Anyone wanting to see an example of a true Artisan who is also a consummate customer service representative need look no further than Flip Oakes.
Years ago, a friend sent me a link to Flip’s URL since he knew I played a Bach and might be in the market for a new horn soon. I looked at the website and definitely was intrigued by the descriptions of the design as well as all these testimonials by people who swore by Batches until they found the Wild Thing.
I myself had only owned one trumpet my whole life – a Stradivarius, and I was irritated by intermittent valve problems with it that were beginning to affect performances even after cleaning and oiling them the day of the show. Just about a month before what was a pretty big solo gig, they started acting up consistently. I had long since tried all my friends’ recommendations for oils, degreasers, etc. but nothing worked for very long. I took the horn to my local horn guy twice and even sent it down to Bob Reeves, but they started hanging up again within days of each return, and I didn’t know what to do.
I could but didn’t want to borrow a horn, and to my disbelief there wasn’t even one good pro horn available for rental in San Francisco. It was six days before the concert. I happened to have the money in the bank at the time and had been thinking about taking the plunge to get something new, especially since I’d begun doing more professional work, so I called Flip and asked if he thought I’d be able to get my ears and arms around the sound in that short of time. He took a genuine interest in my playing and asked a lot of questions about what type of playing I did and what my approach was. He told me he felt that I would be able to make the transition in time to give a good performance, but that if I didn’t like it, I could send it back to him within a few days for a full refund.
Well, I was eager to get the horn as soon as possible, but at that time Flip didn’t take credit card orders (he does now) and so he did an incredibly generous, trusting thing: he said “If you tell me that you’re putting a check in the mail today, I will overnight the horn to you today and you’ll have it in your hands tomorrow.” He did exactly that, and the horn sounded amazing immediately; even more so after I had a few days to “find” my own sound on it.
“My own sound,” on the Bach, won me soloist spots with probably 50 different groups, but once I heard what I sounded like on the Wild Thing, it occurred to me as I listened to old recordings that it sounded like I had a sock stuffed in my bell by comparison to the WT. I also tacked three or four notes on the top end of my range that still sounded round and full, which was important to me since I’m much more Cheat Baker than Maynard Ferguson.
I’ve owned my WT for almost five years now, have played it in just about every genre save Dixieland, and I couldn’t be happier. I agree with so many of the testimonials as far as the sound and other technical benefits that I’ll just tell you another little customer service story to close out.
I had a conference to attend in San Diego to attend recently, and on short notice realized that I might have time to go and meet Flip if he was available. I could only go early in the morning or evening, though, so I hesitantly called him, knowing it was pretty unreasonable to ask if I could come to see him at 8 in the morning or during the dinner hour. But he said “Things are pretty easygoing here. You can come by anytime you want if I’m not at a gig.
“You’re just coming to see a friend.” Wow. Then, if that wasn’t enough, he spent several hours with me, helping me test and evaluate his new slides and mouthpieces, trading off horns and mouthpieces between the two of us so I could hear from the listener’s perspective- he even did a custom job on a mouthpiece for me, giving me that totally effortless sound that I’m sure will bring me even more commercial solo work.
And Flip didn’t try to push anything on me, either. He even cleaned the horn (for free!) and pulled his big black book out in order to find the page of data for MY HORN and realign my valves exactly as they were when he sent it to me. I also got the new J1 slide, which immediately gave me better control when improvising in the high register and opened me up more overall. I didn’t think it was possible to improve upon my former Wild Thing setup, but, incredibly, it was and I am so glad that I went and got to spend some time with this great man.
Some people pay thousands of dollars just for this kind of personal attention, and for a few hundred dollars, I got that and a whole lot more, including making a new friend. Flip is a great player, an incredible horn maker, a skilled listener and an incredibly nice guy. As a result of my experiences, I consider Flip my trumpet “life coach,” and I’ll look forward to continuing to spread the gospel of the Wild Thing and of Flip’s work far and wide.
San Francisco, CA