I recently had the opportunity to try a custom horn by Jerry Lechniuk and was surprised how little there was online about this maker of the recent past, one I knew of for many years through a couple players I worked with back in Rochester.
Jerry Lechniuk (pronounced “lesh nick”) did not produce a lot of horns, but he is a significant figure as he functions as a bridge between Carl Geyer and Steve Lewis (who worked with Lechniuk before his passing). This quote from the Schilke Loylist website (quoting information from Karl Hill) lays the connection out clearly. Lechniuk was
… an immigrant from the Ukraine. He had spent time in a concentration camp during WWII. Upon his release, Jerry immigrated to Manchester, England. He had a friend who had a repair shop there and with the brass band phenomenon there was plenty of work…. He worked there for 2 years and then emigrated to America. He came to Chicago and began working with Carl Geyer in approximately 1948. He worked for Carl for about 10 years….
In about 1964 or 1965 he came to work for Renold Schilke, the best I can recall as a repairman of French horns. In the early 70’s Jerry began to develop a French horn that was built around Yamaha parts with Jerry designing the critical tapers. He made 23 double horns, 2 B flat horns and 2 natural horns. He passed away from a massive stroke at the age of 58. There was one unfinished horn on his bench which Steve Lewis finished before leaving Schilke.
In short, he saw a need, had the skills, and started making custom Geyer style horns. The instrument seen here is number 12, and his design choices are evident. Most typically today Geyer style horns are made with a change valve that is smaller and rotates 120 degrees rather than 90. The valves look like they are the Yamaha valves as mentioned in the quote. Another notable detail is that this horn has a separate Bb horn tuning slide (seen in the second photo), a nice feature only rarely applied to Geyer style horns today.
The example I was able to try for several extended practice sessions plays very well, it is a professional instrument, certainly well crafted, the intonation is great, and it is all original. There is a thread on Horn People that also speaks to the Jerry horns where it is stated that he made 17 complete double horns (the serial numbers go to 117 — not sure if this number conflicts with the 23 double horns stated in the Hill quote) and then there is a final one, mentioned in the Karl Hill quote, horn “17 ½” and known as the “Jerry Lewis” horn, as it was completed by Steve Lewis.
Lechniuk horns are desirable instruments and rare due to a life cut short. We kind of forget what a golden age of horn production we live in today, back in the 1970s there were very few people making custom horns and now not only are they plentiful but also the top level factory horns (typically smaller makers) are built essentially at the same level of quality! Jerry Lechniuk helped forge the way to where we are now, and I have enjoyed the chance to learn more about him and try one of his unique instruments.