In 2008, my teacher and meister Rick Seraphinoff advised me to quit school to spend more time in his shop. With a full time IU masters degree in progress as well as a part time job as a music library cataloguer, I had already been spending every free minute of the year previous working at Rick's. I had never considered becoming a horn builder, but Rick saw something in my hands and in my personality that he felt was worth exploring. After months of deliberating, finally I left my program and spent the next year working full time in Rick's shop, building natural horns and developing my first double horn. Now, many years later, I have developed my horns well beyond what was possible then, but have stayed true to the principals inspired by those first lessons in craftsmanship. Rick taught me about honest work, the constant search for improvement, and good stewardship of the craft of American horn building.
More than just a horn maker
My clients trust me to provide horns which are beautiful, durable, sonorous, and help their career advance more quickly and be more enjoyable. I take that trust very seriously and constantly push the boundaries of my instruments to give my players an edge.
Beauty is inextricable from quality. I take time to do everything to an elite level, even tasks such as solder cleanup and surface finish work. My personality for perfection may mean that I produce less horns in a year than others, but I believe that crafting a beautiful horn is about respect for the instrument, and respect for the player who will receive it.
You can tell a lot about the character of a maker by looking carefully at the quality of the finish work. I use my finishing it as an opportunity to say to my clients "I've done all the things you can see to the highest level, you can trust that I've been just as careful with the things you can't see".
I make a large percentage of my own parts. I believe that to be a part of the craftsman tradition, I need to honestly apply myself to as many areas of the horn as is practical for my skills and abilities.
I still purchase parts which I either have no desire to make myself (such as valves, or bell rings), or have not had time to develop yet (such as bell flares and tails). For every other parts of the horn, if I believe that I can make it to a higher standard than I can buy it, I will. This gives me an extra opportunity to match sizes, thicknesses, and materials for my horns since they are all controlled at the source. I also get a sense of personal satisfaction from, as Rick used to say, "makin' stuff".
I take great pride in my ability to make, not only my own tube, but the tools I use to make the tube. I enjoy unmatched flexibility in my sizes and thickness and have a deep understanding of tube manufacture and potential defects. I use this capability to make all of my own lead pipes and tapered branches (including the design and fabrication of all the mandrels), as well as very precise, tight fitting slide tube. This tube is necessary to build extreme tolerance slides, a design feature that I am very proud to have added after many years of development.
Old school meets new
While my roots are in traditional handcraft, that doesn't mean I haven't enjoyed the toys available to the modern era of horn makers. While keeping in mind the traditional sound and values of early horn makers, I have embraced the advantages in consistency and efficiency offered by advances in machine and digital technology.
Precision heat treatments.
Using a wide variety of equipment and techniques, temper control and molecular stress relief have become a pet fascination for me and contribute one of the single greatest advantages of my horns.
Fast Fourier analysis and computer modeling software helps me to identify potential wasted energy and develop solutions to create the interesting sound colors that I am after.
Design and development.
Since very few large firms develop tools for such a small market, it is often necessary to design and build my own tools and machinery (such as the custom draw bench I built, shown above).
The Medlin Horn
As horn construction turns further away from traditional hand techniques in favor of faster, more economical processes, the horn sound in the modern era is becoming mechanical and lifeless. Medlin Horns are offered to those seeking a return to the rich colors and expressive lyricism that attracted so many of us to the horn in the first place.
I have explored the many volumes of traditional hand craftsmanship and added to it an understanding of modern acoustics research, materials science, and machine technology. This adds technical precision to the traditional hand craft and helps the horn to last longer and perform better than the horns of the old masters that are so dear and increasingly rare.
I believe that the instrument and the player engage in an intimate relationship that can last many decades. Horns should be beautifully crafted and inspire the player to enjoy opening the case. Horns should be a supportive partner, as good pitch and slot stability in a horn allows the player to relax and access many upper level techniques. In many cases, a great horn can prolong a players career while reducing the chance for injury due to overuse of the smaller facial muscles to control the note and the pitch.
Players may not know or understand the care and precision that goes into building a Medlin Horn, but they certainly understand the joy of playing a horn that is supportive, even, and easy to play.
Will you benefit from a Medlin horn?
My first concern as a horn builder is to provide true value to my clients. Not everyone needs a instrument of this caliber and I have no desire to sell a horn to every player. My goal is to connect with players who believe similarly as I do and who will get the maximum benefit from playing my horn. Only you can decide if a Medlin horn is right for you, here are some thoughts as you consider:
- An efficient horn can often help reduce the physical demands on the player. This has multiple benefits for short term endurance and can make a heavy season more endurable. Additionally, players who develop efficiency in the early- mid portions of their careers can often extend the ends of those careers farther than players who take injuries from having to muscle a horn in order to play loudly or in tune.
- A horn that is well made spends less time in the shop for repairs. This means that the horn is more reliable as an every day work horn and can stand up to the rigors of a professional playing situation. With regular maintenance cycles, a player should be able to rely on the main tool of their trade.
- A great horn is more fun to play. No player enters into the sometimes brutal world of music because of the money or the acclaim. We do it because we love it and music speaks to us in a special way. How much more enjoyable a career can be had if you feel confident in your instrument and can focus instead on the music?
- If a great horn can improve the productivity in the practice room by 1%, the benefit of that percent compounds exponentially. These small improvements are made when players have to spend less time on technical details or can decrease their necessary warmup time by a few minutes, and can focus that energy instead on improving the art of music making. I believe that a great horn can indeed improve practice productivity. How much farther could you get in 10 years if you start now?