Our Founder, Jonathan Hodgetts, has a message for all customers regarding our continuing journey to exceptional quality instruments, and our exciting plans for the future.
"Thank you for the nice comments on our social media channels, and apologies to those who have previously received an instrument of lesser quality than expected.
I would like to take a moment to fully explain the situation, and the steps Wessex is taking to improve. When I established Wessex Tubas just 8 years ago it was from the back room of my home, selling a relatively small number of instruments made by 4 factories in China that would then be shipped to a storage unit in the UK before being delivered to customers.
In those early days Wessex was like most other companies, simply ordering from the factory in China and trying to mitigate any quality issues before shipping out to customers; if the finish wasn’t of a certain standard, valve caps won’t thread well, there was a crack in knuckle from valve block, for example, there was a very limited amount that I could do. I did my best in those early years, of course, and when - after 4 years - the Wessex brand had grown significantly, where I began to receive complete containers, I decided I must take action to improve quality further.
By then I had settled on using the Jinbao factory (the very best of those I had tried), and began visiting the factory every quarter to quality assure every product before accepting the goods.
When I first started the quality assurance, I could not practically demand that everything be perfect, or we would have nothing to sell! But instead pointed out problems, trying to get them rectified on the production line, and rejecting the worst cases.
With every visit to the factory, I raised the standard of acceptability - but could not raise too quickly or we simply would not have sufficient stock to fulfill orders.
It has been an ongoing challenge over the years; making the decision of whether to keep customers waiting for perfection and risk losing orders, or accepting instruments with very minor defects and hope the customer will still be satisfied with the end product.
Naturally, customer demands vary tremendously - some are happy as long as a instrument plays well and worry in no way about the finish, while others worry about the smallest scratch, or imperfection. Two years ago I welcomed Chuck Nickles to Wessex Tubas as Chief Designer and Technical Advisor and he has been coming with me on every quarterly quality assurance visit ever since.
Chuck has a lot more knowledge of tuba building and repair than I, and has, in effect, been acting as consultant to Jinbao in improving quality; with better soldering, improved tooling and greater use of jigs, etc. So over the last two years quality has continued to improve, probably for all brands coming from the factory, if they have been applying the lessons to other productions. Knowing that a Wessex team is going to be there for every order quality inspecting and being ever more critical, Jinbao have been working particularly hard to further improve the quality of everything they make under the Wessex brand to the extent that, for example, they spend 6-times longer polishing every Wessex instrument against other brands! Jinbao had already established a High-Grade department which were making boutique trumpets for some other company to German quality standards, and when Wessex decided to develop the Chicago-York 6/4 CC Tuba it was decided that this tuba would be manufactured by High-Grade to the best standards possible.
The quality of this Tuba was way beyond anything that had previously come out of China.
Chuck Nickles and I have been working with Mr. Qi, the High-Grade production manager, to raise standards even further; including such things as better valve cap threads, which has always been a difficult area to get entirely right, but with the latest production I think we have at last succeeded!
Particularly over the last year there has been an increasing realisation from both the factory and I that manufacturing Wessex in High-Grade is the way forwards to produce the quality that Wessex and our customers rightly demand.
High-Grade production is completely different from regular Jinbao production. Regular production is by means of a production line where workers carry out one process and pass on to the next, with no one worker taking full ownership for the production of that instrument.
It is a process that makes manufacturing as inexpensive as possible, which is what is demanded by most companies that have their instruments made in China.
However, in High-Grade production, every instrument is built and assembled by a skilled craftsman, or craftswoman, who takes full ownership for the whole process, even loving polishing that instrument when finished.
This is the way Wessex wants our instruments made.
There are, of course, cost implications to this new production process - it costs approximately 30% more to make a tuba in High-Grade but, regardless, I have made the decision with Jinbao Management that during 2019, all but student Wessex production will be transferred to High-Grade.
This has got to be done over a period of time, as the High-Grade team is fully trained and more staff are brought onto the team - meaning we are taking over 3-floors of the factory for just Wessex High-Grade. All new models are being made in High-Grade and, already, manufacturing of Wessex other professional tubas has started to be moved across, so all Wyvern CC, Viverna BBb and Grand BBb are now made by High-Grade.
The difference is tremendous - they look like they have come from a different factory! These are tubas of which I am personally very proud. But we don’t want to remove economically priced tubas for students and schools from the range, so will continue with some regular production, but these will be branded ‘Overture’, so it will be clear to customers where the tubas have been produced.
We will still try to make the quality of our ‘Overture’ range as good as possible, but the process will not allow them to quite come up to High-Grade standards.
During 2019, the range of each model will be clearly marked on the website.