How Bells are Cut

"Don't try this at home"

John Ericson

Versions of this article have been re-printed in IHS regional horn newsletters for Arizona, Iowa, and New England.

This is very much in the "don't try this at home" category, but as my students often ask how bells are cut I know there is interest in seeing how this is done.

My Doctoral program at Indiana University had a requirement that I have two minor fields and I was lucky enough to be able to design a special minor in Brass Instrument Design and Construction to fulfill part of this requirement, working closely with the well-known natural horn maker and player Richard Seraphinoff. Besides making a natural horn with his help that really turned out quite well (thank you Rick!) and also making several lead pipes on his mandrels (one I made is actually mounted on the horn illustrated below) I also was able, with Rick in the shop to double check my work, cut the bell on my Yamaha 667.

First, the photo.

A newly cut bell!

The short version of the process is this. You first take the bell/bell tail as a unit completely off the horn. This requires unsoldering several braces and the joint between the bell tail and the first branch. The next step is the most critical; the male ring is soldered on the bell and must be absolutely perfectly lined up. I used Alexander rings. After it is solidly soldered on you use a saw (next to the lead pipe in the photo) and carefully cut the bell to separate the bell from the bell tail. If you are at all squeamish you won't want to see the cut in progress. The photo above was taken just after cutting the bell. Next the female ring is soldered on the now free bell tail and the horn reassembled. The process is in a sense quite straightforward repair work but much care must be exercised and it does take at least a day of solid work in a very well equipped shop to accomplish.

I later actually cut the bells on two other horns I owned but I have now officially retired from cutting bells! This really is a job for a pro. I have an immense respect for those craftsmen who make horns; it is truly an art.

In terms of playing qualities, I have found that either the horn felt essentially the same or perhaps better after cutting the bell. I have not personally noted any negative results in the playing qualities of cut bell instruments. If you are considering having your bell cut it could be a great investment. It certainly makes travel easier. But don't cut that bell yourself!

Copyright John Ericson. All rights reserved. 


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