INTERESTING BACH INSTRUMENTS

BACH ONE-VALVE FIELD TENOR BUGLE FT9

(Roy Hempley)

 

            Vincent Bach’s records show that he made 11 one-valve field tenor bugles.  The term field tenor bugle is taken from the shop cards associated with these instruments.  In other places, Bach refers to such instruments as field tenor trumpets.

 

            Bach was uncertain about what to call such instruments.  He used terms such as military trumpets, field trumpets and bugles.  The U.S. Army referred to bugles as field trumpets in official documents dating from the late 1890s.  The intent of such instruments was for field communications.  The instruments discussed here are for a different purpose.  By their design, they can more appropriately be considered for drum and bugle corps uses, so this article refers to them as bugles.

 

            Bach kept special notes on some instruments, particularly many that he did not consider mainstream.  He routinely wrote the notes on paper about 5 x 7 inches, using them to record information he wanted to retain such as special orders and design elements.  Bach’s notes used for this article are stored in a folder labeled “Bugles, Field Trumpets”.

 

            Bach’s notes show that these instruments were made for the U.S. Marine Corps, but they do not appear to have been delivered.  That point will be discussed later.  The Marine Corps did not have any records showing that it took possession of any Bach bugles.

 

            While all 11 tenor bugles will be discussed in this article, only one of them, FT9, has been examined.  FT9 is currently owned by Jari Villanueva.  Information about Villanueva, his interests and research can be found at http://tapsbugler.com/.

 

Special Note: Whenever an owner makes an interesting instrument available for examination, the author provides the owner with a compact disc containing an assessment of the instrument and copies of all pictures taken.  As a matter of policy, the author does not divulge the names of owners who wish to remain anonymous.

 

 

Figure 1: Field Tenor Bugle FT9

 

            Obvious features of the bugle are its extensive tubing, a single valve positioned for the right-hand thumb, two water keys and a two-piece bell (see seam about four inches from the bell opening).

 

            The figure below shows the bugle’s serial number.  The number is unlike standard Bach serial numbers. Each part was stamped separately.

 

 

Figure 2: Serial Number

 

            The shop card for tenor bugle FT9 is shown below.

 

Figure 3: FT9 Shop Card

 

            The shop card shows some interesting features, and it opens the door for general discussion about all 11 bugles.

 

            All of these bugles were made with some features similar to Bach trumpets.  In particular, the bell brass came from the American Brass Company (Amer.) in standard trumpet bell thickness for the production period—0.020 inches (Stand.)  The valves were made of Monel.  The bugles were finished in clear lacquer (1 ½ cl.).  The valve fit (15) is an indication of the amount of air leakage detected when the bugle was tested.  Not much is known about the exact test done on the instruments, but anything below 20 was considered an exceptionally tight fit.

 

            This particular bugle was completed on February 19, 1959.  Nine of the eleven bugles were completed on that date.  From the date, it can be assumed that Bach intended to send the bugles to the buyer sometime in the spring of 1959.  There were problems, however.

 

            First of all, FT1, the first bugle made, was completed 10 days earlier on February 9, 1959, but something was wrong with the original design.  Bach’s notes infer that a few corrections were made before the next nine bugles were completed on the 19th.  Finally, an 11th bugle was completed on March 12, 1959.  It might follow that the 11th bugle completed an original set of 10 bugles intended for some customer.

 

            The shop card data also indicates that at least some of the sales were not completed as originally planned.  FT1 was still at the Bach plant and offered as a “bargain sale” in 1962.  This was after Bach sold his company to the Selmer Company.  This is not surprising if this bugle had design problems as suspected.  (Among other things, it was going to play flat.)

 

            The records also indicate that Selmer tried to locate at least some of the bugles in the Bach plant in 1963.  According to the records; FT3, FT4 and FT5 could not be found.  Moreover, none of the records indicate that anyone actually bought any of the bugles.  The Selmer Company was meticulous in determining owners of Bach instruments when any such information was available, so it is significant that Selmer did not know where the bugles went.

 

            Assuming that the bugles were not sold by the Selmer Company, it is not at all clear when or how they happened to appear for sale on the market as did FT9.  FT9 was recently bought on Ebay, but that was not its first known sale.  FT8 was sold on Ebay in 2004.  It was bought through Sothebys purportedly from the estate of John Entwistle, the bass player in the English rock band, The WHO.  (One can only wonder what Vincent Bach might have thought about Entwistle’s use of this instrument.)  FT3, FT9 and FT10 also were resold recently on Ebay after being sold at auction through the estate of a collector.

 

            Some components of the tenor bugles—bell #440 and mouthpipe #412—were adaptations from Bach trombones.  They were used on trombones that had a 0.485 inch bore size, the same as the bore size of the bugles.

 

            The logo on the bell of FT9 was stamped with a standard Mt. Vernon Bach bell stamp.  It is shown below.  (The black mark above the “iv” in Stradivarius was caused by a shadow from the camera.)

 

Figure 4:  Bell Logo

 

            The shop cards indicate that the instruments are 1-valve bugles.  It seems odd that they do not indicate anything about the pitch.  They play in two keys, Bb and F, as noted below.

 

            Bach’s notes mentioned at the beginning of this article are detailed enough so that these instruments possibly could be manufactured today if the notes were followed exactly.  Because of that, only excepts will be presented to make various points about the bugles.  FT9 has been measured to make sure it conforms to the dimensions in the notes.  The exercise was rather tedious, but the results left no uncertainty about the characteristics described in the notes.

 

Figure 5: Tenor Bugle Note 1a

 

            The figure above represents approximately 2 ½ inches of the top of the first note in a sequence of notes describing design features of the bugles.  The notes are the only places that indicate the pitch of these instruments to be Bb changeable to F.  They are also where Bach says the instruments were made for the U.S. Marine Corps.  It might be supposed that they were intended for the U.S. Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps.

 

            The above extract re-confirms the bore size, 0.485 inches.  The bell is shown to be 6 ½ inches in diameter.  Of general interest is the correction in red that shows the cutoff point of the bell at 29 ½ inches before bending.  It is hard to read the original cutoff point, but the change indicates that Bach did not always get his measurements right the first time.

 

            Not shown is a companion Note 1b.  It has some rather serious smudges on it, but the main differences between Notes 1a and 1b are the length of the leg of the first bell branch, the accompanying straight length of the first bell branch and the outside diameter of the tubing leading to the F valve.

 

            Without having the earliest made tenor bugles to examine, it cannot be confirmed that Note 1a refers only to FT1 and Note 2A refers to the remaining 10 bugles.  Nonetheless, that might well account for FT1 being sold as a “bargain” instrument in 1962.  The pitch would have been too low.  (FT9 conforms to Note 1b.)

 

Figure 6: Tenor Bugle Note 2

 

            The above figure is the bottom half of Note 2.  (The top half shows detailed dimensions of the Bb tuning slide.)  The bottom half is relevant because it indicates that the mouthpipe was made from an adaptation of trombone mouthpipe #412 and probably relabeled mouthpipe #412M.  Perhaps the M stands for “modified”.

 

            (The inserted red color blots out the bottom half of two entries indicating the dimensions of the upper and lower tuning slide composition and dimensions.)

 

            Note 2 is interesting for another reason.  It shows a standard hexagonal mouthpiece receiver 2 ¾ inches long.  It does not show the width of the opening of the receiver, but the depth to the mouthpipe is standard for Bach trumpet mouthpiece receivers.

 

            There is a question about the mouthpiece receiver Bach intended for these instruments.  The author is not familiar with Bach trombone receivers.  A late Mt. Vernon catalog shows mouthpieces for standard 7 and 7 ½ inch bell trombones would leave a gap of approximately 1/16 inch.  The measured receiver opening is approximately 0.4725 inches.  Comparing that to the Morse tapered trombone mouthpieces of the manufacturing period; the opening would provide approximately that gap.

 

            What Bach intended for the hexagonal mouthpiece receiver is moot.  FT9 does not use one. The actual receiver on the bugle is shown below.

 

Figure 7: Mouthpiece Receiver

 

            If the receiver is not a hexagonal receiver as shown in Figure 6, how can a mouthpiece be fitted properly to the receiver?  This is not an uncommon concern when trying to find mouthpieces for vintage Bach instruments.

 

            Three important things are needed.  First the opening of the receiver has to fit the shank of the mouthpiece at the right place.  Then the depth to the start of mouthpipe has to be known to ensure that the mouthpiece doesn’t bottom out against the receiver.  (Ideally, an appropriate gap would be retained.)  Finally, the taper of the receiver is needed to help determine if the mouthpiece will wiggle when inserted.  Of lesser importance is the actual length of the receiver.  The one shown above is 1 ¾ inches long, a full half inch shorter than that indicated in Figure 6.

 

            As mentioned earlier, the opening of this receiver is 0.4725 inches, give or take 0.0005 inches.  One of the late Mt. Vernon tenor trombone mouthpieces would fit reasonably well.  Unfortunately, the depth to the mouthpipe cannot be determined.  The end of the mouthpipe may have been “bored” and smoothed out.  The internal surface is smooth.  Finally, the taper of the receiver was measured crudely, but it appears to have a Morse taper.

 

            All late Mt. Vernon mouthpieces used this taper, so any late Mt. Vernon trombone mouthpieces should fit reasonably well.  None were available, so the author borrowed a modern small shank trombone mouthpiece to try.  Conn-Selmer, Inc. calls these mouthpieces Model #350.  It has varying cup dimensions available to achieve different playing objectives.  The external size, however, is identical to that of a late Mt. Vernon tenor trombone mouthpiece.  In particular, a modern 6 ½ AL mouthpiece was tried with good results.  Compared to a late Mt. Vernon mouthpiece, it has a larger throat and backbore that should produce a darker tone quality than that of a Mt. Vernon mouthpiece.  No effort was made to find a better modern mouthpiece for this instrument.  While the 6 ½ AL would work fine for some players, for field work maybe something of a more brilliant tone might be needed.  A small-shank 4 tenor trombone mouthpiece might be better for field use.

 

            There are two notes in Bach’s files that describe the piston for this instrument.  The data presumably are summarized in a technical drawing of the valve.  It has not been reviewed.  Its boiler plate is shown below.

 

Figure 8: Technical Drawing Boiler Plate, Piston Valve

 

            Bach’s notes indicate that the original dimensions of the piston were determined on May 27, 1958.  The dimensions were corrected on January 16, 1959.  Finally, the technical drawing (boiler plate shown above) was codified on January 25, 1959.  This part of the design was thus ready for production in the spring of that year as concluded from the shop card data discussed earlier.

 

            The piston for these instruments was adapted from a standard type E trumpet valve.  The bottom sprung bugle piston will be compared to a type E valve from a nearly new late Mt. Vernon trumpet.  The pistons of the two and their caps have been cross-fit and are almost exact matches except for their lengths and locations of the valve ports.

 

            The pistons from each instrument, bugle and Bb trumpet, have a finished diameter of 0.663 inches.  The barrel of the bugle piston is ¼ inch longer than that of the Bb trumpet.  The casing on the bugle is ½ inch longer than that of the Bb trumpet.  Otherwise, there are enough similarities to confirm that the piston on the bugle is an adaptation of Bach’s type E trumpet valves.

 

            There is one anomaly that cannot be explained, however.  Bach’s notes indicate a stroke of 21/32 inch, whereas the boiler plate above (Figure 8) indicates a stroke of 11/32 inch.  The boiler plate is correct.

 

            The following is the top third of one of Bach’s notes describing how the piston was to be made.

 

Figure 9: Tenor Bugle Piston, Note 4

 

            This note indicates that the pistons on these bugles were ¼ inch longer than type E valves used on Bach Bb and C trumpets.  That tidbit was the first indication that Bach may have adapted trumpet pistons for the valves.  A visual comparison of the FT9 and a Bb trumpet valves is shown below.

 

Figure 10: FT9 Piston (l), Bb Trumpet Piston (r)

 

            The pistons are resting on a standard 12 inch ruler.  The background, however, is a piece of graph paper with five squares to the inch, so only rough estimates of height can be made.  The piston of the bugle FT9 is almost exactly 1/4 inch longer than the trumpet piston as indicated in Figure 9.  Physical measurements show that the pistons are very nearly the same diameter.  The two pistons naturally have the same number of ports, but they are placed in different positions to accommodate the airflow paths in the two instruments.  It is worth noting that the two pistons are from nearly new instruments and have not been re-plated.

 

            The remaining components of the FT9 valve are shown below.

Figure 11: FT9 Valve Components

 

            The upper and lower valve caps along with the finger button are shown above.  The valve is bottom sprung.  That accounts its overall shorter length as shown in Figure 10.  The valves caps and valve button are interchangeable with Bb trumpets from the same period.  The serial number is stamped in the upper valve cap—FT on one side and the number of the instrument on the other.  (The number “9” above appears upside down.)

 

            These instruments are complex in the sense that a long airflow path has to be contained in a compact space.  Figure 5 notes that the bugle is 20 ½ inches long discounting approximately ½ inch where the mouthpiece receiver extends beyond the bell bow.  Essentially, a full trombone length is compacted into overall length and then has added to it enough tubing to convert to the key of F.  The airflow path in Bb is shown below.

 

Figure 12: FT9 Bb Airflow Path

 

            The red arrows in the above figure show the main airflow path.  There are six 180 degree turns in the tubing.  The second turn presents an opportunity for a convenient Bb tuning slide (indicated in blue).

 

            To play in F, the airflow path has to be extended further when the valve is depressed.  The added tubing is shown below.

 

Figure 13: FT9 F Added Airflow Path

 

            Two 180 degree turns are added to the Bb airflow path to lower the pitch to F.  Although it is less convenient that the Bb tuning slide, the forward bend presents an opportunity for an F tuning slide too.

 

            The author realizes that important aspects of these bugles are presented in the 11 notes Bach left in his special folder.  Since the notes have not been presented in any detail, it is difficult to think about the entire process Bach used to write down how these instruments were designed.  From examining a considerable number of Bach’s technical drawings dated from 1924 up until 1962 when somewhat major changes were made to his Bb trumpets, a good argument can be made that Bach developed a knack for converting acoustical features into practical instrument layout with a minimum of effort.  In the case of his tenor bugles, it appears that Bach pressed through the effort with few major mistakes.  To be sure, as discussed earlier in this article, he made two or three errors on his first attempt.  Other than that, there were few dimensions that needed correction while adopting a trumpet valve to fit the complicated airflow layout and still make the bugle handle and balance well.  This design skill undoubtedly resulted from years of designing instruments, modifying them and making them production ready.  If there is anything negative to say, it must be that Bach apparently did not perceive the market for these bugles correctly unless he simply was responding to a specific request that he thought he needed to meet.  One can only wonder what these instruments might have cost had they been sold in 1959 right after they were made.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

            This article could not have been written without the cooperation of Conn-Selmer, Inc. located in Elkhart Indiana.  Conn-Selmer owns the Bach archives and had made them available to the author for a period now extending to almost 15 years.

 

            Conn-Selmer Inc. relies on Tedd Waggoner as the custodian of the Bach archives.  Having held many positions with the company over the span of about 40 years, he now holds the formal position of Sales and Marketing Manager—Bach Instruments.  He does a lot for the author than offer access to Bach’s archives, however.  First of all, the company relies on him to make sure that nothing deemed proprietary and potentially critical to the company is published.  Thus he reviews all of the author’s articles in advance of publication.  Since the author has a good feel for this in the first place, perhaps the most important thing Tedd Waggoner does is help make sure that production processes and materials are not misinterpreted.  Because of his efforts, most of the information presented can be considered reasonably accurate.  (Interpretation and speculation are the responsibility of the author.)

 

            Finally, the author cannot rely solely on the data in Bach’s archives.  Generally speaking, only about half of the data comes from Bach’s archives.  The rest comes from examinations of instruments.  The author does not own all of the instruments examined for these articles.  Many are loaned.  In this case, bugle FT9 is owned by Jari Villanueva.  He has been tireless in trying to help the author understand bugles in general and where Bach bugles fit into the grand scheme of tactical and ceremonial uses.