2014 Germany Trip Part 2 - Dieter Otto April 23 2014, 1 Comment

A week with master craftsman Martin Ecker

(owner of Dieter Otto e.K.)

This story starts at the end of July 2013, when Siegfried's Call and Dieter Otto shared exhibit space at the IHS Symposium in Memphis Tennessee. Martin Ecker, owner of Dieter Otto e.K., brought with him the first production model of an all piston double compensating horn. Like all other horn players I thought to myself, "why bother?". After testing the instrument and through the discussions that followed, I realized the importance of such an endeavor. Firstly, Martin makes the piston valves in house. He told me that through his trumpet manufacturing there isn't really a good source anymore in Germany for top quality piston valves.  Thus, he needed to make them. Secondly, the compensating double horn is always made with rotor valves that have a (D) shaped air column. Important to note that with a compensating horn the air flows through the valve twice for the low F side. It is his argument that a piston valve is closer to a (O) shape and therefore the length of tubing taken up by 2 passes through the valve create a more "in tune and stable" performance experience.  The piston exchange valve was located in the center of the horn with an incredibly quiet, comfortable, and effective linkage system. After experiencing this horn..... my head started to fill with ideas... by the end of the week we had a plan....

A piston exchange valve isn't new... What's the big deal?

(pre WWI Wunderlich C.F.Schmidt copy made by Carl Geyer in Chicago USA)

No it is not... C.F. Schmidt first came out with their double horn in Weimar, Germany in 1900. This was 3 years after the first Bb/F double horn was created by the Kruspe company on Oct. 5th 1897. The C.F. Schmidt was unique in their design implementing a piston exchange valve. Over the last 100+ years many players have enjoyed the sound and the performance of that very same design. Most people today are chasing after horns that provide this authentic sound, but it is difficult to find. Only a few makers in the world offer a C.F. Schmidt copy, and many have tried to copy the tapers over the decades since. The big deal is this... the location and the functionality of the piston on the original C.F. Schmidt double horns has always been an ergonomic nightmare.... this nightmare is partially what inspired Carl Geyer in his in-line valve design.... The compensating double horn from Dieter Otto was in a great location, with an ergonomic dream.... the first I had seen of a successful piston transplant... but what about the tapers?

Tapers give your sound rules...

We were visiting with friends Jeff Broumas and Lou Denaro during the week at Memphis, and Jeff mentioned having a pre WWI C.F. Schmidt Weimar-Berlin... just the horn we were looking for.... and Lou had a mouth pipe he had tested on many a horn and said it was a good start...   Soooooo..... we sent the newly purchased Weimar-Berlin horn to Germany for analysis and Martin went searching for a form that may have made that horn... The search led him to Markneukirchen, Germany... He was able to find the original form that made our horn bell flare.....  HOW EXCITING!  We not only had the horn, but also the original bell form to make the bell.... 

the BIG idea

Let me catch you up now to what was going on in my head at the time....  I loved the placement of the piston exchange valve on the compensating horn, and immediately bridged to creating a new C.F. Schmidt double horn with an exchange valve more centrally located. This idea will come... but this is Phase II of the project.... Phase I is to create a horn with original tapers (ever so slightly modified for modern intonation standards) using the philosophy and concept of Carl Geyer (namely just the inline rotor design). Keep the horn all brass, and be as authentic as possible.  This includes a copper plated steel wire in the bell rim. (just like they used to do it)

only a week to work - enough time to get it done?

I dropped my wife off at the Munich airport to say goodbye... sad to see her go, but as life demands it, other responsibilities required her elsewhere.

when the federal German police say pullover... don't wait

Now alone for a week with Martin Ecker, we drove directly from the airport to Markneukirchen to meet with the bell maker and the valve maker for this new horn. We have no time to sit on our thumbs, a great deal of work is ahead of us to make sure every production horn from the prototype is like the last. On our way to Markneukirchen, we had an interesting stop to make after cutting through the Czech Republic...

after returning to Germany the federal police pulled us over to check the vehicle for drugs or whatever... we had to drive about 1 kilometer because there were side rails to the windy uphill road where they wanted us to pull over... we pulled over at the nearest "safe" place and got a harsh lecture with police standing on all corners of the vehicle at the ready... note to self... when the federal German police say pullover... don't wait

After our eventual meeting with the bell and valve boys of Markneukirchen, we sped off to Markt Sankt-Weit... where the company Dieter Otto and Martin Ecker call home. The following days flowed quickly and we had a mountain to climb... some techniques I cannot share due to confidentiality agreements, however I will say that I was challenged by Martin every day, improved my own craft, learned an incredible amount with regards to horn manufacture (which helps with repairs in our shop). We built forms and jigs, filled and bent tubing, hand hammered bracing, lapped slides and valves... am I dreaming?  Martin talks a great deal about the soul of the horn... and has developed techniques that are a nice balance between the old traditional ways, and modern techniques needed to be able to reproduce a horn consistently. Before I knew it.. the week was over and we were celebrating the birth of the first 3 production horns.... but all week long we struggled with the name.  Is it a "Geyer" horn? A C.F. Schmidt? A Bacon-Ecker, or Ecker-Bacon, or a Dieter Otto thingie? (inside Ion Balu joke).... pictured below is the new horn and a humble bottle of Weissbier to celebrate.

Dieter Otto Mod. 205 Weimar-Berlin

Well it says it there... we wanted to first give tribute to the tapers of the horn.  We believed that most people will look at it and think it is just another "Geyer" horn on the market, so we wanted to draw more attention to its true roots. Although some may think it is made in Weimar or Berlin... it is not.. It is made in the Dieter Otto workshop in Markt Sankt-Weit. The numbering system works within the current structure for manufactured instruments implemented by Martin Ecker. The instrument is now listed on our website and can be found by clicking here. This project has been such a joy for me to work on with Martin Ecker. During the week we became closer friends, shared stories, meals, and even some secrets. I can't imagine working with anyone else on a project so close and dear to me.


Special Thanks: Andrea, David, Martin, Harry, Micha, the lady at the Lufthansa counter, Benjamin, Bernd, Max, Vitaly, Jeff B., Lou, Sarah, Leelanee, Wei-Ping, Rachel, Dale, Rhonda, Scott M., Lacey, Jeff N., Alex, and many many more.....  you all had a part in this....