This image was taken not in 1926 but 2018.
Based on original casting models we have managed to fine tune the whole process. This takes time, devotion, patience and a few pennies.
The only pursuit here is perfection. The whole casting process has been reworked. This entailed getting deep into the craft of casting methods, casting sands, sludge filters inserted into the model….
Working with my foundry and “mister A” we actually reintroduced casting techniques that had sadly faded away with the years. To see his workers grin as we break open the mould and see the beauty of a well made product from lost techniques is something worth living.
We are now happy with the way we work together. Working as team we have nailed it….so yes this photo of my casting model could have been taken in 1926 when it was 1st used and for a short period of time but we are in 2018.
Castings models only last so long so you sooner or later get around to making them again.
Here the rear bracket and side brackets used on we12a and we15 solid wood seen in the previous article.
True to original these are for cast iron made from solid wood including core boxes. Not be be confused with the cheaper silicone and lost wax casting methods for metals/alloys that are cast a lower temperatures.
November 2017 : Some 70km North of Copenhagen during the ETF meeting of 2017 my good friend « B » decided to host a small lecture on Western Electric and some of their amazing technology and testing gear at Bell Laboratories. Amazing stuff indeed! During this small lecture we watched a short film in which you can see a Western Electric horn being rolled into the test room, see here https://youtu.be/fyMaqS_rN3s go to minute 2:48.
B is fully aware of my passionate endeavours to recreate the large western electric horns….he faced me, smiled, and said: « You see Tim, this is how they tested the we12a horn, the very same one you make today.’’ Immediately I spotted that this was no we12a! Handcrafting we12a, as I do, makes me very familiar with every detail of that horn. So with total confidence, I said to B, “No that’s no we12a.” B knows how well I know these horns so he didn’t doubt me one second. We watched the film frame by frame, time and time again….indeed no we12a at all…so we agreed this was a remarkable discovery. We ascertained very quickly that it was in fact a solid wood WE15a!
Later research led us to images of this never heard of horn taken by Western Electric for their documentation purposes. Detailed plans helped us understand the history of this very special horn. This is the very 1st 15a made by the same company that made the we12a and the 13a the very same construction method : the joinery work, the wood finish, the wooden brackets. That company is the Talking Machine Company renowned for its gramophones and the all famous credenza. Now these guys actually used the brackets cast for the 12a they made for Western Electric as the serial numbers confirm! It’s pretty certain that only one solid wood 15a is know to have been built, yes, one! Okay the we12a were made in small numbers, but were actually installed in theatres, but only one! And one that we can bet was never installed in any theatre. So actually the only ears that ever heard it were at Bell Labs…the greater public heard the plywood version. A prototype horn indeed!
So what happened ? Why did they revert to making the we15a in flimsy plywood given that the solid wood has far better acoustical properties? You know… ”money”, cost, the never fading focus on the profit and loss account. But also the daunting perspective of mass production. Yes the cinema industry with the talkies was rapidly expanding. Production capacities were central to the commercial success, fail to supply would leave a void. And that void would be filled by the competitors. So the talking machine company just couldn’t pump them out fast enough. This was most certainly the thing that crossed the minds at Western Electric. Yes making this horn in plywood costs much less and makes total sense in that world. Material come off the shelf, no planing planks straight and squared, ply can be pre-cut to shape at a rapid rate, no hand made individual small pieces of wood all individually matched…and so on. To build we15a in plywood will take me about 2 days but in solid wood ? More time than that!
This is what it takes to get the job done, to make exact replica throats in cast iron. No shortcuts, easier to make brass, no lost wax casting..indeed juts plain and simple cast iron as all the western electric horn throats. Easier said than done!
I really love this “very industriel” stage of my production work; important steps to reach my goals and produce some wonderful horns, the western electric 12a in this case.
This is a typical section from the sides of the 13a horn, one of the 120 needed to make one 13a horn.
The shape is like a propeller, end is rounded to follow horn profile and the two straight edges are not parallel (that would be too easy don’t you think!).
These side sections are finished to 1 inch thickness. To achieve the desired shape a 2″ thick piece is required. They are very difficult to plot and then extremely difficult to clamp securely for hand shaping. The shaping is down to craft and experience and sharp tools….I’ve done 1000’s of these over the years making the 12a and 13a horns and I still smile when I get the “perfect one”….the one shown is pretty spot on…
Been busy working on 12a and 13a horns and travelling around the planet to set them up correctly putting aside other plans.
It’s time to act….I have been harbouring for too long now the build of another very very special western electric horn (yes….very special indeed). Over the past years it’s been about research so as to craft as close as it’s possible to orignal back in the 1920’s. So all is in line to build the 1st one…
Some years ago I embarked on a road to replicate the “Adam and Eve” of cinema sound speakers. At that time many did raise their eyebrows saying build methods of the venerable WE12a and WE13a horns were hard and too expensive to master. Woodwork, castings, sourcing materials and getting wood from very same foresting areas as the originals was the work ahead, yes it took time, devotion and freinds…
I was advised that the plywood path of the WE15a was “enough” sound and far less challenging. But knowing the 15a (*). I knew that the stronger build of the 12 and 13 would reap better results. Also the challenge was exciting indeed. Whilst having a full time occupation I filled spare time with the project.
(*) 13Audio is working on something very special related to the 15a/b horn
These 12 and 13a horns are just “rare” only scarse originals left. Take a look at this extact from the western electric manuals of the time… “what happened to the 12a and 13a’s?” Yes resurecting these dinasours from the very history of sound is challenging, apealing and perhaps relevant beyond there sound reproducing merits ? I’ve been happy on every single step and I am still walking!
However “D” did strongly encorage me foward believing I if anybody could make it happen. Thank you “Monsieur D”!
D and I 1st met when I was selling my WE22a horns (Kanno replica). The WE22a road even with original WE555 drivers and good 597a tweeters etc…was not the road for me (read here ) Anyway D was intereted and finally took my WE22a horns. He heard them at my place in Paris and said he’d take them, the setup was well balanced and sounded okay. The problem? He then helped me install a “BIG” WE horn after having pulled down the 22’s. Well… he never even listened to the 22a horns again…indeed he had offered his ears the “big western electric horn”, oupppssss….albeit this big horn setup was very “roughly” setup. So game over for the 22a that was, he then sold them himself. If you pay attention you’ll frequently see 22 horns replica horns or sale I guess there is a reason.
Monsieur D started on his Western Electric Road landing up with a replica 15a setup. Then D made a “visit”….he listened to the 12a and 13a horns I had made. At this point I had taken my passion further and setup to commision build these 12a and 13a beauties. Setup, filters, wires and phases all pretty much in check. He so “naturally” asked me to build him some. Then the long road started sourcing the drivers, repairing some of them and as D was moving it delayed things but still over several years we worked as a team to acheive a goal. I arranged that D have the very 1st horns I ever made the 12a but also the very 1st 13a , these were my personal horns that can be seen here at my blog. Myself I was moving also and space during the transition to my Normandy paradise was an issue. I allowed D to have these 1st builds because for D from day one supported me and knew that I’d make it happen, maybe more than myself! BUT….my very 1st 13a was made based 1st plans I had that a good friend “S” offered me….well I came to realise as I got deeper into making these horns that this one was not “exact” as original (read here). Not a big issue however only normal that D’s second 13a be exactly the same as the very 1st made, indeed when you look at my builds today that are strict original dimensions you can see the differnce even from one’s listeing position. Sound wise? well you’ll have to hear both! So I had to “rebiuld” another one to match the 1st one…that was harder than I had imagined! Made a whole new set of jigs and forms…paint I used at the time was no longer avaialble so I had to turn myself into a sort of “patina” freak to match appearance…thanks D!
So in the end it all come together and we started to install the system as written about here.
And now last week the final stages the whole setup is with electronics, sources and gear that is upto the task and yes tungar power supply from my paddock of goodies.
These kind of horns tell you all about what’s upstream in your setup, no flaws allowed, sorry!
And in case you are asking yourself what does it sould like….awesome!
It needs a few more sessions where things will get even better :
- xover components
That will be over time with fun…
So this is the one of the extremely rare full 12a and 13Audio stereo setups on the planet, a rare thing indeed. More will exist as I am currenly working on several of such projects in parellel on pretty much every continent…
Sting on village square waiting to be taken away.
Beautiful light today, 29ºc in May…nice!
Happy owner will have it in a week so after 6000km journey.
Okay it’s not a we555 but from an iPhone I’ll say not bad!