‘Design Innovations’ is a series of articles looking at new and innovative developments in trumpet design, as well as gadgets and tools that are designed to make our practice and performance easier.
First in the series is the Gapper™. David Hunsicker, the inventor, is currently the trumpet professor at Wichita State University and Principal Trumpet of the Wichita Symphony. A couple of decades ago he discovered the necessity of filling the gap to give him better control over the third valve slide. He has very kindly shared some insights into the design process behind this nifty invention:
Can you tell us a bit about the background to you developing the Gapper?
I have been performing for more than 25 years, mostly as an orchestral trumpet player. Along the way, I got tired of moving my finger, then after I’d moved my finger a good distance getting the slide to move. I wanted more immediate control over the slide so I could place it wherever I wanted. I started by shoving different things in there, and finally settled on poster tape. While that worked, I got very quickly to the point where I didn’t want to clean my trumpet because when I did so it would destroy the poster tape and I’d have to redo it, which would change the feel. Playing the trumpet is living on a razor’s edge, so I want to eliminate as many extra variables as I can. The Gapper™ allows me to eliminate one more variable. A Gapper™ can be put in and taken out in seconds and it retains the same shape at all times. Using the Gapper™ gets rid of some of the guess work in comfort and in playing low notes in tune – who wouldn’t want that?
What was the primary purpose and aim of your design?
I would say that solving a problem is the main purpose, but with an educational focus. I’ve had many very talented female students, who on average have smaller fingers than men, and the problem of a large gap in between finger and slide valve ring affects them disproportionately. Also, very young students, trying to learn the instrument, face a significant extra obstacle. It’s not unlike a shoulder rest on a violin. Some can play comfortably without one, but most people are physiologically set up to require something to fill that gap in between the chin and the collar bone. Shoulder rests level the playing field. My hope is that we can get the Gapper into enough hands to do the same.
What challenges did you face during the design and manufacture process?
I am a tinkerer, so I am pretty obsessive about finding exactly the right material and having exactly the right settings on the 3-D printer. But I also have a family, am the trumpet professor at Wichita State, and play principal trumpet in the Wichita Symphony. So finding balance is tricky.Also the postal service. Wow is that a challenge! I’ve had an occasion or two where I hand-deliver an envelope to a USPS employee who weighs and puts on a label, only to find out that more postage was requested from the recipient! (I refund that money, of course, but as I’ve mentioned, I love consistency…)
How long was the process from initial conception to bringing the Gapper to the market?
I have been thinking about this literally for decades. But this is the right time, because the technology is here to create these one by one at a relatively low cost. Also, Wichita State is focusing a great deal on innovation, and is an ideal place for faculty who have things they want to create. Not only were there people to literally help me create prototypes and an early product, but there is also a first-rate patent attorney who really helped me figure out the legal and business side of things. So getting from concept to prototype to market really took about 18 months.
What were your main ways of launching and marketing the Gapper?
Web and social are my main traditional marketing tools. But I also have a wide network of great trumpet player educators, and so I think word of mouth has been the best marketing so far. At this point I’m starting to sign on music stores [including Thompson Music] who want to carry the Gapper and then they promote however they want.
What would you do differently if you had this time over again?
Worry less and sleep more! It’s been a great journey so far, and I’m excited about where the Gapper will go next.
What new developments are you currently working on?
Recently I launched the Thumb Gapper™, due to popular demand. And Gappers are designed to fit almost all major manufacturers. But still my dream is to work with a manufacturer so that I can make a set of custom Gappers for their instruments. They could include them when they sell a new horn to a kid, and then he or she can have all the Gapper sizes as they grow.
To find out more about David Hunsicker and the Gapper™, please visit trumpetgapper.com
The Gapper™ is available for international shipping from Thompson Music