At the recent IHS Symposium in Denton, TX one of the new products on display was an item called The Tuning Sleeve. It is a device that fits inside the bell of a horn or mellophone and creates more stability of pitch. When I first tried it there I felt it made a huge, very noticeable difference on the mello and I was intrigued enough to get one for trial.
The device is a tapered (to fit in the bell) tube with a plastic core surrounded by cork. Patent pending.
What does it do?
In short my personal theory is it is like an extra hand in the bell, or at least an assist to your present hand.
Let me explain, starting with the horn. If you play up to the top of your range with no hand in the bell at all the pitch is very sharp and the pitch center is gone. In particular you will have no slots for the pitches in the very high range.
A correct hand position is very important in creating those slots in the high range. As noted by the inventor in the product website, “I thought since you could make higher notes center better by straightening your hand and placing it further in the bell, that maybe an object could be placed instead that could enhance that effect.”
So let’s say you have a horn player with a large bell horn and small hands, a common scenario. Their hand is too small to make the necessary correction needed for general pitch and to get the horn to slot correctly.
Now let’s take a mellophone. On mello you have no hand in the bell at all. The bell throat is tighter but still the slots are very loose up at the top of the instrument and mellos overall are not the most centered or stable of instruments.
Generally speaking I am a tough person to sell on gadgets. However, my initial impressions are very positive in relation to The Tuning Sleeve.
On mellophone the effect of the device very noticeable. In recent years I have taken a King mellophone to our church camp to play in the praise team, and this past weekend was the weekend so I gave the device a good trial. Using primarily a small horn mouthpiece with an adapter and also a mello 6 I can say with certainty that this device makes a big difference on mellophone. The top end slots much better, the whole horn feels better, and I could play higher notes with a lot more confidence.
The sound is a little different but only by a degree and not worse, just different. Overall pitch is 20-30 cents lower with the same intonation problems as before (flat on E on top space, etc.) but with better slots. The sensation is the instrument is a bit tighter feeling overall and more comfortable to play.
Initially after IHS I tried briefly using the device on my Geyer style double and actually found that I could not use it. The reason being that the bell is small enough (and my hand is big enough) that my fingers needed to extend into the device for my hand to be in the normal playing position.
On return from camp I tried it on my big double, a Paxman 25A with the “American” bell, similar to a Conn 8D. On this horn I certainly can use the device as it fits in further to the extent that there is no interference with my normal hand position. My pitch is lowered around 30 cents and overall the feeling is that the horn feels a bit tighter and smaller, with a more responsive feel and just a bit more resistant. The high range certainly slots better and is easier to produce. The tone is a little different but to my ear as a player it is along the lines of a slight hand position change. Not a worse tone, just different.
But, again, I need to note that I personally can’t really use the device on my Geyer style horn. I believe however that some players with small hands could make use of it on any smaller belled horn to advantage as well.
Who needs this product?
For sure horn players with smaller hands who fight being persistently sharp on large bell horns need to try this device. I have long suspected that for a good percentage of those players they just can’t get their hand in the right place to make the instrument work well. Those players could certainly benefit from trying The Tuning Sleeve.
I feel there is enough of a positive effect that any player of a horn with a large bell throat should consider trying the product as well.
As to the mello, this device has to be tested if you work with performers on the instrument. You will certainly feel that it does something noticeably positive, a secret weapon worthy of more trial on the field.
The product website also promotes use of this device on the trombone. I do not have the skills to test this but no doubt that it may create an effect similar to that noted on horn or mellophone.
For more info:
It presently sells for $55, postage included. More info here.
Overall this is an extremely interesting product and one to watch, it has great potential for widespread use on large bell horns and on the mellophone.
UPDATE: I did not have the chance to try this on a Yamaha or Jupiter Quantum mellophone. Sources would indicate that the effect may not be as large on these brands compared to my King. I hope to follow up with more testing in the fall.