Friday, 26 June 2015

My Horns No. 7 - Olds Ambassador A6ST Cornet


Latest of a series of blog posts about the various horns I own or have owned in the past - click here for other posts in the series.

For those who have read my other posts, you'll know that I've written twice before about the Olds instrument company, so you can read those posts for more information about the long and noble history of that brand, or check out the Olds Central site.

Today I'm writing about an instrument that was quite possibly the last instrument designed by the factory, and was Olds' final and futile throw of the dice in an effort to remain a viable concern, through tapping into the British brass band market.

Many readers will be aware that the Ambassador nametag was used for many years by Olds to designate the instrument at the bottom of their lineup - Olds Ambassador trumpets and (long) cornets have become legendary instruments in their own right - good quality almost indestructible instruments that can take a beginner a long way before they look for something else. The horn I'm writing about today may share the name, but that's about all it shares with it's student based siblings. Which begs the question - why did Olds use the Ambassador name for what they were marketing as a top line instrument, when it was so connected to their student offering?

There was some sense in the decision, looked at from the vantage point of the rest of the World. What American readers may be less aware of is that the original, student line Ambassadors were nearly exclusively sold in the US, so overseas the name had no instant recognition. The British brass band market, at which the A6 was aimed, was a conservative one, with Besson (Boosey & Hawkes), having a lock on instrument sales to bands (brass bands have a tradition of supplying instruments for their players, so instrument makers sold more to bands than to individuals). Olds thought that the Ambassador name was a good fit for an instrument that would very much be the new kid on the block in the UK, and trying to win over bands and players.



From trumpets

The A6 was first produced in the mid-late 70s. It's unclear who helped design the horn, but it was designed specifically with British brass bands in mind, and marketed as such. It is a heavyweight horn at 40oz., a 0.468" bore, and a 4.75" bell. It came with silver plate as the standard finish. You could spec the horn with triggers (my horn, the A6ST), or without, the A6S. You can see from the picture of my horn above that the water keys go either way, but the 1977 catalogue picture on Olds Central has a horn with water keys both underslung, so there were changes made over the model's short life. The model had a short life because it was unsuccessful in breaking into the British market: depending on who you believe, only 477 of these horns were ever made.

The failure of the A6 to break into the UK market had nothing to do with quality issues - the 1977 catalogue states "this is the finest cornet available", and at the time that was no idle boast. Even today in 2015, it is very hard to find a horn that can beat it - it certainly plays as well if not better as the currently available top-line cornets from Yamaha and Besson. For some years I played the famous "Globe Stamp" Sovereign cornet, and this Ambassador is better than that horn.

So, how does it play? Very well is the short answer. It is a large bore cornet, so it can take a lot of air, although it doesn't need a lot to make it speak. It has nice firm slots for the notes, wonderfully quick valves (all Olds valves are great, in my experience), and a tone that covers the entire palette of brass band requirements, from a beautiful mellow hymn tone to a commanding march sound. It never feels stuffy, and although it can take a lot of air, it doesn't tire you out. It is quite simply one of the best horns of any type I've ever had the pleasure of owning.

You don't often see these horns about obviously - mine is the only one I've ever seen in the "flesh". Given their rarity, it can be quite hard to purchase one of these horns, so patience is definitely a virtue if you want one. Price isn't actually too bad in my experience, starting around the $1K mark.  I was on the market for one for about five years, and in that time I think I saw three come up for sale on the sites I peruse from around the World.

If you have a hankering for something different to take to band, I can highly recommend the Ambassador A6 - still a fantastic cornet.





From trumpets


From trumpets


From trumpets


From trumpets

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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