Services  |  Customizations

A wide range of customizations are available, “from the ground up.” Really, just about anything one could possibly want t have done can be done, and the only questions are of cost vs. gain. My own tenor, for example, is a Conn Chu Berry on which I’ve switched out the original, more difficult upper and lower stacks, and left hand table, for much faster & more comfortable Keilwerth keywork (the horn from which the keys were filched was actually a vintage German-made stencil, which used the same keywork and hardware as Keilwerth, in the same period). For me, this kind of massive undertaking was worth it. To do it for hire, though, would be very expensive, and for some it would be worth it and for some it would not.

Similarly, I have recently converted a Buescher True-Tone soprano in a nice vintage range to modern keywork (including Yanagisawa/B&S styled left hand pinky table), because for me this brings together the best of two worlds — the best vintage soprano, with the best modern keywork layout. A few pictures of this completely refigured horn follow below. On a custom job of this size and time requirement, there are a number of choices to be made, particularly in terms of time; the soldering work, for example, is not as neat on the True-Tone tone conversion as it would be if I had done this work for hire. On the one hand, I originally intended to have the body goldplated, which would hide soldering shadows, and on the other hand to do more extensive clean-up work would involve many more hours of labor. The final product is a compromise between the obligation to make the work very durable (so that the mounting hardware is as dependable, and long lasting and problem free as original keywork) without spending a lifetime on the prep and clean-up work, and also has a small amount to do with the solder used (non-lead solder, which is a little more durable but also less willing to spread agreeably than lead solders). Also, I was just plain anxious to get the horn playing, out of nothing but the urge to play it. There are a few last touches yet to be completed: redo palm F and side Bb keys; and goldplate chromatic F# key, Eb fork, and neck octave key.

I believe in the case of the True-Tone, this is the first time this type of conversion has ever been done.

Buescher True-Tone soprano with modern keywork:

I’ll put a webpage up, linked here, soon, with detailed notes about the Conn. Meanwhile, there are notes & photos below, to give some examples of custom work (and just to post some pics of the horn in what seems the most appropriate spot on my site). Only a relatively limited number of types of customization were done on this horn – or are still pending, so many customizations are not described or documented below, such as customizations particular to specific makes, and necks (modern Selmer necks, for e.g., tend to like some particular dimensions and to benefit from number of modifications, in many cases). As far as prices for customizations go, I ask $65/hr, on the clock, plus cost for parts. Jobs the size of this Conn, or the Buescher, tho, will be charged at a (not modest) flat rate.

Clicking on the thumbnails will link to larger photos:

Before finding my Chu tenor, I had been looking for a candidate for this kind of retooling for some time. My favorite sound is vintage Conn, and of the Conns my favorite voice is the Chu’s. Chus just tend to be a bit deeper, if a little less projecting, than 10Ms, but my favorite keywork is the Mark VI’s; the only reason I had not put the two together earlier was the lack of the right horns, at the right time. Once I found this Chu, and played the neck on my 10M, I knew this was the horn for the job. I chose to use a Keilwerth in-line vintage horn for the keywork, because this would give me the closer, faster, more modern main keyboard, along with a design that, heavily influenced by Conn, fell right in line for the most part with Conn’s tonehole layout. I wanted to stay with a non-ribbed construction, to keep the horn as close to original feel and performance as possible (Chus are horns that VIBRATE, and I did not want to discourage this one from doing its thing). Vintage Keilwerth keywork was the best candidate on a number of counts — among them that the left hand table can be mounted without removing the bell-body brace (see below).

Besides being an extremely promising player, this Chu was in near-museum condition, and would have been a collector’s item, had I done a restoration. I kept some of the original keywork, with minor modifications, for example the palm keys; the original palm keys were a little low, and the Eb was shorter than ideal, so I added epoxy risers. The next alterations I make will be a high D extension which allows the high Eb to be played with both Eb and D open, but only the Eb depressed. I’ll also add an F# helper bar, improve on the G# system, including a no-stick spring addition, when time permits. I’m considering changing out the front-F design for Yamaha; I really like the Yamaha Custom’s front-F design, for feel and function.

Vintage Conns have a small, pearl button for a thumbrest, that is a little uncomfortable to play on for long stretches. I’ve replaced the Conn thumbrest mounting with a Yamaha mounting and Yamaha thumbrest. The octave mechanism and mounting hardware are Keilwerth/Dorfler. I originally mounted a cosmetically stunning, pearl-inlaid, wide Keilwerth-style thumbrest, featuring the cut-out that accomodated the teardrop Keilwerth design, but it felt a bit awkward. The teardrop octave key rest has been altered to conform to the curve of the Yamaha thumbrest, and it still is a tiny bit too far right for me. At my next opportunity, I’ll add a bit of an epoxy wing to the thumb touch, extending it to the left.

One nice thing about changing to the Keilwerth mechanism was that the left hand stack sits a tiny bit lower, relative to the player, on a Conn than on a Keilwerth; this makes mounting the thumbrest (for best comfort) a bit challenging, when combined with placing the octave key mechanism at the right height, vertically, both for ergonomic and mechanical function. I managed to make everything fit just right, with the body octave lever almost completely projected, unlike those of most vintage horns; this is one of the nice things about Yamahas, that their design does not leave the octave key mechanism open to the damage that other horns often suffer, when transported without a neck plug. Most of the upper stack was a breeze, but the octave key vent and mechanism are executed very differently on the Conn. The solution is a bit strange, inasmuch as the G linkage needs a very FAT cork, but functionally the result is very nice & smooth.

Though the left hand table was one of my main reasons for changing the keywork, I’m not satisfied with the results.* The early keywork design I used, a “Balanced Action” style construction has an inherent flaw in the way that the C# keyarm is designed. It flares out to the side too much when depressed, because of the arc of the key arm’s motion. I’ve made several changes to the low B touch, to faciliate the C# to B slide, canting it downward (this is a modification that can make a VI or Yamaha Custom much slicker, here, too), lengthening the face of the B touch both so that the tip of the finger has better leverage when playing the B by straight downward pressure, and so that the slide from C# is a bit more sure. I’ve also raised the surface of the C# and altered it with several bends to minimize the sideways action of the key; raising it and bringing it into a position where it actually overlaps the B slightly (without any compromised action) allows not only for a better C# to B slide but a better C# to Bb slide. Low C# to Bb can also be a challenge on this early modern keywork design. Ultimately, I’m not satisfied with the LH table results. Unless this changes, after I’ve been playing on this horn longer, I’ll likely go ahead and change it out for either a modern Yamaha or Cannonball left hand table, and go ahead with the bell-body brace change.

*See below for an update. Regarding the table – I’ve since replaced the BA-styled table with Cannonball keywork and hardware.

Modern, Yamaha keyguards make adjustments to bell key heights, and protection of the keycups much better. On Conns, the low C and Eb keycups are particularly exposed, and the low C’s seating and adjustment are extremely easy to compromise, even by simply resting the horn in one’s lap. The Yamaha (i.e. Selmer-styled) key guards provide much better protection; I kind of thought I would like the look of them, as well (I do). The original Conn low Eb/C were kept, and their ergonomics, with the new lower stack, actually feel better than originally. The Eb needs a little help yet, and I will probably eventually as a slight extension to it, including a wing, for more sure “footing” when sliding up from low C. The lower stack had to have a bit more radical mechanical work done to install than the upper stack; the original Keilwerth/Dorfler F# key cup was too small, so the original Conn F# cup was used. I toyed with the idea of changing the F# linkage arm to a modern (double screw) one, but am glad I didn’t because I would have to undo it in order to add the extension I would like to add. After adding the F# helper (because it will be necessary to offset the leverage change), I’m doing to extend the F#-to-G# linkage so that the linkage arm contacts the G# cup at the center of the cup, rather than the side. I think this will give a tiny bit more solid action to the G# arm, especially when the automatic G# is activated, i.e. for bell key articulations, for example.

When taking out keywork and mounting hardware, there is not just alot of soldering but soldering clean up. If you look, you’ll see smooth spots where Conn hardware once was. The plating on this horn was original, and after touching up the silver plating it will be a bit less blemished from the remaining solder “shadows” of old hardware feet. When soldering on new hardware, it’s possible to be a bit more “invisible” in bonding the new hardware with solder, but I prefer to make sure that the entire rib or foot is bound to the horn by solder, and to allow for a bit of soldering evidence. Applying less solder may make for less evidence that a repair has been made, but mechanically speaking it will not survive the test of time (i.e., the bond will break and the part will fall off, eventually, if solder is not applied to the entire contact surface.

Making keys was probably the funnest part of this job. The little rocker mechanism you see behind the low Bb key is the linkage to the low Bb lever. The posts are Conn posts, as is the original key from which the rocker is tooled. I had never seen a refiguration of keywork like this done when I started this job, so coming up with practical, creative solutions to mechanical problems was much more necessary than on most customization work; all of these customizations were made with both feel and function in mind. The key touch lever’s links to the rocker, for example, closer to the fulcrum and the key cups arm further, so that relatively little motion of the Bb lever moves the Bb cup a relatively greater distance. Similarly, though the high E key touch is the Keilwerths (and therefore modern, arced/ergonomic design), I added a riser to bring it closer to the finger, and make it conform to the finger’s actual position when operating the key. I kept the side Bb and C mechanisms of the Conn, and they are a bit lower, relative to the German main stack touches than with the original, but I kind of like this; the slightly more downward movement is actually faster for me than the more sideways action, and I don’t notice the difference in placement now that I’m accustomed to the horn.

Yamaha thumbrest. I made this substitution in part because it gives so much flexibility in terms of what kind of thumbrests can be put on, with only the turn of a screw. Ponzol, Tim Glessman, and several others (including Yamaha) make thumbrests that are interchangeable on this hardware. I’m not satisfied, though, with the feel of this thumbrest, even after moving the mounting position around several times (i.e. longitudinally — the rest is adjustable up & down, as well as side to side). I like Ponzol’s design, in the abstract, but haven’t had any yet myself, so trying one is a natural next step.

Probably, eventually, I will end up reinstalling a forked Eb for this horn. I just wanted to try a simpler, more modern design first, as I have never found myself applying the forked option for any of the special voicings it helps articulate, in my own playing. For now, the forked Eb is covered with a penny. The low B cup is actually a reworked low D cup. In this photo, you’ll see the sloppiest work that I did on this horn; it’s sloppy aesthetically, but there’s a logic to it. The C# linkage arm had to be made in something of a peculiar way, because on the Conn the C# cup is not located in the same place, longitudinally, as on the Keilwerth; it’s too close to the top/center line of the horn to allow for proper leveraging while mounting the C# key to coordinate well with the Bb and B keys, so I had to make the linkage in such a way that the turning of the key tube made the linkage touch move vertically the greatest distance possible; further, because there is relatively heavy pressure on the C# key, I wanted excess silver solder to provide support for the soldered-together linkage/tube joint. Another relatively sloppy solder joint is that of the added low Bb regulation foot, which also has excess solder on it to discourage the solder from giving way, since it must act as part of the key rather than just as an adhesive force. At the brace, you can see the way that it was possible to “rewire” the low B key to wrap around the brace, in order that the LH table could be mounted without changing out the bell-body brace.

The only basic piece of equipment not yet on this horn is the clothesguard, for the backside of the lower stqack. I have the bulky vintage metal Keilwerth guard, from the donor horn, but would rather put on a smaller, lighter, more attractive guard; I’ve ordered a Yamaha 875 clothesguard, but it’s just not here yet. It will be gold, like the cup guards.

The left hand table. Epoxy risers extend the Bb touch in different ways, for different finger actions. The pinky tip’s resting area is lengthened and broadened go provide surer action when using a pressing action, and a slight wing is built up at the back of the key for contact with the second digit of the finger when sliding downward. There are teflon patches on the low C# touch — looks bad but works well. The teflon trick is not recommended, because they need regular replacing; they just are a bit smoother and less apt to snag a finger that should keep moving, when sliding. This table probably is not going to stay. It’s worlds better than the original table, for me, but the final result can still be better, I think, if I go ahead and revise it again. There’s probably a way I can get away with just substituting a rocker low Bb keytouch, and fashioning a VI-type mechanism, but I want to move the whole table toward the center a bit, so probably I will indeed end up installing the left hand table hardware from a modern horn.


I did finally go ahead and redo the LH table with Cannonball keywork, finally, mostly for the sake of improving slides between C#-to-B and Bb from both the other bell tones. I also ended up reinstalling the forked Eb, which probably will get some further alterations, including a keyguard, and redone E linkage, later. A couple of pics:

Since customizing the Chu, I also got back in trade a Transitional model Conn tenor that I really like, and that has been matched to a Gloger solid silver neck, with LH table from Keilwerth Tone King added. A few pics of this job (risers/extensions on G# still “under construction” – C# could be put flush with table, but it’s better functionally a bit higher, as it makes slide to Bb better, and slide to B better, because it doesn’t depress quite so far below either when operated):

A few other types of customizations and additions:

F-F# support linkage (solidifies G#-F#-F linkage, and makes adjustments to it easy):

B-C# support linkage

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