Trip to the Burkart Flute factory

 

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Sorry for the bad quality, this was taken during my pre-iPhone days

 

 

I went to the Burkart Flute factory just outside of Boston a few years for a repair clinic and while the clinic itself wasn’t all that interesting, the tour of the factory defiantly was worth the trip. Burkart makes top of the line flutes with their lowest priced model starting at around $10K and their highest listed flute being close to $50K. They actually have and even more pricey model but it’s by request only. I don’t know anyone who’d spend $50,000 on a flute, but I asked one of the craftspeople how many flutes they actually sell and she told me they were backlogged a year at that point if I remember correctly.

Much of the price point is accounted for by the cost of raw materials; silver, gold, and platinum don’t exactly compare with the price of brass. Burkart had a safe full of gold and they let me hold a big piece of round silver stock that must have been about 3 pounds. Probably the most expensive thing I’ve ever had my hands on! In addition to the materials, the machines they use are very expensive as well. They had a few CNC lathes that run around half a million each as well as computerized milling machine which was very cool.

They also showed us some instrument bodies and parts they were manufacturing for other instrument makers. The owner wouldn’t tell us who they were doing work for but they had a bunch of french horn rotor assemblies as well as Oboe bodies they were making with the computerized milling machine I mentioned. That thing was amazing; once it had been programed (which was a lengthy process), it could churn out a flawless Oboe body in something like 5 minutes. The measurements were so exact that when we tested putting a rod screw through the posts, the alignment was absolutely perfect; you could drop the rod right through and it wouldn’t catch or wobble one bit.

Burkart also makes piccolos from grenadilla wood which they let season for two years before using. They told us that a big reason so many clarinets crack these days compared to times past is because the manufacturers are not waiting nearly enough time and letting the wood season properly. Apparently this is due to the shrinking numbers of the African Blackwood trees available as an increase in demand. It may be that sometime in the near future, there will be no more grenadilla instruments because of over-harvesting.

Finally, we got to see how their flutes are actually made. As you can see in the above picture, the manufacturing floor isn’t very fancy; just a big room with lots of benches and soldering torches. All the flutes made there have soldered on tone holes if memory serves and most of the parts are made from precious metals. I think it would be nerve-wracking to be soldering onto solid silver and gold body tubes all day; too much heat and you melt the thing. They told me it happened sometimes but it really wasn’t a big deal because they can just melt it down and remake it, a luxury afforded in manufacture that we defiantly do not have in the repair shop. All of the parts they use are made on site apart from pads and some screws from what I gathered. They had mini-arc welders that they used to tack the parts together before they did the silver soldering. I got to try the machine and it was very cool but I wasn’t very good at it. Oh well.

We were allowed to sort of wander around the factory floor much of the day and talk to the different people working. All of the workers do most of the different parts of the flute manufacture and rotate every so often. That seems like a good idea so people don’t get bored and when someone is out, someone else can take over a certain job if need arises. I got a chance to get my grubby fingers on some of the flute models in the show room, actually, holding those flutes might have been the most expensive things I’ve held as opposed to the silver rod, I’m not sure. Anyway, those flutes are just extraordinary: I can’t comment on the tone, I don’t play flute well enough to know, but the construction is of the absolute highest quality. Burkart uses a system called micro-Link to connect the keys to each other which is a system where there are no pins as there would be on most flutes. Visit their website to read about it because they can explain it better than I can, but generally I think the idea is to get a very tight feel with as little spring tension as possible. An added benefit would be that unlike on pinned key work, there are no pins to wear and eventually cause wobbly keys. That’s a guess on my part though so don’t quote me.

So it was a cool trip other than the fact that my junky car broke down on the way there, but that’s another boring story which I’ll spare you.

http://www.burkart.com/

 

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Bass saxophones aplenty

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Being that I have the fortune (or misfortune depending on the day) of living and working right outside of Philadelphia, I’ve worked on more bass saxophones in a few years than most repair people will in a career. The Mummers are a big deal in Philadelphia and boy do they love their saxophones. The Mummers parade is on New Years day and is basically a bunch of men dressed up in feathers and sequins dancing down the street stone drunk. Somewhere in that mess are a few string bands, also drunk and dressed all fancy. These guys are a tad rough with their horns and the bass saxes the have are pretty much all in the century old category. So when they come into the shop, they are in really bad shape.

This one (the one on the chair in the picture) has soldered tone holes. Let me tell you, this sax has been a nightmare. Pretty much every tone hole has big gaps where the soldered has crumbled away between the body and the tone hole. How the horn played a single note at this point is beyond explanation. So yesterday I was going around every tone hole and filling in all the missing solder. Today I started replacing most of the pads; the horn really needs an overhaul but the band doesn’t want to shell out the cash so I was told to ‘make it play’. Thankfully I’m doing this bass at my full time job instead of at my shop so the couple of days this work is taking me isn’t on my dime. I expect to finish the job tomorrow by lunch time and I’ll be glad to be finished with this one.

So if you have a saxophone, a Martin for instance, with soldered on tone holes and you have a mysterious leak that you just can’t seem to pin down, there’s a good chance that the solder joint between the tone hole and the body has a leak somewhere. Make sure your repair checks when you bring your horn in, especially if it’s a vintage horn.

Hall of shame

 

 

 

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Poor poor saxophone, what have they done to you?!

So here’s a Yamaha 52 Bari sax that came in from a school who had previously had work done by Music and Arts. Apparently they needed to replace a post. It looks like they just took a post off a silver horn and soldered it onto the sax without bothering to fit it whatsoever to the key or rod. This is why you don’t get repairs done by people who don’t know or don’t care about what they’re doing. A word of advice: If you need work done on your horn and you care about quality repairs, please stay away from stores that do school rentals. Now this isn’t always absolutely the case; there are some stores that rent instruments that actually have good repair departments, but generally, you’re going to run into a bunch of hacks if you go to a store that derives the majority of it’s profit from rentals. There’s nothing wrong with rental shops if you want to rent an instrument, but if you want quality repairs, go to a dedicated repair shop. Look at the picture and don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Beast

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Here’s a tuba I just finished removing all the dents from. This tuba was a mess as you can see in the pictures. Apparently the kids at the school have named this tuba, ‘The Beast’. I understand the name: This thing was a full size tuba and it had been beat up very badly over the years. I had to take the beast completely apart to get at all the dents. It was a pretty tedious job but it turned out all right in the end.

Replacing a Broken Clarinet Tenon

The other day I replaced the bell tenon on a clarinet. First I used the lathe to cut off the old tenon so it was flush with the clarinet body. Then I used a cutter to bore the right size and depth hole into the body to fit the replacement tenon. Finally, I glued the new tenon in with epoxy.   This was a replacement tenon sold by Votaw Tool. You could manufacture a tenon yourself from plastic stock but its much easier to just buy one if you can.

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This is a plastic clarinet, on a wood clarinet it would be more difficult to repair a broken tenon. Not impossible, but would be much more time consuming.

www.davidfrostmusic.com

yamaha custom z

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Here’s the neck strap ring on a Yamaha Custom Z alto sax that I was working on today. Notice that it’s made of stainless steel and not brass like on most other horns. If you have a quality neck strap with a stainless steel hook, after a lot of use, the stainless steel hook will eventually wear through the brass ring on the horn and you’ll have to have the ring replaced or risk dropping your horn. Yamaha was smart and added this nice little feature so you won’t have that problem. I wish more companies would put this much thought into their designs.

The trumpet mouthpiece gap

When you put a mouthpiece into your trumpet, there is a space between the end of the mouthpiece and the lead pipe inside of the mouthpiece receiver. This space is know as the “gap” or by the more fancy name “annulus”. You can see the space below:

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The theory is that if you can find the right amount of gap, the instrument will perform optimally: Notes will slot better, the scale will be more in tune, and the horn will be more resonant.

Since every trumpet, mouthpiece, and player is different, there is no gap that will work best for everyone. The only way to find that sweet spot is by trial and error, adjusting the gap and seeing what works for you.

A simple way to test different gap settings is to wrap a strip of paper around the shank of the mouthpiece and insert it into the receiver. By adding more paper or taking paper away, you can adjust the gap. If you have too much gap, you’ll have to have metal removed from the shank. Once you do find the optimal gap, you can make the change permanent by having the mouthpiece altered.