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An Interview with Mark Schafer
by Scooter Pirtle
Originally published on July 11, 1992.
Mark Schafer is a Dynasty Bugle Corporation factory representative. Dynasty has been involved with the drum corps community long enough to witness the transformation of the bugle from a valve-rotor, to a three-piston instrument. For their new series of mid-voice instruments, Dynasty has completely revised the design of their G362 Mellophone and G355 French horn bugles.
Scooter Pirtle: I guess you guys are pretty excited about the new stuff you've got out now. I know that you've had a lot of input from some of the Midwest drum corps in the development of your new line of mid-voice equipment. In particular, the Madison Scouts and the Phantom Regiment.
Mark Schafer: We've also sought the input from many other corps. In fact, we just sold some mellophones to The Blue Devils. We had sent a sample to Wayne Downey, he did some testing and was very happy with the instruments.
SP: No kidding?
MS: Yeah. We want to get as many suggestions from as wide a variety of people as possible.
SP: Well, speaking at The Blue Devils, Kanstul mid-voice instruments (once a west coast phenomenon) are starting to crop up all over. Why would drum corps want to stick with or switch to Dynasty?
MS: When someone calls in, whether it's Wayne Downey or someone from a very small corps requesting an instrument to try out, we take one off the shelf for them. What they eventually purchase is the same as what they try. So, consistency from instrument to instrument within a model is very important. From feed back we've gotten from people who have tried other brands of instruments, intonation is a problem, but not with our product. Finally, service is important. We've been involved in the bugle area for almost 15 years. We really try to make an effort to stock a good backup of parts and, if someone has a problem, we give them quick service. I can't speak for other companies or about what kind of service they provide, but I think they'd have a hard time doing better than we do.
SP: A lot at times when drum corps get new horns, there is always someone who wants to monkey around with them. Madison has been legendary at altering equipment in the past. They'll change out blow pipes, or maybe chop tuning slides a bit, or add a bracket here, or add a rear view mirror there. I'm sure you guys are aware of these changes. Have you ever sat down to take a look at these alterations and maybe incorporate them in your design?
MS: Yes, if we get a consistent request from different sources. For example, perhaps on the mellophone the second slide is a little flat. If we hear that consistently, we will incorporate that change into our production instrument. We can send horns out and whoever does the testing for the corps is at home maybe or here in our plant that is air-conditioned and basically 70 degrees year-round. But when you get out in the field and play the horns in the summer, as I'm sure you're aware, characteristics crop up because of temperature and what not…
MS: ... We can't really test for that. So, there will be ongoing improvements as we discover not only how the horns play, but perhaps there is a weak area where stronger bracing is needed. If so, we'll incorporate that into the instrument. Those things only come from long term use and the feedback you get from that. Obviously, we want to make the best product we possibly can.
SP Our section at Bluegrass Brass was fortunate enough to buy the Bluecoats Dynasty mellophone line. We tested King mellophones, but we were much more impressed with Dynasty. I didn't realize how much of a difference there could be between two brands of equipment.
MS: The mellophone [laughs] is the worst instrument to deal with.
SP: You guys have changed your "theory" on them. In the past you manufactured and shipped them with trumpet mouthpieces. Now, you've gone to a mouthpiece similar to a "Benge Mello 6V."
SP: I guess this is something you've found people using the most in the drum corps community. What other kind of experimentation or design will you go through before you decide to place a particular type mouthpiece with a particular horn?
MS: The only instruments we have not used "off the shelf" mouthpieces that we supply with our band instruments are the mid-voice instruments. On the mid-voice instrument, we did use "off the shelf" mouthpieces up until seven or eight years ago. Again, because of the unique design problems with the mid-voice instruments, we decided to either find an existing mouthpiece which matched well with the instrument, or develop a completely new one. Basically, we found one that was very close to what matched up well, and then made some alterations to them and started making them ourselves.
SP: We use both the Benge and the Dynasty mouthpieces in our line and they both match very well.
MS: One thing we get a little concerned with is people using different mouthpieces on our equipment, especially those requiring adapters.
SP: Oh, you mean French horn mouthpieces on mellophones?
SP: Oh yes, I think that's a big problem, too. Of course, the instruments weren't designed for that, right?
MS: No they weren't. You create a tremendous amount of turbulence at the end of the mouthpiece because of the gap. We always counsel people to avoid doing that, but they maybe looking for certain sound characteristics.
SP: I think the majority of them are French horn players that are fearful of ruining their embouchures. In that regard, I can see their point. The alto bugle has disappeared from the Dynasty line up. Was this because of marketing reasons?
MS: Yes, the demand was not there for that particular instrument. We're always thinking about new models and when possible, we may add something to our line over some time in the next couple of years. I don't know if it will be an alto or a flugelhorn, or it might be some sort of hybridization of those instruments. If the demand is not sufficiently large for an instrument, we can't justify tooling up just to make only twenty or thirty a year.
SP: I guess chrome plated bugles are gone now, right?
MS: Not yet.
SP: Well, the rumor I heard was that the Environmental Protection Association put you guys under a little pressure to clean up one of your processes.
MS: It's all "platers," not just us. The EPA comes out with new regulations just about every year. As of yet, they have not set their latest tolerances of allowable pollutants they’ll allow. Once they do, then we have to decide if we can continue chrome plating, but we don't know yet. We are going to continue chrome plating until such time we find out we're unable to comply with the regulations.
SP: That's great. I suppose the Windex people will be pleased to hear that there will be more chrome plated horns around!
MS: For the smaller groups, it's not a bad finish and it's very easy for them to maintain and keep them looking nice.
SP: I think they sound better, actually.
MS: It's a darker sound.
SP: Yeah, very much so. Our corps was able to secure an entirely chrome and we are very pleased about that. OK, I'll start to wrap this up. Now that the three-valved instruments have been legalized, what are the major changes you see in the future for bugles? Have we reached the pinnacle?
MS: Boy, that's a tough one. 'As far as the instruments go, we're always trying to improve them and also maintain a certain price point because corps don't have a great deal of money to spend. Quite frankly, I think we have reached the pinnacle with the mellophone. I always say this jokingly, but it's pretty much true - except for the contrabasses, we've probably spent as much money on tooling for the mellophone over the years as we have on all the other instruments put together. Currently, we're looking at the French horn a couple of different ways with design changes that would improve playing characteristics. Other than that, we're at the mercy of DCI and what they decide for the future. There have been discussions from time to time of going to B-flat and F instruments.
SP: Uh oh.
MS: Some people would like that. So, we're still at the mercy of what the groups themselves as to what they want.
SP: That's kind of a unique position in the instrument making industry, isn't it? Very uncomfortable, I would imagine?
MS: It is in a way. We weren't opposed to the change to the three-valved horns. We just wish that it had not dragged out so long. For five years they were talking about changing and then it would get voted down. That really hurt our business because people stopped buying two-valved instruments: But now things have picked up substantially.
SP: Great! Thanks for the interview.