‘Design Innovations’ Part 2 : Jaeger Brass

‘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. Next up in this series is Jaeger Brass…

I met Ivan Hunter of Jaeger Brass earlier this year at the ITG Conference in San Antonio, and was blown away by the extraordinary range of innovative and problem-solving trumpets that he can offer.  Ivan has kindly shared his thoughts below, on a number of these designs, as well as the challenges that he has faced in designing and building these instruments:

Jaeger banner logo

Jaeger Brass is my trumpet think tank.  Here I perform everything from minor repairs to Johnny’s school horn to complete design and building of professional level trumpets.

During the years of my career as a professional player I had always been frustrated by the deficiencies in the available instruments, and since moving to the US I had a chance to do something about it.

My background includes growing up in a do-it-yourself environment in New Zealand, including training in machining, and experience managing a manufacturing company in Australia.  When I moved to the US I took a position as a brass repair technician, before becoming manager of the music store which catered mainly to schools.

During this time I created the Jaeger-Diamond trumpet and had these manufactured in Europe.  We sold over 100 of these below cost to get them into the rental fleet – the toughest test!  The quitting rate that year declined markedly – which we attribute to the ease of playability of these instruments.

Developments since those early Jaeger-Diamond days include the decoupling of the brace from the mouthpiece receiver to the bell, and the shortening of the foot of that brace to not overlap the insertion of the mouthpiece.  Also we have developed a C trumpet which plays in tune (!) and are customizing some of our models to include genuine Bach bells when the player wants the playfulness of the Jaeger but must have the sound of the Bach.

When I needed a D trumpet at short notice (one Sunday morning) I built one from some Jaeger components and realized that the long unsupported bell needed some help.  So I attached a small square of brass on the bell around about where one would expect to find a brace. I have showed this fix to other manufacturers and some have adopted it.

Quarter Tone Trumpets

Quarter Tone Trumpet

I was sitting quietly in front of the fire one evening in November (we had a very long and cold winter that year!) when the phone rang.  “Hey Ivan, my friend is visiting from the UK and he wants a quarter tone C trumpet. Can you make one for him?”

Well, what other answer is there but yes?  Fools rush in and all that!  I could not resist that challenge – especially as I can remember being enthralled by Don Ellis’ recordings with Electric Bath in the 70s.

The idea was rolling around in my brain for a few days, I took out the calculator and started to figure out dimensions (more accurately I allowed Google to calculate 24th root of 2!).  A quarter tone valve crook on a regular Bb trumpet is a similar length to a half tone crook on a piccolo trumpet.  So I would not necessarily be re-inventing the wheel to get a slide crook.  I was getting a few ideas, so that by the time the official enquiry arrived, I was off to a flying start.

To make a trumpet that is capable of playing quarter tones we need to add a valve.  Previous versions of quarter tone trumpets that I have seen used 4 piston valves, somewhat like a 4 valve piccolo.  I have two reservations about this configuration.  One is that I do not have easy access to a 4 valve cluster in an appropriate bore size.  The other issue is one I have in general with all 4 valve clusters: they are just too uncomfortable to hold.  Yes you can hold them but the hand stretch is just too big.

So, if not piston, then rotor.  A rotor would be much easier to install as these will mount in-line, and would be an after market modification able to be fitted to any regular trumpet.  Pistons normally have inlet and outlet tubes offset from each other, so to retrofit a piston valve, either the tuning slide spacing would need to be altered or an S bend introduced into the tube leading to the added valve.

I sent specifications and requested quotations for such a rotor which would be compatible with our piston trumpet bore sizes to friends in Germany.  Based on their replies I quoted my customer and promised to have the instrument ready to ship by mid summer.

There are three main options to the placement of this extra valve.

One option is in the bell tail, just after the first valve, actuated by the left thumb.  My design of C trumpet has this tubing too short to be able to install a rotor.

Another option is to install it in the main tuning slide.  This has the advantage of being removable but it adds too much extra weight to the slide, requiring some sort of locking system to stop the slide moving when the valve is operated.  Typical locking devices (often a ligature clamp around the outer tubing) are normally detrimental to the response of the instrument.

The third option is to install the valve in the tubing between the main slide and the third valve.  I was pleased that my customer wanted a fixed valve so we proceeded with this third option.

Probably the most difficult part of the exercise was the actuating lever.  After many hours of deliberation and experimentation I arrived at a solution which received the ergonomic seal of approval, so I built this first Quarter Tone C trumpet and displayed it at the ITG conference prior to delivering it to my customer.

I was very proud to have completed this project within budget and on time, and am happy to offer Quarter tone Bb and C trumpets to our product line (special order) as well as offering Quarter tone retro-fits to any standard Bb piston trumpet.

Initial reaction from my customer:

The horn is going very well. I played it at my first gig on Friday and I am playing it again today – it works very well as an ordinary horn.  I am practicing it through Caruso. 6 notes has become 12 notes! Its bxxxxy exhausting.

Ascending Valve Trumpets

Ascending Valve Trumpet

I have since designed and built other 4 valve trumpets using this Hybrid system of 3 piston and one rotor.  The first of these was our version of a concept which harks back to the early twentieth century from Merri Franquin.  It is an ascending valve C trumpet – a C trumpet with a valve which raises the pitch to D.  It is not a D trumpet (although it works very well at this!), but a C trumpet with a multitude of alternate fingerings allowing greater dexterity and pitch security.

There have been several other versions of ascending valve trumpets but they have always been very clumsy to operate.  Our trumpet has the actuating lever exactly where the player’s left index finger rests, making it very user friendly.

Once the ascending valve C/D was working well, I put my mind to an ascending valve Bb/C.  This not only removes a couple of sharps and gives a plethora of alternate fingerings, but has a side benefit for the recreational player – they can play it as a Bb in concert band during the week, then go to church and play it in C reading directly from the Hymnal.

Extended Range Trumpets

Extended Range

I was asked to build an extension to allow a C trumpet to play the low F# of the Bb trumpet in pieces like the Shostakovich Piano Concerto.  This I achieved by making an extended third slide with a rotor on the slide to add the extension.  When I used this system in Shostakovich 5 it worked perfectly descending down all the way to low F#.  But then I got brain fade and couldn’t work out which finger to lift up to get the next note!

Resonance Enhancers for Trumpet

Resonance Enhancers

This latest product is one that I am extremely excited by: Resonance Enhancers for Trumpet.  These fit most makes of trumpet, and, in the words of one of our beta testers:

For what you might spend on a beer and a burger, you get a permanent upgrade to your performance!

I started working on these early 2017 and finalized the production version in June 2018.

No, it is not snake oil!  We are not really sure (although we have our suspicions) how and why they work, but would remind you that ‘Absence of Proof’ is not ‘Proof of Absence’!

More to Come

Watch this space for more developments along the same lines as the Resonance Enhancers.  I have started playing around with prototype designs – a new take on an existing idea.

For further information please visit the Jaeger Brass website

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