BenchNotes July 2019

MusicMedic Comes To ClarinetFest 2019

And Booth 314 is the Place To Be!

Stop by booth 314 & find out why everyone is talking about The Wilmington Clarinet

We are excited to be heading off to Knoxville, TN for ClarinetFest 2019! We’ll be showcasing our Wilmington Line of Clarinets as well as our New Low C Bass Clarinet! This instrument features our hybrid body and all solid nickel key work so the instrument stays in adjustment longer and holds up to the abuse of daily student use!

If you’re attending #ClarinetFest2019 stop by booth #314 and say hi! Post a picture of yourself playing the Wilmington Clarinet at our booth and receive a free Clarinet Care Kit for your clarinet or section leader! 

Next Stop Music China

This fall we will be heading to Music China in Shanghai (October 9-12) for a fun filled week of talking and working with our customers in Asia and Australia! Curt has been kind enough to bring along customers orders to the show! If you’d like to save on shipping and meet us at the booth to pick up your order. Please contact us at for instructions on how to place your order. We’ll be taking orders until September 15th. We hope to see you there!

Rice Clarinet Works Visit MusicMedic

L to R, Rich Zimmerman, Wes Rice, Curt Altarac, Chris Bowmaster and Ryan Walker
L to R, Rick Perbeck, Wes Rice and Curt Altarac

We had a tremendous time with Wes and Chris of Rice Clarinet Works this past May. They came down from their shop in Princess Anne, Maryland and we talked about some of the exciting projects they’ve got going on. Wes is a respected repairman in the clarinet world and we were honored to have them in the shop!

We have decided to sell several of their hand crafted clarinet accessories on our site:

RCW Carbon Fiber Clarinet Pins for Buffet Clarinets

These carbon fiber clarinet pins are handmade to the exact size and shape of the nylon pins they replace. Carbon fiber is extremely light, so the clarinet will feel exactly the same as before. However, because carbon fiber is up to six times stronger than steel there is no worry of ever breaking one of these pins. They will last the life of the clarinet, guaranteed. For more information and to order visit:

RCW Tuning Rings for Clarinet

These rings are for Soprano Clarinet (Three-Ring Sets for middle joint or lower barrel sockets) Sized at: 0.5mm, 0 .75mm and 1.0mm & machined from solid brass. For more information and to order visit:

Carbon Fiber Bass Clarinet Peg

These are available in 12” ,15” or 24″ lengths and fit most fit Buffet, Selmer, and Yamaha Bass clarinets. For more information and to order visit:

RCW Bolt-on Alternate E-flat Key

With this tool you’ll be able to quickly and easily install the two main parts with simple hand tools (wrench included). Plus, it’s completely removable at any time. Available in Silver and Nickel. For more information and to order visit:

MusicMedic Hot New Products!

We’ve been very busy here at MusicMedic. Here’s a list of some hot new products we think you should know about. To learn more about all of our new products and to order, click here:


Made from Stainless Steel our Brass Mouthpiece Shank Tool allows you to true up the shank of any size brass mouthpiece easily. This is a traditional tool in the band repair industry and has been used by technicians and band teachers for many years. Normally this tool comes with a T-handle and can be forced into the shank of the mouthpiece, causing damage to the mouthpiece shank by unskilled users. We removed the T from our tool and replaced it with a handy key chain! This keeps unskilled users from shoving the mandrel into the mouthpiece shank and over expanding it. The safest method of restoring your mouthpiece shank to true round is to insert the tool into the shank, and tap with a rawhide mallet to bring it back to round. This method will prevent damage to the mouthpiece and keep it playing great! Made at our facility in Wilmington, NC USA.. Learn more:


Choosing the correct brass stock for your application can save time and make a job easier. It is excellent for key modifications, making posts, tool inserts, woodwind key extensions as well as most jobs that involve woodwind keys. Learn more:


Our Stainless Steel Spring Wire is sold in 12 inch lengths each and is corrosion resistant. Learn more:


A powerful, portable butane refillable torch. The Stingray features a high quality anodized finish, gas flow adjustment lever and sturdy base for hands free work. Learn more:


Our Water-Soluble Shim and Bladder Glue is a dual purpose adhesive for flute work. One use is for adhering shims to the back of the pad so that they stay in place each time the pad is reinstalled. The second purpose is to aid in re-skinning a flute pad. Learn more:


High quality natural Wool Felts in popular thicknesses and diameters- sold individually with quantity discounts available. Learn more:

MusicMedic Article: The Art of Engraving

by Curt Altarac

The art of musical instrument engraving is dying, and fast.  The earliest masters are gone with few young people filling their places, and the world of instrument manufacturing is incrementally replacing hand engraving with machines and lasers. How can something so beautiful and iconic be endangered? 

I set out to understand the art of saxophone engraving from the leading masters of the craft in the world today: Sherry Huntley of Artistic Engraving and Jaice DuMars of DuMars Hand Engraving.  I also gained some unique perspectives by taking a look at engraving in other industries with printmaker and associate professor of Engraving Arts at Emporia State University James Ehlers. Finally, I talked with Ryan Walker, one of the younger generation of musical instrument engravers who is seeking to keep the craft alive as the in-house engraver at the Sax ProShop.

The art of engraving is a time honored tradition in the saxophone world.  Some of the most beloved models of vintage saxophones are referred to by their iconic engraving rather than their specific model.  Buescher’s “Top Hat and Cane” and Conn’s “Naked Lady” are a testament to the power of craftsmanship paired with beautiful artistry.  

Today, we find many factories switching to more modern methods of engraving to lower costs and increase consistency in design, but many vintage saxophone fans find the character that comes with the slight variations in design part of the charm.  Fortunately we still have a number of extremely talented engravers practicing the craft today, who are also hoping there will be more dedicated people to carry it on in the future.  

This article will discuss the history of engraving, tools and techniques, methods, challenges, and how one can begin their own journey as an engraver.


Brass instruments such as cornets, trombones, and tubas have been adorned with elaborate engravings for many centuries. However, the relatively young saxophone took time to catch up to other more ornate wind instruments.  

Close-up of Adolphe Sax Bell

On the earliest saxophones in the mid and late 1800’s, the engraving found on them simply indicates the maker, model, serial number, and place of manufacture.  It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that saxophone makers began adorning the instrument. The decorative engraving was added as a way to frame the manufacturing details, and later the ornamentation becomes more and more elaborate.  

The emergence of artist models gave the buyer more options, with elaborate designs in silver and gold plating.  The engravings were often paired with combinations of bright highlights to contrast the satin finish of the instrument, as seen with the 1920’s Conn Virtuoso saxophones.

The variations in style reflect both what was popular at the time in the world of design, but also the personality and preference of the individual engraver.  Popular images include cameos of beautiful women, floral patterns, pastoral nature scenes, and art deco patterns.  


Jake Gardner was Conn’s first master engraver and his extraordinary work can be seen on many cornets and trombones in the mid and late 1800’s.

He taught brothers Charles and Julius Stenburg, who were true masters and worked for Conn through the mid twentieth century. 

The Osborne family produced a number of excellent engravers, including master engraver for Conn, Jake Osborne, and sons Lynn & Lyle Osborne who carried on with the trade.  


The engraver uses a variety of engraving tools of different shapes and sizes to achieve the desired effect. The tools are called gravers and they vary in width and tip shapes. The most common are flat gravers which are most commonly used for wriggle cuts. There are also tools called liners that have a series of small grooves on the underside that create a unique pattern in the engraving. Wide gravers are used for shading. 

We got a chance to ask a few of our favorite engravers about their favorite tools.

Jaice DuMars has a huge amount of gravers in his tool box, but mainly uses just a few. His go-to tools are #38 flat graver, #40 flat for most lines on a Conn 6M, #42 flat for the edge tip of flowers, #49 flat- liner type graver, a custom made beveled 120 degree graver, and a custom graver for larger curved lines.

Sherry Huntley uses a variety of liners, a round graver, flat tools, and a push tool.  Her number one recommendation is a magnifier or optimizer. That way you can make sure everything matches, and see small details. To engrave, one must have the appropriate materials and tools, and practice on the curved surfaces in addition to flat sheets of brass.

James Ehlers primarily uses two tools for push engraving: one for wider cuts has a 100 degree bottom, 25 degree face and 12.5 degree lift. The other for detail has the top ground down to a point with a small 45 degree face, 90 degree bottom and 17.5 lift. For pneumatic engraving, he usually uses a small 120 degree graver with a 45 degree face and 17.5 lift. All gravers are typically carbide.  James recommends starting with a graver, a sharpening stone, and a sharpening jig, before moving up to the more specialized tools from GRS.

Ryan Walker uses a variety of antique gravers in addition to gravers by E. C. Muller, Grobet, and GRS.  He also makes his own gravers when a large or odd sized graver is necessary.  

Liners are used to create the outline, though Sherry explains that’s not why they are called liners. Liners are used to make wiggle cuts, which are executed by wiggling your wrist while you hold the tool in the hand.  It moves forward and put lines on the workpiece.

The push cut or straight cut is often used in traditional engraving on items like firearms and jewelry. It’s mainly seen in scroll-type engravings but is also used to engrave specific designs like people, animals, scenes from nature, etc.  An example of straight cut is the engraving of the naked lady on Conn.

Flat tools are used to fill in the design and add additional details, such as the feathered lines on the tip of a leaf.  Sherry makes flat tools from metal files in order to get the details just right.

Mark VI Alto Engraving Pattern
Mark VI Reverse Engraving

The wriggle cut is used to fill up a lot of space where using a push/straight cut would be too time consuming. A lot of the early engraved saxophones from the 1920’s and ’30’s contained a lot of straight cuts but over time transitioned to more wriggle cuts.  One of the most iconic examples of the wriggle cut is the floral patterns on Selmer Mark VI saxophones.

Sherry uses a round tool which is used for the final fill-in, creating a zig-zag that covers space well.

If you’re very skilled, you can use a push tool to create hair-thin lines. This is the most labor intensive technique, where just the tip of the tool is moved, keeping everything else still.  Just enough pressure is used to catch the brass and push forward, leaving the finest of lines for detail, like hair on a portrait. Sherry believes one would have to spend at least 5 years practicing every day to master this technique. 

Another technique for an eye-catching design that Sherry likes to use is called rose cut.  It’s produced with a flat tool that you keep positioned on one corner and rotate, leaving you with a half moon. If you do the rose cut on the outside of a design, the end result is having an instrument that looks burnished.  It is quite striking but very labor intensive.

Because Jaice is self-taught and uses experimental techniques, he utilizes some unorthodox techniques in his work.  This can be anything from using the corners of gravers for specific cuts, or walking the graver from one point to another at certain angles.

There is a lesser used type of engraving style in Italy called Bulino that involves extremely detailed grouping of lines and dots to create a realistic image.

As a printmaker, James Ehlers utilizes methods of crosshatching and dots to create a variety of grey tones, borrowing from the style of Schongauer and Durer.

James often does pneumatic engraving, in which high powered air assists the hand engraving process.  Pneumatic engraving is excellent for long marks for scrollwork and is very helpful on either hard objects or round surfaces. Push engraving, which does not use air assist, is better for shorter detailed areas like portraits, animals, and scenery.  The two techniques are used together to create an image with depth and detail.

Laser Engraving on Cannonball

Many factories now use modern technology to engrave their instruments.  This is done to save time and increase consistency. Some instruments are engraved by machines, such as with Selmer and Yanigasawa.  Others are engraved by lasers, such as with Cannonball.

Interestingly, some Asian companies which are making inexpensive saxophone copies still utilize the art of hand engraving and many factory workers and apprentices are becoming quite skilled in musical instrument engraving.


Sherry lives in hotbed of instrument manufacturing in Indiana. She described herself as a “pattern woman”, which is no surprise given the meticulous nature of her work. Quite often with engraving, you would think that you would go from point A to point B, but in many cases to complete one single line, you may have to start and stop the line several times from different points to create it.  A skilled engraver can make a perfect match so that the naked eye can’t see the starts and stops.  

When Sherry first launched her business Artistic Engraving, she used a copy machine that uses toner to make a reverse copy of the intended design.  To transfer, she would tape it on the bell, apply lacquer thinner to the back of the design, and the result provides you with some basic lines and design. She cautions that laying a flat piece of paper on the curve of a bell will not happen perfectly, but is a good starting point.

Jaice’s approach to engraving designs is quite free, saying “engraving the way I do it is the manipulation of language to produce a story”.  He doesn’t pre-draw or map anything out, and instead just begins and the story unfolds organically. Jaice never repeats the same image twice, and every project contains something brand new that he’s never done before.  Jaice prefers to steer away from re-engraving and factory engraving for these reasons, although he engraved a complete line of the Schilke Anniversary trumpets and every one was unique.

James Ehlers’ unique perspective as an educator with a focus on printmaking typically leads him to make a decision based on the particular project. 90 percent of the time he draws directly on the plate or object, but will occasionally transfer an outline.


On some vintage saxophones, the engraving gets worn down over time.  This can be from constant or rough handling, body work being done in the area of the engraving, or most frequently, from buffing.  In order to restore engraving, you must use the same width and style of gravers that the original engraver used. Very few saxophone engravings were completed with just one type of graver. For example, Mark VI engravings incorporate the use of flat gravers of varying widths, liners, and larger shading gravers.

One of Sherry’s biggest strengths is restoring engraving.  When she learned the trade, it was in a manufacturing capacity.  They are interested in large output numbers and high speed, so she was trained to be consistent at high speed.  When restoring engraving, you already have a design there, albeit sometimes faint, where you just have to match it up and use what is likely the tool and the technique that the original engraver used.

Sherry’s engraving restorations take anywhere from 15 minutes to 15 hours.  She can restore Buescher Aristocrat alto in as little as 45 minutes. One of her fastest designs is the Bach Anniversary Trumpet, a subject on which Sherry teaches a course.  She has already engraved over 1,500 trumpets and can execute the design in just 20 minutes.

At the Sax ProShop, I originally used to be of the mindset that aesthetics didn’t really matter, that what truly mattered was how the instrument played and felt.  However, after I developed a new process for refinishing that allowed me to offer a beautifully refinished saxophone that was not compromised in any way, I changed my opinion on the subject.  The aesthetics do matter, because a saxophone can be a work of art and a powerful machine at the same time.  

Luckily for me, there was someone at the Sax ProShop who was inspired and deeply moved by the artform, and he took it upon himself to learn. Ryan Walker has been restoring engraving at the Sax ProShop for over 2 years now.  He began by studying the patterns and styles of vintage engraving, studied the work of each individual artist, and practiced on flat sheets of metal before moving on to junker saxophone bells.

Enhanced Re-Engraving Examples

When a saxophone is refinished and re-engraved, we sometimes add on additional engraving in the same style to cover more area on the bell and bow with ornamentation. In order to do this, concepts, shapes, and patterns from the original engraving are used to extend the design.  The engraver’s in depth knowledge of the tools and the artist’s style help them to make these additions to the design natural and seamless.


Perhaps the biggest challenge for those engraving saxophones and other types of instruments is that the surface is not flat, nor is it symmetrical.  The bell flares outward, presenting a larger surface area to be covered nearest the rim. The engraver must be very skillful to cut a straight line over a curved surface.  Because of this, the engraver must map out their design carefully considering the contours of the instrument.

Another skill in the engraver’s bag of tricks is recovering from slips, which result in an unintended scratch in the brass. Even the most skilled engravers will slip from time to time, due to the curvature of the bell or a slightly miscalculated cut. The consistency of the brass is also an issue because if body work has been done, the brass hardens in that area.  When the engraver unknowingly transitions from soft brass to work hardened brass, it can cause the tool to slip.  

Sometimes the area of the slip can be buffed and polished if it’s a bare brass horn. If not, however, the engraver must use their sense of artistry to add extra engraving to cover up the slip.  Ryan’s motto comes from painter Bob Ross: “There are no mistakes, just happy accidents”.

Another risk with slips is injury to the engraver.  When working with extremely sharp tools, the utmost of care must be taken.  Some engravers wear thick leather gloves to reduce the chance of injury, but other engravers find that the gloves inhibit their dexterity. However the engraver prefers to carry out their work, it’s important to keep your free hand away from the front of the graver tip. Jaice candidly mentioned that cutting yourself is often part of the job.  

For Sherry, sitting at a bench is the most dangerous method.  She learned the ideal technique from masters at a factory, who worked on an instrument that was mounted on a mandrel while standing at a bench.  She remembers that one time against her better judgement, she worked on a series of custom designs while sitting at a bench and eventually caused damage to her elbow, known as tubal tunnel.  While the hand counterpart of carpal tunnel is a relatively easy fix, her elbow surgery ultimately led to a long and painful recovery process. Sherry believes that self-taught engravers face more physical challenges to their body and risk injuring themselves.

Jaice embraces the fact that his unique method is considered “wrong” and includes that his preferred work method is cradling the saxophone lovingly in his arms.  He gets physical and up close with it, and moves the workpiece instead of his arms. He developed this technique while teaching himself to engrave, and is content to continue using it in spite of it being a little more dangerous.


Buffing Damage Example

Aside from learning about the history of the instrument, you can learn some things about the condition of the instrument by inspecting the engraving. Saxophone buyers often inspect the engraving of the instrument before purchasing.  It’s important to know if your instrument was re-lacquered or refinished at some point so you can check for signs of buffing damaging. Take a close look at the engraving and the different patterns and strokes that the engraver used.  If the instrument was ever re-engraved, you may be able to spot a hint of where the original engraving was if the re-engraving doesn’t line up exactly.  

If the engraving appears quite faint in spots but there isn’t excessive wear around those areas, then the bell was likely buffed and relacquered and the shop made the decision not to re-engrave.


When deciding to pursue this rare craft and trade, everyone has a different path and motivations, and end up with particular specialities.  I asked all of the engravers to answer a couple of questions.

How did you get started as an engraver?

Sherry Huntley got into engraving while she was working at Vincent Bach. The engraver they had at the time had gotten fired, and because of seniority at the Union run shop, Sherry won the bid.  She had always been interested in art, which she studied a bit in college. She jumped at the chance to utilize her passion for art within the musical instrument industry and began engraving in 1980.  

Sherry worked locally under a man out of Elkhart named Bob Evans to gain push cut skills.  These days, the content of brass was different, as it used to be thicker and softer. Bob has since retired from engraving, though today we can still see his beautiful work on Blessing instruments.  

After spending many years in a manufacturing setting, Sherry’s primary focus shifted to being at home with her children, thus the one woman show at Artistic Engraving was born.  However, Sherry is looking to the future and hoping to inspire young people to continue on engraving trade. She’s currently working on getting apprentices trained and in place so that they can take over certain accounts when they are ready.  

When Jaice DuMars was a teenager, he dabbled on saxophone but was not a very serious player.  What he was really enamored with was the first time he saw a picture of a Martin Indiana, and his imagination was captured by the engraving of Indiana, the rose, and the lettering.  It was especially striking because the King saxophone he had at the time had no engraving at all. Later on, he began studying photos of jazz greats like Coltrane and Hawkins and practiced drawing the engraving patterns he saw on their instruments.

While his earlier efforts to learn to engrave, such as with a broken chair leg with metal in it, left Jaice thinking there was some type of wizardry involved and engraving wasn’t for him, that changed in 2003 when he met Sherry Huntley at the Elkhart factory.  After that, he bought a set of engraving tools off eBay and struggled through injuries throughout the learning process, which made him more conscious of his hands and led him to procure gloves made out of every type of material. After leaving his technology job, Jaice went full time into engraving and hasn’t stopped honing his craft since.  As the sole proprietor of DuMars Hand Engraving, Jaice takes custom orders and turns out works of art.  

Can anyone learn engraving?

For James, that’s a difficult question to answer as people come to it with different backgrounds and gear. He finds that talent and hands-on knowledge helps, but patience and determination are key factors in success.  Additionally, being enamored with the process and having professors and other people around to provide encouragement is helpful. He recommends that those desiring to learn engraving be patient and draw a lot, because if you can’t draw the design, you won’t be able to engrave well in the long term.

Coming from a background in drawing, James started his path in engraving with a wooden handle push graver, working on zinc and creating figurative work. “I would say it took me a month to get comfortable with the mark making, but not necessarily ‘good’. I needed to learn more about crosshatching and drawing before I considered myself good at it.”

Sherry says the number one factor is determination.  You can’t ever give up no matter how many times it takes.  There are many wannabes with a background in art, and one’s pedigree really doesn’t matter unless it is backed up by sheer will and enthusiasm. Sherry recommends that before you begin, ask yourself, “do I have that determination and commitment? Do I have the drive?” If you don’t, then don’t begin.  In her experience, 90% of the people who start just want to dabble, but it doesn’t work that way, and she advises that you either become skilled or don’t do it at all.

When Sherry learned to engrave, she was working at least 40 hours a week. It took her 9 months to be able to go off of training and start production, though even at that point she was just touching up Selmer Bundy’s.  Sherry considers engraving to be a life long study.  

She also says that engraving has been a very rewarding career.  She gets a lot of personal satisfaction out of contributing value to the music industry because there’s hardly anyone to do the trade.  The fact that she has been successful and doing it solely for a living is unique. Sherry says it’s even easier for engravers today because the internet makes it possible for people to find you, an advantage that she anticipates increasing for the next generation of engravers.

Jaice believes that there is a type of engraving for nearly everyone’s personality, be it patterns, or experimental design, or a little bit of both.  The trade requires physical mastery, finesse, motor control, awareness of how your hand is moving, and a sensitivity to where the pressure is being applied so you don’t slip. Jaice believes that in the course of a day, he can have someone engraving pretty well, and can get them engraving a line in a day.

There are two parts to mastering engraving.  The first is knowing and practicing the different cuts, such as straight and zig-zag, which can be mastered in as little as a year.  Next, there is a certain amount of nuance, when you can see maturity within a design. This level of mastery takes much longer.

When training an apprentice, Jaice would have the student watch him for a few weeks.  Then have them learn to draw and trace patterns. Next, he would have them do fill work for a couple of weeks.  Once comfortable there, he would start a line and let the student finish it. He believes a student could be functional at engraving basics within 3 months, but would need some rescues and probably some workers compensation.  Limiting the collateral damage is important, and Jaice recommends that any student have some junker horns to practice on and experiment with before working on nicer ones.  


Cape Fear Bridge Wilmington NC Engraving

If you’re lucky enough to be able to track down a copy from your library or special collection, or experience an eBay miracle, there is a great book by Margaret Downie Banks called “Elkhart’s Brass Roots: An Exhibition to Commemorate the 150th Anniversary of C.G. Conn’s Birth and the 120th Anniversary of the Conn Company”. 

James Ehlers teaches Engraving Arts at Emporia State University, where students can obtain a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a concentration on engraving.

Jaice DuMars runs occasional workshops at his farm.  

Sherry Huntley also occasionally offers workshops.  Visit her website at

To learn more about upcoming MusicMedic workshops plus learn how to schedule a Skype repair session with Ryan Walker, please visit our Education page of our website here: