|Richard Smith and Royal Marines herald trumpeters
British trumpet maker Smith-Watkins has announced sales successes in two key markets.
Dr Richard Smith tells us that the recent sale of chromatic fanfare trumpets to the Royal Marines and the Royal Air Force brings to seven the number of sets now with UK military or service bands, the others including the South Yorkshire Police and an aero engineering company. The Marines also have twenty-five natural Herald Trumpets in Eb.
For the non-aficionado of the fanfare trumpet, a word of explanation may be useful. Historically, the chromatic fanfare trumpets were in four pitches, in high Eb soprano, Bb melody (the same pitch as a standard Bb trumpet), Bb tenor and a G bass instrument. The instruments are usually played in sets of seven: one bass, two tenors and either four melody (RAF), or three melody with one soprano (Royal Marines). The special nature of the fanfare role produces design constraints unusual in other instruments. The trumpets need to all measure the same in terms of overall length (determined by the length of a stretched Eb trumpet), and within that, the position of the valves and the length of the fanfare bell must also be the same. The result of all this is that although there are four very different overall lengths of tubing involved, the instruments will still appear to be a perfectly matched set, in terms of length, player's hands, and banner position, accommodating a standard 17.5" (44.5cm) banner.
|Bb melody fanfare trumpet
The company claims with some pride to have met the challenge of producing a set of instruments that play well despite the design contortions involved in these requirements. This is not surprising, since the new soprano and melody instruments are based acoustically on the successful Smith-Watkins trumpets that have been made since 1985 and feature a similar choice of interchangeable leadpipes to balance the player/mouthpiece combination to the instrument. However, the G bass trumpet has in the past given most euphonium and bass trombone players many problems in fingering and transposing music. After extensive consultation with Smith-Watkins, the customers agreed that the best solution was to make the bass trumpet in Bb with a larger bore and an F plug (rotary valve), like a bass trombone. The tenor and bass trumpets are made with the co-operation of the successful English trombone maker Michael Rath of Huddersfield and the rotary valve for the bass is supplied by René Hagmann of Switzerland because, says Smith, both Rath and Hagmann are the best in their field and 'you can't beat Swiss engineering - only the best will do!'
Smith-Watkins have also just supplied a set of the 470K2 Professional cornets to the US Army Band (Europe) based at Tompkins Barracks in Schwetzingen, Germany. The players were able to choose a particular specification from a range of 27 cornets in their band room and compare them with other models on the market. Subsequently, they report that ' the instruments have a lovely timbre, and have improved the blend, intonation, and overall sound of the cornet section'. This contract has particularly delighted Smith-Watkins as it is their first sale to the US military.
The cornets, Smith tells us, might be seen as the successor to the popular Sovereign 928 which he designed in 1984 when he was Chief Designer at Boosey's. The 928 instrument was developed using two novel techniques, the first, a blindfold testing procedure (ref 1) where 9 blind-folded players judged the tone quality and response of seven prototypes with different leadpipes. The clear winner statistically, and only one allowed for production reasons, became the 928 Sovereign. The second (unreported) experiment was that the design of the leadpipe was based on two simple straight lines with easily remembered parameters rather than the irregular curve derived from the normal 'trial and error' procedure. It turns out that the final product was very successful!
After leaving B&H, Smith tells us, he has continued to research cornet design, whilst going back a step in the process so that, unlike some larger manufacturers, all his customers have the opportunity of testing and comparing several related instruments. With this choice, many European bands have bought sets of cornets, enabling for example, different response in different registers for front and back row players, or individuals to select their own instrument. Often the solo cornet player has chosen the Soloist model where the leadpipe may be interchanged according to the musical requirements. This design won a UK 'Millennium Product' Award in 1999.
Richard Smith comments: 'As a scientist, I have tried to dispel some of the magic, mystery and myth associated with instrument design. Research continues with universities but it is very difficult to find a manufacturer willing to put scientific theories or design ideas into practice. Consequently, I have to make my own instruments - and as it happens they have become very popular!'
Smith-Watkins instruments can be seen at various upcoming trumpet and brass events, and at retailers worldwide, all of which are listed on their website. Visitors to the website should also check out the great selection of sound clips from Derek Watkins, of whom Dizzy Gillespie said, 'When you speak of lead trumpets, Derek is Mr Lead'. Watkins , now amongst many other things a Professor at the Royal Academy of Music, is the other half of the Smith-Watkins partnership and the clips are, of course, performed on the instruments that bear his name.
René Hagmann valves
Royal Marines Band
United States Army Europe Band
Royal Air Force Music
1. Improved brass instrument design methods - The Design of the original 928 SOVEREIGN CORNET (1984), a) Acoustics conference, Kraslice-Czechoslovakia (September 1983). b) Proceedings of the Institute of Acoustics, 17-20 (April 1984).
Neville Young, Smith-Watkins