Thursday, 11 December 2008

Gid in Tuba Heaven

"Welcome Mr.Gideon Juckes" (!)
Dear Cecil,
I had a really eye-opening time at the Yamaha factory yesterday. I was lucky enough to be invited to the Yamaha factory in Saitama to have a tour and play their custom F Tuba, YFB-821, which I played in a shop last year, and completely fell in love with.
The Saitama factory specialises in horns and low brass, employs 249 people, and produces about 200 instruments a day. 70% of these are exported. Yamaha also has factories in Hamamatsu, China and the Philippines, making other wind instruments.
Previously, I didn't know alot about the manufacture of brass instruments, and generally presumed that all instruments are mechanically made, and that perhaps the custom made, high end ones are assembled by hand. I had a big surprise. The first thing that shocked me when we entered the Custom factory was that it was dead quiet. There are no machines in there. All of the piping on the custom horns and tubas is shaped by hand, so all you hear is the occasional tapping of a small hammer, smoothing out bends on bows and leadpipes. Then I was introduced to the custom tuba team. There were two of them! These two guys manufacture every single part of a tuba by hand, including all the braces and valve linkages, and piston and rotary valves. It takes them a month to make a tuba. Even the bell rim is hand-rolled. I had no idea of the amount of skill and hard work that goes into the process of custom building these instruments.
After that, we toured the main factory floor, where the other models are made. This was more as I expected, with furnaces and sanding robots, and rows of guys in masks buffing sousaphone parts, but I was still shocked to see the teams of people hand assembling valve blocks. Then we had a look at quality control, where the instruments are blown, and a machine checks them for leaks, which actually seemed like a pretty fun job. Everybody in the factory, although working very hard (they stopped for a ten-minute cigarette break, the only break in the 4 hours I was there), seemed to be in good humour, and I was amazed to learn that one of my heroes, Tora-San, actually used to work in the factory as a buffer, before he got famous. I also learnt that the first tuba I learnt on, back in Hastings in the late eighties, was built in this factory.
After a tea break, and a chat about Bellowhead (the staff had been checking us out on Youtube, prior to my visit, and loved the band!), I had a play on the instruments. This is the second tuba of this model that I've played, and it just reconfirmed to me that I need it in my life, big time! It was so easy to play, and I didn't have to fight it at all. This is a general characteristic of Yamaha instruments, but, unlike other Yamaha tubas I have played, this custom model had alot of character to it's sound, it really sang in the high register, and it's low-register was absolutely huge for such a small instrument.
So I left, kicking and screaming. Such a shame that this is really not a good moment to be spending pounds (an understatement, I'm currently saving up for a toffee crisp). Looks like I've got some waiting, and then some serious haggling to do!

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