The widespread use of the trumpet in music dates back to jazz in the early 20s, but we hear it in so much more music today. Aside from blending in classic orchestral pieces, trumpets can elevate a piece’s melody because of their distinct sound. But how do we further innovate the sound of the trumpet?
Trumpets can be distorted enough depending on where you place your microphones. An article from Musical Expert on the types of trumpet microphones highlights the importance of using the right trumpet mics depending on your recording situation. If a song or piece calls for intended distortion of the trumpet, then playing around with mic placement can result in new and unheard-of trumpet sounds. After all, distortion in music is famous depending on the genre — like grunge, hard rock, or even the blues.
For consistency’s sake, however, pedals may be just the thing. Case in point, trumpeter Paul Giess pushes the limits of the trumpet sound in Tubey Frank’s Key Studio Sessions, feeding the trumpet through multiple effects pedals that the trumpet no longer sounds like a trumpet. Today, we’ll go into how pedals can work together with trumpets to create new sounds:
What are pedals?
Pedals, or effects pedals, manipulate the sound of your musical instruments — eliminating unwanted sounds, changing volume, adding reverb, and even intentionally distorting output — by connecting them to an instrument or a microphone. While pedals are often used in tandem with electric guitars and bass, some are also commonly used with keyboards and, today — trumpets. Depending on the sound a trumpeter wants to achieve, they can go with a reverb pedal or an octave pedal to completely transform the way the trumpet would typically sound.
One of history’s most famous pedal effects is inspired by trumpet sounds: the wah wah pedal. In particular, the Cry Baby wah wah pedals made by Dunlop are some of the most beloved and iconic products in the industry. It alters the frequencies and tone of an instrument to mimic a human making the “wah wah” sound, creating expressive tones in otherwise flat sounds. In guitar use, legends like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix have used wah pedals to produce iconic rock songs. And now, we’ve come full circle by using pedal effects to enhance trumpet sounds.
How do pedals and trumpets sound together?
So what does a pedaled trumpet sound like? It’s not as strange as it may seem. Think of a trumpet being amplified (or modified and distorted) the way electric guitars would in rock songs.
With an octave pedal, for instance, trumpeters can achieve lower or higher octaves that may not be possible without the help of pedals. In our interview with trumpeter Johnny Thirkell and producer Josh Blair, we talk about the experience of home recording as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Mainly, the flexibility that home recording offers as opposed to recording in commercial studios, as well as the measures one should take when recording trumpets at home or makeshift studio — such as avoiding any natural reverb in a room.
Thirkell highlights that a producer typically wants completely flat trumpet recordings, without EQ and reverb, for a smoother production process. However, as we’ve mentioned above, sometimes a music piece calls for intended distortion in its sound. In such cases, having effects pedals can help innovate the trumpet sound in exciting, fresh ways.
Nowadays, musicians and producers can rely on computer software to distort, amplify, or change a trumpet sound. Still, nothing beats the organic, gritty sound of a real trumpet feeding through a low octave pedal.
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