If you play keyboards or guitar, or especially if you do a lot of computer based music, every new year brings tons of technological innovations to your platform. You are constantly being offered new technology, new sounds, new gadgets—all of them designed to enhance your music and your experience.
If you play trumpet, however, the innovations come much slower. Basically, we've been using 3 valves and a bell for a couple of centuries now! Usually, our innovations are on the micro level—leadpipe sizes, mouthpiece shapes, valve oil recipes…not very exciting stuff.
This article will be a brief (and, admittedly impractical) look at a few of the more recent attempts to offer major innovations to our beloved trumpet world. As such, these are not necessarily products you can find for sale or have an essential musical application. Again, it's just a fun look at some cool stuff!
The Flumpet – Inspired by the late jazz great, Art Farmer, it is, for all intents and purposes, a cross breed of a trumpet and a flugelhorn. Basically, it's a a warmer trumpet or a brighter flugelhorn. When Chic-Fil-A's CEO Dan Cathy (an avid trumpet player and fan) purchased the late Maynard Ferguson's estate, he allowed me the chance to play Maynard's flumpet on a few gigs. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't as easy as just picking up the horn. I really had to adjust my playing style to fit the horn. While I don't see a real practical "need" for it, it sure would be fun to own one. And there are now several professionals in the classical, jazz and commercial worlds that do use the horn with great effect.
The Shewhorn – Trumpet master Bobby Shew designed this unique horn by taking two identical trumpets (so the parts matched) and combining them into one horn. The final version has two bells and a fourth valve. The additional valve determines which bell will sound, and when you put a mute in one of the bells, it allows you to play trade-off duets with yourself! Yamaha has picked up on this concept with the Yamaha Double Bell Trumpet, made specifically for a particular piece performed by Brandon Ridenour of the Canadian Brass. Here's an article about the Yamaha Double Bell Trumpet.
Many years ago I personally had two identical Benge trumpets I wasn't using and had my horn-repairing friend use them to build my own Shewhorn. I don't use it often, but people's eyes sure light up when I do! Here's a video of Bobby showing off his Shewhorn.
Dizzy's Upturned Horn – We've all seen it. Dizzy Gillespie was almost more famous for his unique horn and puffed out cheeks than he was for his music! Dizzy's trumpet bell was angled up, rather than straight out like all of our horns. He claimed that his trumpet had been knocked over at a jam session one night and the bell ended up at that angle. Since the rest of the horn still worked, he finished the night playing it and found he preferred it that way. He believed the sound came out at a more direct level to his ears. Several companies now produce versions of this horn design, so, while they are not common, they are available.
The Normaphone & Jazzophone – Unique doesn't begin to describe these. They're shaped like a sax, but they're most definitely trumpets. The Normaphone has one bell, the Jazzophone has two (much like the Shewhorn). It actually goes back several decades (the first ad appeared in the 1920s), and it's a rare horn to find available, but there are a few. I've never seen one in person, but I have seen some online videos of people performing on the instrument. You can read all about this horn at this very informative site.
"Weighted" Horns – This is my own title for this style of horn. You may have noticed in recent years that many companies are producing horns with a lot more metal on them, often in a very ornate design. Wynton Marsalis has been seen with these horns. Two companies that are making a mark here are Monette and Harrelson. The idea is that the extra weight helps the overall performance of the horn. Personally, I think many of these are beautiful to look at and elevate the trumpet to a piece of art before a note even comes out of it!
The Bass Trumpet – The Bass Trumpet is not as rare (or weird!) as some of these others, but it is still not very common to most players. It is exactly what the name describes—a lower sounding trumpet. The bass trumpet actually sounds an octave lower than it's written. The tubing length is similar to a trombone, although it has a brassier sound than a trombone. This instrument is usually played by trombonists, as the mouthpiece is much bigger than the trumpet's. However, trumpeters could certainly pick one up and play it, albeit with some adjustments. This instrument is most often written for in a classical or traditional setting, but it has made its way into several jazz players' hands. There are a couple of manufacturers still making these today including both Bach and Kanstul.
Again, many of these instruments are here to enhance, not necessarily replace, the standard trumpet. While the overall innovations don't come quickly in Trumpet World, no one can deny that the standard trumpet is one of the most important musical sounds of all time.