Mike Lovatt: Interview and Instrument Review

Mike Lovatt has one of the most heard and recognisable trumpet sounds in the world right now.  If you do not think that you have heard him play before, you are probably wrong!  Starring on more movie soundtracks than I can even begin to list, he is instantly recognised by his signature scintillating yet full, rich sound and his smooth, understated style.  His versatility means that he is equally at home in his lead trumpet chairs with the John Wilson Orchestra and Superbrass as he is as guest principal with all of the UK’s major symphony orchestras.  He is also sought after by the biggest names in the pop and commercial sectors and is a true A-lister of the trumpet world.  I never had the opportunity to sit in a section with Mike in my trumpet playing days, but was fortunate enough to work as producer on some Superbrass sessions that he was involved in.  I got to see first hand his incredible skill, musicianship and professionalism.

This incredible level of versatility requires an instrument to match it, which has led to Mike’s latest project, a collaboration with trumpet builder Richard Smith to design a new instrument capable of fulfilling all of these varied requirements.  The ML Smith-Watkins is the result of this partnership.  My review of the new model follows these thoughts and insights on the design process that Mike has kindly shared with me:

Mike:The process of designing was quite slow as Richard Smith is in York while I am in Hertfordshire, which meant a lot of bits of trumpet being sent backwards and forwards as well as trips up there for me to tweak and try things.  

I wanted to improve all of the things that that weren’t quite right for me on the original SW models which Richard designed in consultation with the late, great Derek Watkins.  After nearly 30 years of playing one of those models I felt that I was in a position to develop them further for my needs.  I always liked the way those trumpets blew though, and wanted to keep the interchangeable lead pipe system.  I think that this part of the design (dual lead pipe) is key to the feel of the instrument and helping the resonance and efficiency of the energy going through the horn.  

We started off by choosing a valve block – I had about 4 different ones to try just as they come (a valve block and slides). I was looking for good compression yet good mechanical movement of the valves.  I sat in front of the TV wiggling valves for hours on end and ended up choosing a .460 bore which had good compression and worked really well !

Next was a bell to balance it up.  I tried a different bell in lots of different settings on a trumpet all taped together!  I tried lots of bells of different sizes and gauges.  In the end I settled (not knowingly)  for something equivalent to a Bach 37 – the only thing was that I thought it sounded a bit bright and wanted to have the full picture range of sound from dark to bright when pushed!  After trying the bell in standard gauge metal we tried a heavyweight version.  This was perfect.  At this stage I still hadn’t tried the instrument soldered together! 

Lastly and importantly we worked on developing a leadpipe to be adaptable in lots of different styles of playing and one which lent itself well to the smaller bore and smaller bell than I’d been used to.  After the ‘core’ of the trumpet was sorted, we addressed little things like a new style finger hook and water key position.

Since the launch of the new trumpet in Summer 2016, demand has vastly outstripped supply.  Interestingly, they are not only proving a hit with jazz/commercial players but can also be seen in a number of symphony orchestras across the UK and Ireland.  I was therefore very keen to get my hands on one to review and see what all of the fuss has been about!

The trumpet has a .460” medium large bore valve section, heavyweight yellow brass bell and is supplied with the custom ML leadpipe.  A lovely distinguishing feature is the laser-etched titanium finger buttons. It is supplied in silver plate as standard, but gold plate is an optional extra.

I was immediately struck by the ML model’s response.  Most of the Smith-Watkins trumpets that I have played in the past have required a tighter feeling late-taper leadpipe to give you that delicate and immediate response.  I found that with this model, I could get that immediacy yet combined with a rich full sound even at quieter dynamics.  The tonal core feels really stable across the range and dynamics, and there is a lovely sizzle to the sound when you open up the throttle.

In short, I was not disappointed!  For my own interest, I also tried this model with #10 and #32 leadpipes.  For quality of sound and general versatility, the supplied ML leadpipe definitely wins the day though, and I can certainly see why this trumpet’s appeal seems to have reached out of the commercial sector.

If you would like to find out more about this trumpet, please visit the Smith-Watkins website at www.smithwatkins.com

To find out more about Mike Lovatt, please visit www.mikelovatt.co.uk

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