Product Review
Olds Opera Cornet (SN 4008XX, Produced in Spring of 1962)

John Hudspeth

The Olds “Opera Premier” model trumpet was first listed in the 1960 Olds price list. The 1962 catalogue included the first mention of the cornet version. In those catalogues, the Opera price was above the Recording, but less than the Mendez. My example was made in early 1962. However, my model is simply inscribed “Opera”. I’m not sure of the difference between the Premier and just plain Opera, since the 1964 catalogue also dropped the Premier moniker.

On first examination of the Opera cornet, it appears to be quite similar to my Special of that period (actually, SN 6974XX, 1968 to 1969), except the Special has a solid nickel bell, but with a Bronze alloy flair. Also, the Special has a brass leadpipe, and the Opera’s is nickel. Upon closer examination, the Opera has a noticeably larger bell flair, 5 ¼ inches, as opposed to the 4 ¾” flair of the Special, with an obviously larger taper. Even so, the Opera is not especially heavy, mine comes in at 2.4 pounds on my electronic fish scale.

Also, the Special’s leadpipe is a bit shorter than the Opera, and the Special’s main tuning slide expands from .460” in the inlet tube to 0.468” at the outlet, matching the valve set bore of 0.468”. The Opera’s main tuning slide is 0.468”, as are the valve slides. The upper and lower valve caps are 12 sided faceted brass. The valve buttons are octagonal. The first slide trigger as well as the second valve bow knob has a mother of pearl inset which is a nice touch. The trigger may be adjusted by screwing in or out on the ends of the push rod, which is also nice for us old guys with arthritic thumbs. The outer slides and lower valve caps are nickel, as are the valve balusters. The lower valve cylinders, and slide bows are brass, which give it a nice contrast (perhaps reminiscent of the Conn Connstellation of that period, as well).

Having grown up reading the old 1962 copy of the Olds catalogue (claiming to imbue the Opera cornet with “extra tonal capacity, unlimited power”) I had eagerly anticipated getting my hand on this great little cornet which my son had found, and held for me after I had been to my daughter’s wedding. I eagerly sat down with my new daughter in law (son was at work) and gingerly opened the leather case, revealing the shining nearly fifty year old treasure. There was a (hopefully) unused diaper in the case, which I carefully wrapped around the valve section before dropping a little of the oil I had taken with me (and hopefully keeping it from her shining wood floor), and played a few careful licks. WOW, it WAS powerful, big tone, easy blow. The valves were amazingly tight, the slides fit very well. It was truly a treasure.

So I took it back to my truck for the 4 hour trip home. Our brass band was on summer hiatus, and we were going to start in a few weeks, so I’d have time to take it through its paces. When I got it home, in an act of sheer will power, I didn’t try out the horn until I had thoroughly washed, examined, and lubed it’s innards. I was READY to go. I took in a big breath, and started an all out wall busting rendition of the Arutunian Concerto, busting every other note! I HATED it!

I tried a few other real challenging pieces, and every one was the same! Different mouthpieces (I play large ‘pieces, Bach 1’s, 1 ½ C’s, Schilke 24, etc.) Busted notes, missed pitches, a complete mess. I went back to my old horns, and would try the Opera once or twice a day. Then it slowly dawned on me! I had loved it when I was trying not to offend my daughter in law, who wasn’t used to my playing, like my own kids were. I was being understated and not pressing the horn. When I tried to blow down walls, it didn’t like it!

So I started over, to re-introduce myself to the Opera. Just playing a little Clark Technical Studies, normal lip slurs, that type of thing, was enough to let the Opera show its stuff. By the time I got back to band, I had figured it out. Don’t let that big bell fool you, the Opera is a ballet dancer, not a martial artist! Like all Olds, it can slot way up past high C, I think the highest I’ve been on it is an A under super C, which is about where I am able to play to on most any horn these days.

Our first concert I used it for playing third stand, which was great. The big old bell and edge of the nickel bell came through. Even after shifting to play piccolo trumpet on American Patrol (the clarinet and flute parts, it’s a brass band) I still had enough gas for an F over high C on the end of Carmen Dragon’s America (it isn’t written that way, but it’s become a tradition in our group).

The thing about the Opera is that almost the entire air passage is nickel. Think of a Studio on steroids. I find that nickel bells load up fast, but you can easily over play them. I don’t have a Studio presently, but I do have a Reynolds Emporer cornet (Abilene, TX period), which has the nickel flair, like the Studio, with a lot of similarities to the Special in the leadpipe and wrap. It didn’t like to be pushed either, but it cut through when needed, and was an easy player. I would say the Olds Special was a bit more friendly to push. I have used it for years, occasionally playing a solo, and have liked the darker tone given by the bronze bell, which allows for a bit more dynamic playing, in my opinion.

Man, I wish they’d made the Opera’s huge bell with red brass (or maybe Bronze, like the Special and some Schilkes)! Then I could let it loose as the brochure claimed!