Do Instruments Change With Use?

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
Thanks for the comments Jack.

I’m inclined to keep an open mind too and work on the principle that the rules of science are more of a Guide than anything else. If you were able to go back a few hundred years in time and then talked about Radio Waves you’d be likely to be considered mad yet your points would still be valid. Anyway I’ve shared my own observations and hopefully someone will find them helpful in some way.
 

Mello

Active Member
Instruments DO CHANGE ......from the moment they come proVery quickly frozen duction line At the risk of being accused of inaccuracies in describing particles - in non scientific terminology..for simplicity.
The following may be of interest. To make our instruments ....lets take a trombone as an example. .
The slidd es really bend round and tubes would normally split or collapse unless they are made into 'rods' by filling the tube before bending. Two common processes are traditionally hot lead . which when cooled , allow the tubes to be bent around shaped wooden blocks by special presses - by hand...then the tubes are heated again to allow the lead to be poured out , Modern methods which I have seen are MUCH quicker and simpler . imagine a large revolver ( gun )cylinder constantly slowly revolving. The straight tube lengths are inserted ( quasi bullets ) , as they rotate , one by one they are filled water , VERY quickly frozen solid, power bent to shape , Thawed & Mtd .... job done.
Bells on the other hand are sheets , cut to pattern , folded over , the two edges soldered , then by process of rubbing , hammering, rolling etc end up as a bell . ( the wide end being bent over itself with a bell wire inside > A crude description just to explain the brass is subjected to all manners of stress / heat and cold. This stretches , and compresses the 'molecular 'structure within the metal.

It is important to remember the metal is at its best when the 'molecules' have settled and returned ( as near as poss ) to their original state. This process is what we know as annealing . usually quickened by heating & cooling . All before we play it. Using enhanced methods is usually successful as far as the player is concerned , but the act of playing and the slight vibrations we make help it to finally 'blow in ' a term that used to be used. However the best and most natural method I believe is time ...simply time. Having said all that , you may realise that the shiny new instrument is still not always at its best. One other old practice was to ill a new instrument with milk , & leave it a few hrs before emptying . Then without washing it out , use it,,,,,the theory being that the residue levels what little rifling or unevenness of the metal inside would be smoothed out !. Food for thought .... & excuse the non technical terminology .. A little PS , Laquering & plating have an effect as do dents and bruising , but thats another story.
 

Mesmerist

Well-Known Member
[QUOTE="Mello, A little PS , Laquering & plating have an effect as do dents and bruising , but thats another story.[/QUOTE]

As I'm having my flugel re-lacquered would you mind telling me what to avoid please? I am concerned about losing its beautiful sound.
 
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Jack E

Well-Known Member
As I'm having my flugel re-lacquered would you mind telling me what to avoid please? I am concerned about losing it's beautiful sound.
From info I've gathered on the web from various respected instrument repairers, the effect of lacquer in olden times was significant because the only lacquers available at that time couldn't be applied in a very thin coat. So it wasn't the lacquer per se which affected the tone, but the thickness of the coating. Nowadays, instrument makers and repairers have lacquers which I believe were developed for use on cars. Car makers use them to lay a hair thin layer of shiny stuff over the base paint colour, because it's a damn sight quicker and cheaper than trying to buff the base paint up to a mirror finish - but the punter . . . sorry, 'valued customer' . . . is attracted by the super-shiny finish like a bass player to a pint of Timothy Taylor's 'Landlord'. These lacquers can be applied so thinly that their effect on the tone of a brass instrument is so insignificant as to be inaudible. So, as long as your flugel is being done by a class repairer, you won't hear any difference at all.

Hmm; having said that, I wouldn't like to say about the process involving glitter, which may be different. As I understand it, the usual sources of glitter - for anything from car paint jobs to glitter lipstick - uses fish scales (a point to ponder before snogging a bird wearing glittery make-up, lads!). How thick the lacquer has to be to cover the fish scales and give a smooth finish, I've no idea - but I presume it would be down to how thick the fish scales are. It might be worth checking with the repairer.
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
A crude description just to explain the brass is subjected to all manners of stress / heat and cold. This stretches and compresses the 'molecular' structure within the metal. It is important to remember the metal is at its best when the 'molecules' have settled and returned (as near as poss) to their original state. This process is what we know as annealing . . . however the best and most natural method I believe is time ... simply time.
You've reminded me, Mello, of what I read about the way Jaguars and I believe Mercedes used to treat the cast iron cylinder blocks of their car engines. After casting, they would dump them in a field, and leave them there for six months before machining them, and boring out the cylinders. What they found was that the castings changed in shape, as the internal crystal structure settled down, and the stresses caused by the rapid cooling of the cast iron sorted themselves out. Once thgat process was completed, they could be reasonably sure that when, for example, they bored out the cylinders, and the completed engine went into service, going through repeated cycles of heating up and cooling down, the cylinder bores would stay truly cylindrical, and their axes would all stay parallel to each other and square to the line of the crankshaft. If, in contrast, they machined the cylinder blocks as soon as they came out of the foundry, some of the blocks went slightly out of true in service - not enough to seize the engine, but enough to significantly reduce engine life.

In the case of air-cooled two stroke engines, it was well known by pro engine tuners and race mechanics that the running in process couldn't be done by just putting the engine on a test bed and running it continually for so many hours. It had to be done by repeated starting, warming it up, then running for a while before stopping it, letting it cool right down to ambient temperature, and then leaving it for a few hours. This temperature cycling had a dramatic effect of the extremely complex shape of the cylinder, with its ports running up through the cylinder walls, and allowed the structure to stabilise. If this repeated temperature cycling was not carried out, as soon as put it into racing conditions, the cylinder would change shape enough to seize the engine solid.

Mind, the crystal structure and crystal physics of objects made out of metal is an incredibly complex subject - that the London School of Science & Technology has a Professor of Crystal Physics says it all. This applies especially in the case of something with a shape as complex as a brass instrument, and is, as you point out, compounded by the myriad of processes which impose all sorts of strains on the finished structure. And think of the temperature changes the instrument suffers, when you take it out of your nice warm house into sub-zero air temperatures to play Christmas carols - and you blow air with a temperature close to 98 degrees F into the thin end of it, so that the temperature from the mouthpiece to the bell changes by about 100 degrees F!

Even though the brass used to make our instruments is a very malleable alloy of copper and zinc, I dread to think about the wracking strains imposed on them due to the hotter parts trying to expand more than the parts which are at far lower temperatures - especially on those outdoor Christmas gigs!
 

GER

Active Member
One other old practice was to ill a new instrument with milk , & leave it a few hrs before emptying . Then without washing it out , use it,,,,,the theory being that the residue levels what little rifling or unevenness of the metal inside would be smoothed out !.
I can remember doing this when I was young, but was always told it was good for it-no other explanation, but tbh not just on brand new instruments. Thanks for clearing it up, I always wondered about the thinking behind it
 

Mello

Active Member
[QUOTE="Mello, A little PS , Laquering & plating have an effect as do dents and bruising , but thats another story.
As I'm having my flugel re-lacquered would you mind telling me what to avoid please? I am concerned about losing it's beautiful sound.[/QUOTE]
For what its worth, again excuse my lack of technical jargon.

It really is a matter of the kind of result you are after....in terms of response and sound...It was explained to me like this . Throwing a bouncing ball along a corridor with the same force.....the bouncing ball will go further on a hard floor than on a carpeted one. its the same with Plated or Laquer finish. Silver plate is in fact metal& usually heavier than laquer so the bounce will more lively /hard and project the ball furthest.
To try and compensate , some manufacturers increase the laquer thickness by triple plating . The affect being a bigger bounce on a short v woolly carpet .
If 40/50 yrs ago , you were to look at most Orchestral Brass -players and sections , you will note most if, not all , Trombones are Laquered but the Trumpets silver plated . The result of trumpets being more brilliant sounding than the Troms. Its true that over time , the trupets have become a little mellower with thicker laquer and larger bores, but the D Trumpets are seemingly SP favoured.

To summarise , the softer, warmer sound is mostly achieved by laquer as opposed to Brass. ....Most flugel players today use laquer for that reason.
Hope that helps .
 

Mesmerist

Well-Known Member
As I'm having my flugel re-lacquered would you mind telling me what to avoid please? I am concerned about losing it's beautiful sound.
To summarise , the softer, warmer sound is mostly achieved by laquer as opposed to Brass. ....Most flugel players today use laquer for that reason.
Hope that helps .[/QUOTE]

Thank you! I've gone for a lacquer and showed them a picture of Tom's gorgeous soprano. Thank you for all the other ways you've helped me too. You're a pretty awesome guy x
 

Mello

Active Member
OOps , I unfortunately slipped up by saying laquer as opposed to brass , when I was meaning as opposed to silver plate.
Unadulterated brass without either ,.was never mentioned or in the equasion ....sorry if my slip confuses anyone. Actually in this case , hopefully no harm has been done. I must not try to multi task whilst responding to any queries.....Just that I am pretty busy at the moment.
 

Tom-King

Well-Known Member
For what it's worth, I do agree that silver tends to sound fractionally brighter... but its' not thicker, it's considerably thinner than lacquer (by half, if not more, on modern instruments - and lacquer is considerably thinner than it used to be).

Besides the smell it leaves on your hands, unfinished brass has a certain charm (for me) to the sound/feedback that's hard to explain.
 

Mesmerist

Well-Known Member
Besides the smell it leaves on your hands, unfinished brass has a certain charm (for me) to the sound/feedback that's hard to explain.
They advised me that the raw brass finish has a wax coating which comes off and they didn't advise it with this flugel
 

Tom-King

Well-Known Member
Ah okay, I was talking about just plain brass - no finish/coating at all.

The main thing with any re-finishing is that it's done well, and that includes the stripping off of the previous finish first.

You'll almost always notice SOMETHING after a re-finish, that may be partly because the metal is thinner (part of the prep involves buffing, polishing on high speed wheels, before applying the new finish), though how much thinner will vary between careful, skilled refinishers and... well, the rest.
If you see used instruments that are advertised as refinished, you'll often see that the details on the stamping are nowhere near as clear and crisp (this is very obvious on some refinished roundstamps for example, just because the stamped logo is very detailed to begin with) and this is down to the buffing.

Then again, when it's being refinished you'll often be without it for a month or more - so you're only comparing to your memory of how it was...

At any rate, if you enjoy it when it comes back and it's playing well then all this is irrelevant - you'll be happy either way :p
 

Mesmerist

Well-Known Member
Yes it's away for a month. I'm missing it. The loan one has no soul it's just a reliable tool (but then I'm the illogical player who's away with the fairies compared to the scientific ones on this thread).
 

Mello

Active Member
Just to clarify my comment re thicker refers to the thickness of the laquer - not the sound "with thicker laquer"

You are correct in that SP is Brighter than laquer ....due to the nodal pattern piercing the standing node as it reaches the bell end . like a bullet as opposed to a tennis ball, regarding the laquer being thinner than it used to be , That may be true now, , but before my retirement I worked for two of the major instrument makers, and know for sure that there are differences in both thickness and the number of layers used .Even today.
Not to mention response values of the various mix in the Brasses used. together with differing bores. tapers, flares, sleeves . stays & nodal locations ....all interesting stuff .
My work in instrument development was in conjunction with the major players of the day- from Brass Bands , Orchestras & Big Bands , lots of trials with different combinations and differing tastes. Liaising daily between specialist craftsmen ,,, and artists such as Rod Franks , John Wallace , , James Shepherd, Alan Morrison , Allen Vizzutti, Bobby Shew , Philip McCann, Mark Walters , Paul Eshelby, Ian Bousfield , Don Lusher James Gourlay , etc etc was a true labour of love.
Working aside of Richard Smith ( of Smith Watkins, & Sovereign Creator ) and being involved in demos at the Royal Society of Acousticians was a real eye opener , then alongside Hiroo Okabe was an honour . However times do change, and I admit not to be as familiar with trends as I used to be, Nor am I aware of the latest technology or even basic material densities
So if anyone gets the opinion that I think of myself an expert , I am the first to admit I am way down on the list. What little knowledge I have (or had ) is now very old hat, perhaps even primitive, never the less , some of what I say may be of passing interest to some.
 

Slider1

Active Member
Just to clarify my comment re thicker refers to the thickness of the laquer - not the sound "with thicker laquer"

You are correct in that SP is Brighter than laquer ....due to the nodal pattern piercing the standing node as it reaches the bell end . like a bullet as opposed to a tennis ball, regarding the laquer being thinner than it used to be , That may be true now, , but before my retirement I worked for two of the major instrument makers, and know for sure that there are differences in both thickness and the number of layers used .Even today.
Not to mention response values of the various mix in the Brasses used. together with differing bores. tapers, flares, sleeves . stays & nodal locations ....all interesting stuff .
My work in instrument development was in conjunction with the major players of the day- from Brass Bands , Orchestras & Big Bands , lots of trials with different combinations and differing tastes. Liaising daily between specialist craftsmen ,,, and artists such as Rod Franks , John Wallace , , James Shepherd, Alan Morrison , Allen Vizzutti, Bobby Shew , Philip McCann, Mark Walters , Paul Eshelby, Ian Bousfield , Don Lusher James Gourlay , etc etc was a true labour of love.
Working aside of Richard Smith ( of Smith Watkins, & Sovereign Creator ) and being involved in demos at the Royal Society of Acousticians was a real eye opener , then alongside Hiroo Okabe was an honour . However times do change, and I admit not to be as familiar with trends as I used to be, Nor am I aware of the latest technology or even basic material densities
So if anyone gets the opinion that I think of myself an expert , I am the first to admit I am way down on the list. What little knowledge I have (or had ) is now very old hat, perhaps even primitive, never the less , some of what I say may be of passing interest to some.
Sounds like a Fellow of the University of Life to me :cool:
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
Some anecdotal information which I hope might be of help to someone at some time.

A few weeks ago I decided to try a change in what instrument I used for practice. The instrument that I normally use for practice was washed through, cleaned through with a snake type brush, dried and lubricated. I then put that instrument into storage ready for re-use at some later date. Before storage it played just great: lovely tone, easy speaking and great range. I trialed the change using a different and posher instrument, but found it a bit heavier to hold and a bit heavier on air too (with its larger bore) - for me those factors take away from the fun of playing.

The charms of my original practice instrument were recalled, I dug it out of storage and began to play. The storage seemed to have changed it into something dull sounding that didn’t play particularly well, the first notes were poor but I kept playing for an hour or so. As time went bye the response did improve but it’s still way short of what it once was. I need to practice on it some more - will, when time allows - it will be interesting to see how things change (for the better I hope) over time. What’s happened, is it that the ‘energy’ within the instrument died away over a few weeks or something else?

Edit. I don’t know if this is relevant or not but two things come to mind.
# This large-ish instrument was stored in an unheated room through parts of January and February (so it’s relatively chilled and not easy to warm up).
# For the first half hour of playing I regularly checked for water in the tuning and valve slides but nothing was there - for me that’s unusual. Once the water key started to get some water above it the instrument started to sound a bit better.
 
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Tom-King

Well-Known Member
What’s happened, is it that the ‘energy’ within the instrument died away over a few weeks or something else?
Simpler - different instruments play differently, as you get used to it again you'll be able to get more out of it.
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
Simpler - different instruments play differently, as you get used to it again you'll be able to get more out of it.
Sorry Tom, but that’s definitely not the (complete) case here, though I do appreciate that your idea might hold validity in different circumstances. Though not as frequently I’ve still kept playing (so no noticeable break in skill level) and I very recently had a blow on regularly used instrument that’s virtually identical to my own practice instrument, the virtually identical one played as it should and mine (from storage) simply fell well short of the expected. Puzzling.

Edit. After writing the above I picked up the instrument again for a ‘bit of a blow’. It sounded noticeably better than the last time that it was played (a day or two earlier) and it improved further through the course of an hour or so, it’s nearly back to where it once was. :) .

What’s changed? Over the last few days the instrument has been stored in a room at around 20 Celsius (as opposed to the previous room which was around 5 Celsius), it has had moisture added to its inside walls (due to pushing breath through it) and it has vibrated due to playing. The more it was played the better it sounded, I guess that there’s a complex mix of reasons for that positive change and we’ll likely never know them all.
 
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