Re: Walter Sear Mahillon Horn

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Posted by Mark Heter on October 27, 2003 at 23:27:18:

In Reply to: Walter Sear Mahillon Horn posted by Dan on October 27, 2003 at 21:53:43:

I owned one of these and played it through my freshman year at college. – 1967-68, thank you.

Here’s what I remember (BTW, Walter is still around, even though these horns are not in production):

It’s a small-bore (.660) horn, with odd design that eliminates a full turn of tubing – and plays really out of tune to itself (and most everything around it). If Howard Johnson hadn’t played one for years, I doubt anyone else would today.

REALLY FLAT NOTES: ALL the open F’s (1-3), the high B-flat (1, maybe 2-3). Open D is useless, and not really that pleasing played with either 1-2 or 3. Also, you’ll need the fourth valve in addition to the 2-3 combination for F#, except, of course the one four lines below the staff, where you’re on your own…

You’ll be playing some funky fingerings to get even close. The stuffiness was what did me in with it – very cramped kind of horn. The upper end plays with comparative ease – but that’s not where most tuba players live.

These horns went out the door for $550 in 1967. Walter doesn’t get enough credit for trying to put playable horns in kids (and professionals) hands for a decent price.

Walter’s best effort was the DePrins, made to his design (modeled after his old Holton CC, the DePrins was available in CC and BBb), with side action stainless steel valves that last forever. Yep, Walter had ‘em years before Meinl-Weston.

Both these manufacturers were Belgian, and both of them have been gone for quite a while now. As I remember it, their customer base, historically, had been the Belgian Congo – you could look THAT one up… - selling brass instruments to the colonials.

The valves are pretty quick and short action, without the Conn “solution” – and the horn is light and compact to hold. There should be an adjustable handrest in back of the valve cluster, if memory serves.

Mahillion, for those who care, was the Belgian guy who worked out, and codified the formulas of expansion for conical brass instruments. Most designers, whether they know it or not, follow his expansion of taper formulas even today. Unfortunately, there was some deviation in the Sear Mahillion, and they play off-center and out of tune.

Also, many of them are “sharp” – and won’t tune to A=440. My tuning slide used to fall out during concerts….

Now that I’ve badmouthed it – allow me to say the timbre of the horn is quite nice. It has a wide throated bell with very little flare – kind of “Besson-y”. Dark, but reasonably agile.

I would also remind you that any replacement parts you’ll need for this old horn (and they are pretty sturdy) will probably need to be fabricated. You won’t find “Mahillion” parts in the Ferree’s catalog, yet you will find many key parts for old American orphans in their listings.

Take your ears with you (and a tuner!) to try it out – I unloaded mine after a year, but maybe it’s the horn for YOU.

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