Reeves Precision Valve Alignment
Simply put, a valve alignment is a series of precise adjustments made to ensure their is proper alignment of a brass instruments' pistons in relation to their corresponding openings in their valve casings.
This type of service doesn't alter the instrument physically. Typically, graduated pads are utilized to ensure the pistons are in the optimum position when in the up- and down-stroke position. The materials used by Bob Reeves ensures the alignment will remain effective for many years.
Reeves uses sophisticated equipment to accurately measure the alignment of each instrument prior to the alignment and afterwards. This offers an interesting quantified record of the type of impact the alignment has on the instrument.
There are many shops that offer a precision valve alignment, but Bob Reeves is generally accepted as setting the industry standard for this type of service. After enjoying a rather dramatic improvement in the performance of an circa 1985 Bach Trumpet after a Reeves' Precision Valve Alignment, I wondered if a correspondingly dramatic improvement could be possible with a Yamaha 204MS Mellophone in F.
Reeves' recommends alignments for even brand new instruments for the following reasons:
All manufactured horns suffer from accumulated tolerances. On top of that most horns use either felt, rubber, or neoprene pad material, none of which is stable. If you are lucky enough to get a horn that has good alignment from it's maker, because of the unstable pad material, the alignment will continually change.
The impact of the alignment for this particular mellophone was lessened somewhat by the instrument's great alignment from the factory as indicated in the alignment report (see above). The first and second valves were a thousandths of an inch off on the upstrokes, but all other tolerances appear to be close.
The precision valve alignment reduced these errors to +/- .001". Surprisingly, there was a slightly noticeable difference in the playing characteristics of the instrument. Evenness of scale and what felt like a ease in range extremes were the most notable improvements.
To facilitate a correction in down stroke alignment, the Reeves shop had to remove the felt rings from the valve taps and install padding material underneath the valve buttons (see below).
Reeves also stamps each valve button and cap with its valve number so that the end user won't accidentally "undo" an alignment through improper reassembly after cleaning. Reeves utilizes padding material that resists chemicals and repeated compressions and should hold its shape for many years.
Despite the relatively close alignment prior to the adjustment at the Reeve's shop, there was a slight improvement to the playing characteristics of the horn. An improvement in the instrument's intonation was immediately notice and slurs felt more even.
Most noticeably was an improvement in the locking of slots on the horn. The 204 already had great slotting characteristics, but the alignment helped to define the slots even further.
An unanticipated benefit was a slight openness in the instrument's upper register. I didn't notice this until playing through a flow study. A high D above C is typically the highest note I can achieve that is centered. However, an open high E-flat above C awaited me after the alignment!
While an improvement is more noticeable on the high horns (B-flat, E-flat, A, etc.), an alignment will noticeably improve F mellophones. Considering the pricing of new mellophones, $175 is not necessarily an unreasonable price to pay, but it is an important consideration.
Reeves returned the instrument very quickly and the whole process was completed in less than a week. A call to their shop will let you know what the expected lead time would be so that you can ship your instrument knowing when you could expect it to return.
The shop included a lead pipe swab and encouraged the end user to swab their instrument's lead pipe after every practice. The advice does emphasize the impact a dirty horn has on its playing characteristics, particularly in the mouthpiece and lead pipe. This swab worked well on the Yamaha 204.
-Scooter Pirtle (email)
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