Thursday, July 21, 2016

"Like a Surgeon..."

Where my Weird Al fans at? Huh? Get it? Because this post is about "cuttin' for the very first time..."

Cuttin' ... A HORN BELL! Technically these pictures weren't from the VERY first time. Although it was the first time I got paid to do it :) I did a few disembodied bells first. Beat-up, lumpy, work-hardened, disembodied bells--which I am really glad about because I got to start with a worst-case scenario. Worst-case might be a little dramatic. I mean, there were no holes or freaky, walnutted dent-tumors to contend with where I was fitting the ring, but it got me introduced to the importance of the prep-work for fitting it. That's for sure.

This was a repair that, up until the point I actually did it, always seemed very daunting to me--not so much that I doubted my ability to execute it once I had learned the steps. It's just so...permanent! You can't un-cut a bell. And, ok, maybe there were some tiny doubts, but those mostly arose from hearing stories about people soldering the rings together or the rings popping off because they missed an important step, or heat control wasn't right. Both of these problems won't happen if you do what you're supposed to. So all I had to do was do what I was supposed to. And I did (what I was supposed to)! And I continue to do it, and learn and make improvements to execute it not just well, but faster, and with less cleanup (always a good goal...). Alright. I don't mean to sound braggy, I just get excited about doing these bell conversions because it was a thing that, not too long ago, was quite intimidating. Now, I have no worries about gettin 'er done, and it's just one of those repairs that is fun to look at the before and after as a technician and say, "Hey! I did that!" "Abra-cadabra! Now your bell comes off!"

Before we get to all the pictures of the deal, I owe some major thank you's...
Thanks to Nick for being the first person to let me at a real (attached) bell on a real horn. And for letting me take pictures of the whole thing!
Thanks to Greg, Lucas, and John at Red Wing for providing me with all the basic skills I needed to learn this new, advanced skill, and also for upholding the highest standards of quality when it comes to instrument repair!
And, finally, BIGGEST thanks on this one to Ion Balu. You taught me your process for bell conversions, supervising step-by-step, making sure everything was right the whole way through. It is a huge opportunity to be able to work with you. I am grateful beyond words for the all your help and all the knowledge you have shared with me, and for bringing me in again later to help you get some work done at your shop. I do not take any of this lightly, so big thanks, dude!!

Learning to do this, I feel like I reached a milestone along my repair career so, truly, thanks all!

The rest of the post is just pictures with captions. This is not an instruction manual on how to cut a bell; not every single step of the process will be explained. It's hopefully more of an insight as to some of the things that go into doing this repair on your horn. So, I guess what I'm saying is, DON'T try this at home. Unless you already know how, I suppose... Ok, here's pictures!

Just some dents where the bell tail meets the first branch. These went away in the course of the repair.

The bell, still very much one with itself and the horn at this point.

OOPS. There go all the braces ;)

Boom. Bell is off. The rest of the horn wasn't due for a cleaning, so this section just went to chill on my bench for a bit while I worked on the bell.

Da bell.

Cleaning the bell, just to make extra sure everything was properly prepped for any dent work and soldering about to go down. 

Checking for gaps... Rounding the bell and adjusting the taper of the ring as required. Apologies for the cell-phone camera. Not the greatest. You can see a blurry gap to the right of my glove-thumb in the picture. This was, at one point in it's life, a school horn, so it's seen some things dent-wise. It has, for the most part, been un-dented very nicely, but some of the metal is a bit work-hardened as a result. My experience with beat-up bells came in very handy for getting this properly fitted with no stress.

My face. Repping MN while I cut this bell.

As you can imagine, it's pretty important to get the ring parallel to the rim of the bell before you solder it. Purty good, I'd say! Ready to solder this half of the ring on.

Action shot! Carefully sawing through the bell throat after the ring has been soldered in place.

Beauty! No gaps in the solder, and it's all sanded smooth.

But that's just one half of the ring! We still need to solder the other one...

Ta-da! It's on! Plus, it's all cleaned up, when did that happen?  Here's a shot of aligning the bell to be soldered. All of this is done with no stress. There is binding wire on the horn, but it is simply used to hold all the pieces in place. Nothing is forced together.

Fitting the modified large brace. Again, no stress is the name of the game!

Inside of the ring. Smooth as buttah, and a nice, full solder joint all the way around. 

Another look at the inside of the ring.

I've got a wide shot of the whole horn after it's done--not just the parts! I can't find it at the moment, but will upload it as soon as I do. Bell conversions are a blast, and I look forward to doing many more! Oh, and here's a link to that Weird Al song: Like a Surgeon

Until next time!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Long Time, No Posts.

Hey! It's been a while since I wrote anything here. I've been slacking big-time on the blog front, so here's some of what I've been up to. This will be quick! I will have some more detailed posts up about specific projects soon.

So, since August of 2014 I've been working at Twin Cities Instrument Repair in Edina, MN. It's a 3-person shop with kind of a unique division of labor. Here, I work on all the horns (French horns), saxophones, and bass/contrabass clarinets. Numbers-wise, it ends up being mostly saxophones because they are by far the most numerous of the three amongst the population. Runner-up in numbers are the horns--my favorite, of course! Followed by the low clarinets which are big, sometimes weird, and a lot of fun to play test. We are a pretty high-volume shop, and see a lot of student, rental, and school instruments. I've lately been seeing a few more professional horns, which is great! A lot of college students plus a few freelancers and former teachers. The Twin Cities has a great community of horn players, and it's a ton of fun to work on their stuff! I've got at least one ambitious project for the summer, so there will be more on that to come, for sure.

During the past almost-two-years I've learned a lot of idiosyncrasies of  the instruments we see the most of. As you might expect, this comes in handy, and is a big part of why I'm much faster at repairs. That and all the straight-up repetition of the individual tasks involved in have been huge in picking up speed. I'm also happy to say I've learned how to cut a bell! That was a fun skill to learn, and I look forward to doing it many more times. I plan on spending some more time outside the daily shop hours to start fabricating some custom parts for horns!

Here's a few pictures with captions to catch you up on the past several months:

Made a few cork pads for a local bass-clarinet player. Someone had made several a while back, and they were starting to fall apart. When I took out the old pads, they were mostly glue! Yikes. So I made some more solid, less grainy, less glue-y ones.

Close-up once I got the hole filled and pad planed as level as possible.

Glued a sheet of cross-grain cork on the surface to make sure it was smooth and free of any knots or divots which could lead to leaks later.

Blam! Home-made pad. Not the fastest way, but we couldn't find any quickly enough that were large enough. It was a huge step-up from the ones that were in there, and the customer was super happy, so I was pretty satisfied with how it turned out. So, putzy, kind of a fun thing to make!

I overhauled a couple of old Conn saxes in a row.  Probably about a year ago, now. Both had the end of the microtuner neck crushed in like this. So I machined some new rings for both and repaired the crunched-in part.
The After shot: beauty!

I've removed and  re-aligned a few sax bells, never missing the opportunity to briefly be a praying mantis.

Minka gets to be shop dog, which is a wonderful thing :)
Usually this is her M.O. at work... laying on the floor.

I keep in touch with fellow technicians at other shops. Networking is a great thing! Sometimes, via hand-delivered post-it. Shoutout to Ginny for this lovely note.

I've fixed a handful of these beasties, and even learned to make some noise on em.
Can you feel that b-a-s-s BASS? They're fun to play.

Pulled a few reallllly stuck tuning slides. Yum.

So, yeah. That was a quick random overview of the last couple years. More to come soon about cutting a bell and other stuff I've done and seen and learned. Keep checking in, and I'll try to get some nice spam on Facebook about it too. Peace.