Guest Equipment Geek Rant: Steve Ferguson's 2005 NAMM Show Report

The 2005 NAMM show was held in Anaheim, California January 20-23. This is the annual conference of musical equipment merchants, and most of the large equipment makers show their wares to the dealers and members of the public lucky enough to score a pass. This is a huge show, though mostly it's about guitars, drums, and electronics. There is a small section for the brass enthusiasts, grouped together mostly in one hall. Here are some items of interest to brass players and trombonists:

Conn-Selmer is the largest maker of brass instruments in the US. Their brands include King, Conn, Bach and Benge, among others. In 2004, Conn-Selmer purchased the LeBlanc Company, which means the Holton and Martin brands will now be made in-house at the King Eastlake, Ohio plant, where King, Conn, and Benge instruments are made. Holton French horns may continue to be produced at LeBlanc's facilities. Conn-Selmer had a large display showing samples of horns from all the lines. 

Notable in trombones is the new Martin David Steinmeyer model small bore trombone, similar to the Urbie Green model. No other Holton trombones were on display. The recently re-introduced King 2102PL, or 2B+, is still the favorite among many players who tried them. Conn 88H and 62H trombones will soon be available with rotary valves made by Gary Greenhoe, as the 88HTG and 62HG respectively. Look forward to opening your wallet wide for those models, as they'll cost at least as much as horns from the smaller custom builders. The 62HG will only be available with inline valves, though they may offer several slide options as on the 88H line. The 88H is now available with a Sterling silver bell, a la the King Silversonic. It plays very well, with a fast response despite a heavier feeling bell and sound. It's a beautiful looking horn, and I brought one back with me. No traditional 88H's were shown though one was displayed with the Lindberg valve, and another with the 9H large throat K style bell, originally used on the King 5B. 

Also shown was the Conn 62H-CL bass trombone, which feels huge and is ergonomically odd for some players. Bach is offering several vintage reincarnations, including a New York model trumpet, and a lightweight Bach 42 symphony trombone known as the Jay Friedman model, or more simply, the LT42TGLW. It will have a lightweight .020" gold brass bell, Thayer valve, and nickel slide. I don't believe these are new options, but this grouping of parts may be much easier to obtain from Bach. 

All the horns I tried at Conn-Selmer played very well, though I was surprised at how poorly many of the slides worked. Beware that your new Conn-Selmer trombone may need a tune-up if you buy it sight unseen. I brought back five trombones from the Conn-Selmer display, and am sending the slides out to John Sandhagen's repair shop for tuning this week.

The Getzen Company of Elkhorn Wisconsin displayed their fine line of trombones, including the Custom models with Thayer valves made in-house at Getzen. They offered no new trombones this year, but showed some new trumpets, including the Rick Braun model, and one with a Sterling silver bell. Getzen trombone slides are quickly becoming my favorite, as they are usually problem-free right from the box. I brought back 8 trombones from the Getzen display. 

Their Edwards office has a new part for trombone players. It's a new Thayer valve stop arm that shortens the throw on Thayer equipped trombones. I believe it's only available for the thumb valve so far. Call them direct and ask for Cristan. Getzen has hired many of the instrument makers who lost their jobs at LeBlanc after the Conn-Selmer takeover. Look for better delivery schedules for Getzen instruments this year.

Kanstul Musical Instruments of Anaheim California makes a huge assortment of brass instruments, and showed several new trombones. As a dealer and an assistant in the design of some of their newer models, I worked the sales side at the Kanstul booth for most of the show. I think of it as sort of a short-term hostage situation. 

New from Kanstul is the 1606 Williams-style trombone, featuring a .500" bore nickel slide with curved hand braces, interchangeable lead pipes, and .020" or .025" brass bells with the distinctive Williams-style bell and tuning slide shapes as well as curved braces. These are built to order, and can have several other options. As a custom horn, they'll be pricey at around $2300. The Williams used to be a popular studio horn in the LA scene, and original models are in high demand. This vintage reproduction got high marks from lots of players. 

Also new is the 1555 trombone, based on a 1937 HN White 2B bell taper, which includes the .500" bore nickel slide from the 1606, and a nickel neckpipe and tuning crook. It's snappier than a King 2B+, and should sell at a street price just a bit more than the King. This was the favorite of Alan Kaplan and Bob McChesney when they stopped by. 

Kanstul showed four slide-tuning bass trombones with numerous options, based on old Elkhart and Minick designs. The slide-tuning makes a much lighter and acoustically elegant conical bell section, with very little weight penalty in the slide due to very thin nickel trim pieces. George Roberts plays the single valve version. 

Kastul's symphonic trombone, the New York inspired 1570CR, got a new tuning crook, lighter slide, and interchangeable lead pipes. It's a winner now too. Rumor has it that Kanstul will offer an Elkhart-style symphonic trombone later this year, similar to the 1570, but with a narrower bronze slide and new bell taper. After that will be a totally new model: a slide-tuning .547 tenor trombone. Think of it as the large-bore version of the old Conn Ballroom model. 

Kanstul's top trombones with rotary valves feature the oversize CR valve, similar to what you might see on a Shires or Greenhoe trombone, but with lighter construction. This booth was the place to be on Saturday afternoon, as the Bones West Trombone Ensemble descended upon the booth after their concert. George Roberts was around making friends and promoting his new horn, and fine trombone soloist Les Benedict stayed for the afternoon. Les is using a 1606 now. The 750 trombone is still a hit at under $1000, and one local player said, "It plays so well for that little money? That's stupid." We're still trying to translate that remark. 

The F-contrabass trombone is not yet finished, but a very impressive bell was on display to wet appetites. Kanstul offers a huge line of trumpets, with many vintage reincarnations. The Wayne Bergeron model is the current favorite. Think of it as like a Bach 72 lightweight with a custom lead pipe and scratch finish. Be sure to ask for nylon valve guides for your Kanstul trumpet, as the action is much quieter. Kanstul raises their prices soon. Jump in now for the best deal. Zig Kanstul is also reportedly working on two new double French horn designs using his lightweight CR rotary valves.

The Music Group, located in the Los Angeles area, distributes Besson instruments in the US and Canada, as well as Denis Wick accessories. They showed just a few trombones with Hagmann valves, and some euphoniums and tubas. Kudos to them for featuring lots of entertainment at their club-style display, including Hofner-sponsered virtuoso bassist Jennifer Leitham (often seen with Doc Severinsen), a gaggle of guitarists, and a fine euphonium quartet called Sotto Voce

Besson tubas are now made of German parts assembled in the UK. Their Eb and CC models are winners. Besson trumpets and cornets are mostly Indian-made (read: poor), except for the top-end instruments which are made by Kanstul in Los Angeles. I lament the lowering of the standards of such a famous brand. Their top of the line euphonium is pricey but spectacular. Be sure to check the pitch of the octave Bb's on their less expensive euph's before buying.

Yamaha's line of musical equipment is so huge, they set up shop across the street in the Marriot Hotel. They showed several versions of the new Xeno large-bore trombones, as well as the new 2B inspired Z series. A 613H bass trombone was on display. Not shown was the new 620G bass trombone, similar to the 612 that Phil Teele uses, but it now has a nickel slide, 9.5" rose bell with a really light Conn-style bell rim, stacked valves in F and D, with comfortable triggers and flawless linkage action. Street price should be similar to a Bach 50B2. 

The "Yamalone" C trumpet, or Xeno Symphony model, designed by Bob Malone was finally shown, and is a hit too. Don't miss the new Yamaha student model trumpet. I don't recall the model number, but it has a satin finish and plays beautifully, and might be had for around $500. 

Thumbs up on Yamaha trombone slides. They rival Getzen for best slide action out of the box.

JA Musik is one of Germany's largest instrument makers, offering Hans Hoyer, Meinl Weston, B&S, and Courtois. They finally have a new US distribution channel through an office of American Way Marketing, makers of Superslick and Faxx brands. The means that Courtois trombones will be much easier to find in the US. I played a great Courtois large bore tenor trombone called the 420R I believe, which had a rose bell and Thayer valve. Thumbs up. B&S trumpets got good reviews from my in-house trumpet boy, Mama D. Hans Hoyer French horns are now the new standard. Call them the 8D-killer.

Jin-Bao Music, a Chinese instrument maker, has had a large display for several years. Last year I tried their alto trombone, a clone of the great Kuhnl & Hoyer Slokar, and loved it. Their distribution channel was poor, and I was never able to obtain one. This year I bought the display model, and found an outlet to get more. The slide was just dog meat quality on this one, but assuming a successful tune-up at Sandhagen's, I'll buy more. Look for them around $500. 

Jin Bao makes some unusual instruments, including an F alto valve trombone that didn't quite play in tune, and a rotary valve Bb bass trumpet that played really well until you got down to D in the bass clef, then it didn't play at all below that. How low does Rite of Spring go?...

Eastman Strings makes those colorful cello cases that your colleagues are using, and they offered a new trombone case last year with a sleek Walt Johnson style design and a myriad of colors. Unfortunately the road case look didn't translate into safety for your horn. They showed new cases this year for trombone and bass trombone featuring a golf ball type finish to reduce appearance of scratches. They also improved the interior, but it's still not quite right. I met the designer and we worked out some simple changes after trying to fit several horns in the cases. He was enthusiastic and said he could update the case right away. They offered to send me samples when they finish. Stay tuned. 

With the changes, the Eastman bass trombone case will be a winner. The sleek trumpet case has been enlarged for a roomier fit and more accessory storage. It's not as sleek in the larger size though. The French horn case now fits double horns. It's a perfect fit for the Conn 8D. 

Rumor has it that custom trombone builder Steve Shires has been consulting with Eastman, and they are slated to produce a Chinese-made trombone and trumpet. We have heard that these may be a stencil line called the Shires Professional model. Don't worry; Shires Custom models will still come from Boston. 

One local dealer said he had received such a stencil horn and thought they were poor, but the maker told me he's still finishing the design, and has not shipped any. In fact, we discussed some F-attachment shapes that he may use. Who knows the truth? I am only the bringer of gossip. 

Eastman does offer a Chinese full double French horn, and it's GREAT. Not horn case, horn. I don't know if it's quite available yet, but one player suggested that this one was cheaper and better than even a US made Farkas model. Stay tuned. Eastman has a good French horn player in-house, so it may be true. Eastman's current trombone designs are not notable. Yet.

Calicchio got new owners recently and at last has some very fine trumpets in limited production. I bought a 1S2 lightweight model trumpet that all the cats liked. 

Calicchio owns the original Williams trombone tooling again, and they are thinking of attempting to produce a trombone, hopefully with better results than the last time. It's on the long list though, as they are hardly able to keep up with demands for their trumpets at the moment. 

Working through Calicchio, LA trumpeter Larry Gianni has designed a new line of trumpet mouthpieces with signature models made for top players from coast to coast. Kanstul is doing the machining.

Schilke also has new owners, and their trumpets may now have a waiting list of a year or more. So, if you see a Schilke trumpet that you like for sale, buy it. 

Schilke has a NEW line of mouthpieces which fix some of the quirks of their traditional line. All their old mouthpieces will still be available alongside the new designs. New trombone mouthpieces will have modern Morse taper #2 shanks that fit much better in new trombones, and a better size range larger than 5G. Look for a Bach style numbering system for consistency. List price for trombone pieces in the new line will be $125.

Los Angeles French horn maker Mark Atkinson has a new model double French horn at around $3200 that raised many eyebrows. Other custom models by Atkinson are priced in the Hans Hoyer range, approaching $6000. Not bad when you consider that it has more parts than a tuba.

I didn't notice any new instruments at Jupiter, but their large bore tenor trombone with the rose brass bell was an excellent player, as was the bass trombone with the yellow brass bell. Rising prices make these less of a bargain, but they are worthy players. Just count on taking the slides in for a tune-up. Tonight show trombonist Matt Finders was pictured with his new Jupiter BBb tuba, which is still great for the money. Local trumpeter Tim Morrison has given thumbs up to the Jupiter C trumpet, which at around $500 is a steal if it works. Finding a good C trumpet can be hit and miss, though this may be a worthy contender. I ordered one. We'll see. Stay tuned.

DEG imports Weril instruments into the US. Weril, made in Brazil, are a bargain, but quality control has been an issue. The alto trombone on display played very well, but the slide quality and weight are still an issue. Buyers might need to invest in a slide rebuild for best action. That may make the Jin Bao alto a better choice for a bargain alto trombone. Stay tuned. Weril large tenor trombones and bass trombones featured new linkage systems, but the ergonomics were poor. The euphonium is still the closest instrument to professional quality that they offer in the low brass arena. Get the silver plate for best finish, though their lacquer finish is improving.

Bam France has a new line of Softpack cases, with a sleek hard plastic front in several colors, a scuff-proof hard plastic bottom, and softer sides with zipper closure. Outside pockets are optional, and the cases are much sleeker without the pocket, though storage space is limited. These cases appear to gently squeeze your horn between the halves to prevent shifting of the horn inside the case. Absent was the Xtralight trombone case, many of which fell apart. Look for an improved reissue of that one.

Glenn Cronkhite, the master case maker from Berkeley California, was suit casing around showing off pictures of his extensive case line for all instruments. I harangued him until he agreed to attend. He spoke to Tom Getzen at length about Tom's offering his fine Edwards horns in Chinese-made copycat Reunion Blues cases rather than Glenn's originals. Glenn met up with old colleagues and may become the main case maker for several boutique guitar and bass companies. I like to support that. Glenn is making a new sleeker alto trombone case sample for Tom, and also offers a new longer triple trumpet case with a large end compartment for mutes.

Humes & Berg's solotone mutes are now back into production. We don't know why they took a year off.

Seen at the NAMM show:

Wandering around were brassists Alan Kaplan, Bob McChesney, Bill Reichenbach, Bill Watrous, Bob Sanders, Mike Millar, Colin Murray, Bob Senescu, Ron King, Deborah Bergeron (husband Wayne being snowed-in on the East coast), Juli Kalu, George Roberts, Bruce Belo, John Sandhagen, The Bones West guys and gals, Robbie Hioki, Les Benedict, Linda Small, Lori Stuntz, Wendell Kelly, Larry Gianni, my henchmen: Robert Coomber, Dylan Heart, Noah Gladstone, and Michael Davis. I do offer my apologies to other friends I haven't remembered to list here.

Other gossip:

Ken Larson stopped by Monday to drop off his custom C trumpet. At over $3000, unlacquered, your wallet may need some counseling. I'm not much of a trumpeter (my Meehan 5 alto mouthpiece limits my high range to about two octaves below Wayne Bergeron's), but as others have said, Ken's may be the world's best. B&S makes custom bells and valves for Ken, and he hand makes all the other parts in his shop.

Steve Shires' new TB trombone rotary valve is now available in limited production, but do add $150 to his boutique priced trombones for the privilege of obtaining one. Shires prices go up February first; jump in now for the best deal.

Michael Rath, formerly of Paxman and now running his own custom trombone shop in the UK, will offer the Swiss-made Rotax rotary valve on his trombones later this year. He's working on a new model, the R5, which features a larger taper bell section, mostly in the tuning slide I believe, which may satisfy those liking the big NY style trombone sound. I've played one. Nice.

Upcoming trombone events in Los Angeles include the annual Boneyard sale at Sandhagen's Sunday April 3 in Claremont, and Trombone Day LA on Saturday April 9 at Cal State Fullerton.

Perhaps I'll see you at the Frankfurt Musikmesse show in April, and the International Trombone Festival in New Orleans in June, where I'll be again accompanying George Roberts.

Steve Ferguson
January 2005

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