~ 3/16/2016 ~ Getting Back Up and Running ~
Over the past several months I slowed down production of serpents quite a bit. Part of the change was due to wanting a break while the rest was answering the ever increasing and important role as a father and husband. In all honesty though, there were also times that I could have been working on serpents and I had just gotten out of the habit. While I get back into production I am also going to try and figure out a way for some of my more industrious friends to make a simple serpent themselves, something along the lines of the Squarepent but visually more serpent like. We'll see how that goes.
~ 3/16/2016 ~ Wooden serpent still in the developmental stage ~
While I am still committed to creating wooden serpents, I don't have a marketable instrument available yet. This is more to a lack of time than any kind of technological hurdle. I have continued making fiberglass instruments and while those efforts have continued, I have been getting more and more familiar with the multi-piece, 3D carving that is necessary to make this new instrument successful. I have created made some smaller instruments and I have an full size serpent in process. As soon as it is finished I will update this site.
~ 4/21/2011 ~ A new wooden serpent under development ~
I have recently purchased a CNC mill and a larger Metal lathe and I am in the process of making a wooden prototype serpent. I won't be able to tell you how much these instruments will cost until I have completed the process, but I can guarantee they will be significantly less than other wooden serpents available.
~ 7/26/2008 ~ Serpent Production refined ~
Serpent production has been slow in 2008. The Kaiser clan has been busy and finding time to make serpents has been hard. I haven't been completely idle however, and I have made a serious attempt to continue refining my production methods. I recently purchased a small metal lathe and I am now making the pieces for the bocal receiver on this machine. The receiver is made from three pieces of brass that are silver-soldered together. Using a lathe has allowed me to make the top piece that joins the inner and outer tubes from thicker stock. I have also been using the lathe to finish the taper on the back of my wooden mouthpiece to get a more consistent fit. The lathe will also come in handy as I attempt to add keys to my serpents.
Another problem I'm addressing with new methods relates to bending the bocal tube. I have had quite a few problems getting the tubes to bend correctly. The tubing profile tends to "oval" in the curved section and this is very hard to remove. I think I have a good theory why this takes place. When I receive the tuba leadpipes that I make into my bocal, they are filled with pitch. Pitch is an inferior tube bending aid and in all probability the pipes are filled immediately after they are drawn while they are still in a work-hardened condition. The grain of the brass visible in the pipes certainly indicates this fact. I am addressing this problem by melting out the pitch, annealing the tubes, and filling them with Cerrobend, a special tube-bending alloy that melts at 158 degrees Fahrenheit. So far, so good. I hope "oval" pipes are a thing of the past.
I have continued to play around with different types of fiberglass cloth and different methods of lay-up. Lay-up is a tedious process and I have tried to find the quickest method I can use without compromising the final product. Heavier cloth is harder to work with but fewer layers are needed to build the tube to the right thickness. Thinner cloth conforms well to the molds, but it takes many layers to make a tube. Laying-up all the layers at once is quick, but often the inner most layer has tiny flaws where it has pulled away from the mold. Laying up a single layer at a time yields great results but tubes take several days to complete. All in all, the experimentation with cloth varieties continues but I have finally decided that only one layer should be added to the mold at a time. Also the time between layers needs to be less than 36 hours to maximize bonding.
~ 12/5/2007 ~ Contrabass Serpent Planned ~
I have thought a long time about making serpents in another key and have decided that a bass and tenor serpent in F are probably a little too risky to produce. Molds for fiberglass serpents take a long time to manufacture so it is important to get things right the first time. Also, the thought of learning another set of fingerings was an additional factor that lead me away from offerings in F. The precedent for a contra in C is already there, so that is where I plan to start. While I made no progress on the plans for the F serpents, I have devoted quite a bit of time already to my new contrabass serpent design. I have talked briefly with Paul Schmidt and I am going to be using some of the work he did on "Patrick" to get me started in the right direction.
~ Cracks lead to wrapping ~
During the summer I dropped one of my serpents on the concrete floor of my garage and it developed a hairline crack on the centerline where the two halves join. It was quite a fall and not likely to be reproduced easily, but it made me examine the quality of that joint more closely. Recently, I have decided that it is better to be safe than sorry and I have added a layer of fiberglass wrapping to my instruments. My very first serpent was wrapped in this fashion with linen bandages. Of course, wrapping makes getting a smooth exterior finish much harder. If we sand to the point that the instrument is smooth I have defeated the structural integrity provided by the wrapping in the first place. My latest serpents look much better than my first and I am sure that over time they will improve greatly.
Whenever I get discouraged about our serpents appearance I take a good look at this photo:
The serpent pictured above brought more than $3000 on EBay. Wow!
~ 12/1/2007 ~ One Year of Production ~
As of this month, Kaiser Serpents has been making instruments for one year. To date we have finished 13 instruments! I want to thank everyone that has taken a chance on us. I think everyone that has purchased is happy. We certainly have appreciated the positive feedback and the recommendations.
~ My Wife, My Helper ~
My wife has become quite the helper. She has been involved on every serpent so far. Her main contributions are helping me with the wet lay-up and coating the finished tube with epoxy which are both two person jobs. Occasionally she will paint and she is always there with her valuable opinion. When you see "We" and "Our" used on this website it is because it is a family effort.
~ Paul Horner becomes "The Sander in Chief " ~
My friend Paul Horner who got me started on serpents has started helping me sand tubes. He enjoys doing the work, does it well, and works really cheap! With Paul's help, the quality of the exterior of our serpents has improved tremendously. Speaking of Paul, here we are at the Columbus, NC Tuba Christmas!
Pictured Above-back row left to right: noted musicologist Lloyd Farrar with his Monk Military Serpent, Bob Massey with a Robb Stewart Ophicleide, and Bart Collins with a nasty old tuba. Front Row Left to Right: me, Russ Kaiser with one of my "in progress" serpents, and Paul Horner with his hand-made serpent in walnut and leather. I'm afraid it looks like the rare and unique instrument world is dominated by old farts!
~ 6/18/2007 ~ New Finish ~
Starting with Prototype V, I am painting the exterior of my serpents. The resin is still doped with pure ground carbon, but the exterior is sanded and a textured paint is applied. The paint is one of the many new products released for painting plastic and composites and it forms a permanent bond with itself and the serpent. I think the finish looks more like leather and the texture keeps finger prints from accumulating on the instrument.
~ African Black Wood ~
I have acquired some African Black Wood from a rare wood distributor. Serpent VII will feature a mouthpiece and finger rings of this fine wood. Blanks large enough for the bell ring are extremely expensive, so I will use walnut that has been stained with ebony stain for this piece. Grenadilla is the wood that the best clarinets are made from and it is naturally resistant to saliva. This will give serpent VII a black on black look that will be interesting. If I like the results, it may become the new standard.
~ 1/19/2007 ~ Serpents in Progress ~
We have three serpents in various build states (serial numbers 002, 003, and 004), though only one is close to completion. I hope to ship one of these three off to Paul Schmidt of the Serpent Website for evaluation. I plan to keep one serpent on hand so I can refine my own playing skills and enjoy the fruits of my labor and of course I will sell one. After the trials and tribulations of the last few weeks I am beginning to think that the first 6 or so serpents will all be slightly different as we iron out our building technique.
~ Bagging the Vacuum Bagging ~
After quite a bit of testing we have decided to quit vacuum bagging. It seems counter intuitive, but it was impossible to get a good inside mold edge using the vacuum bag. I have a ruined side and some smaller samples to prove it. My theory is that as the vacuum is being applied and the bag is tensioning it pulls the fabric away from the mold and then pins it to the mold base. I tried releasing the vacuum several times after the piece was "under bag" to push the cloth back against the mold, but the end results were the same. Using a standard wet lay-up process takes some diligence to watch for bubbles but the inside edge turns out nicely.
~ We make an important friend ~
We have been using epoxy resin products from Polymer Products on the latest serpents. To be honest, our initial purchase was based on economics. Their product spec looked very good and they were much more economical than System Three or West System. Carol, my better half, contacted them recently for technical advice and received excellent support. We will now be using Polymer Products resins exclusively.
~ Serpents in F ~
I have had a recent inquiry about a serpent in D. As you can see from this website, making molds is a major undertaking and I don't think I will make D molds in the near future. I am planning however to make serpents in F scaled above and below my current instrument. I want to start a performance trio using my instruments and considering the quirkiness and limited usable range of a serpent, voicing instruments in F above and below my present C offering makes musical sense. These instruments will be true experiments as to my knowledge F serpents were never created. I hope to be very public about the building of these instruments from the design phase all the way to the finished product. I will try to get a lot more photos of the process as well. Stay posted.