First, Merry Christmas! Second, I've posted a new video on my YouTube Channel. It's Teutonic Tales #1: Damon - Tanz.
Now for the important stuff! A few weeks ago I had the distinct pleasure of traveling to Waldkraiburg, Germany to visit the Miraphone factory. Christian Niedermaier was kind enough to pick me up at the airport in Munich and drive me to meet with German Tubist, Dirk Hirthe.
My purpose for meeting with Dirk was to discuss German tuba philosophy; when and and why they use bass or contrabass tubas. This was an interesting discussion. I learned that German tubist typically play bass tuba (F or E-flat) by default and switch to contrabass (CC or BB-flat) when specified. For those of you who don't know, this is the opposite of what we do here in the states.
After meeting with Dirk, Christian took me to the Miraphone factory (picture 1, below). At the factory I tried most of the instruments in the show room (picture 2, below). There were many instruments to choose from, including pretty much all of their inventory.
Miraphone starts the manufacturing process with raw materials like brass tubing (picture 3, below) and huge rolls of brass sheet. They make basically everything for all the instruments in the factory. This ensures that all of the materials are of the highest quality.
Picture 4 is a picture of a tube after being bent and expanded. There are actually two angles in this one. Once it’s bent it’s put in the steel mold and expanded in a press machine with an oil mixture under extremely high pressure. This tube fits the Petruschka. When I first looked at this part I began to realize just how many steps are involved in going from raw materials to a finished product. There are literally thousands. The process can be loosely broken down into drawing, bending, expanding, spinning, soldering/assembly, polishing, and finishing.
In picture 5 on the left are some of the assembled instruments that are awaiting final polishing. In the background on the right are bells. Picture 6 shows a 186 BB-flat tuba being lacquered. It’s in a booth which is designed to minimize the amount of dust and other contaminants in the air from getting in the lacquer.
In addition to meeting people from Miraphone and touring the factory, I was there to pick out a new Petruschka F tuba. The one in the show room had a silver finish. I was able to choose between two unfinished Petruschkas. It was a difficult decision because they both played well and were close enough to each other that they were almost indistinguishable. Picture 7 shows the instrument I ultimately chose.
Before Miraphone ships it to me they’ll switch-out the leadpipe, add a tuning-slide kicker, add water keys, polish, and silver plate it. I was astonished to learn that about 30% of the manufacturing process is actually polishing the instruments in preparation for the final finish (either lacquer or silver).
After the trip, I have a new respect for the quality and skill involved in making a Miraphone instrument. There are about 60 people who work to make instruments in the factory. I saw first-hand that every single one of them are invested in making instruments of the highest quality. So, next time you sit down to practice, take a minute to consider what was involved in producing the instrument in your hand.
Thank you for reading!
Jeremy is Associate Professor of Tuba and Euphonium at West Texas A&M University.