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Thread: Does a Brass Instrument Change Over Time?

  1. #1

    Does a Brass Instrument Change Over Time?

    First, let me say that I believe the answer is "Yes." But I'm starting this thread to share some posts from "The Mouthpiece" discussion forum.

    http://www.themouthpiece.com/forum/t...ith-use.54829/

    I found a few interesting stories, and a couple were from the automobile field (you know how I love to compare anything to cars). Here are the comments I found interesting:

    FROM MELLO: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.
    FROM JACK E: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!
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams E3, Denis Wick 4AL (classic)
    Instructor of Euphonium and Tuba
    Twitter: davewerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    YouTube: dwerden
    Owner of TubaEuph.com, DWerden.com

  2. #2
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    More examples of loose analogies based on anecdotal reports, various "beliefs", and things that are referred to as "well known", dressed up to look like empirical evidence and scientific methodology. It's also another example of the fallacy of "special pleading" where you focus only on one perspective and ignore evidence (and competing "theories" incompatible with it). For example, the whole idea of a "break in" procedure for an internal combustion engine (whether one is needed and, if so, precisely how it should be done) has always been highly controversial and (shocking idea) may depend on the particular engine design and materials. And appealing to what people used to do or believe doesn't help -- especially if that belief itself hasn't been subjected to thorough testing and scrutiny.

    For example, the fact that the London School of Economics has a Professor of Crystal Physics says exactly NOTHING about whether pouring milk into your instrument has any effect whatever, whether you should toss cast iron engine blocks into a field for several months, what any such treatment of cast iron blocks might have to do with finely manufactured brass instruments constructed mostly of drawn or hand-worked (not cast) brass extrusions, or what any of that has to do with how the molecules in such brass instruments may "settle" and "return" to their original states over time (whatever THAT may mean).

    And yes, I do know that there's a lot of science to be had in the areas of physics and metallurgy. But that's exactly my point. That's science. But casual, vague, ill-supported analogies, thought experiments, and old wive's tales are not. Repetition of those doesn't make them more scientific, more accurate, or more reliable in explanation or prediction. But it may provide an interesting story to hang beliefs on -- like the Grimm fairy tales. The faeries in the bottom of the garden story, while amusing, is a classic example of completely bogus (and dangerous) reasoning that you'll come across in any logic or critical thinking course. But in that posting it's actually offered as rational support for belief ("unarguable logic")!!

    In terms of whether brass instruments change over time ... sure they do. Everything does in one way or another. We know, for example (science here!) that raw brass will oxidize in a couple of different ways over time. We know that calcium deposits will (or may) form in the interiors of our instruments. We know that the solder in the joints will degrade through chemical actions. Etc. But how do they change in the ways being suggested by these anecdotes and stories that lie -- at best -- on the fringe of science (and usually not even that close)? And how do we know that? And how are we closer to that sort of knowledge through the use of casually used scientific terminology taken out of its formal context and flung around in vague analogies and historical anecdotes? I wish the guys who write up those stories (and they're no more than stories as they're written) would actually look more closely at the science (and produce some genuine answers) instead of using their shallow understanding of the science coupled with bogus reasoning techniques to support conclusions they want so much to cling to. But science is hard.
    Gary Merrill
    Wessex EEb Bass tuba (Denis Wick 3XL)
    Mack Brass Compensating Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J9 euph)
    Amati Oval Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J6 euph)
    1924 Buescher 3-valve Eb tuba, modified Kelly 25
    Schiller American Heritage 7B clone bass trombone (DE LB K/K9/112 Lexan, Brass Ark MV50R)
    1947 Olds "Standard" trombone (Olds #3)

  3. #3
    I’m with Gary (not surprisingly, since we were both educated at the same fine polytechnic institute). There is absolutely no way that there is any significant metallurgical change occurring in a brass instrument from the forces that act upon it in normal use.

    Any changes that might occur are the result of wear of moving parts or buildup of contaminants (sludge, calcium scale, etc).

    This sort of folklore and old wives tales exists in every venture where physical equipment is used. It used to be particularly prevalent in bicycle racing, where wheels and tires were said to “age” under certain circumstances.

    Don Winston

  4. #4
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    There is a particularly popular product for use with black powder firearms that continues to advertise as one of its distinguishing features that it "seasons the bore" and thereby reduces fouling and increases accuracy. Analogies are drawn to the process of seasoning cast iron skillets. It became dogma to use this product to season your rifle barrel in order to provide better performance and retard degradation from various reactions. The dogma was repeatedly expressed in many publications and, later, online forums.

    Alas, cast iron (skillet) is really not all that analogous to steel (barrel) in significant ways. More careful thought -- followed by experimentation -- yielded the realization that no such seasoning action took place at all, and that in fact the use of the product in some of the recommended ways could actually result in rust build-up. These conclusions were endorsed by barrel makers and custom builders.

    No one ever describes what the process of seasoning amounts to in the case of the rifle barrels -- which are subjected to MUCH higher temperatures and pressures than your average skillet in addition to having different molecular structure. Or how you can tell whether, or at what point, a barrel has become seasoned. Evidently it's not quite like the result of seasoning a skillet, which can be ascertained by fairly superficial examination of the two. Since the nature of the alleged seasoning is so vague and indeterminate, it's not possible to demonstrate false advertising on the part of the product manufacturer.

    There remains a contingent of users who insist that the analogy between cast iron skillets and steel barrels is apt, and that such seasoning occurs. They're entitled to this view (though it can't quite be called rational at this point), and to do with their own barrels whatever they please. In the old days, people seem to have used bear grease.
    Last edited by ghmerrill; 01-26-2019 at 02:55 PM.
    Gary Merrill
    Wessex EEb Bass tuba (Denis Wick 3XL)
    Mack Brass Compensating Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J9 euph)
    Amati Oval Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J6 euph)
    1924 Buescher 3-valve Eb tuba, modified Kelly 25
    Schiller American Heritage 7B clone bass trombone (DE LB K/K9/112 Lexan, Brass Ark MV50R)
    1947 Olds "Standard" trombone (Olds #3)

  5. I would be more concerned about the possibility that if something didn't line up just exactly right in the assembly of the horn that it might have been "helped" into place, creating a metal stress that would affect resonance on anything from a particular note to a range of notes to affecting the scale. Not in the assembly, but unawares I must have let something knock into my tuba at one time. I could feel a rotor drag. When the rotor was popped, you could see a slight scuff, indicating something knocked the tuba somewhere. When the tech put the heat to it, it popped really loudly and the rotor relaxed and freed up. He knew enough to stop right there. After the horn cooled, the rotors were back the way they were before. Now that is the kind of metal stress that changes a horn!
    Last edited by iiipopes; 01-26-2019 at 06:21 PM.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by iiipopes View Post
    I would be more concerned about the possibility that if something didn't line up just exactly right in the assembly of the horn that it might have been "helped" into place, creating a metal stress that would affect resonance on anything from a particular note to a range of notes to affecting the scale. Not in the assembly, but unawares I must have let something knock into my tuba at one time. I could feel a rotor drag. When the rotor was popped, you could see a slight scuff, indicating something knocked the tuba somewhere. When the tech put the heat to it, it popped really loudly and the rotor relaxed and freed up. He knew enough to stop right there. After the horn cooled, the rotors were back the way they were before. Now that is the kind of metal stress that changes a horn!
    Yes! I suspect a 4-valve compensating euphonium is more susceptible to those kind of stresses during assembly. There are a bunch of pieces that have to fit together, and the smaller size of a euphonium compared to a tuba means less lateral space for tubes to adapt to a needed adjustment in angle.
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams E3, Denis Wick 4AL (classic)
    Instructor of Euphonium and Tuba
    Twitter: davewerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    YouTube: dwerden
    Owner of TubaEuph.com, DWerden.com

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by davewerden View Post
    Yes! I suspect a 4-valve compensating euphonium is more susceptible to those kind of stresses during assembly. There are a bunch of pieces that have to fit together, and the smaller size of a euphonium compared to a tuba means less lateral space for tubes to adapt to a needed adjustment in angle.
    This was the logic behind the 1980s-90s fad of putting horns in a cryogenic freezer--to release those stresses from imperfect manufacturing. I did it to a Yamaha 641 I owned at the time--no effects whatsoever except $250 out of my pocket to satisfy my curiosity--the fact that the freezer place was located near my in-laws also played a role in my decision.

    Cryogenic Freezing:1980s = LeFreque:2019 ;-)
    Yamaha 642-II Neo, Wedge 103A/Wick 4AL
    Yamaha 321, Yamaha 621 Baritone
    Conn 50H trombone
    Blue P-bone
    www.soundcloud.com/jweuph

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