How It’s Made, and the Conn-Selmer Strike

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Ever wonder how a Conn horn is made? A most interesting video was recently posted to YouTube, the Science Channel’s “How It’s Made” French horns episode. A short video well worth watching (hat tip to Horn People), with a lot of information packed in (it is more than taking a block of brass and chipping away everything that does not look like a horn) and filmed at the Conn Eastlake factory.

Conn horns have been in the news for other reasons recently. For those not up to speed, over in the Horn People group (and Trumpet Herald, and probably other groups) they have been following developments in the ongoing Conn-Selmer strike. The opening of this press release sets the tone.

WALTHAM, MA – July 26, 2011 – Conn-Selmer, Inc., a subsidiary of Steinway Musical Instruments, Inc. (NYSE: LVB), announced today that employees with Local 2359 of the United Auto Workers (UAW) went on strike this morning at the Company’s Eastlake, Ohio manufacturing facility. The Company’s labor contract with the union expired on February 15th and hourly employees have been working without a contract since that time.

The UAW represents approximately 230 employees at Conn-Selmer’s Eastlake, Ohio brass instrument facility. This equates to 28% of the band segment workforce. The Company anticipates it will be able to meet most customer needs for several months with its existing finished goods inventory, production from its Indiana brass instrument facility and foreign sources.

The most recent news story I see online on this is from Cleveland.com. At the end of their story “Workers strike Conn-Selmer brass instruments factory in Eastlake” they note,

During a recent conference call about Steinway’s second quarter earnings, CEO Messina gave an upbeat assessment of the company’s band division, which includes Conn-Selmer. He said the revenues were up 5 percent and shipments of brass and woodwind instruments were up 15 percent. Messina said open orders at the end of July were up 13 percent over the same time a year ago.

“We’re definitely seeing improved business demand in band instruments,” he said.

[Union shop steward] Madda said Local 2359 is trying to save good manufacturing jobs as well as the company’s legacy.

“It’s the last major brass instruments manufacturer in the country,” he said. “If this goes, everything you see in the Cleveland Orchestra and the marching bands will be made in South Korea or China or somewhere else.”

So where does this all leave us as horn players? I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of readers of Horn Matters have owned a Conn or Holton horn (produced in the same factory) at some point and perhaps, like me, have owned both! These are classic brands that if removed from our musical world would be hard to replace.

The natural thing to worry as well is if the factory shut down or production moved elsewhere the quality level we have come to expect could be lost. In particular I had the chance to try one of their new Vintage 8D horns this past week. It is not a type of horn I am looking to buy at present (the horn in this photo is an older Elkhart 8D, owned by ASU) but it was also obviously a very well made horn that it would be a shame to see leave production.

Where things come out for Conn-Selmer is not something we at Horn Matters can predict, but I would predict there could be a stronger market for used horns if the supply of new ones dries up over the coming months.

Where we end up in relation to horns on the market only time will tell. We do wish the best to all parties in this strike; we would hate to lose these classic brands and classic models of horn.

University of Horn Matters