Q: How can I make (a fake but serviceable) baroque trumpet at home?


A:

This was a newsgroup post written by Dwight Hall, a clever and handy amateur trombone and cornet player from Lakewood, Colorado. When he completed his horn, he contacted me, as a "real" trumpet player to test it and I did. It was very playable and very nice looking. One could easily quench his or her curiosity about the natural trumpet (without spending $1500 for something more "authentic") and make a very attractive trumpet oriented wall hanging at the same time, for about $40 (I think he said) and a beater trumpet.

For those interested in experimenting with natural trumpets, but wish to do it for even less money, stumble with your browser over to Hosaphone (tm) Headquarters.

This is not repeat NOT suitable for a pro trumpeter who needs to record Handel's Let the Bright Seraphim on a natural trumpet. And I'm sure qualified technicians will be horrified by the use of superglue and friction fit slide joints. But it was a heck of a lot of fun, makes a great wall decoration, and I can use it with a medieval/renaissance group to play fanfares before the dances. I chose the key of C so that the fanfares can lead into dances in the same key, which is by far the most common for a group that includes recorders and other very early instruments.

If any aspect of the idea seems loony, just attribute it to the fact I'm really a trombone player.

Objective:

A natural trumpet that superficially resembles those of Renaissance manuscripts and that can be played with a standard modern trumpet mouthpiece by someone of modest trumpet skill. This trumpet (if built in the key of C - more on keys later) has about 8 feet of total tubing, and is about 3 feet long overall.

Materials:

One modern trumpet to be cannibalized. (With luck and patience, you may find one for less than $50 at a garage sale. A bad finish is fine, but watch out for major dents. You might have to pay a repairman another $50 to remove dents if they're too bad.)

About ten 12-inch lengths of brass hobby tubing, diameters to be determined after modern trumpet is disassembled. Tubing is manufactured by K&S Engineering and available for about $2 per foot in hobby and model train stores.

Decorative cords in colors of your choice to decorate trumpet and hold it together.

Fast (super) glue.

Tools: propane torch, fine-cut flat file, tubing cutter (about $10 in the plumbing section of your local hardware store - looks sort of like a C-clamp), pliers, hard metal tube or round (Phillips) screwdriver shank a bit smaller than the hobby tubing used, small pocket knife.

1) Disassemble modern trumpet using propane torch to loosen solder joints. Only three pieces are used: the bell section, the lead-pipe with mouthpiece receiver, and the tuning slide crook. Remember that solder fumes may be toxic: work outdoors or in a well ventilated shop. Two pairs of pliers and a thin wooden wedge may help in loosening some solder joints.

From the lead-pipe section be sure to remove the finger hook. I also removed the tuning slide receiver from the lead-pipe proper, but this may not be necessary on all trumpet designs. From the tuning slide crook I removed everything: the entire water key assembly and the ferrules that connect the crook to the slides themselves. This last might not be necessary on all trumpet designs, but they were silver-colored on mine (nickel-silver) and I wanted everything brass colored, although the mouthpiece receiver retains the lighter color. (Note that some tubing workers use the word "joint" to mean a straight length of pipe, like one of the pieces of a clarinet. I'm using it to mean a junction between two pieces of material.)

Remove lacquer from the three pieces using two applications of commercial lacquer remover (remember ventilation), followed by Brasso and fine steel wool for stubborn remnants. Remaining solder can be removed with careful use of the fine cut flat file.

If you have never used a tubing cutter, you might want to practice on some scrap tubing, perhaps some of the left over tuning slides, before the next step. Work slowly, with only a slight advance of the cutting wheel with each turn.

Now comes the only cut on the original trumpet: cutting the straight bell section from the crook part. Leave about one inch of straight tubing on the crook section. If you cut too close to the curve, it will be hard to fit the hobby tubing that extends the bell length. This created, from my trumpet (they vary), a straight bell section measuring 16 inches, and a J-shaped crook with straight legs of 1-inch and 3 1/2-inches. Because the widening of a trumpet bore begins in this crook, the short side (where we just cut) will have a slightly larger diameter than the long side, which was attached to the first valve casing.

2) We can now decide what diameters of hobby tubing to use. They come in increments of 1/32 inch. Each size telescopes over the next smaller size, with quite a bit of play.

Here comes the really cool trick: Each size fits on the next smaller one much too loosely to stay together. But when a length is cut with the tubing cutter, it is also compressed in diameter at the cut so that it's now just a bit too small to fit on the smaller tube. Careful reaming with a pocket knife blade, perhaps combined with a bit of flaring with the round screwdriver shaft, will open it to a good tight friction fit.

You'll need four tubing sizes. Call them A, B, C and D from smallest to largest:

For my trumpet, the sizes were 1/2, 17/32, 9/16, and 19/32.

3) Baroque trumpets were most common in the keys of B-flat (about 9 feet of tubing), C (8 ft) and D (7+ ft), although they could be as short as F, (about 6 ft). Slight differences in your long tubes (A's and C) can give you a trumpet in B-flat, C and D, all with the same crooks, bell and lead-pipe. If you're going to play fanfares alone, key doesn't matter much. I went for C. (Editor's note: The most common key for natural trumpets for baroque literature is the key of D.)

4) Here are all the pieces in my trumpet, starting at the bell:

  1. the bell, 16 inches;
  2. the first slide ferrule, size D, 6 inches long, must be flared out with the hard tubing or round screwdriver shank to fit about one inch onto the flare of the bell. This is just a force fit and is disassembled each time the trumpet is put away;
  3. the long piece, size C, 12 inches long, the "bell extender;"
  4. the second slide ferrule, size D. This is glued to the short (fat) end of the "J" crook, although you could keep it as a force fit;
  5. the J crook
  6. 4-inch slide ferrule, size B, fit over skinny side of J crook.
  7. 12-inch long piece, size A.
  8. 4-inch slide ferrule, size B.
  9. 12-inch long piece, size A. This will probably be too long, but don't cut until you've made a preliminary assembly and tuning. Mine ended up 9 inches.
  10. The "far" crook, which nestles right up against the bell in final assembly. Consists of original tuning slide crook glued into two 1-inch slide ferrules of size B. The hole where the water key was removed may be covered with duct tape, since the whole crook will be decoratively wrapped with colored cord.
  11. 12-inch long piece, size A.
  12. 4-inch slide ferrule, size B. In some designs, this section may not be necessary.
  13. 6-inch long piece, size A. Start with the 10 inches left after removing the two 1-inch ferrules used on the far crook. It will be too long, probably, but maybe not for B-flat tuning. Length depends upon how long your remaining lead-pipe assembly is. In some designs, this section may not be necessary.
  14. 6-inch slide ferrule, size B. This is permanently glued to O.
  15. The original lead-pipe and mouthpiece receiver assembly. My glued N-O assembly is 15 inches long.

All of the size A long pieces are interchangeable. Make sure the friction fits are good and tight. Because I take the trumpet apart between uses, I use no lubricant that would get dirty.

5) Assemble into a giant, flat letter S. Some illustrations actually show a trumpet of this shape, but we rotate the lead-pipe section against the bell section. With all the joints fully compressed, blow it and find what key it's in -- probably pretty close to C with the preliminary lengths given. But the far crook may extend beyond the bell, so some adjustments, and possible some cutting of the A tubes may be necessary. Some early drawings show a lead-pipe and bell extending a good distance beyond the ends of the crooks. I have opted for a slightly more modern design, with only an inch or two of projection. You'll have to experiment with the slide ferrule joints to get both the look and the key you want. Possibly, you'll be able to get B-flat fully extended and C fully compressed.

Cut tubing as necessary, re-tune, and polish.

Since I used no solder joints or metal braces, I have wrapped all the touch-points with decorative cord to prevent metal to metal contact. I lash the lead-pipe and bell sections with matching cord in three places to keep the instrument together.

6) My four semi-assembled pieces are:

  • Bell
  • BCDEFG (a big U)
  • HIJKL (another big U)
  • MNO (straight)

No one of these is longer than 17 inches, fully compressed, so the whole thing easily fits into the original trumpet case which has had its original fittings replaced with foam rubber.

With experiments and blind alleys (as well as returning to the hobby store three times for more tubing) the project took about twelve hours. I believe I could do it in four now that I know the steps.

Please let me know if you try it, or if you know a better way.

Dwight Hall


 

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