Mutes are used to great effect in the trumpet world. They offer complex textures to the player and the composer, whether in a section or in the hands of a soloist. While the average listener may not be able to distinguish between several models, a consummate player will look for several things in each one – primarily the range of tonal colors a mute is capable of and its general intonation (mutes can be notoriously out of tune!).
I have long been a fan of Denis Wick mutes, and there is no question that these mutes are among the most respected in the industry for both their sound and construction quality. However, until this article, I have not had the opportunity to sit in a quiet space with my horn and try each of the several mute models they offer. What a treat!
I’ll offer my thoughts below on each one:
This mute has been in my bag for a couple decades now. I love it! Most cup mutes are static, meaning they have one position. This one attracted my attention years ago because its moveable cup allows a variety of tonal colors. Keep it out its full length and it fits right in with a more standard cup mute. However, the closer you push the cup to the bell, the darker and more muted the sound becomes. I’ve recorded several jazz CDs relying on this close-cup setting for a dark, personal and mellow sound. In a pinch, you can also remove the cup entirely and use this as a straight mute!
There is no doubt you can find a sweet spot with this mute, and if I were to recommend just one Denis Wick mute, it would be this one. (Thankfully, I don’t have to limit my recommendations!)
Denis Wick offers several variations of this mute, and I was, frankly, a little surprised at how much of a marked difference there was between models.
Fiber Model – Fiber is being used to great effect these days, even in the production of trumpets. Denis Wick’s fiber straight mute offers a nice warm tone (for a straight mute!) and is probably the model that will get you closest to a traditional straight mute sound.
There are three different metal versions. The bodies are the same (aluminum) but the end cap comes in three varieties.
Aluminum – This one definitely gave me a mellower sound, and I could see using this in several solo contexts.
Brass & Copper – These two were both quite a bit brighter and had a little more “bite” than the aluminum or fiber versions. To be honest, I waffled a bit on which one I thought was brighter, but for me I believe the copper version had a slight edge. Either of these would be ideal when your straight mute needs to cut through a large ensemble.
While the metal body probably eliminates its actual use in unclogging toilets, you should find yourself very happy with its use on your horn! I particularly liked the sound as I moved it in close to the bell - far more of a traditional jazz sound than I expected.
Traditionally, this model mute has become known as a “Wah-Wah Mute” or a “Harmon Mute” (Although “Harmon” is actually a particular manufacturer, every mute company makes a version.)
Sadly, this particular mute model (# 5506) did not fit in the bell of my horn well (I play a Yamaha Xeno) and I believe may have been intended for a smaller cornet (which I didn’t have available on the day I was testing). I could get it to stay in, but I know it wasn’t an ideal fit. Its circumference was quite a bit smaller than my bell also.
Still, I wanted to give it a try. Even with the bad fit, this mute sounded great! Keeping the stem in (at varying in/out settings) gave quite a range of sound and gives you just the right amount of the “cartoonish” quality that it is intended for. With the stem out it offers more of the traditional jazz sound (think: Miles Davis) and played nicely in tune (this style of mute, from any manufacturer, is notoriously out of tune and requires much adjustment as you play it).
Many practice mutes require a little extra push since they essentially block air coming from the bell. However, this mute offered quite a bit less resistance than many of its competitors. And it actually offers a pretty nice tone, although that isn’t the intention for this kind of mute. I would highly recommend this for those of you who may need to practice or warm up quietly on occasion.