Chuck McAlexander

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sterb225
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Chuck McAlexander

Post by sterb225 » Tue Apr 28, 2020 4:23 pm

So the well deserved reverence showered upon Minick is a part of the fabric of the modern boutique trombone community ... but the unparalleled craftsmanship and equally amazing playing horns that came out of Chuck's shop don't seem to alway collect the same credibility. Discuss!?
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ssking2b
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Re: Chuck McAlexander

Post by ssking2b » Thu Apr 30, 2020 8:50 am

It's a real shame that Chuck seems to have gotten lost. He did some fabulous custom work for me back in the day he was still in Manhattan, and to this day I am using some custom valve caps he made up for my 88H.
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FOSSIL
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Re: Chuck McAlexander

Post by FOSSIL » Thu Apr 30, 2020 9:13 am

Minick has become legendry because of the complete instruments and mouthpieces he produced on top of his custom work.
Chuck's work is up there with the best custom craftsmen, but he is more a latter day Bert Herrick.... and how many know his work ?

Chris
bigbandbone
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Re: Chuck McAlexander

Post by bigbandbone » Fri May 01, 2020 6:32 am

I was a very green and inexperienced repairman when I was hired at Musicraft Industries out in San Diego. Chuck was their current repairman, but he was leaving. I spent a month working next to him prior to his leaving. I learned as much in that month as I did my whole 2 years in repair school. He was very giving and patient. He was formative in helping make me the repairman I finally became.
Thanks Chuck!
CalgaryTbone
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Re: Chuck McAlexander

Post by CalgaryTbone » Fri May 01, 2020 10:30 am

During my time in NYC, we had several great repair techs that we could turn to: Peppy, Randy Ulmer, Terry Pierce, and Chuck. I used Chuck for a lot of my work near the end of my school time, and then once I moved to Calgary to take my job here, I would save up the (non-emergency) work that I wanted done for my trips home, so that I could take it to Chuck.

I bought an old 1950ish Conn 8H from a former classmate, that I had admired when he first found it. He had taken that horn to Chuck to have a removable valve section made for it. This could fit in the thread on altering vintage horns - I wouldn't have done it myself, since I already had a great 88H, but I love the horn, and Chuck's valve linkage is the best I've ever encountered. It's hard to describe, but it is a string linkage, with a ball-bearing angle in it that shortens the throw to next to nothing. It is fast and quiet, and is great for things like the loud trill in the Verdi Requiem or the low B flat to C trills in the late Verdi operas. I do love the way my Thayer valve plays on my current set-up, but it will never compete with Chuck's valve for speed!

I'm sorry that he couldn't keep his business going - I enjoyed stopping at his shop and trying out some of his latest toys. He was good at giving you space to try stuff, and then giving feedback if you were having trouble deciding between a couple of leadpipes or mouthpiece collars (I think he called them doughnuts!).

A lot of great work went through the Brasslab.

Jim Scott
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JohnL
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Re: Chuck McAlexander

Post by JohnL » Sun May 03, 2020 12:51 am

FOSSIL wrote:
Thu Apr 30, 2020 9:13 am
Minick has become legendary because of the complete instruments and mouthpieces he produced on top of his custom work.
That's a lot of it. but he also "signed" a lot of his work.

Lots of great technicians have been all but forgotten. George Strucel and Earl Strickler come to mind (heck, Earl Strickler may have built more complete trombones than Larry Minick). It's unfortunate, but Larry Minick is definitely an exception with regard to lasting recognition of his work.
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Re: Chuck McAlexander

Post by Doug Elliott » Sun May 03, 2020 1:22 am

I only met Chuck once, I was in NY and stopped in just to meet him. Super nice guy, I remember he showed me something about buffing that helped me in my early years of mouthpiece making.

It would be interesting to know a little more about the other known and unknown repair people, maybe I should start a new thread(s) for that.

I have a Strickler but I only know that he was a contemporary of Williams and they both worked at Olds in the beginning.
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Re: Chuck McAlexander

Post by GabrielRice » Sun May 03, 2020 7:10 am

I had Chuck do an open wrap on the first bass trombone I owned, a Bach 50B3. It played great - I wish I'd never done the Thayer conversion to it - and that I still had it. He also pulled the leadpipe of that Bach, and I bought three or four leadpipes from him over the next few years. He made lots of different leadpipes for every size instrument, and he wouldn't tell you anything about them. He would just hand you a tray and tell you to try them all. Smart...no preconceptions.
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sterb225
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Re: Chuck McAlexander

Post by sterb225 » Sun May 03, 2020 11:38 am

This beast was generously loaned to me for several years ... what a remarkable horn.
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sterb225
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Re: Chuck McAlexander

Post by sterb225 » Sun May 03, 2020 11:43 am

bigbandbone
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Re: Chuck McAlexander

Post by bigbandbone » Sun May 03, 2020 3:48 pm

Doug Elliott wrote:
Sun May 03, 2020 1:22 am
It would be interesting to know a little more about the other known and unknown repair people, maybe I should start a new thread(s) for that.
This could be an interesting thread. But wow! There are so many of us that have done and continue to do great high end custom work, it might get crazy!
You have to understand that to develop a "professional only" client base that pays all your bills takes years. For the majority of us repair guys we are working as an employee and our employer gets all the credit or if we have our own shops our bread and butter is school work. That doesn't diminish the great custom work we do when asked, but it just isn't our main emphasis.
I did a lot of custom brass and woodwind work In my 40+ year carreer. But little Suesie's stuck 2end valve is what put food on the table.
chromebone
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Re: Chuck McAlexander

Post by chromebone » Wed May 06, 2020 9:49 am

I still remember the first time I met Chuck: He was still on 25th street; you had to walk up two very long flights that looked much longer because the stairs were in a straight line, you could see the door from the bottom; it was very intimidating. Back in those days, he'd blast music while working: I remember he had Mahler on that particular day, so I could hear the music getting louder and louder as I got closer to the top.
Once I got to the top, there was a rope that you had to pull that rang a cowbell inside; after I rang, I heard a noise as the piece of iron he had rigged to the door so he could unbolt remotely through a series of pulleys moved through its tracks.

When you entered, you had to make an immediate right turn: and standing there was this bearded curly red haired figure standing in a haze of pipe smoke, said pipe in his mouth, with Mahler blasting at top volume. He had this old radiator next to his bench that he had somehow made into a pitch heater, mounted to it was also his torch which he would keep continually lit, so there would be an oxygen flame in the scene always at the ready for the acetylene, and there were machines everywhere. The space itself was an old machine shop of some sort from the 19th century, lots of rough hewn roof beams and columns, it was all quite the sight.

But Chuck was and is a very egalitarian and friendly man: the coffee was always on, a visit with him was as much therapy session as it was repair session, he is quite learned and well informed about a variety of subjects from his expertise in birding to politics to books. It didn't matter if you were the principal trombone of the New York Philharmonic, or a weekend warrior with a Conn Director, it was strictly first come, first serve. The most important customer was the one standing in front of him at that moment: he never, ever gave preferential treatment or better service to anyone just because of their lofty position.

All of his work was always impeccable. He was truly a craftsman of a different era, the likes of which are rarely seen nowadays.
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Re: Chuck McAlexander

Post by biggiesmalls » Thu May 07, 2020 8:06 pm

chromebone wrote:
Wed May 06, 2020 9:49 am
I still remember the first time I met Chuck...
Wow what a great story...thanks for sharing!

Here are a couple of shots of a lovely 1950's 72H that Chuck open wrapped (acquired from DJ Kennedy in a trade, recently traded to a Chat member). Beautiful work, and the proof is in the playing: it's probably the best of the half dozen or so 72H's I've tried.
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MTbassbone
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Re: Chuck McAlexander

Post by MTbassbone » Sun Nov 15, 2020 7:12 am

I was in New York City from August 2005 to May 2007. I went to Chuck's shop probably about 3-4 times when I was there. You would have thought I had been going to him for decades by the way he treated me. He was always so nice and accommodating. His shop was so interesting as there were so many projects going on, many not related to traditional brass instruments. I seem to remember some antique car horns and maybe a spittoon. I met Steve Turre at his shop one morning (also a nice guy). I think he did same day first come first serve service on Tuesday mornings, and I can still remember the interesting characters on the subway in early hours of the day. Also the stairway up to his shop seemed never ending. LOL

Terry Pierce was also a great guy and technician. He helped me customize my Wallace practice mute to give me a little less resistance without giving up too many decibels of sound.
DonH
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Re: Chuck McAlexander

Post by DonH » Sun Nov 15, 2020 8:20 am

I first met Chuck when he was working at Giardinelli's. Also working there was John Stork and Greg Black. It was a legendary place, where some brass legend was always there having work done or trying out horns. As you walked in, the shop was to your right. You could see the mouthpiece guys at there lathes and the horn techs at their benches. Depending on what you needed, the appropriate tech would come out and discuss your project. A really vibrant atmosphere. In the early 80's, Chuck was doing moonlighting out of his apartment on 86th st. and Broadway. As mentioned in an earlier comment, those string/mechanical linkages were amazing. I was there one time picking up something and Chuck said "Charlie Vernon is driving up from Philadelphia and I'm staying up all night to open wrap his horn". He was on 25th street for a number of years until he was priced out. Last time I saw him was out in Brooklyn in an old landmark building that had made the cables for the Brooklyn Bridge. I brought a vintage horn that had been improperly shipped and had big creases in the bell. He had it looking great in ten minutes. At that point he was using a walker.
He was always a real gentleman who wanted to hear what types of jobs you wee doing. Miss him for sure.
WGWTR180
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Re: Chuck McAlexander

Post by WGWTR180 » Mon Nov 16, 2020 8:32 am

DonH wrote:
Sun Nov 15, 2020 8:20 am
I first met Chuck when he was working at Giardinelli's. Also working there was John Stork and Greg Black. It was a legendary place, where some brass legend was always there having work done or trying out horns. As you walked in, the shop was to your right. You could see the mouthpiece guys at there lathes and the horn techs at their benches. Depending on what you needed, the appropriate tech would come out and discuss your project. A really vibrant atmosphere. In the early 80's, Chuck was doing moonlighting out of his apartment on 86th st. and Broadway. As mentioned in an earlier comment, those string/mechanical linkages were amazing. I was there one time picking up something and Chuck said "Charlie Vernon is driving up from Philadelphia and I'm staying up all night to open wrap his horn". He was on 25th street for a number of years until he was priced out. Last time I saw him was out in Brooklyn in an old landmark building that had made the cables for the Brooklyn Bridge. I brought a vintage horn that had been improperly shipped and had big creases in the bell. He had it looking great in ten minutes. At that point he was using a walker.
He was always a real gentleman who wanted to hear what types of jobs you wee doing. Miss him for sure.
All of this!! Chuck did some great work for me through the years. The last few years in his Brooklyn shop were difficult for him. He'd make the trek on the subway from the UWS and would walk, more like hobble, all the way from his subway stop to his shop. One morning I arrived at his shop at 7am(open shop day) and found myself first in line. As I was waiting outside after my 2 hour drive I saw him come around the corner, slow and steady, recognizable from his large hat. Before his shop closed he was doing great work, had access to an amazing lacquer booth from a custom furniture shop downstairs, and was also making custom pieces for folks out of metals. We all miss his work and the great conversations.
RJMason
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Re: Chuck McAlexander

Post by RJMason » Wed Nov 18, 2020 10:40 am

So many great Chuck stories from 25th st and then when he moved to the McKibbin Lofts. I moved to Bushwick when he moved- 15 min walk from his shop so I could get there quick on Tuesday mornings!

My Rath R4F bell section fell out of my case in a stairwell...flare was mangled. Chuck made it perfectly new, stripped the lacquer off the flare. Told me 20 bucks! I was a college student so that really helped me.

Also brought my first tuba to him...it was a dog Conn 4J Bb with Baritone horn valve stems, but he took care of it! My friend Charlie Rosen still uses it on broadway and tv work when a tuba is needed!

I remember watching him add brass buttons to six foot tall nutcrackers to be Xmas decorations and working in furniture as well. I thought that was so cool.

My only regret was that I brought him a well worn Conn Bass Trumpet and he told me it wasn’t worth it to overhaul, had leaks in the valve section which were “Director valves” and I should just sell. I was broke at the time and needed a small tenor so ended up trading it at Dillon for a Conn small bore. In hindsight, I could’ve told Chuck I really really wanted this horn fixed and, if he agreed, had a BrassLab modded Conn 4B which would’ve sold for a lot more...but I probably would’ve kept it forever.

I miss the BrassLab. So many great NYC repair people—I have an 88H modded by Terry Pierce which is a dream. But now that I’m not a college student eating ramen every day I wish I was able to go to Chuck to take on more trombone projects lol.
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