Instruments, are we Owners or Custodians?

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
The years go by and I now look at my instruments - and many other durable possessions too - with an altered and maybe more educated perspective. As a younger person I worked for and then bought items with which I then felt free to do with as I chose. Now when I look at my instruments I think that they will still be here in a few decades and that I’m unlikely to still be alive to play them - a sobering thought in itself. I wonder who played my Tuba before me and who will play it after me, it was in a state when I got it but with care and repairs it could last another fifty plus years. Of course the instrument that my Band has loaned me is similar in some respects, but I regard it to be in my care and the Band to be its true owner or long term custodian.

Thinking about musical instruments more generally some string instruments played today were built by master craftsmen in centuries past. Those instruments have been bought by their current owners but as those players age (become aged) they will pass those (high quality) instruments on to the generations following them. As such instruments are passed down the generations and hence an instrument is notionally in our custody for some decades of our playing life - it lives on and plays music after we are gone.

Maybe Brass instruments are more subject to wear and ageing than stringed ones but I wonder whether other players regard themselves as custodians or owners first?
 

GER

Active Member
My 'everyday' instrument holds no attachment for me whatsoever, I am not bothered who played/owned it before me, and when I stop playing or die it will be sold or scrapped or whatever. Probably because it is a mass produced model. However I have my grandfathers cornet which is circa 120 years old, it is beautifully engraved, obviously hand made. I keep it in A1 condition, quite happy to spend money on it to keep it 'tip top' even though it is rarely played. It is also featured in my will. So in answer to your question from my point of view I am both-owner of me everyday instrument, but custodian of my grandfathers.
 

julian

Active Member
I have three victorian pocket cornets that I hope will still be enjoyed long after I've gone - so in many respects I feel a custodian of those. I'd like to think that my Smith-watkins cornet will continue to be enjoyed by someone else in years to come (but not too soon, I'm only 57!) but others that I have like Yamaha, Besson etc. I'm not too worried about.
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
Thank you for the responses, it’s helpful and interesting to hear other people’s perspectives.

I find myself with both a utilitarian attitude towards some instruments and a more personal link to others; to an extent that’s a function of instrument age and of quality too, but coupled in with that are personal memories. The Eb Bass I played as a youth is something that I’d quite like to acquire (never managed to trace it when I tried) because of the memories attached to it and because I feel it to be something (a classic) worth preserving for future users - of course feeling an item to be of worth and it being true can be different.

The bigger instruments tend to be long lived, they’re so expensive to buy new that even high repair charges (to keep them going) tend to cost in so they’re not considered disposable. Somehow an old Euph or Bass, particularly one with fancy engraving, seems to have provenance - a link to the past and better players. Trombones can be a bit special too in that the better ones with triggers usually cost a lot and getting one with a decent slide is a challenge. Something like a Conn 88H might be treasured through your playing life and passed on in the hope that next users will also enjoy it too - but perhaps not everyone else looks at quality goods that way. My own personal Tuba isn’t anything particularly special except that it’s a well built student instrument that plays nicely, on that basis it’s valuable to me (gives me pleasure) and I practice on it instead on the Band’s Sovereign. It’s given me good service and when I eventually stop playing it (in some decades time from now, I hope) I’d be glad to pass it on to someone else for similar use - so I think one ‘custodian’ passing to the next.
 
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MoominDave

Well-Known Member
If one gets into vintage instruments, it becomes natural to think of one's ownership of them as transient. My regular bass trombone was originally built in 1962, 17 years before I was born. It's mine, but also I hope that it will last enough that somebody else will be able to enjoy the use of it in future.

The unspoken rules are a bit different if dealing with vintage instruments rather than modern - modifications not easily-reversed are in general a no-no. Every so often I see a message online along the lines of "I've just bought a (50s/60s) Elkhart Conn 88H. Suggestions for mods? I'm going to have the leadpipe pulled and the valveset changed for starters." Such messages show no respect for the instrument (which you can really mess up the blow of by doing those things, incidentally) - the stock of Elkhart Conn 88Hs still in playing condition is only getting smaller year on year, and they are much prized in unmodified condition. Happily most quickly attract people strongly suggesting not chopping it.

Then - there's a musical style limit on how long an instrument can stay in circulation. Musical fashions change; one could drop a high pitch instrument to A=440 in the 60s with more or less satisfactory results by adding little bits of tubing to each slide - but when everyone moved to large bores at a similar time, the smaller bore sounds ceased to be what listeners expected; you can't play a good mid-20th-century British band trombone in a 21st century good British band - it isn't the expected sound, due to the extreme bore size change in between. My bass trombone is on the age limit (exceptions apply of course) of what the tool can be to produce a contesting brass band bass trombone sound as musical tastes currently stand. Jazz trombonists have a freer time of it, and pre-war King 2Bs are popular. But 100 years is as good a cutoff as any (it seems to me) for saying "This instrument has done its job; now it is suitable for display purposes". That isn't a hard limit, but an average one - by this age, it's a rare valveset that won't lose difficult amounts of compression, and a rare slide that won't be in rather bumpy state.
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
If one gets into vintage instruments, it becomes natural to think of one's ownership of them as transient. My regular bass trombone was originally built in 1962, 17 years before I was born. It's mine, but also I hope that it will last enough that somebody else will be able to enjoy the use of it in future.

The unspoken rules are a bit different if dealing with vintage instruments rather than modern - modifications not easily-reversed are in general a no-no. Every so often I see a message online along the lines of "I've just bought a (50s/60s) Elkhart Conn 88H. Suggestions for mods? I'm going to have the leadpipe pulled and the valveset changed for starters." Such messages show no respect for the instrument (which you can really mess up the blow of by doing those things, incidentally) - the stock of Elkhart Conn 88Hs still in playing condition is only getting smaller year on year, and they are much prized in unmodified condition. Happily most quickly attract people strongly suggesting not chopping it.

Then - there's a musical style limit on how long an instrument can stay in circulation. Musical fashions change; one could drop a high pitch instrument to A=440 in the 60s with more or less satisfactory results by adding little bits of tubing to each slide - but when everyone moved to large bores at a similar time, the smaller bore sounds ceased to be what listeners expected; you can't play a good mid-20th-century British band trombone in a 21st century good British band - it isn't the expected sound, due to the extreme bore size change in between. My bass trombone is on the age limit (exceptions apply of course) of what the tool can be to produce a contesting brass band bass trombone sound as musical tastes currently stand. Jazz trombonists have a freer time of it, and pre-war King 2Bs are popular. But 100 years is as good a cutoff as any (it seems to me) for saying "This instrument has done its job; now it is suitable for display purposes". That isn't a hard limit, but an average one - by this age, it's a rare valveset that won't lose difficult amounts of compression, and a rare slide that won't be in rather bumpy state.
Although the Bands that we play with are towards opposite ends of the ability spectrum it seems (to me) that we’re of an overlapping mindset. In my Band the two Tenor Trombones play circa 1960’s small bore instruments and just having them there and playing is the thing rather than a particular sound - mind, one of them is the clever type who can play ‘all’ the instruments in the band and make each of them play well. So modern Brass Band sound is a detail that becomes progressively more important as Bands progress up the sections ... whilst we’re just pleased to pretty much have a full band that plays reasonably well (to the public) with whatever instruments we have.

Playing condition and possibility to repair is certainly an issue in regard to whether an instrument is for use or display. There will always be cases when the receiving player is the instrument’s last player, instruments don’t have an infinite life. However an instrument’s life can be very variable in length and particularly so if it has spent years in safe storage (some bands have good instruments in store that are just waiting for players). Trombone slides (both inners and outers) are not without life limiting issues and spare parts can be simply not available. Likewise piston valves sets wear over time and for older instruments the chances of getting replacement parts seem to me to be about zero. I believe that Brass ages in various ways too, but haven’t seem any examples of ‘blown out’ and rotten (red rot) instruments recently. Interestingly stringed instrument players don’t have age issues in the same way; provided they are appropriately used, cared for and humidified wooden instruments can last for centuries whilst brass instruments will wear out. Strange, it’s counterintuitive for Wood to last longer than Brass ...
 
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I often make modifications and sometimes alterations to my instruments, but I always retain the parts for the original configuration so that when these instruments go to the next owner/custodian, the horns can be returned to their previous form if desired.
 

Brassbandhog

New Member
A thought provoking thread. I have several instruments at home, much to the frustration of my partner, and all hold sentimental value - the first learner instrument my parents bought me, the first instrument I bought for myself and and two older instruments I inherited from other players. Obviously I can't use more than one at a time but I'd be loathed (at the moment) to ever part with one of them. That said I look around the bandroom and there are many instruments that are no longer played sitting there rusting that I'm sure could be put to better use.
 
As some of you may know, I have a Victorian Era Band, and we also play as an American Civil War band. I have more than one hundred instruments, most in disrepair when obtained. I have been lucky enough to be able to find repairmen who not only are capable of doing extensive repairs, but seemingly enjoy it. We have a collective of antique instrument aficionados, and, hopefully as those of us of long tooth drop out, entry level hobbyists will snatch up the playable instruments, and keep them playing. My one regret is that my grandchildren don't share my passion for brass music, and I was hoping to keep some of them in the family.
 

Aussie Tuba

Member
my Euphonium is a Boosey and co and was built in 1923 so almost 100 years old and was my grandfathers. I do wonder what will happen to it when I am to old to play.
 
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