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Stomvi: 25 years of passion
The tradition of the manufacturing of brass instruments in Spain has enjoyed only a brief history. There was a slight intent after the end of the Spanish civil war (1939) in the “Levantina” region, around Valencia, and a more continuous presence in Barcelona with the firm F. Montserrat, which during post civil war years was the only way for a poor musician to acquire an instrument.
In the 1980's, once again in the “Levantina” region, a region rich with high musical standards concerning band instruments, in a family of percussion instrument makers, an audacious man, Vicente Honorato, would put together a compassionate team that would bring to light the formation of one of the most prestigious makes of trumpets and brass instruments.
Barcelona, 1982, Vicente López, first trumpet of the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, phoned me and suggested we get together so I could go see and try out a new instrument that they were making in Mislata, Valencia.
A B flat trumpet that would be the first of a line of 20,000 thousand instruments that would win the respect of the world and recognition for a new brand: STOMVI.
Mislata 2007, on our way to the new installations, an old mansion, that is the place where 40 people make up the team of specialists and unique artisans that make and design trumpets which will be the envy of any corner of the planet; in charge of them, leading all the operations day and night, an artist, Vicente Honorato.
I speak with Vicente and ask him for a little of his time to find out how STOMVI came about and what it is.
»» Tour of STOMVI
NM. Your grandfather, Tomas Honorato, played cornet in the Banda Real, (Royal Band)
VH. He was the bugler of orders.
NM. And you are a master metallurgist. Who taught you the trade?
VH. My father partly and partly by studying. I have a masters in industrial engineering.
NM. Where did you work?
VH. Always at home.
NM. What did you make in you home?
VH. In our home we made percussion instruments, percussion for bands, drum sets etc...
NM. In 1982, after 10,000 hours of work, the first prototype and the first Stomvi trumpet was finished, now you've been making instruments for 25 years. Do you have any regrets?
VH Yes and no... you have to look at both sides. Yes, because this is an industry that is very craft oriented, Spain is complicated where craftsmanship is concerned and the level of personnel training is quite poor. The technological part has never been a problem, but the craftsmanship, the manual part has been. You have to be aware that the construction of musical instruments in Spain doesn't exist. We had to invent everything. We had to learn on the fly. We invented the trumpet, yes that's what I mean. Invented. Spain, in 25 years has gotten brutally expensive, and we suffer due to the fact that we can't produce any faster to be more competitive, because the process is craft based and that hangs us out to dry as far as economic competitively is concerned.
On the positive side, I don't regret what I have done and I am very proud of the product that we have manufactured, and of course I love trumpets, because if I didn't love trumpets, on an economic level it wouldn't be worth it. It's not about business.
NM. At the same time, you have been making jewelry for many years and that would have helped a lot, I suppose.
VH. On a technological level yes, but the craftsmanship is completely different with a trumpet. Jewels are made in a mechanical way or with a foundry and musical instruments are made mechanically and hand modelled. The industrial process is completely different.
NM. The car maker, Enzo Ferrari said that mechanics speeds up the pace metallurgy advances. Would you say that mechanics speeds up the pace that computers advance at?
VH. Computers help us at a 20-30% level of development and research and planning of what is production and also storage and in the organization of clients, but it doesn't help us with the assembly of the instrument. It's still assembled by hand. Everywhere on earth it's still put together by hand. All manufacturers have the same problem and that is that manual labour is time consuming.
NM. In the 19th century Victor Mahillon and later Vincent Bach said that the only element that vibrates in a trumpet is the air and that the nature of the materials don't affect the timbre of the instrument, that is to say what affects the timbre is the way it is constructed.
VH. No, that's not true. The resulting sound is a direct result of the shape or form, condition and material.
NM. What are the conditions?
VH. The density of the material, the amount of reheating, etc.. a German brass (copper-nickel) doesn't sound the same as brass.
NM. Copper-nickel is a type of brass?
VH Yes, it is part nickel and the sonority is not the same, the brilliance of the timbre isn't the same. What is clearly the most important thing is that with instruments you have to search for the equilibrium, and that word that seems so simple, “equilibrium”, is what determines the flexibility and performance of a good instrument. You can't give it all to one instrument, because always when you give something you have to take something away. You have to find the balance and that's what we get with these three parameters. Form, condition and material.
NM. When you experimented by producing trumpets with wooden bells was it worth it?
VH. The experiment was wonderful, we started with the piccolo and saw how it humanized the sound in fantastic way, because you have to realize that the trumpet is by it's very nature, an instrument for calls and alarms, it became a concert instrument later, but it is more or less aggressive. What does the wood do? It sweetens up the sound. Before we were talking about forms, and observe how by just changing the material we've completely changed the sound. But the sound of the trumpet needs an air of importance and a little bit of arrogance.
I re-examined the idea of the first instruments that were made with wood, metal trumpets didn't exist. It's possible that the trumpets of Jericho were made of wood. Personally I'm enthusiastic about the sound of a wooden instrument, but I believe that culturally musicians don't value the virtues and defects of this instrument.
NM. Perhaps wood doesn't project very much.
VH. It's not a projection problem, because if you are playing baroque music why would you want projection? I say it's not valued because we want an instrument that we can use for everything and if you are a soloist in an orchestra you want the brilliance, sound and your projection to be always optimal and that is something that a wooden bell can't give you. Without a doubt if you are going to play baroque music in a quintet or small group, a wooden bell will favour the blend of sounds within the group. Wood blends much better than metal.
NM. Vicente, the trumpet players neurosis of needing new material is this due to your being an aviator that started using titanium in your trumpets?
VH. We started using titanium so that the instrument would be lighter, when an instrument is lighter, automatically it gains in timbre.
NM. When you say more timbre do you mean more projection?
VH. A sound with timbre doesn't necessarily mean more projection.
NM. We're getting into the nebulous territory of words... What is a sound with timbre for you?
VH. A sound with timbre is: a light sound...higher...
A woman's voice has more timbre than a man's...
A piccolo flute has more timbre than a tuba.
Yes, project more? But we would lose low frequencies... and it would have less body and we would have to find this balance which is what should be the driving force behind any instrument. Just changing the valve caps, if we use titanium, we would get a result, and if we use brass we would get a completely different result.
NM. And if you use nylon or metal guides in the valves does that change the sound?
VH. Definitely it changes. The materials have a sonic response and a specific weight, with a valve cap made of titanium that is lighter and more resistant, we would get a more brilliant sound; with a valve cap made of German-Brass we have another specific weight which has nickel in it's composition and which gives us a more regular sound, with more medium harmonics, and with brass we get a more blending sound, with more body.
NM. Zenith, Debut, Forte, Clásica, Elite, Mahler, Mambo, Combi, Master, a flugel that I just tried that was very in tune, a pocket trumpet that is now available, a trombone that has been tested for six years. Those are a lot of models and projects............
VH. The day I achieve a difference with the other trombones it will be in the stores. We're on the right track, Indalecio Bonet of Luur Metalls is playing a prototype this year. He is very happy with it and if all goes well we will elaborate the definitive model. It will be a trombone with it's own personality: if not it's not worth the effort.
NM. The origin of the modern trumpet started with French Besson and for meany years was a reference point for all manufacturers.
VH. That's where many copies and improvements were born. It was a good trumpet for the times but it was small and had a nasal sound. Without a doubt in the 1950's Vincent Bach developed his ideas and created the great instrument that was the forebear of the modern trumpet and from there the instrument hasn't evolved. In 30 or 40 years it hasn't evolved at all. It's paralyzed.
NM. Are you the only one currently investigating?
VH. Right now, unfortunately yes.
NM. What do you think you will find?
VH. Overall I hope to find facility, (a horn that is easy to play). Facility, balance and after that response. It's obvious that you make the instrument the other way around, first you look for response, then balance and later facility. That's on the days the trumpet player is having a good day, but on a bad day.....
NM. That's half the time.
VH. Nooo,..... more than half. Especially with the smaller horns like the piccolo, E flat, D trumpets and C trumpets..... those are tough horns, you have to play them a lot, be on top of it and that can be a drag. More so when the trumpet player is older and can't get by on physical strength alone. Therefore, even though I never put aside the technical aspects or the benefits of a good instrument, for me the response of a good instrumentalist is more important.
NM. That way you go for the maximum comfort for the musician.
VH. And within that comfort absolutely, without slighting it, the responsiveness of the sound. The way the sound performs will be what the musician is looking for.
NM. So you believe that they haven't been investigating, that they've been manufacturing the same way for 30 years.
NM. The smaller factories as well...
VH. When we talk about small factories now there are exceptions, these are made to order...
NM. How many instruments do you make a year?
VH. We make 2000.
NM. Bach makes 20,000. Would that affect quality control?
VH. No, that's my criteria and a personal opinion. With Bach there was a glorious period in which they were dedicated to manufacturing and manufacturing and they offered a product that people were demanding, thinking that this would last an eternity...
Bach, are people that I appreciate and am fond of, and that's why I have a great respect for them, above all for Vincent Bach.
NM. He's named Vincent like you.
VH. Exactly. I consider Vincent Bach a genius, he was a man who had very clear ideas, he was also an industrial engineer, who joined engineering with art and resolved design problems with great talent. But V. Bach was prolonged in an excessive way without an evolution on behalf of the firm, and this is what may well have been a symptom of decadence, everything that doesn't progress starts to die.
NM. But UMI; Steinway, a piano company, a firm that is the property of Bach and other legendary brands, doesn't seem like they are on a good path if they don't want to lose their personal touch....
VH. Not necessarily, because each one of these firms have there own autonomy and they are each trying to preserve the quality of V. Bach.
NM. I saw some Bach piccolos in your factory. Do you make them?
VH. We've arrived at an accord, because they don't have the time to develop a new instrument. Their piccolo is from an old design, with out of date technology and so I offered to research and develop an instrument within their parameters. We're collaborating, and working together and I'm sure that out of this little adventure maybe in the future this could result in more products. This all comes about due to those who investigate....
NM. V. Bach got in touch with you?
VH. No not exactly. I've had relations with the Bach company for 14 years. Every year we speak, we meet and we have conversations and tell each other things. So my offer was: I'm a small company, but I can create a product that I think your clients and public will like. The fabrication and approval happened two years ago and the commercialization was a year and a half ago.
NM. Do you manufacture in China?
NM. How can you survive without manufacturing in China?
VH. I don't know if I can survive, the problem is I want to survive, but I don't know if I can. Everybody is in China.
NM A Zenith student model trumpet was worth 300 € last year and is now worth 600 € . Were you losing money?
VH. Yes, with the models below Forte, for sure I lost money.
NM. A Zenith was worth 600 € last year.
VH. Yes and the quality was that of superior model. My initial idea with the Zenith was to not make it here in Spain. I needed to find a country that could give me a competent price to quality ratio. I found the price but not the quality.
NM. And you didn't like that:
VH. No, but I can't pull one over on my people so I make it myself.
NM. How is it that the mechanical part of a valve made with nickel 30 or 40 years ago lasts perfectly and with monel metal the same isn't true?
VH. Monel metal is rust proof but that doesn't mean that it isn't affected by oxidation.
NM. Why does nickel last better?
VH. Because nickel is pure. Over there there are many taboos...I'm manufacturing with stainless steel.
NM. And is that a secret?
VH. No, no, it's not a secret. The Zenith has a stainless steel mechanism because I like to try things, to investigate. Stainless steel is a little softer than nickel, but the mechanical resistance is a lot better than monel metal.
NM Why are Stomvi piccolos so well received the world over? Why are they so good?
VH. I imagine they are. I think they are the best. People believe in Stomvi thanks to the piccolo and this is very important. The piccolo is the fine line through which we could break in and be respected by people and it is so important to be respected.
NM. But this fine line is very difficult, to manufacture a well made piccolo is something very hard to achieve...
VH. And an E flat trumpet more so. Although it's used less, it's more difficult to make, and on an international level it is more renown than the piccolo, although it's taken a long time for my compatriots to acknowledge it's value. It wasn't so long ago that anything made in Spain was synonymous with low quality.
NM. What do you think is the ideal gap between the mouthpiece and lead pipe, 3mm or .0 zero?
VH. Neither one nor the other. 2mm. Is a correct measurement. We think that the instrument is one part, the mouthpiece is another part and music another. And the sum of all that is what gives us the end result.. What is the gap with a Monette?
VH. It's enormous because the are very short mouthpieces...
NM. Mouthpieces that were invented by others many years ago.
VH. Here it's all been invented before, the principal problem for me, is that what was lost on the way that has already been invented and was good. There are so many things that have been lost. For example, the ease of the instruments. Benge was an easy to play instrument, really comfortable, and on the way it's been lost. They were magnificent instruments. French trumpets, for example, have been lost.
NM. Maybe manufacturing a large quantity is antagonistic towards offering high quality.
VH. No, because Yamaha manufactures huge quantities and manufactures magnificently. When you change people in a craftsmanship oriented process the quality changes, today I have a certain level of quality and tomorrow it might be another, either better or worse. My respect towards Yamaha is in their manufacturing process, they manufacture with wonderful quality. And these situations inspire me. You can be big and manufacture with quality and you can be small and manufacture with quality. Just being small isn't a guarantee of quality.
NM. Raw brass, lacquered, silver plated, gold plated. Your gold trumpets always have silver underneath, this causes a loss of sound.
VH. Neither loss nor gain, it's a characteristic of the instrument, the silver underneath maintains the characteristic sound of the instrument. If I apply gold directly to brass, the zinc in the brass reacts and becomes mouldy and stains.
NM. What do you think of the strike at Bach?
VH. The Bach strike is a sad thing, because to me it's a marvelous company and what's happening is not good for anybody. What will suffer the most in my opinion will be the instrument. Companies are disappearing and new ones aren't appearing. When you manufacture with quality you need research and development and only the people who have a trajectory and an experience, in this situation Bach is going to lose a lot, the people who experimented during years and years of the trade disappear. A Bach made by other people in another place won't be the same.
NM. We're left with no other premise to manufacture than quality in the west.
VH. This was demonstrated to me Yamaha because when I visited their plant, I was extremely enchanted and convinced that if they can make instruments in Japan, then we could too in Spain because Japan is a lot more expensive than Spain.
They would force us to improve our technology to manufacture in a more orderly and competitive way etc...
NM. Do you prefer to invest in technology or in operator training?
VH. There are machines that manufacture, they help you, and they're cold... but when it comes to assembling no machine exists that can assemble an instrument, you can't automate.
NM. Do you want to grow, do you want to manufacture more than 2000 instruments a year?
VH. No, I can't compete with the orient, material is more expensive in Spain than the product in China. I think the solution is in research, technology, response and service quality. I'm very interested the human part, you have to listen to people.
NM. Have there always had a working force of 40 people?
VH. Between 35 and 40.
NM. Extreme quality will be the future of Stomvi.
VH. When we speak of quality it's a very personal term that can vary but there are companies that are manufacturing in a very measured way and they are doing magnificently well. They manufacture orders of 400 or 500 units per year and are functioning extremely well. My objective is to perfect the work unit. The instruments are made by specialists and machines together and to continue functioning we would have to produce between 2000 and 2500 instruments annually.
NM The price of brass, copper, monel, gold have risen, what can one do?
VH. Raise prices. What used to cost 100 pesetas at one time has converted in one Euro (166) and nothing happened. We, on the other hand haven't raised our prices.
I was more competitive with the peseta than with the Euro, a lot more. Today my costs are in Euros and I'm selling in pesetas, the market doesn't allow me to harmonize prices. Today a trumpet is more economical than 10 years ago.
NM. Do you know how to play the trumpet?
NM. You've never tried?
VH. No, never, I've always been more inclined to listen, whish is more complex, because trumpet players talk so much, it's nice to listen. But if I could play the trumpet, I would make trumpets to my taste and it's not about that.
NM. Vicente Lopez has been with the factory since the beginning and has been given the responsibility to research and try trumpets out over twenty five years.
VH. Yes and he is quite critical, we advance together but we're never on the same plane, sure, we do advance a little everyday.
NM. The idea of launching the company was your brother and your's.
VH. The idea was mine. We thought it was an easy product, we thought making a trumpet would be like making a drum... before we started, I spoke to Vicente Lopez and he told me it was a good idea but it was going to be anything but easy....
After 10,000 hours the first trumpet was made, there wasn't a brand name....and that's where the hard part came in, to obtain credit and win the people's trust in your instrument, even though it is high quality it isn't enough.
NM. The first Stomvis resembled Schilkes a little.
VH. Yes, the initial philosophy was Schilke's, because that was Schilke's moment of maximum splendor. Schilke had marvelous things, an ease and facility that I loved, and I made a bet. If I can combine the facility and ease of a Schilke with the response of a Bach, I've got a grand instrument that will be different than both and will favour in both ways the player in both ways .
NM. You must know that one of the most popular models with professional musicians during the 90's wasn't the “Elite” model but the “Forte” model.
VH. Yes because it had that spark and facility, the “Elite” was trying to be like a Bach in it's philosophy and the “Forte” wasn't trying to be like anything and people aren't stupid, the message was understood and from “Forte” on we've been transmitting that philosophy to the other models. People are enchanted with the “Forte”.
NM. It's a point of reference.
VH. Yes it is because in Europe it sells really well and also in the United States; not in Japan though because the lines they sell are the “Elite” models and above. Yamaha music trading commercializes high end material to complement the Japanese market and they're our distributor in Japan.
NM. Vicente, thanks for listening to me and answering my questions. Good luck.
layerIt's been a pleasure talking to you.
Nestor Munt (trumpet player, composer and author of “Solfeo no es feo” (solfege isn't ugly))
Xavi Berdala photos.
Translated by Dan Posen