Why Are Some Trumpets Better Than Others?
As far back as I can remember, it’s been an article of faith for trumpet players: To get a good trumpet, go somewhere where you can try a lot of identical instruments and pick out the good one. That used to work, sort of. Years ago, large stores, and even some smaller ones carried multiple samples of the same instrument which they would dutifully roll out to be tried. The problem was that, unless you happened to be there when a new shipment arrived, you could safely assume that the trumpets you were trying had already been picked over by numerous players. Plus, it can be very difficult to access small differences in a short time span and in an unfamiliar acoustic. Now days it’s pretty much a moot point. The economics of the music business make carrying a large stock of instruments a losing proposition.
So, what makes some trumpets good, others just OK, and a few real “dogs”? How do you pick out the best one? On the face of it, shouldn’t they all be the same? After all, they’re made in the same factory, out of the same parts, and by the same people. Why are they different? And what steps can you take to make sure you get a good one?
Every maker begins a product line with a prototype instrument or two. These instruments are made by hand, by the finest craftsmen available, and are tweaked and adjusted until they’re as perfect as they can be. It’s not surprising that they’re very good trumpets. The question is: what happens when these instruments move from prototype to production? Do they maintain the same quality and if not, why not?
If the factory instrument differs from the prototype in its playing qualities it seems reasonable that it must differ in its specifications as well. The closer the instrument is to the original design the more likely it is to play as the designer intended.
There are a lot of places for an instrument to go wrong in the construction process. The bore can be obstructed by solder or burrs or constricted by too-tight assembly, slides and valves can be too loose or too tight, valves may not be in perfect alignment. There are other, more subtle issues as well. The bell bow may have become flattened during the bending process, the mouthpiece receiver may not be concentric, or the venturi may be too small or large. Carefully measuring and correcting these defects restores the craftsmanship component to factory-build instruments and makes them play the way they were designed to.
We call this process Blueprinting, after the process used by racing engine builders. Blueprinting means bringing the instrument as close as possible to the specifications the designers intended. Obviously, it varies instrument by instrument, but a Blueprinting process might include:
- Precision Valve Alignment
- Rounding out the bell bow
- Checking for and removing burrs in the valve cluster and water keys
- Checking for and removing obstructions at the solder joints
- Checking slides for fit and alignment
- Checking and adjusting mouthpipe venturi and mouthpiece receiver
When we get your instrument Jim will examine it and recommend the adjustments that he thinks will make the most improvement. Usually the work can be done in a day or two.