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  • Nick Drozdoff

Cornet, Trumpet, Hybrid, High Notes?

Well, as part of my trumpeter self-actualization project, I've been working on extreme upper register. By extreme, I mean above - way above - DHC. Why? Just for the fun of, partly. Also, my SAP requires that I achieve mastery of every aspect of trumpet playing.

As a part of all the fun in messing around with all of this, I'v e been playing around with horns and some ideas I've been mulling around abut them. Initially I was thinking of finding a company to work with to develop a Drozdoff model trumpet, but, it would seem that there are already several companies that have horns already out there that fit my thinking. So, I guess, I'm thinking bout getting another horn.

In any case, part of my methods involve using some understanding of physics and engineering to do this. So, I need to discuss a little bit of physics.

I have other blogs about how a trumpet works and I'll link them at the end of this post. In any case, when it comes to tricking out a cylindrical tube closed at one end (i.e., there is always a pressure antinode at the mouthpiece lips interface) we add some taper - a bell and a mouthpiece back-bore coupled with a lead pipe.

A closed cylinder only produces an odd integer series. Adding a bell collapses the bottom end of the series upwards to fill in the gaps of the missing evens. Adding the lead-pipe/mouthpiece-back-bore combination collapses the high end downward to fill in the missing evens on top. This is clearly discussed in book by Arthur Benade and John Backus. It makes sense intuitively, too. The longer wavelengths of the longer notes tend to just wash around the lead-pipe/back-bore combo and don't "see" any taper till you get to the bell. All of this stuff fits what is called a "variable acoustic length" model recognized in acoustics.

The point is, when it comes to HIGH NOTES, the bell doesn't really mean anything. It doesn't contribute to the sound or ease of production of the extreme upper register. The bell section is what defines the "meat and potatoes" register of the horn.

I'll elaborate on this a bit. AS we play higher and higher, the last turning point (pressure node) moves farther and farther out into the bell, till be get into the neighborhood of a high G concert. This means that, above a high G concert, there should be no more pronounced "slots" or resonances. The horn is just a "buzz" megaphone. However, anyone who plays up there will tell you that they do feel slots or notes popping in. I certainly do. So if the bell barrier was breached at a high G, what is resonating, thus producing clear slots up there?

Acoustically, it seems pretty obvious to me. It is now the back-bore/lead-pipe coupled together. To a certain extent, I also believe the oral cavity can couple to the system better as most players achieve the extreme upper register by reducing the vibrating mass of the "aperture". This would explain why different players find different high notes "tricky". I can nail a high A and a B under a DHC, but I have a tough time with a high Bb. Other players have different experiences, and I would attribute that to slightly different physiologies coming into play.

Also, the fingerings we use beyond the high G concert are increasingly meaningless. Since the bell barrier was breached and the "new sub trumpet" is now the back-bore/lead-pipe combo with the "new" bell barrier ending about 6 inches into the lead pipe, everything beyond this 6 inch point is just part of a megaphone. Messing with fingers can add a little impact to the megaphone effect, they really don't mean much with slotting. In this register, more can be accomplished with the embouchure, oral cavity and ear combination.

I wrote another blog about this thinking and the impact of back-bore choices. I'll add that link to the bottom. For most of my commercial playing, I now use a Legends Brass Manhattan (highly focused, to use their words - translation for me, very narrow, tight back bore) back bore with a 25 hole. I use 25 holes on all of my mouthpieces, based on Helmholtz resonator theory and acoustic impedance theory (acoustic impedance being a linear combination of acoustic resistance, the real part of impedance and reactance, the imaginary part of impedance). I have found the the 25 hole is optimal for me, personally.

The reason for the right back-bore is that in the extreme - beyond DHC - register, the first quarter wave location of a resonance is right in the back bore lead pipe area. I use a custom Drozdoff line of Wedge mouthpieces with nice commercial back-bores suppled by Dave Harrison of Wedge. Swapping in the Manhattan back bores, definitely enhanced my ability to navigate those extreme registers, and with a bit pf practice, the tight back bores have not had any negative impact on my ability to produce a nice sound in the lower register.

So, my theory has driven me to the next step, the lead-pipe bell combo, to produce a really spectacular all around trumpet. I decided to do some experimenting.

My first step was to take a cornet and fit it with my lead model upper part mouthpiece. I would never do a true cornet gig with this set up as I like a near flugel like sound from a cornet, but my lead pipe theory would dictate that a very narrow opening at the beginning of the horn should enhance the extremes. Sure enough, I could play some wicked DHC's and DHE's on my old Arban model Courtois cornet.

Step two of my experimentation was to have an older Getzen Severinsen model fitted with a CORNET lead pipe instead of a trumpet lead pipe. I did NOT tinker with my prized 1971 LB Severinsen model in mint condition. Rather, I had my new friend from Appleton, Wisconsin, Ken Skitch, work on a banged up newer vintage Getzen Eterna that had a rotted lead pipe that needed replacing. Ken obtained a generic raw cornet lead-pipe for a supplier and fitted it into my older practice horn. He had to fit a shim into the lead pipe to accommodate the smaller end of the lead-pipe in the receiver. After tweaking a bit to get things lined up properly, I found the horn really did speak better up in that extreme upper register.

Step three was to compare my experience to my prized 1971 Getzen Eterna Severinsen model with a LB. The LB for Getzen was smaller than the .407 or .468 most of us think of. I think it was .465 or .466. Ultimately, these bore sizes don't really mean a whole a lot, as the system of a trumpet is a symbiotic combination of tubing and bell, etc. Playing a .470 isn't really a "bragging point." Nor, should it be some sort limiter for someone looking at horns. The comment, "a .470 is too big for me to handle" doesn't really make sense for me. I've also heard players say that they can't really fill a .470 up with enough air. Hmmmm... I believe it was already filled with air when you took it of the case. Most of the horn manufactures I've spoken to since beginning this personal study definitely bristled at the question, "do you make a LB - .470" and for good reason.

In any case, the main facet of my 1971 horn is the odd lead-pipe tuning slide setup. The significant part is that this lead pipe is quite narrow at the receiver end, as trumpets go. I have found this horn to really speak very well way up in the DHC area, particularly when I added the Manhattan back bores to the mix. I do have trouble with the Bb just under DHC, though.

OK, this is a long winded set up for step four of my personal study: investigating HYBRID horns or horns approaching a hybrid. By HYBRID I mean trumpets with more cornet like lead-pipes and broader bell tapers. Here is a short list of horns that have caught my eye.

A.) Edwards X13

B.) Puje Trumpets

C.) Austin Custom Brass Coppernicus

I have not played the ACB horn, but definitely WANT to before I sell off a trumpet to raise the funds to buy a hybrid.

I have played the Edwards X13. It plays INCREDIBLY well. I can produce a wide range of timbres in the main register, depending on how hard I blow on it. It can easily move from a warm velvety tone to a blistering hot sound. It has a fairly broad bell, which fuels my idea of having a trumpet that will sound wonderful in the primary range. It does have a narrower opening to the lead pipe than other horns, which would explain why I can really light it up around DHC and DHD. All in all, the combination of tubing/bell on this horn, for me, makes this a wonderful choice to play on. While I am a "Getzen endorsing artist" (Edwards being a sister company) I would have to pay a considerable amount to move over to this horn. Again, I have to move my Wayne Tanabe horn to make financial room for this, if I go there.

The Puje trumpet is a true hybrid - combining cornet and trumpet thinking. You can select some really huge bells to build into the horn and Brent Peters has a wide array of lead-pipes to choose from. To test his horns, I got my hands on a prototype he built from a trumpet peer, Paul Basa, here in the Chicago area. The bell, valves and lead pipe are all Yamaha trumpet parts. The prototyping on this horn is all tied to the unique wrap of the horn and the universal left thumb tuning hook/crook that can tweak the whole horn. I put this horn through a lot of hard practice. It is a nice trumpet, but that is the issue for me. It didn't feel like a hybrid at all. It just felt like a nice trumpet. I didn't feel anything particularly unique in the extreme upper register. To be fair to Brent, this was apparently a prototype built to the specs of a unique buyer. I would really want to try a horn of his with a HUGE Taylor bell (to produce a nice warm sound in the working man's register) and an ultra tight cornet type lead pipe specially fitted into a trumpet receiver to light up the top end. I think that could a very hot combination.

Finally, the ACB Coppernicus. I can't comment on it as I have never played one. However, the great Trent Austin has done many demos with his. His description of the horn with it's poly-bore setup and crooks definitely fit my theoretical thinking. Trent's demos are spectacular. He seems to be able to casually move from mellow flugel like playing in one moment and then just drift into Maynard Ferguson style playing in the next, on that horn. Certainly, one could attribute a lot of this to Trent's remarkable skills, but he seems to have seriously thought the horn out in a way that fits my thinking. I will have to find a way to test one of these horns. It could time for a drive or a train ride to KC!

So, these are just some ideas I've been mulling over as I explore some different horns. My wife is not overly thrilled about this. After all, I can only play one at a time! Joking aside though, as I make some changes in my playing (more on that in another blog, someday), this investigation seems to fit what I'm up to.

OK, here are some links to my previous blogs (which include some technical references) that might be worth reviewing, if you've rad this far and are interested!

Finally, the one thing I haven't really messed with is the gap. I have been a bit of an advocate of the old Schilke approach of setting the horn up to have NO mouthpiece gap, thus ensuring the the tubing from the throat of the mouthpiece is smooth all the way to the tuning slide - no discontinuities. I do believe the gap can have AN effect on the way a horn plays, but I am not convinced having a gap can be a good thing. I think having things smooth in there and working with the TAPER will allow for better control and intonation. A tapered tube will have a continuously variable acoustic length whereas a gap of singular location and width can only effect certain notes. Some folks swear by gap control and there has been some data collected on the subject, but I sense that there are too many other variables involved to make the data conclusive. I had to see details about controbling variables. This could be the subject of another blog.

Respectfully submitted:

Nick Drozdoff

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