By SHANNON HOUSTON
In the back of Tom’s Guitars in Medford is a display case filled with 40 antique cornets Duane Hess has collected over decades of selling new and used instruments as owner of Western States Music.
The walls of the store at 1103 N. Riverside Ave., owned by his son Tom, are also covered with antique instruments. Microphones, vintage guitars, banjos, mandolins, even marching band hats.
“I love all of them,” says Hess, 78.
He points out a rare rotary cornet from 1861 made by the Boston Musical Instrument Co. as his favorite of the cornets. The oldest instrument he owns is an 1819 flute.
Hess says he collects “probably anything that’s really, really unusual.”
“I played trumpet when I was a wee little one and just fell in love with anything that’s a vintage instrument or a unique instrument,” he says.
Among his collection of marching band hats is one from an oboe player in the John Philip Sousa Band, worn from 1920 to 1926. He traded a tuba and $50 for it, he says. He admires Sousa, known for composing famous marches such as “Washington Post March,” “Semper Fidelis,” “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
“He is absolutely my idol,” says Hess. When he found a miniature sousaphone, an instrument created by Sousa, Hess knew he “had to have it.
“I traded my favorite trumpet for it,” he recalls.
Hess has worked with various companies, including Chicago Musical Instruments and Godin Guitars, each for 20 years. Currently he travels to eight different states buying and selling items for such companies as Goldtone and Kremona North America.
He takes his wife, Bev, and dog Sofie along in a 40-foot motor home for up to three months at a time.
“No matter where we are, we’re home,” he says.
Hess says he originally dreamed of being a musician.
“All my grandparents played instruments, my folks played instruments, I play numerous instruments, Bev played numerous instruments,” says Hess. His grandfather’s marching jacket from 1916 hangs in the store.
“My dream was to stay in the Navy band and go to the Navy school of music,” says Hess. Illness prevented him from continuing on that path, and he instead got a job from a friend at a music store after leaving the Navy band and has been in the selling business ever since.
As he worked in the field, Hess made a point of spending time with experts to learn all he could about instruments and their authenticity. He has also spent time observing how instruments are made at the 26 factories he has visited, which he describes as “fascinating.”
“I love to research musical instruments,” says Hess. “I’ve always been a very curious person.”
He does free appraisals for people who bring in their instruments to Tom’s Guitars.
Hess and Tom’s Guitars collect instruments for students in band who need them. Hess evaluates donated instruments and sends them to be repaired before giving them to schools.
Shannon Houston is a Southern Oregon University intern. Reach her at email@example.com.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.