Schmid Bell Spots

After almost a year of ownership, I still love my Engelbert Schmid double horn.  For me, it was the right choice in terms of sound, craftsmanship, and efficiency.  However, despite everything these horns have going for them, they – like any other mechanical device – aren’t perfect. Reading this article by Bruce Hembd reminded me of a few of the drawbacks of these horns.  In his article, Bruce notes that the extreme lightness of the horns – something I’ve always considered a strength – could in fact be a disadvantage.

Of all the horns I played at the conference, the Schmid doubles felt the easiest and most secure to play. Playing on it in fact, almost felt too easy. Its sound glows like sunshine in all ranges, but somehow, I remained suspicious.

A few passersby noted that Schmid double horns sound very good up close, but do not carry well in a large hall.

Though I haven’t put this to the test in a large hall with a decibel meter, I suspect that a larger bell with a garland might improve any loss of projection with these horns.  There is also the option of trying heavier weight mouthpieces and/or other devices which increase the mass of the instrument. While I am generally very happy with the bell I ordered with the horn (medium flare, spun brass) I’ll be looking into other options just so that I can have some more versatility. Schmid manufactures a variety of sizes and alloys for their bell flares, which are cross-compatible on all of their horns.

One other issue I’ve come across is “bell spots;” discoloration of the brass underneath the lacquer.  These began to develop a few weeks after the horn arrived, and seem to be concentrated around the bell rim and ring.  Here is a photo.

Though they’re a little unsightly on an otherwise beautiful instrument, the spots are purely cosmetic and don’t seem to affect the playing characteristics of the horn in any way.  Schmid offers the following explanation and a treatment method for these spots on his website.

In some cases, despite the most careful degreasing and drying before the lacquering process, black spots can develop under the lacquer, mainly around the bell rim.
The reason for this is that remains of the solvents used in cleaning are trapped under the lacquer and are prevented from evaporating. Piercing the lacquer with a needle where a black spot begins will keep it from getting any larger.

Unfortunately, in my case pin-pricking the lacquer didn’t seem to help stop the spread of the spots.  Perhaps the high humidity here exacerbated the problem? I was also worried about damaging the lacquer and making it susceptible to peeling or flaking.  After a few months the spots stopped spreading, and I basically forgot about them until a colleague of mine in an orchestra noticed (he also plays a Schmid)  and said “you paid too much for that horn for it to look like that!”  This was the metaphorical kick in the rear I needed,  so I contacted Dennis Houghton recently to find out if there was anything that could be done.  Dennis originally sold me the horn, and got back to me very quickly.  He generously offered to strip the lacquer over the discolored areas, and “spot lacquer” those places to protect them.  I haven’t had a chance to get over to Dennis’s shop, but I’ll be making a trip there later this semester.  Once the work is completed I’ll post a follow-up with pictures.

Are there any Schmid – or any other kind of horn – owners out there who’ve encountered this same issue? Was the pin-prick method successful, or did you end up taking it to a repair person?

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