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Training bursary for musical instrument making

Golsoncott FoundationDeadline: 5pm on Friday 23 February 2024

This training bursary is targeted at trainees and prospective musical instrument making trainees who are experiencing financial hardship. It is sponsored by the Golsoncott Foundation and Jennifer Chen and is one of a suite of awards and bursaries offered by Heritage Crafts to support and celebrate heritage craftspeople.

Apply for up to £4,000 to start training in a musical instrument making craft or to further develop your skills.


 

Musical instrument makingMany people are dissuaded from training in musical instrument making because of the cost, and therefore the make-up of the sector is not truly representative of the mix of backgrounds that make up the UK as a whole. This bursary has been set up to help cover or subsidise the cost of training for someone who would otherwise be prevented from pursuing this career path as a result of the cost.

You could be just starting out on your journey in musical instrument making or at the point where you want to turn a hobby into a career, or you could already be a maker who is looking to further refine your skills.

Musical instrument crafts can include, but are not limited to, the making of complete instruments (such as bagpipes, guitars, steel pans and so on ), or to the specific skills that go into making an instrument (such as strings, valves, keys and so on).

If you are new to a craft and are struggling to find the right training for you, after your own research, please get in touch and we may be able to support. Successful applicants will be supported by the Heritage Crafts team to develop an action plan. We will work with you to monitor progress and support you to achieve your aims.

 

What can this grant be used for?

There are a number of routes to learning a craft skill. Applicants can apply for a grant for any amount up to £4,000 which can cover or contribute towards:

  • the costs of training with a craftsperson;
  • the costs of attending a specialist training course;
  • the costs of attending an accredited training course;
  • undertaking a self-directed programme of training with one or more craftspeople;
  • the cost of specialist tools or materials, books or study materials or low cost travel (no more than 25% of total budget).

The bursary cannot be used for general living expenses, research, promotional activities or anything else. Successful applicants will be supported by the Heritage Crafts team. We will work with to you monitor progress and support you to achieve your aims.

 

How to apply

Please apply by filling out the form below. We will also accept a video application of no more than 15 minutes in length in which you address all of the questions in the form below. You can access a list of questions here.

The deadline for applications is 5pm on Friday 23 February 2024. If you have any questions or need assistance with the application process, please email Tess Osman at tess@heritagecrafts.org.uk.

Assessment, shortlisting and final selection will be carried out by the Heritage Crafts judging team, and interviews will be carried out by Zoom. If you are new to a craft and you would like assistance with finding a trainer, please get in touch and we will do what we can to help.

Brass musical instrument making

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Brass musical instrument making

 

The making of brass instruments such as trumpets, cornets, trombones, horns and tubas etc.

 

Status Endangered
Craft category Instruments
Historic area of significance London and Manchester
Area currently practised UK
Origin in the UK 15th Century
Current no. of professionals (main income) 11-20 (across all brass instruments)
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Current no. of trainees 11-20 (across all brass instruments)
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

Before the invention of valves, most brass instruments were custom made. However, with the development of valves in the 1920s, Vincent Bart introduced the assembly line mass-production of instruments. After that, smaller makers stopped making valves themselves as it was very to reliably craft these bits buy hand and compete on quality with precision-engineered valves. Today, nearly all makers buy in valves and build the instruments around them.

It is not entirely clear how much brass instrument manufacture there ever was in the UK. Boosey & Hawkes was a major manufacturer of brass, string and woodwind musical instruments, but stopped manufacturing in 2003, and today there are only small manufacturers left in the UK. As with many musical instrument crafts, there are many more people doing brass instrument repair than there are making instruments. There are also more amateur makers than those earning their living from the craft.

Elsewhere in the world, the USA has quite a lot of amateurs but only a handful of people who make their living making custom instruments. Bavaria is the centre of custom-made brass instruments, and is the only place in the world with a recognised apprenticeship for brass instrument making and with a journeyman scheme.

UK brass bands have always been supplied by mass producers.

 

Techniques

  • Metal spinning, for making the bells (the flared part of the instrument)
  • Drawing tubes to specific measurements to ensure a good fit with other parts
  • Bending tubes in such a way that preserves the internal dimensions of the tubes which is critical to the acoustics of the instrument
  • Softening sheet/tube brass or nickel so that it can be worked and then becomes hard enough to withstand day to day use
  • Jig making to allow assembled components to be consistent in length and therefore tuning

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

  • Euphonium making
  • Horn making
  • Military fanfare making
  • Trombone making – requires the drawing of tubes to very exact measurements which requires a draw bench and specialist tooling. Slide legs must be straightened by eye with a perfectly flat surface plate, this is one of the most difficult things to teach an apprentice.
  • Trumpet making

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Training issues: The School of Musical Instrument Crafts at Newark does teach brass instrument making, but the course mainly focuses on how to service and repair instruments, rather than make them.
  • Training issues: The rise of videos on YouTube etc. showing how to make instruments has both good and bad sides – some videos are very good and some are very poor and it is hard for the inexperienced maker to distinguish between the two. There is also no major book on the subject.
  • Manufacture versus assembly: Many makers buy in all the parts need to make an instrument and then assemble them, rather than manufacturing at least some of the components themselves. It is very difficult for the consumer to distinguish between makers and ‘assemblers’.
  • Dilution of skills: There is a danger that if too many less talented makers become well known they dilute the talent pool and reputation of the craft, and it then becomes much more difficult for those who are really good to stand out. However, the ones that do stand out are the ones that are making exceptional instruments.
  • Dilution of skills: Like most musical instrument crafts, the sector is dominated by people with the skills to repair instruments, rather than with the higher level skills needed to make instruments from scratch.
  • Loss of skills: A lot of makers subcontract work to the Far East so skills are disappearing. Furthermore, the standard of manufacture worldwide, including in China, has improved, so it is no longer the case that a foreign-made instrument necessarily means a low quality instrument.
  • Loss of skills: While there are plenty of people able to make brass instruments, there are not many people who are able to design an instrument from scratch.
  • Shortage of skills: Very few makers have the acoustic understanding to make bells (the flared part of the brass instrument, made using metal spinning techniques); Rath Trombones and Andy Taylor do.
  • Market issues: In order to make a living, you need to make 30-50 instruments are year – anything less than that and it’s a hobby rather than a living.
  • Market issues: Handmade instruments are far more expensive than mass-produced instruments – e.g. £3,000 versus £100 for a trumpet. Therefore it is important to find the right market, which tends to be part-time players with plenty of money who are looking for something exclusive (perhaps 70% of the market). Professional players do also buy custom made instruments, which give the brand the credibility for ordinary people to want one.
  • Market issues: Smith-Watkins make fanfare instruments for the armed forces, with a full set lasting about 10 years and costing about £30,000. The Ministry of Defence requires instruments from specialist instrument makers but is not looking to the future or considering what they will do if/when the company closes.
  • Market issues: Instruments manufactured in the UK, and particularly those by London-based companies, suffer from the cost of rent etc. which means that the instruments have to be more expensive to cover this.
  • Market issues: Few trombone players want to pay for high quality, handmade instruments. The UK orchestral market is extremely conservative and has been dominated by one US brand for many years. Things do appear to be changing though. The UK Jazz and banding scene is much more open minded.
  • Marketing issues: The internet has made it much easier to sell internationally and market oneself.
  • Material characteristics: In many ways, a brass instrument is much more complicated than a wooden instrument – it has moving parts which need to work reliably. Metalworking is noisy and expensive and requires a workshop – hence there are far fewer custom metal instrument makers than wooden instrument makers.
  • Covid 19 has posed a significant threat to brass instrument makers. One company has reported a 50% drop in orders and the loss of 5 members of staff.
  • Access to allied trades: Chrome plating companies and lacquering facilities are increasingly difficult to find. Rath Trombones send their slides to the US for chroming which is only feasible with large batches.

 

Support organisations

Craftspeople currently known

In the UK, brass instrument makers tend to specialise in particular instruments.

  • Denis Wick, London – specialises in mouthpieces and mutes.
  • Andy Taylor (Taylor Trumpets), Norwich – specialises in trumpets.
  • Richard Smith (Smith-Watkins), Yorkshire – specialises in trumpets. Richard is in his 70s and his colleague is in his 50s.
  • Paul Rigget (Sterling Musical Instruments), Bedfordshire – specialises in euphoniums, basses and trumpets.
  • Tom Fisher, Fisher Horns – specialises in French Horns

Businesses employing two or more makers:

  • Michael Rath Trombones, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire – specialise in trombones. Has at least one trainee.
  • Paxman Musical Instruments Ltd, London – specialise in horns. Build around 150 instruments a year, and also sell student line (made in China) and instruments made by other makers, and do maintenance and repair. Have four skilled craftspeople but no trainees.
  • Eclipse Trumpets, Luton, Bedfordshire – specialise in trumpets.
  • Taylor Trumpets

 

Other information

Given the number of enthusiastic players who enjoy tinkering and go on to make their own instruments, brass instrument making is not considered to be critically endangered.

The demise of Boosey and Hawkes (Besson) has really opened up the market (banding particularly) and allowed the smaller manufacturer to come to the fore. The consumer has more choice which has pushed ups standards and allowed more modern designs to flourish.

 

References