics. Those topics follow on naturally as fallout from the underlying causes.

It's pretty easy to sum up the opinions of both of my sources: basic business management. Both companies manufacture instruments to maximize what they sell to their target audiences. Those audiences have differing requirements in terms of prioritizing weight, playability, and appearance. Both companies minimize costs in areas the particular target audience has lower on the priority list.

The pros prioritize playability and consistency above appearance and durability. Students priority durability and appearance over all else.

These different priorities result in different material costs, and the differences in materials and priorities usually result in less fussy assembly and finishing requirements. For instance, if I use thicker brass to resist dents, I have LITTLE more grace in how much heat I can apply during assembly, and can assign my less skilled, perhaps apprentice, craftspersons to assembly. Three cost savings in a row.

Do I think Bach or King or Yamaha will show you exactly what they do to match costs and prioities? I doubt it. That's a competetive advantage. I can't imagine it's a well kept secret, but if they happen to have a cost-saving measure the competition does NOT know about, it would do them no good to share it.

So, I doubt this thread will have much definitive information. It is much more likely to devolve into yet another bear baiting exercise from one or both directions.

It's threads like this that make me very grateful for exclusions being lamented by the first respondant in this thread.
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by Mikebmiller » Thu Jun 07, 2018 4:40 pm

I seem to recall reading on the old forum that Doug Elliott won his Airmen of Note audition on a Yamaha student horn. Maybe he can confirm or debunk that rumor here.
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by Doug Elliott » Thu Jun 07, 2018 5:01 pm

Cost savings are all in labor.
The material is cheap to start with and it would make no sense to use a lower quality of brass, if that even exists... Although in some parts of the world a lower grade may be all that's available.

Yes a YSL354 was my primary horn when I took that audition. I still use one on outdoor gigs.
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by ghmerrill » Thu Jun 07, 2018 5:04 pm

Mikebmiller wrote:
Thu Jun 07, 2018 4:40 pm
I seem to recall reading on the old forum that Doug Elliott won his Airmen of Note audition on a Yamaha student horn. Maybe he can confirm or debunk that rumor here.
http://trombone.org/articles/library/vi ... p?ArtID=30
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by boneagain » Thu Jun 07, 2018 6:11 pm

Doug Elliott wrote:
Thu Jun 07, 2018 5:01 pm
Cost savings are all in labor.
The material is cheap to start with and it would make no sense to use a lower quality of brass, if that even exists... Although in some parts of the world a lower grade may be all that's available.

Yes a YSL354 was my primary horn when I took that audition. I still use one on outdoor gigs.
The more kinds of stock one has to store, the higher costs go. OTOH, nickel silver costs notably more than brass. For mass production, those cost differences do make a difference. Against that we can cite the YSL354 which has many nickel silver parts yet still has an attractive price point.

Labor IS the big cost, but in mass production, the maker WILL find other places for even more savings. Cast pot-metal levers versus stamped nickel silver, cast versus turned slide locks... the differential does not have to be high for a mass producer to benefit. But in some cases, like different brass for different brass tubes, for example, getting lower quality materials does not, as you say, make any sense.

How do you cut costs on YOUR "Student Level" mouthpieces :lol: IMHO your prices ARE student level.... those mouthpieces are easily worth twice the asking price!!
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by BGuttman » Thu Jun 07, 2018 6:26 pm

The main way to save money is by using tooling and mass manufacture to reduce labor. Instead of working that crook to fit perfectly, jam it into a fixture and mass solder.

Again, using lower skilled (and hence less expensive) labor can reduce cost. Also, you sell a higher percentage of what you make (less scrap). A pro may test 30 instruments to find "the one" while no kid will do that; firstly because they wouldn't recognize the difference between them and secondly because it will take too much time (on both ends -- buyer and seller).

Yamaha has invested a large amount of money into manufacturing that will minimize variability and thus they can make good quality instruments at low prices, even using Japanese labor which is comparable in cost to American labor.
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by ghmerrill » Thu Jun 07, 2018 8:45 pm

If you look at the details ("specifications") of various Yamaha trombones that are roughly comparable to one another, it's pretty easy to see where some of the major cost differentials are. But one thing that should be remembered is the cost of design and development. This is definitely higher in the "professional" instruments and must be recovered over time.

As with pretty much anything, the design, experimentation, evaluation, and testing of a trombone to a particular target goal or standard will add cost to the instrument -- and, if done carefully and correctly, result in a better instrument as well. One of the major reasons the Chinese instruments (the good ones) are so much less expensive than the instruments of which they're clones is that all that design and development, testing, and evaluation has already been done -- and those designs are known to be good and to be liked by players, and the instruments built to those designs work in known ways. There's a lot of cost reduction there.
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by Matt K » Thu Jun 07, 2018 10:55 pm

ghmerrill wrote:
Thu Jun 07, 2018 8:45 pm
If you look at the details ("specifications") of various Yamaha trombones that are roughly comparable to one another, it's pretty easy to see where some of the major cost differentials are. But one thing that should be remembered is the cost of design and development. This is definitely higher in the "professional" instruments and must be recovered over time.

As with pretty much anything, the design, experimentation, evaluation, and testing of a trombone to a particular target goal or standard will add cost to the instrument -- and, if done carefully and correctly, result in a better instrument as well. One of the major reasons the Chinese instruments (the good ones) are so much less expensive than the instruments of which they're clones is that all that design and development, testing, and evaluation has already been done -- and those designs are known to be good and to be liked by players, and the instruments built to those designs work in known ways. There's a lot of cost reduction there.
True! But also not just imports, but also 'botique' horns too like the Courtouis, Schilke, et. al. who make "copies" of things like the 42/88 for example, although they are generally not cheaper! However, there is a bit of a caveat, or so I've been told: It's the same reason why we can't make exact copies of Mt. Vernon horns, for example, even though we clearly have good playing Mt. Vernon bells that are still around. Namely, that the process is important and - as others have mentioned - a bit of a trade secret. Or at least, everybody who produces (obviously) generally knows how to spin bells, but specifically what is done to the bells before/during/after the spinning process. Why do some of those older Bach bells get treated like they're magical? Well, I mean, I've played some of them. Magic might be the only rational explanation :wink: But Bruce's point about the tooling covers that too. You can put a lot of R&D into how to make a single mandrel that will make a gorillion horns that only have one bell option vs. say having a variety of them.

I was actually recently talking to a music shop who was a Yamaha dealer and they were telling me they have a hierarchy in basically every continent. Basically the main engineering team sends out prototypes to the regional teams and then get feedback. If a team feels like that instrument isn't a good fit for the market, they won't release it in that market. Basically everything they build is done by committee with the exception of the models that are artist models which are more a personal fit for the artist themselves. That's why you have oddities like the 356G being released in the US but the 356R in the EU, and then pulling the 356G from the market entirely. Also why the 354 isn't available in Australia, but a slightly similar model is. Or so I've been told.
boneagain wrote:
Thu Jun 07, 2018 6:11 pm
The more kinds of stock one has to store, the higher costs go. OTOH, nickel silver costs notably more than brass. For mass production, those cost differences do make a difference. Against that we can cite the YSL354 which has many nickel silver parts yet still has an attractive price point.
I don't recall where I've read this, but I seem to recall someone indicating on the other forum perhaps a year or so ago that Yamaha takes a loss on their trombones so they can make every beginner instrument affordable to some degree for beginners and not make cost a consideration about what one will play. I have no citation for such a claim, and it seems counterintuitive since I'd imagine trombones are among the easier of instruments to make but I could be wrong about that and so I wouldn't be dogmatic on that issue.

These different priorities result in different material costs, and the differences in materials and priorities usually result in less fussy assembly and finishing requirements. For instance, if I use thicker brass to resist dents, I have LITTLE more grace in how much heat I can apply during assembly, and can assign my less skilled, perhaps apprentice, craftspersons to assembly. Three cost savings in a row.
That all makes sense, though - and perhaps it's been covered throughout the thread and I'm missing it being otherwise mentioned - what would those material costs be? I'm obviously not a metallurgist! I know a tech I used to use got a very inexpensive Wagner Tuba for a gig with the Baltimore Symphony. Said it played great but something went wrong with it towards the end of the concert. (Fortunately, it lasted the whole concert!). Then he went to take a torch to it to fix it and the thing melted in front of him! Made from pot metal evidently. So I understand that it's possible to make an object shaped like a brass instrument out of a wildly inferior metal, but that wouldn't actually be brass if I'm not mistaken... but some other combination other than, say 70% copper and 30% zinc. Is that generally correct?
Do I think Bach or King or Yamaha will show you exactly what they do to match costs and prioities? I doubt it. That's a competetive advantage. I can't imagine it's a well kept secret, but if they happen to have a cost-saving measure the competition does NOT know about, it would do them no good to share it.

So, I doubt this thread will have much definitive information. It is much more likely to devolve into yet another bear baiting exercise from one or both directions.
I think you're probably right! I mostly see the occasional comment about how student horns are inferior instruments and, honestly, that just doesn't mesh with my direct personal experience and I think a lack of response is really indicative that in some cases this is the old 'hearing with your eyes' in probably at least some of the cases.

Similarly, you'd think to some degree the marketing materials for 'professional' level horns would be better at selling higher end instrument. For example, I really don't see much on King's site about what distinguishes the pro line from their intermediate from their student line. Just that they have these groupings. Yamaha kind of does this with their Xeno line, such as saying things like:
The Xeno features heavier gauge brass and a thick-walled, one-piece brazed bell which has been hand-hammered thousands of times for the ultimate in a big orchestral sound.
vs.
Yamaha standard trombones were designed to make it easier for beginning students to sound good…and as soon as possible. They are produced in Yamaha workshops by highly trained craftspeople with very similar specifications and manufacturing processes as we use on our top of the line models. And every single instrument is stringently test-played and inspected by an expert. This is why some top artists have commented that Yamaha standard models are very close to pro trombones in quality, yet are much easier for beginners to play. The standard models are durable, high quality trombones which offer a perfect entry into the world of music.
The Xeno likewise has this description of its bell:
One piece hand hammered bell
A one-piece bell has an axial (lengthwise) seam, making it a continuous extension of the instrument's material. This results in pure, uniform resonance and superior tone.
Of course, you can't quite get anything super meaningful from marketing materials but it's interesting to me that there is no comparison made as to why - on paper - one might be better than the other. If I were to just base my choice off of those descriptions, Id' be inclined to probably go with the 354!
There's also a widely held view that one of the biggest differences is that the professional instruments receive more "individual attention" from the craftsmen making or assembling them. It may be that a big part of the difference is that the pro versions just get a lot more intense quality control, inspection, rejection for minor faults, adjustments, and testing. In the are of professional euphoniums nowadays, a big difference lies in the various "options" or "configuration" one can choose with the "professional" instrument. Exactly what size bell do you want? What alloy for that bell? Thickness of the bell? Where do you want water keys? (Often low end student versions leave out some water keys, pull rings, etc.
That's basically been my observation as well.
But to me, I tend to think of "more professional" meaning more about how the instrument sounds and how it plays -- which is affected by things like materials and work quality. But I'd beware that a manufacture might be using "professional" as more of a marketing tool than a genuinely descriptive one. On the other hand, they sure do charge more for the "professional" models. So the question to ask them is "Why?"
Bingo! Though as others mentioned, the costs are reasonably justified, I'm more interested in the reverse: What makes them able to charge so little in comparison for the 'student' horns? Even if not specifically, generally. Although this has largely been covered and it seems to confirm my suspicion that it is oft not what is claimed (cheap materials alone, for example).
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by Doug Elliott » Fri Jun 08, 2018 2:18 am

Trombones are not nearly as big sellers as trumpets and saxes. I'm sure that for mass production they use far more fixtures and automation than for trombones that need more hand work, and that would explain the possible "loss" on student trombone manufacturing.
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by boneagain » Fri Jun 08, 2018 7:15 am

Just to reinforce Doug's point about material costs, I pulled some pricing from a web-based direct-to-consumer metal seller. The big boys get radically better bulk discounts, but still not as good as, say, a door hinge manufacturer. So, think of these as relative cost differences.

What stands out is that even the big difference between nickel silver and brass rounds doesn't amount to an hours pay at US minimum wage. It IS a big enough difference that a big manufacture would not pass it up, but not enough to account for price differences for "Student Level."

The costs for sheet goods are even more so. You can see that cost differences between types are brass are pretty much insignificant. Manufacturers will be much more concerned with playing characteristics for the pro horns, and workability/assembly simpicity for the others.

Key $ per In^3
nickel silver round: : .6875x36 $8.93
nickel silver round: : .6875x96 $7.95
C360 brass round: : .6875x36 $3.60
C360 brass round: : .6875x96 $2.80
C360 brass round: : 1x36 $2.70
C360 brass round: : 1x96 $2.10
muntz brass: 22 GA: 12x48 $3.99
cartridge brass: 24 GA: 12x48 $3.81
cartridge brass: 22 GA: 12x48 $3.70
muntz brass: 22 GA: 36x48 $3.64
cartridge brass: 24 GA: 36x48 $3.12
cartridge brass: 22 GA: 36x48 $3.03

The comment above about Yamaha is quite thought provoking. For one thing, the "hand hammered" claims for the "pro horns" ring just a bit hollow. From all I've been able to glean, no one has yet found a satisfactory way of CNC forming a bell flare. I'm pretty sure a bell spinner from 1700 would recognize most of the steps still followed. SINGLE piece flare, OTOH, has always been more labor intensive than two-part. Still BOTH types tend to need hand pre-forming to fit a mandril for spinning, then spinning under the skilled hand of a bell spinner. I wonder how many bells Yamaha dumps in the recycle bin when they train a brand new spinner?

Regarding the comment about tooling, I am reminded of comments on TTF and private conversations about the mandrel from the King 8B. As I currently understand it, that was remachined to build the Benge 290, and then ended up being used for one of the Conn basses. So it went from a McCracken design to a Chuck Ward design to someone else's baby. If a company goes to that much trouble over that many DECADES to recover the cost of developing and making tooling, you KNOW they are watching pennies!
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by LeTromboniste » Fri Jun 08, 2018 9:17 am

boneagain wrote:
Fri Jun 08, 2018 7:15 am
The comment above about Yamaha is quite thought provoking. For one thing, the "hand hammered" claims for the "pro horns" ring just a bit hollow. From all I've been able to glean, no one has yet found a satisfactory way of CNC forming a bell flare. I'm pretty sure a bell spinner from 1700 would recognize most of the steps still followed. SINGLE piece flare, OTOH, has always been more labor intensive than two-part. Still BOTH types tend to need hand pre-forming to fit a mandril for spinning, then spinning under the skilled hand of a bell spinner. I wonder how many bells Yamaha dumps in the recycle bin when they train a brand new spinner?
There are semi-automated processes for forming bells though. The hammering can be machine-assisted. A hammering machine that strikes 400+ times per minute will get your bell formed much faster than hand-hammering.
boneagain wrote:
Fri Jun 08, 2018 7:15 am
Regarding the comment about tooling, I am reminded of comments on TTF and private conversations about the mandrel from the King 8B. As I currently understand it, that was remachined to build the Benge 290, and then ended up being used for one of the Conn basses. So it went from a McCracken design to a Chuck Ward design to someone else's baby. If a company goes to that much trouble over that many DECADES to recover the cost of developing and making tooling, you KNOW they are watching pennies!
With iron or steel, most lathes can only take away tiny layers of metal on each pass, so making a mandrel is a long process. It makes sense if you have a mandrel for a bell you're never going to make anymore, to just modify that if it's a possibility rather than starting a mandrel from scratch.




I was just having a conversation yesterday with a world-class early brass instruments maker who I correspond with and have made an instrument with, and he estimates there's about 20$ worth of brass in his trumpets. Yeah there's such a thing as bad brass. It would be the same alloy but with more impurities (lead, for example). But good brass is so cheap and represents such a tiny fraction of the total cost of making the instrument that there is no reason for a good instrument maker to compromise on that. So no, material quality is not the reason for the price difference.

The price difference with student instrument has got a lot to do with labor costs. Offshoring student instruments production to countries with lower wages obviously reduces the costs of those instruments. Using automated or semi-automated processes as much as possible reduces the costs. I assume outsourcing certain components in top instruments is also a driving factor. Just as an example, the difference in price between a 42B and a 42A or 42AF is more than the cost of making that valve. It doesn't cost Bach that much more in internal labor costs to install an Infinity or Hagmann valve. But those valves are sold to them by other companies/workshops who also need to turn a profit on top of paying their own labor. In this example, that becomes part of Bach's costs, so when you add their margin of profit, the result is the consumer is paying the cost of the instrument, Bach's margin, the cost of the outsourced components, the OEM's margin, and Bach's margin on the OEM's margin. It's obviously extreme in the case of fancy valves, but how many other small components are outsourced?

Then of course there are simply economics in play, since its a business. The margin of profit is not the same on different levels of instruments. I assume the margin on student horns is lower than on professional instruments, which is made up for by the sheer volume of sales, and by the faster rotation of instruments (think about it, student instruments, despite being built much tougher and more durable than professional instruments, still have much shorter lives and need replacement more often. How many school instruments of the same age as many of the pro instruments we use are still in playable condition? My 1994 Bach 42 is in extremely good shape and still has decades to go. A 1994 Yamaha 354 having been played buy hundreds of students over 28 years? It's either long dead or on its last miles). Plus, student instruments being more expensive would be a hindrance on sales. Ultimately it is about how much people are willing to pay for. For instance, there is plenty of price variation within the "professional" range, enough to fit the budget of any advanced student, enthusiastic amateur or professional player out there. If some people are willing to pay $10K on a trombone, makers will make them a $10K trombone. Why wouldn't they?
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by timothy42b » Fri Jun 08, 2018 11:29 am

I would guess there aren't enough professionals to buy the number of professional instruments produced. I think the volume is made up by amateurs, and if we didn't buy enough pro horns, the cost would go up and the pros would pay a lot more.

If the number of purchasers is reduced enough - if trombones fall out of fashion, or school band programs stop producing hobby trombonists - this very affordable instrument could go the way of pro level string instruments.
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by StevenC » Fri Jun 08, 2018 1:22 pm

timothy42b wrote:
Fri Jun 08, 2018 11:29 am
- this very affordable instrument could go the way of pro level string instruments.
Having seen cello bows that cost more than a really nice trombone, I don't see this happening.
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by bellend » Mon Jun 11, 2018 4:07 am

CNC Bell flare spinning

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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by boneagain » Mon Jun 11, 2018 5:22 am

Neat video of a trumpet bell on CNC. But I DID write "satisfactory." There has been (and continues to be) quite a lot of discussion as to whether "perfect" bell thickness yields a better or worse instrument. The Coprion bell is extremely uniform, but does not have the same reputation as a traditionally spun bell.

IMHO it is only a matter of time before someone does some REALLY careful measurement of hand-spun bells and programs a CNC to replicate those variations. Of course, that will only be part of the equation. The way hand-spinning MAKES those variations is also likely a factor. For instance, slight variations in speed of tool movement and pressure will change the work hardening of the material.

But, in the theme of this discussion, CNC could be good enough now to cut labor costs by making "student" bells with it... as long as the setup costs for each run aren't too high. Then again, without some double blind testing, it is hard to say whether a CNC bell is, or isn't, something even a student wouldn't love and find satsifactory.
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by bellend » Mon Jun 11, 2018 5:43 am

The Coprion bells I've played over the years all tended to be pretty thick which I think contributes to their playing characteristic.
Having worked making bells in the past I can also say that traditionally made copper bells need to be thin especially at the stem end to get a good response.

I remember talking to an old guy years ago who worked as a maker when the Salvation Army had there own instrument factory here in the UK. He said they used to make things in batches of 8 at a time and out of that 8 more often than not you got a couple that were great , a couple that were not, and four that were average.
At the opposite end of the spectrum you have Yamaha who's production methods are state of the art and second to none. Through there efforts to attain a consistency of product out of the old boys 8 horns they have with out doubt all but eradicated the two duff ones but I think they have also lost the two great ones and have 8 ( superbly made) average ones.

What I wouldn't give to hop in a time machine and spend a week with the boys at the old Conn factory.......


Cheers

BellEnd
Mikebmiller
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by Mikebmiller » Mon Jun 11, 2018 8:53 am

530 parts in an alto sax. Good thing it doesn't come from IKEA.
Kbiggs
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by Kbiggs » Mon Jun 11, 2018 9:33 am

When we’re stuck in science mode, we tend to value consistency above all. In the case of manufacturing, consistency and accuracy from one part to another seem to be encouraged above all. However, when making (not manufacturing) some items like musical instruments as opposed to, say, cars or computers, maybe a little inconsistency can be valuable.

The Conn factory movie clip emphasizes consistency in tube forming by pointing out the smoothness of tubing when pressure formed after bending. (Granted, it’s marketing...) However, it might be that some waves and bends in the interior walls are what give a particular feel and response to a horn, and might give a particular instrument its unique sound. Mt. Vernon Bach bells are highly prized, and they were formed through hand-hammering and hand-forming on a lathe. This is NOT to say that hand processes are better or superior in any way, only to say that making some parts of an instrument by hand gives an instrument an intangible character that cannot be obtained through consistency and accuracy from machine processing and purity of materials.

Example: About 20 years ago, a horn-playing friend was in the market for a Vienna-style horn, the kind with a single Bb corpus, an f-crook, doppelpümpen valves, etc. He happened to try Yamaha’s model and, although he really liked it in the shop, he eventually bought a used horn from a private party. At the shop, the Yamaha rep happened to be visiting. My friend asked about the Yamaha Vienna horns, noting that several Viennese players had recently endorsed them. The rep stated that Yamaha initially did their copy and quality control treatment: exact measurements, consistency in manufacturing, purity of materials, etc., and produced some very nice instruments that had little character to them. At the suggestion of one of their consultants, they added some impurities to the brass (dirt, wood fiber, poop...) in small quantities, they varied the pattern of bell hammering, and a couple of other small things (I can’t remember what now) to deliberately introduce some variation and inconstency into their instruments. Voila! A much more desirable sound, with character!

I think it’s also apparent when making Baroque, Renaissance, and Classical trombones and trumpets. The hand-formed tubing and bells and what-not greatly affect the playing characteristics of the instruments.

Yes, for student instruments, consistency in materials and manufacture, along with appearance and durability, are valued. For professional instruments, however, I believe that the inconsistencies in manufacture that are hard to catch in quality checks contribute to desirable characteristics in sound and response.
I have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.
—Mark Twain (attributed)
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greenbean
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Re: Production Methods for "Student" Level Instruments

Post by greenbean » Mon Jun 11, 2018 7:49 pm

The only contribution I can make to this thread is this consistent observation:

Companies that make very good pro horns make very good student horns, and companies that make not-so-great pro horns make not-so-great student horns.
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