Trumpet Mutes 101
Exploring and understanding the wide variety of trumpet mutes can play a big role in helping a player find his or her unique voice on the instrument. Here is a list of the most popular types of mutes available.
The Straight Mute
A common mute that is used in nearly every style of music, its simple cone shape fits into the bell of the horn, steadied by small pieces of cork that are spaced to allow the sound to flow through the bell. It creates a somewhat nasal tone that is often used in ensemble passages. Humes & Berg produce the most commonly seen version. The Jo-Ral version is also highly rated.
The Cup Mute
A popular mute for jazz, particularly big band music, it looks like a straight mute with an inverted cup at its end. The cup mute's tone is similar to that of a straight mute, but far less bright and nasal, and with a softer sound. The Humes & Berg Stonelined mute is the industry standard. The Denis Wick DW5531 has a removable cup so you can use it as a straight mute. Adjusting its position offers a wide variety of cup mute sounds.
The Wah-Wah Mute
The solid corking of this mute forces the entire sound of the horn to travel through the mute. The sound collects and is released through a small hole in the front. In its original state, this mute has a stem with a little bowl on the end. By using your hand to cover and uncover it, it produces a tin-sounding wah-wah sound (hence its name). If you remove the stem, suddenly your instrument takes the listener to a smoky underground jazz club. The classic version is made by Harmon.
The Plunger Mute
This mute produces a classic jazz sound that is almost human sounding at times. It can be described as the voice of Charlie Brown's teacher. Adding some flutter tongue to it creates a growl that many classic jazz players use to great effect. There are many metal and stonelined versions, but the Mutek rubber version is popular.
A mute used by closing over and off the bell, it is similar to the plunger, but not quite as bold. It makes the horn sound like it's in another room when covering the bell, then suddenly the horn is in the same room with you when it's removed from muffled to bright. This mute comes in metal and stonelined varieties.
The Bucket Mute
When placed over the bell, this mute produces a dark and warm sounding tone. It is great for small combo jazz playing, but it is also common in big bands. This mute appears in a variety of forms, from inside the bell models to attached to the bell models.
The Practice Mute
This is the closest you can get to silencing your horn when you play. It is not typically used in musical settings and is truly meant for practicing.
Tony Guerrero is a freelance trumpet player in Los Angeles California. Performing and recording with a wide range of artists ranging from John Tesh to High School Musical, Tony is at home in nearly any style on both trumpet and piano. For more information on Tony including his latest Recording titled "Blue Room," visit www.tonyguerrero.com