The bell flare blank is one of the only parts on my horns that I don't make that I really wish I did. Perhaps one day...
The flare is just a shape of metal, just like the other parts in the horn. The flare blank comes spun (or hand hammered) and has some design elements such as alloy, thickness, rim wire, and end diameter. While these all have an impact, here is no inherent magic, in spite of the ink spilled to the contrary.
Often, a flare arrives with the rim soldered in, and the flare polished. All one has to do is solder on a ring and cut the excess. Most flares on handmade horns, or flares offered as "custom" upgrades are simply this.
In my early days of working with the Sandner flares, it became clear that there was the potential to get more out of them. I identified two specific areas for exploration:
- Almost universally, there is lead solder underneath the bell rim which solidifies the supportive wire. Lead did not seem like the right choice to promoting sonorous vibration. The solder that I chose to try instead has properties which allow it to vibrate freely and resist the tendency to crack as the bell ages.
- The bell blanks come off of the spinning mandrels very hard. This means that there are millions of potential heat treatments that can be applied to the bell to get different effects. At that point, I was just beginning to explore temper normalization protocols and was very interested if this could be applied to bell flares.
A problem arose however because this meant that I would need blanks without solder in the bell wire rim. I discovered additionally that I was not able to have the bells buffed at the bell shop because buffing compound would pack into the unsoldered bell wire. This made it impossible to get a clean space for solder to flow. I also quickly learned that the reason that lead solder is preferred is that it is soft enough to simply buff away. My lead free solder required an entirely new set of tools and technique to clean and buff. Getting a flat, mirror finish was a multi year development process.
Buying rough blanks tripled my time investment into the bells, but every minute is worth it. The ability to apply heat treatments and sympathetic solder to the bells, really brought them to another level. After years of crazy experiments, epic failures, thousands of dollars, and burned-off fingerprints, I have the perfect bell for my horns!