You would think that cutting metal is simple. Machining is often nothing more than removing material quickly, efficiently and accurately so it would seem that once you understand the process there's little to learn. I am relieved to report that this is not the case. Challenging problems hold my interest and my new cnc turn/mill center is a serious challenge. It is so much more complex than my last lathe with four more axes (the plural of axis), full c-axis contouring and 11 live tools.
My head gets lost in another world imagining the process of cutting a part from start to finish. Yet thinking through the entire process is necessary when machining even the simplest part. Forget one step and the potential to break a tool cutter, the part or even the machine increases immensely. Either my brain is too small to do this quickly or the process requires a lot of intense focus. I literally have to close my eyes in a silent room with no distractions to visualize so many moving parts and tools cutting all six sides and the inside of one single part.
With time and practice, I'm sure this will get easier, but now I'm starting to wonder how many people I pass on the street may have honed this ability? There have to be a lot of people who have done this before me and possess the knowledge and skills necessary to cut a part on a complicated machine right the first time. Who are these people and where are they hiding? I'm guessing in plain sight!
I have worked very hard for more than a full week preparing the shop for the new cnc lathe. Building new workbenches, buffing and grinding areas with dust collection, a new soldering hood with filtration, etc. to prepare the shop for more efficient and organized production without adding people. My current estimate is that I can build more than 500 custom trumpets a year with good organization and cnc machinery (robots) at my service. This ensures that parts will be more accurate than if they were made by people and I can personally handle quality control on every horn. The clean up process will improve as well since my higher end horns will soon incorporate modular leadpipes and eventually modular bells. Cleaning and finishing smaller modular parts is faster and easier than an entire large complex assembly. This will also open up many new options such as mixing materials throughout the horn. You could potentially mix copper, brass, nickel, delrin, aluminum, steel, titanium, stabilized wood, acrylic, iron, bronze, carbon fiber, kevlar and more within one trumpet. For instance, I have plans for a stainless steel or aluminum trumpet mixed with black carbon fiber. The variations will be endless and reconfigurable on the modular horns.
Here I am rambling about too many ideas once again. I'll be headed to Milwaukee soon for a week of intense training on the latest Delcam software for both my VMC and Lathe. This software is the best of the best so I expect to impress some of you with amazing trumpet designs next year. Does anyone out there use Delcam software? If so, please drop me a line with your thoughts.
Okay, time to finish replacing the vacuum pump and running new brake lines on a friend's Volvo. Then on to the next Summit...maybe I'm working on your horn next?
Today I am reflecting on all the good fortune I have known in my lifetime. Well, maybe not all of it as this would become volumes, but at least a synopsis of who and what circumstances have inspired me to jump out of bed each morning.
First, I need to thank my Mom who not only mountain climbed and skied while I was in the womb, but also gave birth to me under abnormal circumstances and miraculously kept me alive. Thanks Mom! And thanks for all the real mountain climbing and skiing in later years. Learning to jump off a steep mountain ledge and accelerate to 70+ mph on skis builds confidence and a survival-skill mindset. And you taught me to read using road maps, menus and truck stop "history" books while having me add up mileage between potential routes across the country. This kind of learning cannot be duplicated in any school setting. And hiding at weigh stations is a priceless experience. Of course showing me love and compassion every single day was my greatest gift from you. I love you Mom!
My Dad is most likely the reason I think outside of the box. At a very early age, he disciplined me in a somewhat military fashion that I later learned came straight out of the Navy and martial arts. I am very thankful for his extreme patience instilling values into my daily life. He taught me to do a task right every time even when there is a short cut that would never be discovered. Integrity, a word that most cannot define, was his greatest expectation of me. I learned to stand behind my word at a very early age. And to treat people with dignity, respect and kindness while in disagreement is a skill we all must learn. This required making a fool of myself numerous times, then facing those whom I had crossed with a sincere apology. A humble sincere apology followed by a hand shake is sometimes necessary to move on with almost all kinds of motivated relationships. After discipline and dealing with people, my Dad gave me the freedom of imagination. Which really is another way of saying he encouraged me to think for myself and discover the world for myself. This is where my Dad is different from most people today, you could say he's a mix of progressive and old-fashioned. He was very strict in discipline and very encouraging of creativity. Except his idea of creativity wasn't color crayons or a kid's rendition of the latest musical. He would describe in detail a new idea, an invention, that would shape the world with amazing yet simple logic and design. Then he would take me out to the garage and we would build a prototype. Then he would encourage improvements and soon I had an inventor's notebook full of ideas. Soon these ideas would become my products or services in my childhood businesses and my Mom would teach me to keep inventory, accounting and advertising. You couldn't ask for better parents or a more diverse, educational childhood. Thanks Dad!
I'm also thankful for my sister, who tested my patience more than anything, but that's probably true of all close siblings. Jenn was my best friend growing up. We lived in a semi-truck traveling cross country when we weren't visiting relatives or sometimes going to school. I saw the world through her eyes, which was surprisingly different most of the time, though we were side by side most of the time. Perspective is one of the most important and valuable tools we possess, yet so many of us forget that there's more to life than "me". Jenn taught me that we each have our own needs, values, traits, likes and dislikes and no matter how logical or explainable, no two people are the same. Thus, each person much be treated as an individual and given your full attention in daily life, good times and bad times. After all, "me" in the context of no perspective for others has very little value to anyone. My original society of people and government was in essence, my sister and I in context with my parents in a moving home the size of your bathroom. People object to my philosophical Objectivist views, yet a democracy was never fair even between two people. Thanks Jenn ;)
And to my best friend, Jen, who patiently watched me struggle with being myself over conforming to society's expectations. Thank you for your encouragement, criticism, laughter and pure dedication in light of the uniquely capitalist reality I created, one that came with no guarantees. You trusted me to follow through with my crazy ideas transforming them into much more than a business, but a way of life. Faith in a person is the ultimate form of love, dedication and trust. Your faith in me, when everyone in the entire world thought my ideas were insane, was and is more powerful than any words, laws, monetary or other expectations conceivable by man. The only thing more powerful than the will to survive is an idea backed by faith. Thank you for giving when you could have taken away. I am forever grateful.
I am also very thankful for James, my shop assistant who is incredibly patient with my extreme expectations to achieve perfection within a few hours. And to Paul, who strives to organize my wildly diverse production schedule, while answering complicated and sometimes imaginary customer service needs with a smile even though I often refuse to answer his questions while I'm focused on the current task. That run-on sentence aptly describes why I am thankful for Paul. And to Solomon and Will, who are new to my world, yet just as important. They have already proven that believing in an idea has the potential to change the world.
Maybe our world is just "trumpets" to outsiders, but solving problems with this incredibly complex instrument has importance. The potential exists to liberate many of the world's most driven, dedicated and influential musicians to a higher level of self-expression. Trumpet players are often the strongest and sometimes the smartest in the herd. And by herd, I sincerely mean all those who have had the option to test their minds and bodies against this very unforgiving and hopefully rewarding length of brass. An instrument that can potentially draw tears from strangers of any language, land or system of beliefs and often the tears of . There are very few ways one may test a person's character that compare to mastering the trumpet.
And finally I would like to thank all of my friends, family and supporters many of which are also my colleagues and clients. You have trusted me one way or another and I am grateful for your willingness to try and hear something new and unknown. Your open minds pave the way for innovation, progress, logic and knowledge.
Have you ever done something, set it aside for a few days, weeks, months or years, then come back to it to find you've improved? I experience this all the time. In fact, I don't practice anything ever. I haven't practiced trumpet since 2004 and honestly cannot think of anything outside of martial arts and trumpet that I have ever seriously dedicated focused repeated study to achieve. How is it then that I (or you) improve on something I don't actively work on? Interesting question and I believe I have the answers.
Mindset is likely the key ingredient to learning the skills necessary to achieve proficiency in any physical or mental activity whether it be mundane, artistic, purposeful, expressive or self-serving. Growing these skills to meet a higher proficiency requires us to see beyond our limits and believe we can achieve more. This is probably all there is to know about becoming better or even great at just about anything. You don't need a college degree, tutoring or a million hours of practice. Simply set your mind to understanding the experience before you do it.
Of course, educating yourself with other people's experiences can be beneficial, but it could also set you back considerably. I have argued most of my life on this planet that learning by doing it yourself is the most valuable method of gaining proficiency and growth in just about anything. But what if you don't know Pythagorean's theorem, which fingers to put where on the violin or how much surface area is necessary on the wings for take off in low wind conditions? Well, that's when you ask questions and learn from others' experiences. But once you have the principles down, you should be on your own to discover your interests and develop those to your limits, then see beyond those limits and do it again and again.
Let's back up a minute. What if you decided to learn something with NO help. What if you chose to rediscover mathematics on your own? Could you come up with solutions and theorems that work and progress like the greats? Or could you simply pick up the violin and eventually become great with no lessons? Or build an airplane from scratch and survive? The answer is a clear YES since that's really how all subjects came to be. Someone started asking questions and it led to their life's work. In reality, this has been the case with millions of people throughout history. We all possess the innate desire to understand our world and control some small part through physical and mental human manipulation of nature's resources. This is progress, this is life, this is humanity.
Take trumpet for instance, it is possible to learn trumpet by taking lessons, going to schools to be educated on every aspect of music and lots of practice. Yet I know many great players that literally picked it up, fell in love with creating beautiful sound and learned all on their own. Many of them were great musicians before their first lesson and some never studied music in school.
I personally went to music school and worked very hard to learn the principles of theory, pedagogy, history, performance, etc. only to experience reverse improvement over the period of six years. I truly sounded better before I entered college than when I finally dropped out in frustration the very last week of finals. I am living proof that some people learn better on their own. Receiving weekly suggestions from my teachers aimed at improving my playing was completely unnatural to my way of learning. I eventually understood a great number of concepts in theory, yet could not put any of them into practice. The classic case of knowing everything about what I myself could not do.
But when you take a look at society today, you will see that this is the norm. People understand concepts, yet the average human being is only proficient in a very few small pieces of an overall larger system of doing something that produces a result. For instance, how many people understand how a car works? Could they build one on their own from parts? Could they fabricate all of the parts from scratch. Can they even repair the car? Yet they can operate a steering wheel and two pedals to get around town. This is not proficiency, this is living on autopilot.
Now consider the previous example and imagine the following people in place of the average person. An auto mechanic could probably replace some or maybe even all of the parts regardless of he/she understands how they work simply thanks to the modular design of automobiles today. Whereas an engineer could probably understand some, most or even all of the workings of each component yet may lack the skills to change the oil. This again is not proficiency. It would require someone with knowledge in mechanical engineering in at least six disciplines AND machining/fabrication AND welding/heat treating AND injection molding AND the list goes on to build a car from scratch if you provided this person with all the little miscellaneous components like springs, o-rings, fluids, fuel, filters, glass, etc.
Now compare my example of proficiency in automobiles with that of vocalists. A vocalist need only develop his/her own voice and skill by which he/she produces sound, none of which require any tools outside of the human body (with the exception of an atmosphere and a reflective space). Yet a vocalist may explore his/her art growing a knowledge base and experience as expansive as the engineer who builds a car from scratch.
Proficiency is clearly defined by a wide range of factors that vary greatly by discipline, but the principle is the same. Understanding a subject and growing in proficiency is almost entirely dependent on your mindset. Visualize what you want to do and then do it. If that doesn't work, take note of your results and try again. You could practice doing your entire life and never improve if you do not visualize solutions that were not apparent the day before. Visualizing new ways of doing something is a way of thinking. It is the mindset I make reference to again and again. This is a human ability that allows us to move beyond our current circumstances and to exert our ideas physically into the world to achieve something new at a higher level of proficiency.
To reiterate, daily or regular practice is not necessary to achieve proficiency. Simply seeing a practical solution or way of doing something before doing it is all that is necessary. Does that mean we'll all think up something and do it perfect on the first try? Obviously the answer is probably not, but don't be surprised when you meet that one person who can do it perfect on the first try. It happens and this is the awesome potential of all people.
Oh cool, I just imagined something new...
My unintentional hiatus from blogging has come to an end. I take delivery of an incredibly diverse, capable and potentially game-changing cnc lathe on Monday. This machine has the potential to produce trumpet components and mouthpieces almost 100 times faster than with a traditional machine while improving surface finish and accuracy by more than I could have ever imagined. And it finishes turned and milled parts (both ends) in one setup. That means it will produce a round turned part or a milled part or any combination of turned and milled in up to six axis simultaneously. For you non-machinists, this means I can produce a mouthpiece with almost any shape (not necessarily round) on the inside and outside, add artistic milling/engraving and create inlay pockets in one setup, making each mouthpiece more accurate than any other process in production from any manufacturer today. As far as I know, we will be the first to produce modular mouthpieces in such a versatile configuration on machinery designed to cut everything in one setup.
This means you, the customer, will now have the opportunity to use equipment of higher quality, accuracy and versatility for LESS MONEY. That's right, I'm not going the Monette route, charging extreme prices for entry-level products. My 5MM, Five-piece Modular Mouthpiece, System will be offered at $99 for the complete set for the entire first year of production. There will be numerous upgrade options priced according to complexity, but there will always be a wide array of inexpensive options available to everyone. Modular rims, cups, throats, backbores/shanks and outer sleeves will start at $20 regular price.
My goal has never been to produce the most expensive instruments. Price is always determined by the number of hours required to produce a component or instrument plus partial compensation for headaches, equipment, software costs and the, "blood, sweat and tears" factor. The new 5MM System pricing will start low simply to make this new solution attainable to everyone. Interested in the high end handmade custom art mouthpiece that will make you drool? Well, I'll produce those as well in very limited quantities.
Watch for photos and videos of the new lathe...