Interview with Hub Van Laar (June 2018 @ ITG Conference, San Antonio)
What made you want to play brass in the first place?
As a child you had 2 options in my village. I began by playing football, and in my first game I scored 3 goals… in the wrong direction! It was then decided that I should go to the ‘Fanfare’ and play an instrument! I mainly played trombone and got to a very high level. I stopped playing however because of stage-fright. The nerves affected me so badly, and after trying hard to overcome this, I pursued the repairing.
What made you want to get started with designing instruments?
It was funny – when I was 8, I said I wanted to be a trumpet-maker. I always had that goal. I don’t know why! I wanted to be a trumpet-maker and a farmer. I played in the local brass band, and I was thinking, “Somebody has to make these instruments”. The military band were looking for someone to repair. After that I went to work for a large Dutch manufacturer, and then had the opportunity to work for a small manufacturer in Stuttgart as part of a team of just 4 people. There you had to do everything, it was a great experience.
I have always loved my work and have never been a person that likes to have a day off. I am always happiest when I am busy. The workshop is just 46 seconds from my house!
What were the first models that you designed and built from scratch?
You start working out of necessity and repairing to earn money. I then started to adjust and adapt instruments and would get lots of players to play them to hear what they thought. I started with the flugelhorn because in Holland and Belgium we have ‘Fanfare’ groups with 10 or 15 flugelhorns. This was my market! The trumpets came after that, then the cornet, and now this year the piccolo trumpet is ready.
You have to be very careful bringing a new model onto the market, as if it is not quite ready, before you know it you have a bad reputation. I have to be 100% sure that it is perfect.
You have a number of very well-established models in your range now. Where they all designed with a particular sound or style in mind, or developed more for particular players?
In the beginning I worked with a number of players. The difficulty is that everybody tells you something different! The one unstable factor in an instrument setup is the player him or herself. With lots of players around me, I found that the quality got worse because you are constantly having to change things.
I now do most of the testing myself, and then take it to various players once I am completely happy with the design and setup. Listening to the customers is really important. I start a design by listening to what players need, I then go away and work on the technical stuff to create it. You learn this by doing it, it is not a case of reading a book and then knowing what to do. I believe this is a great strength.
Would you say that all of your trumpets across your entire range have particular characteristics that set them apart from many other makers?
They play in tune! It is also important to me that they look good. People’s first contact with my instruments is with their eyes so I need this to be good. The second thing people are interested in is the valves – if they are not perfectly smooth and responsive, they will put the instrument back down again. The third thing is when they start playing!
So, what’s next?!
Life is like sitting on the bullet train in Japan. Everything goes by so quick! At 40, I never worried about that, but after I hit 50, I think about that a lot. I intend to enjoy life more and work slightly less. I have a plan in place for 10 years’ time, for the company to go to a trusted friend who works with me, so that the good work can continue, and the name does not get lost!
Are there any new models that you are keen to explore?
The most important thing for me is that every new model and design is better than the last one. I am not able to spend a lot of money on marketing, so I have to make sure that the quality of my instruments speaks for itself. We just concentrate on one model at a time to ensure that everything is as good as it can be.
We have been working hard on the piccolo, and we have another C trumpet model, that I worked on with a player at the Concertgebouw. Our next investment is going to be in a CNC machine which will help a lot with our design processes. The most important thing for the future is maintaining the high quality that we have now.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
It is not possible to make these instruments alone. Without Heidrun who deals with the business side, none of this would be possible. I cannot deal with that side of things, I just want to make great instruments.
Instrument Overview with Jesse McBee of Thompson Music:
“At Thompson Music, we are proud to be a dealer for Van Laar trumpets. Particularly, we’ve been impressed by the versatility of their product line, as well as the Van Laar team’s attention to detail, quality, and customer service. From their line of Bb trumpets, the most popular horns we sell and usually stock are the B1, B2, B4, B5 and B7, as well as the Oiram II and Oiram III. From the flugelhorn line, we see much interest in the B2, B3, and Oiram Fresu.
As aforementioned, the Van Laar line is diverse enough to have an offering for every player’s performance demands. From lead trumpet, to chamber music, to solo playing, to small group jazz, there is a horn to fit that player’s needs. Additionally, several models serve as great all-around instruments should the player need an instrument for various playing demands. Van Laar’s attention to detail is impeccable, combining the benefits of a handmade product with modern quality control tolerances. Our customers are consistently impressed with the quality and presentation of the product, as we have been when our orders arrive in the store.”
To see the full range of Van Laar trumpets and flugelhorns, please visit the Thompson Music website.