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I've scoured the internet trying to understand how various characteristics of instruments (Bell shape and diameter, bore size, material, finish, construction) in the trumpet family (Trumpet, Cornet and Flugelhorn primarily) effect their tone and playability (Range, Clarity of Articulation). I've learned a lot but I still can't figure out what physical characteristics of a Flugelhorn cause it to sound so different from a Cornet. My understanding is that a Cornet is "Darker" sounding than a Trumpet largely due to a greater percentage of conical sections of pipe as compared to a Trumpet, but don't flugelhorns also have this conical characteristic? True a trumpet has more bright overtones than either of them, but the way that each instrument differs from a trumpet is slightly different to my ear. People often describe a Cornet as being "Dark" and a Flugelhorn as being "Warm" but I'm not sure if they mean to use the terms interchangeably or if there is a tangible difference to the sound. To my ear the Cornet has a more focused tone, while the Flugelhorn's sound seems to sort of feather out? So to summarize, how would you describe the differences in the sound of a Flugelhorn and a Cornet and what part of the instrument is causing the difference, is it the larger bell? Slow vs Fast taper? Bore Size?

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Flugel is far more conical than cornet. Cornet is only just barely not cylindrical and is really just slightly sweeter than trumpet, while flugel is so dramatically conical that the design involves moving the valve cluster way up so that the bell can take up the majority of the instrument, and is more akin to a euphonium. That's what's responsible for the tone difference.

  • Do you have any evidence that the other characteristics of the instrument are not responsible??? such as bell size and bell taper. – 1_am_Jack Apr 13 '15 at 20:20
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    Well, if it is far more conical, it will need a larger bell. As for taper, isn't it the same as conicity? – Gauthier Apr 21 '15 at 9:20
  • Hmmm, those are good questions...I think geometrically taper and conicity are the same, but I think for this conversation it might be useful to make a distinction. Trumpets aren't conical...for the most part, but they have "tapered" lead pipes and bell sections. What I'm really trying to understand is whether there is some set of configurations that would cause a trumpet to sound like a flugelhorn. – 1_am_Jack Apr 21 '15 at 15:28
  • As for the question about conicity and bell size, I don't think they're interdependent. In this context, when someone says that an instrument is "more conical", I think they mean that there is a greater increase in bore size from the beginning of a section of tubing to the end, but taper or "rate of taper" are referring to the specific curve that that section of tubing takes. This comes into play in mouthpiece backbores, lead pipes and bell sections. – 1_am_Jack Apr 21 '15 at 15:33
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Another key reason for tonal variation between the two is the mouthpiece design. Although a typical true cornet mouthpiece is generally deeper and more funnel shaped than a modern trumpet mouthpiece, it is less so than a typical flugel piece. Other factors include bell size, the way the bell flares earlier and faster on a flugel than a cornet, the way the leadpipe generally goes directly into the valve block only a few inches behind the mouthpiece, and a lot of other factors, including Matt Putnam's earlier answer.

Similarly, if you put a 3C mouthpiece with a cornet shank in a Cornet, it will sound much more like a trumpet. If you put a Wick 2 in it, it'll sound like a traditional brass band cornet sound.

Flugel mouthpieces are often (but not always) much deeper than a cornet mouthpiece and with a larger throat as well.

  • Piccolo trumpets and rotary trumpets also have the valve section closer to the mouthpiece, but they don't have that broad feathered tone of a flugelhorn. – 1_am_Jack Apr 13 '15 at 20:14
  • Also, most of my trumpet mouthpieces have a #23 throat rather than the more standard #26 or #27, and while it makes the sound a little "bigger" and "warmer" ( whatever those words mean ) it doesn't spread out the sound the same way as a flugel. I have a #20 throated "flumpet" mouthpiece on the way...I'll have to see if that diffuses my tone in a similar way. btw, my flugel mouthpiece has a #16 throat. – 1_am_Jack Apr 13 '15 at 20:17
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    @adogden: Placing the valve section closer to the mouthpiece should not affect the sound much in itself, but it allows for starting the conical part much closer to the mouthpiece. – Gauthier Apr 21 '15 at 9:24
  • That makes sense, but my question is still why this doesn't affect piccolo trumpets and rotary trumpets, both of which produce intense sound when pushed hard, while flugelhorns don't. – 1_am_Jack Apr 21 '15 at 15:37
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Yet another difference is the bore size of the lead pipe. It's not intuitive, but thinner lead pipes give a softer sound.

Flugelhorns have different standards for size of lead pipes. The ones you find in the US often have larger lead pipes than the french ones, which have a softer sound.

Consider the french horn, it has a much softer sound than a trumpet, the lead pipe is much smaller.

I could not fit my trumpet mouthpieces in my flugelhorn, they are too large.

  • Keep in mind that there is a difference between the inside diameter of the leadpipe and that of the receiver. It really goes back to the main question, leadpipes might contribute, but Cornets also have small mouthpiece receivers and narrower leadpipes, but they don't share that unique flugelhorn sound. – 1_am_Jack Apr 21 '15 at 15:41
  • From dallasmusic.org/gearhead/Flugelhorn%20Guide.html : "The small bore flugels play quite differently from the larger bored horns and one should really try one of each, if at all possible, to see which group feels the better to you. The large bore horns, though still sounding like flugels, play more like trumpets, which may or may not be a good thing. You already have a trumpet.". Cornets might have a smaller bore than trumpets, but flugelhorn maybe even smaller, which might make the difference you hear. – Gauthier Apr 21 '15 at 18:35

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