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Back in high school I played the trumpet for 6 months, and then clarinet for the next 4.5 years (high school is odd in Quebec, and it's not important to the question anyway), and I was a science student, so I have a decent idea of how a wind instrument makes different tones.

Recently I got a chance to see one of my favourite bands (SOIL & "PIMP" SESSIONS) live for the first time and noticed something about one member's trumpet: it had a sort of webbing in the 2 big bends, like on a duck's foot.

My question is how would it affect the sound? Would the additional stability prevent the pipes from vibrating and altering the vibration of the air flowing inside? Or would they maybe send the vibration to the rest of the tube? (though that would likely also have the same effect)

This is the trumpet of that player:

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  • I've no idea about the sound, but at least this link says who makes them: taylortrumpets.com/utleycollection-visitingtrumpetmaker.html Given Taylor's sense of humour mentioned in that link, it could just be a joke - Norwich (in the east of England) is in a very low-lying part of the country (any land that is 10 feet above sea level counts as a hill!) which is criss-crossed by a complex water drainage system that was constructed a few hundred years ago, and because of that the indigenous inhabitants are reputed to have evolved webbed feet... – user19146 Jul 2 '16 at 21:56
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It does affect the sound, but by how much is debatable and I doubt anyone could reliably discern between a trumpet with or without this kind of bracing in a blind listening test.

The main thing it does is affect the way the instrument resonates. When you play a brass instrument, you set up a vibration in the air stream inside the tubing. Some of this vibration will transfer into the instrument itself, which is just a loss of energy. This extra bracing is supposed to reduce this parasitic resistance. I have a trumpet that looks a lot like the one in your second picture, and the feeling is very noticeable. It's much easier to play and doesn't push back as hard as a normal trumpet.

  • Have you done a blindfold test with two instruments, identical except for this webbing? I find it hard to believe that there would be any noticeable acoustic affect here, since the webbing is confined to a part of the tubing which is bent and thus very stiff anyway. Webbing on the bell, sure, that would make a difference, but webbing on a curve? – Scott Wallace Jul 5 '16 at 17:26
  • I have not, and I totally admit that my knowledge is mostly anecdotal, but I have a very large collection of trumpets and the more heavily braced, the more free-blowing they are. – MattPutnam Jul 6 '16 at 1:29
  • Of course you may be right. I'm just speculating based on what I imagine the acoustical forces to be here. I guess the only true test would require building otherwise identical instruments, and probably no one will do it. – Scott Wallace Jul 25 '16 at 14:53
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When it comes down to it, every decision regarding the construction of an instrument will have some effect on the instrument's own distinctive timbre. With that said, there will probably always be some point of diminishing returns where these changes in the design don't make any noticeable difference.

Notice that above I said "distinctive timbre," and not anything about a good or bad quality sound. This is because different playing environments require different timbres; between an instrument with this webbing and an instrument without, Chris Martin might choose one, and Wynton Marsalis might choose another. (Indeed, a quick Internet search of the latter shows him playing on both types of instruments!)

For me personally, these extra braces improve instrument response quite a bit; I don't get that "push back" that I get with some other instruments. This suggests that yes, the increased stability of the pipes does improve the vibration flowing through the horn. But it's also tough to isolate this one factor from the various other construction decisions that go into manufacturing an instrument.

I've learned that Kanstul apparently creates trumpets with movable braces; this would be an interesting thing to experiment with!

And if you're really in the mood for some research, you can check out some scholarly literature on (and related to) the matter; here is an interesting start!

  • 1
    I agree that link is an interesting start, though (speaking as an engineer who works on vibration problems) it seems to dance all round the subject without really hitting the target. If they had actually measured the vibration response of the instrument (not the air inside it), rather than theorizing about what it ought to be, that would have been a much more solid foundation to build on. That vibration response will be very much affected by the fact that the tubing is curved, and the bracing will reduce its flexibility when it bends, but the question is how much this really matters. – user19146 Jul 3 '16 at 3:49
  • I agree wholeheartedly with your point about diminishing returns! I think there's a huge amount of quasi-scientific-sounding voodoo about trumpet materials and construction. – Brian THOMAS Jul 5 '16 at 13:21
  • Yeah, to me it's the old Arnold Jacobs thing: quit worrying about all the little details, and just focus on the sound that you want! And @alephzero, I agree that the article isn't exactly what the OP was looking for, but I found it and thought it would be interesting to share. – Richard Jul 5 '16 at 13:36
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There are fads in trumpet construction, some concerned in 'coupling' the mouthpiece to the mouthpipe, others with controlling mechanical vibration of the tubing.

Play a note on your trumpet. Feel the vibration of the tubing, even of the bell. Not much, is there? I wouldn't worry TOO much about these fads.

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