Tone is one of the most important aspects of trumpet playing we can consider. Is it a magical phenomenon? I ask that because sometimes a player’s tone seems unreproducible. It can be very hard to imitate very personal and idiosyncratic tones like Clark Terry, for instance.
I don’t think that everyone’s ideal classical “voice” on the trumpet is the same. It can’t be because we all have different-sized body parts that affect the trumpet sound. But I do think it’s possible to get close to your ideal “classical” sound that works for you. We can explore how we can tweak our classical sound for certain situations with equipment and the way we play.
In the next week or so, I’d like to explore what factors go into good tone. I think our tone is affected by our setup and by our equipment–most especially the mouthpiece, but certainly also the trumpet. So, let’s start with the biggest elephant in the room: the trumpet itself.
I play mostly on a Bach Stradivarius medium large bore trumpet with a 37 bell. This is very, very “standard.” At a moderate volume, most Bachs have a core with somewhat-blended overtones, yet there is a pronounced higher overtone that gives the Bach its characteristic “ring.” They typically are able to play with a more blended tone at soft dynamics, but will open up with more tone color at louder volumes. This may seem to be a negative thing, but can actually be a musical quality that a good player can take advantage of. During a performance, the tone can change to suit the needs of the music.
From my experience and from talking to some very gifted Yamaha players, the Yamaha trumpets typically have a very blended overtone series. They have less of a pronounced “ring” that the Bach trumpets do. And even at soft dynamics, they will sound colorful. I love the sound of Yamahas (almost as much as my Bach). They are very reliable, in tune and have the highest quality control.
I also love the sound of Shires trumpets. They typically have a more defined “slot.” This means that the trumpet is going to put the pitch quicker into the place it’s supposed to be (whereas my Bach is a little more slippery). If an entire trumpet ensemble is playing on Shires, then there is a noticeable difference in tuning and tone control, compare to a mixed-trumpet ensemble.
The very expensive Monette trumpets typically have even more slotting. They also have a lot more weight and more bracing. This helps their tone to be more fundamental-centered (rather than allowing a lot of overtones to dominate). They still have a lot of overtones, but when you hear one up close, you might feel that it is a little “dull.” However, far away (for instance, 300 feet), a Monette can sound quite impressive. It might not be my first-choice for a chamber piece, however.
Another factor to think about with a trumpet is the bore size. A small bore can help with efficiency, but the tone can be too bright. I have two Bach C trumpets with a 239 bell. One is large bore (typical for C trumpets) and the other is medium-large (not typical for C trumpets, but quite typical for B-flat trumpets). They both sound fine, but if I need to open up the dynamics a little, then the medium-large bore C will start to “shriek.” And that is not what I want in a large orchestral work.
Most professional, American, classical trumpeters use one of the brands that I have mentioned above as their main trumpet. Probably about 40% Bach, 35% Yamaha, 10% Shires, 5% Monettes (with the remaining 10% using some other brand). This is a guess, but I’d love to know if someone has the actual breakdown.
Please let me know about other brands that you think are also great for classical solo or orchestral work!No tags for this post.