Ken Saul is the founder of Ultra-Pure Oils LLC, and talks to us here about getting started with creating his first valve oil product and how that has developed in to the extensive range that we see today.
Can you give a little of your background and your relationship with the trumpet.
I started the trumpet when I was 10 years old as part of our public school band program. Trombone was actually my first choice, but my arm was short and my older brother already played the trombone, so trumpet became my second choice. My main trumpet teacher in high school and college was Joe Alessi, Sr., the father of the famous trombone player of the New York Philharmonic. We were so fortunate to have Mr. Alessi in our town. He was formerly with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and a student of William Vacchiano, Harry Glantz, and Max Schlossberg. So Mr. Alessi’s students all got great training on trumpet fundamentals (lots of Arban, Schlossberg, Clarke, etc.). After receiving my college degree in music performance, I went on to study electrical engineering, which had always been my hobby. Even though I had a 30 year career in high tech as an electrical engineer, I never stopped playing the trumpet, and have been principal trumpet in our local university symphony for over 20 years. You can hear me on my YouTube channel .
What led you to start Ultra Pure Oils?
When my son was about 3 years old, he was digging around my trumpet case and I remembered that the bottle of valve oil was hazardous and to be kept away from children. I started looking around for a good valve oil that was not so smelly or hazardous, and was not able to find anything at that time (1990). I was familiar with synthetic oils from my day job, and began to blend oils to produce a good valve oil for trumpet. At that time, it was just a hobby, but I found it to be interesting and rewarding.
What were the first products that you launched and why?
The first product was just a good valve oil. At that time, we really only had kerosene-based valve oils, and these smelled bad and would evaporate quickly. Some even left residues behind which would gum up the valves if not cleaned constantly. I intended Ultra-Pure Professional valve oil to be odorless, long-lasting, super smooth feeling, and to leave no residues behind.
What was the R&D process like for your products? Did you get other people/players involved?
I am trained in design of experiments, statistics, and material science, so I definitely approached product development from an engineer’s perspective. After I was pretty happy with the valve oil, I sent it around to many of my friends and got feedback from them to make any fine adjustments. I began selling it through an ad in the ITG Journal. Remember, this was before the internet was invented! Mostly it sold to people I knew, and it grew slowly by word-of-mouth. In the year 2000, Dave Monette began using Ultra-Pure valve oil on his fine instruments and word spread more quickly about our product and we added a few retail dealers. We then added regular and light tuning slide greases.
Have there been any unexpected challenges along the way?
Keeping oil in the bottle and not leaking in shipment is a definite challenge that every valve oil company has faced. It is difficult to tighten the caps properly by hand, and we gradually added power equipment and automation to properly seal and tighten caps. We have also had to meet all the regulatory challenges involving types of bottles and caps, labeling, and warnings that are required of all consumer products that are light viscosity oils, even if they are food-safe and generally harmless. The most recent challenge was during this COVID pandemic, most of the bottle makers changed their factories over to making only bottles for hand sanitizers, hand soap, and other essential health needs. The bottles we needed took many months to procure instead of the usual few weeks. Fortunately, we did not run out of bottles, but we did have to ship oils in some unusual bottles as a stop-gap measure.
How do you balance running UP with having a life outside of work?!
This is a great question! Ultra-Pure Oils began growing organically, but gradually began consuming all my nights and weekends. Right at the point that it was clear that Ultra-Pure Oils was bringing in enough income on its own, I was offered an early retirement incentive from my employer and jumped at the opportunity. That was nine years ago, and our business has blossomed since my “retirement”. We finally had time to find excellent distributors all around the globe and started working with many instrument makers to provide their private label lubricants. Working for myself in our home workshop is incredibly rewarding and leaves me time to get out for a good walk everyday, practise trumpet, and enjoy gardening.
Any plans or new developments for the future?
We now offer a full line of lubricants for every instrument, including valve oils, rotary oils, trombone slide lube, tuning slide oils and greases, and excellent care kits for brassesand woodwinds. I look forward to travelling to more to trade shows and festivals when we are able to do so again, and to meet many of our customers and dealers.
Please visit the Ultra-Pure Oils website for further information.
You may also be interested to read this article written by Ken on how to clean the trumpet.
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