Date: Wed, 28 Nov 2007 22:19:19 EST
Subject: [TPIN] Olds Ambassador vs. Olds Mendez Trumpets, An Assessment

Information regarding the relationship between the Olds Ambassador and Olds Mendez trumpets  has recently appeared on TPIN, and  I am posting this in response to suggestions from several members.

For many years, I have gathered a now large collection of information concerning Olds instruments. Within the past year it has been my good fortune to have obtained an impressive amount of photographs, literature, and original factory documents related to Olds.

From 1961 until 1968, I served as Director of Research for Olds and remained as Consultant for several years after my formal departure. I was not, however, with the firm when it closed in 1979, nor in 1947 when the Ambassador and Mendez models were developed.

Conclusive assertions are worthless unless supported by hard evidence. In comparing two trumpets, mechanically, it is a necessity that an experienced individual engage in very time-consuming measurements of the instruments. Even with the inferential evidence I will mention in this post, I would not make any definitive claims about the similarities, or differences, between any two trumpets without actually engaging in measurement of representative samples, and a very close analysis of the resultant data. Although I have measured hundreds of trumpets, many being made by Olds, I have not measured the Ambassador and/or Mendez.

The development of the Mendez and Ambassador appears to have occurred simultaneously. As has been documented in their work on Mendez biography, Lyren and Hickman have discussed the circumstances surrounding Rafael Mendez endorsement of Olds products. From original Olds Company materials in my possession, I have documented that Reginald Olds (then President), Jack Levy (Sales Manager, F.E. Olds and Son, Inc.) and Maurice Berlin (then President of parent company, Chicago Musical Instrument Company), met in August, 1947 in Los Angeles, and agreed that the firm should enter the so-called school market.

This was, indeed, a far sighted, and correct, assessment which became the cornerstone for the great success later experienced by Olds and CMI. It was probably late in 1947 that Maurice Berlin engaged in communications with Mendez concerning Ralph's involvement with Olds. The two agreed on an endorsement arrangement and Mendez began working with Olds factory personnel to develop a new model Olds to be called the Mendez. It is generally assumed that the original Mendez trumpet was a copy of the French Besson, but this has never been firmly established through an accurate measuring process. Ralph did not have an intimate working knowledge of the subtleties of trumpet design, and probably functioned as a tester of prototype instruments produced at the factory. These prototypes were presumably copies of the French Besson.

As part of their plan to develop a student model trumpet, it was decided that the new model would be called the Ambassador It would essentially be the same as the Mendez, but would have to sell for much less. There was great concern among Olds management that the new Ambassador could not be inferior in quality to any other Olds trumpet. The differences between the Ambassador and Mendez are largely observable; the Mendez has two triggers, the Ambassador has none; the Mendez has a more expensive claw type bracing system, and a more expensive case, etc. etc. The essential tapered sections which govern the basic musical characteristics are thought to be the same. It is Zig Kanstul's recall that the leadpipes may be somewhat different. Notwithstanding myth, both trumpets were constructed using the same thickness brass for the bell. The Mendez model did not have a thinner bell. At the beginning of the Olds/Mendez relationship, the individual probably responsible for measuring Ralph Mendez French Besson, assuming such actually occurred, would have been Harper A. Reynolds, brother of then Vice-President of Olds, Foster A. Reynolds. Harper joined Olds at the same time as Foster (1947), and served as Assistant Factory Superintendent. During my tenure with Olds, there existed a very large set of discs (several thousand), constructed in increments of .002 , which could be inserted into the bell or leadpipe of a trumpet to obtain the interior dimensions of the part. To my awareness, this set was probably not in existence when Harper would have measured the legendary Besson. The method he may have employed is unknown, but was probably less accurate than the graduated disc tools later made by Olds machinist, Bob Baltes, and extensively used by both Zig and me for many years.

Olds was, for its entire history, a one-tolerance shop. That is, all instruments were made to the same level of quality. Therefore, the Ambassador was subject to the identical quality control as the Mendez. The Ambassador was never a lesser version of the Mendez, nor was the Mendez a sophisticated version of the Ambassador. Those players sufficiently astute to ignore the stigma of the Ambassador being a student trumpet are well aware of this.

Rafael Mendez played a stock Mendez trumpet, often trading his personal trumpet with a student also playing a Mendez. Ralph indeed preferred pistons which were over lapped, having a larger tolerance than typical, so the trumpets which were actually sent to Ralph underwent extra lapping. The only time Ralph demonstrated an interest in playing something other than a standard Mendez was when he became attracted to the Custom line of trumpets Zig and I developed in 1964. These were light weight trumpets, and Ralph asked to use my personal Custom on a concert tour. This idea was quickly dismissed by CMI. Ironically, the second day of the tour, Ralph's Mendez model was inadvertently damaged and sent back to the Fullerton factory for repair. Zig quickly made a duplicate Custom for me and I shipped mine to Ralph for use on the remainder of the tour. I still have a French Besson trumpet Ralph gave to me as a gift for this favor. CMI personnel never found out about his escapade!

All Olds trumpets, during the 1961-1968 era, were very, very consistent in performance. This consistency attached to the Ambassador as well as the Mendez.

Over the years, there may have been modifications in the Ambassador, and probably less in the Mendez. It is possible that a 1947 Ambassador may possess slightly different internal geometry than one made in 1977.

Again, this has never been documented with hard data. The proliferation of customized Ambassador models in our contemporary trumpet community, is an unfortunate, though logical, progression in the world of ersatz trumpet design so prevalent today in the United States. Ambassadors are relatively inexpensive to purchase. Repairmen can easily use their mechanical skills to modify these horns and attempt to sell them at a premium. Over several years I have inquired of several individuals who customize Olds (and other) trumpets, of the differences between the original instrument and their modifications. Why is the modification better? Specifically, I have requested hard data such as comparative intonation charts, etc. Never has anyone been able to supply this information. Although it is assuredly possible to produce a trumpet with some performance characteristics superior to the Ambassador, most of the well-informed authorities with whom I have discussed this matter, agree that it is best to leave the Ambassador as an Ambassador. It is easily defended to describe the Ambassador of Foster, Ralph Harper, Reg, Jack, and Maurice as the most popular trumpet in the history of our art.

R. Dale Olson