Bronz-o-lyte Bells

“Bronz-o-lyte” (also “Bronz-o-lite”) is the marketing name given to the bronze alloy used on the bells of Contempora trumpets, cornets and trombones. The alloy also appears to have been used on the valve balusters of early Contempora trumpets and cornets and perhaps the mouthpiece receiver. These parts were later changed to nickel silver (balusters) or standard brass (receiver).

The exact metallurgical composition of Bronz-o-lyte is not known, but bronze in general is an alloy of copper and tin. For example, Red Bronze is a known alloy of approximately 92% copper and 8% tin (not to be confused with Red Brass, which is 90% copper and 10% zinc). It’s also possible that Bronz-o-lyte is a variation of Bell Bronze, a very hard alloy that consists of one part tin (20%) to four parts copper (80%).

Stripping an original Bronz-o-lyte bell reveals two things: a raw metal initially more pink in color than orange or yellow, though it does darken with time, and a layer of colored lacquer that gave the bells their distinctive color. Differences in color today can be attributed to how the colored lacquer has aged with time and exposure to light.

From the beginning, although marketed with the same “Bronz-o-lyte” label, bass trombone bells may have used a slightly different metal alloy than the trumpets, cornets and tenor trombones – raw bells with the lacquer finish removed have more of a red-purple color, almost identical to a Conn Coprion bell, which was made of 100% copper.

The bell color seems to have changed slightly in the mid-1960’s when, in conjunction with moving production from Cleveland (OH) to the Olds plant in Fullerton (CA), Reynolds switched from cellulose lacquer to a more durable baked epoxy finish; it’s not known whether the epoxy was tinted.

Trumpet and cornet bells made after 1970 have a different metallurgical composition than earlier horns. Around 1970, Reynolds changed the standard Contempora bell from a bronze alloy to a brass alloy called Lubaloy, which Olds had been using since the mid-1960s.

Lubaloy is a standard commercial red-brass alloy of approximately 91% copper, 8% zinc and 1% tin, and is commonly used as a paint coating on bullets. On Olds Custom trombones, it was described as a 0.018″ lightweight material, though Contempora trombones were still using “Bronz-o-lite” in 1974 (it’s unknown if this was Lubaloy under a different name).

The Contempora trombones and trumpet switched to standard red-brass bells in 1977 and were marketed as such, ending the association between “Contempora” and bronze bells.