Are We Too Wrapped Up In Equipment?

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by trickg, Sep 16, 2005.

  1. trickg

    trickg Utimate User

    Oct 26, 2003
    Are we as trumpet players too wrapped up in our equipment?

    I was thinking about this yesterday after reading about Chuck Willard’s (SchilkeB6) new Lawler C7 and looking at the incredible photos of it, looking again at Marc Melton’s Schilke X3LB in satin gold, and thinking about how much I would like to try a Lawler C7 or get my horn plated like one of those. (Not only would it be beautiful, but it would give my trumpet additional protection from my acidic hands.)

    For those who don’t know about the pictures I’m talking about, Chuck’s Lawler is here:

    And Marc Melton’s Schilke is here:

    (If you like looking at beautiful trumpets, BOTH of those links are worth checking out.)

    But back to the subject of being wrapped up in equipment, until recently, I figured that most "pro level" horns were more or less on par with one another, and I mostly adopted to take an "it’s the player, not the equipment" stance as much as I could in practice, even though I talk up gear with the best of them. I’ve owned 2 Bach Strads in 19 years, played on my last one for the last 8, and have played a combination of about 4 different mouthpieces in all of that time. This isn’t to say that I never tried other things in that time frame, but I never really made any permanent changes.

    And then I bought a new trumpet, more or less on a whim (because I really wanted it!) and it has driven home the fact that equipment had a much bigger impact on my playing than I had given it credit for. I’ve also had some conversations and taken part in some discussions regarding certain trumpets and instrument building practices, and it further strengthens the idea that not every "pro" horn is created equal, different players have distinctly different needs out of their equipment, and some trumpets are much better suited to certain playing requirements (lead big band, quintet, orchestra, etc) than others.

    But where do we draw the line? I’m of the belief that no trumpet or mouthpiece is going to make you a better player – YOU are the musician, the "craftsman" so to speak - trumpets and mouthpieces are only the tools of the trade – but at the same time, with the plethora of mouthpiece and horn makers today, especially the smaller, one-off shops that are doing some great affordable custom and semi-custom work, it becomes very easy to stop looking in the practice room as the source for improvement, and start looking to find a "cure" elsewhere. Here in the States, we live in a society where we have come to the idea that we can throw money at out problems to solve them, and this can easily translate through to the trumpet player who thinks that if they buy X brand of trumpet or mouthpiece, it will solve their playing woes. To put this in a different way, how many high school trumpet players over the years have purchased a lead-type mouthpiece, only to discover that it really didn’t help them, (and it may have even hindered them!) and it found it’s way into a shoebox to collect dust because their embouchures weren’t developed enough to take advantage of its specialized purpose?

    I guess what I’m driving at is wondering how we find a balance and discover when a new trumpet or mouthpiece might be a good thing that could help us, and when our time, money and energies would better serve us by hiring a teacher and spending time in the practice room. I play a fairly specialized setup right now – a Schilke B6 with a Schilke 14A4 mouthpiece. This has shown itself to work very well for the commercial type music that I play, but at the same time I believe that it has only magnified or enhanced what I could already do and it didn’t really "give" me anything, although it has, in my opinion, significantly made my job on the gig much easier. In the case of both the trumpet and the mouthpiece, I feel it was money well spent...and yet, seeing things like Chuck Willard’s Lawler C7, or Marc Melton’s Schilke, still leave me craving something different and wondering if they would be even better than what I currently have, and I wonder if I have become too wrapped up in the equipment, and not wrapped up nearly enough with practicing to make the most of the equipment that I already have.

    Once again, sorry for the ramble.
  2. wiseone2

    wiseone2 Artitst in Residence Staff Member

    Nov 19, 2003
  3. Tootsall

    Tootsall Fortissimo User

    Oct 25, 2003
    Yee HAW!
    I reckon the corollary is: are car nuts wrapped up in equipment? If someone drives a taxi, then most likely they are going to have a 4 door sedan that isn't terribly expensive, can be easily and (relatively) cheaply fixed. No question that a cabbie is a "professional driver".

    Now, if you take someone who likes driving "for the fun of it" (and can afford it).... what will they have in their garage? Yeah.... maybe a two-seat convertible sports model? (just GREAT for wet, cold, rainy, snowy weather). Or perhaps a restored "supercar" with a 428 big block and maybe two or three 4 barrel carbs sitting on top with which to absorb $2.50 per gallon (if you're lucky) gas?

    I'm convinced that when it comes to hobbies (and for most of us, trumpet IS a "hobby", we don't earn our bread with it).... we just plain like "nice things". Chuck is going to put his family's dinner (as is Manny, et al) on the table with his horn. He buys the horn that best does that but at the same time, wants it to look "nice".... he obviously takes pleasure in "fine things". I am definitely in the "hobby" category...I set out to learn to play music (specifically trumpet) at age 50. I sure love my Eclipse even though I probably can't get anywhere near the full potential out of it.

    We all like "fine things"... we like to own them, to look at them, to use them; and there's nothing wrong with that. If a professional takes that "B**" or "Y****A* trumpet and sends it off for gold plating, scratch brushing, or whatever then he's making a statement that he takes pride in yet one more aspect of his career.... the appearance.

    Back to the Taxi driver... this past week I had to make a trip to another city for a short meeting. I got a ride back to the airport in a taxi... a Toyota Prius. Not exactly your average Impala or Ford... right? So I asked the driver about his car... he'd had it for three months and was inordinately proud of it. He said that it was only the cabbies driving the Prius cars (there are quite a few of them in this city) who could afford to "cruise" for fares... all the other guys were parked and waiting for radio calls! They use far less gas (at low speeds, virtually none at all... the gas engine shuts down) He had a DVD player set up so that when he was "on the side" he could listen to music, watch a video, or whatever. He had it set up with fancy wheels/tires. He showed me all of the computerized gizmo screen thing on the dash that showed how it transferred energy from either/or the gas motor or electric motor... to and from the batteries and to and from the wheels! (they have regen braking to recharge the drive battery). He figured it would not take long at all for him to recoup the extra capital cost of the vehicle... especially at today's gas prices!

    Yep, he was mighty proud of his "tool of the trade" and rightfully so.

    Nothing wrong with that, in my books. I'm equally proud of my Eclipse. I don't think of that as "being wrapped up in the equipment" so much as "being wrapped up in a hobby" or "being proud of your career". (Ever see a mechanic who has thousands or tens of thousands of dollars wrapped up in the latest Snap-On tools?) A hardware store wrench might do the same job but......

    I guess what I'm really trying to say is "and what's wrong with being too wrapped up in the equipment"? Trumpet players aren't the only ones!
  4. tpter1

    tpter1 Forte User

    Jan 12, 2005
    Northern New York
    Dadgummit! I still can't get my first sentence out right!!!

    The right equipment will allow the person to do the job to their fullest ability; to develop to their fullest potential; but the wrong instrument or incorrect mouthpiece can also hold a player back.

    One of my other passions, photography, is very equipment laden, and many of the same issues (equipment-heads; gadget freaks;I MUST have that new Nikon because it has 41 custom settings, etc) come about. (Especially now with auto-everything digital cameras that do most of your thinking for you). The image is not a result of the equipment; it is the eye and imagination of the photographer that is responsible for the image. The functions, bells and whistles just make capturing that image more efficient and aid in the technique of recording that moment in time. But a full-featured pro level SLR is wasted on someone who knows nothing about exposure, flash, metering light levels, or when or how to use the features on the camera. Fumbling around with knobs and buttons will cost that once in a lifetime shot of your kid riding the dog or your bunny with a pancake on his head. However, someone shooting for National Geographic NEEDS all those funtions if his/her photos are going to have the right exposure, be built tough enough to endure what they do, and allow for the creative flexibility to control the lighting and color to make a photo reach out to its intended audience.

    It is very much the same with instruments. A Monette's design features are wasted on a fifth grader (and might not survive a day in the hands of one!); a Bundy is definitely not enough for a pro. Can a pro make a Bundy sing? Yes. (Well, as best as that horn can sing, it will). And that is the point; the horn will only perform as well as the person playing it can play it; but instruments are also designed and built on differing levels, so that Bundy might do fine for someone in their first year or so, but then they develop to a point beyond what that horn is capable of.

    I have to go get ready for band now; I will revisit and edit later.

    We love our horns and our gear. We pass ourselves through them for our art. In that sense, they become a part of us. Why else would Leigh and Monette put initials and custom designs on their instruments at the request of their clientelle? Not that there's anything wrong with that; when it becomes a problem is when people look at equipment and think "WAIT!!! I can play Sheherazade at breakneck speed if I have that!" "I can squeal a quad-c if I only had a triple-cup asymmetrical RocketLaser Screamer 2B4A7 1/2!" Well, if you can't now because you just can't, you won't. And if the end result, or the desire, is not musical or musically based, you won't either. And why bother? Gear won't solve your problems; but the right gear will not stop you from solving them yourself (provided you have a good, solid musical approach, a firm foundation in good basics, intelligence and the will to see through failure).

    There...I think I got it now.
  5. gzent

    gzent Fortissimo User

    Nov 5, 2003
    Rochester, MN
    Yes and No.
    How's that for an answer?

    I think you covered it when you mentioned achieving balance.
    When we stop thinking in terms of absolutes, black and white, good and bad, then we start to appreciate balance.

    Some absolutes:
    More expensive horns play better
    Silver horns play brighter
    Only practice will make you play better

    These statements are true in most cases but not all.

    I think we need to strive to understand what 'good enough for the job' means and the point of limited returns. For example, I would spend hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars if I could buy a trumpet that would let me consistently play with the same proficiency up to double C as I can up to high C. Wouldn't that be cool? Of course, no such horn exists.

    Well, what if a horn only increased my range by 4 notes would I still spend the same money - maybe? 2 notes, no way.

    Its a matter of realizing that often spending that extra money doesn't pay back - limited returns on our money - good enough for the job.

    However, we also should accept that what is good enough for our own personal needs may not be good enough for someone else's needs.

    I think that as one improves as a player you begin to discover limitations in your trumpet and its only natural to look for better equipment that overcomes those limitations. Each person has to decide how much they are willing to spend to overcome their intrument's limitations, whether in practice time or money, both are investments and some people are able to invest more than others.

    The frustration appears when a player sets himself up for disappointment.
    If you are working hard to afford a new horn and start feeling that you will be happy when you get it even though you are currently unhappy you will be disappointed.

    Certainly, its nice and even exciting to get a new horn, but its the desire to improve and working toward our goals that gives us a sense of purpose and worth, its not taking the 'prize' home that makes us content.

    Another point I'd mention is that its not good to get emotionally attached to an instrument, or any material thing for that matter. When you think that your horn is irreplaceable or that its somehow unique compared to other similar horns you nned to stop and think.

    People are unqiue and irreplaceable, things are not. Its just a trumpet, a collection of metal tubes, a complex plumbing fixture, a tool to make music. It is not alive, it does not have feelings, it does not need more attention than your family. I'm not saying this sort of attachment to your horn is common, but if this sounds like you then do a reality check.

    Anyway, pardon my rambling, its Friday!! :)

  6. trickg

    trickg Utimate User

    Oct 26, 2003
    Thanks for the replies. I've read them all with interest and appreciate the feedback.

    I really liked the response talking about diminishing returns on our equipment investments. To put it into the perspective of my own playing and the equipment that I own, I can say without hesitation that the money spent on my trumpet and the mouthpiece I am currently playing were well worth it, but now the question that comes to mind is why were they "worth it"? For me, the value comes in brilliance of sound, and how the horn focuses, centers and slots, which translates into me missing less, being more in tune, sounding better, and having an easier time in terms of endurance. (The fact that my trumpet is also beautiful is simply a plus! :D) All of these aspects were improved to varying degrees (some more than others) when I bought my newest trumpet. However, if owing the neatest looking trumpet is what drives you and makes you happy, then that IS a viable reason to spend money toward your gear too.

    On the subject of whether or not to gold plate my trumpet – the value there would be in protecting my investment and keeping my acidic hands from damaging it too quickly.

    I just spent in excess of $250 for a Bob Reeves PVA. (The total includes shipping charges.) My trumpet is not back, so I don’t know whether or not that will have been a wise investment of money toward my craft. One thing that I do know is that I now know that I can tell a difference – there is no doubt in my mind about that now. For years, I hesitated looking into buying a new trumpet because I was getting the job done on my Bach, and, well, it’s a Bach Strad, right?

    I don't "put food on the table", so to speak, playing my trumpet. My main source of income is my job as a database administrator and I only gig on the side. However, I do make enough doing it on a yearly basis that it is a significant part of our family's budget. I just did a quick, rough workup on how much money I have made playing trumpet between when I started gigging again in 2001 and now, vs a rough estimate of how much I have spent on equipment since then, and even with two new horn purchases – a flugelhorn that I felt I needed for the ballads where it is marked "fluglehorn" at the top, and my recent trumpet purchase – the figure is still less than 10%. That's not too shabby. It could certainly be worse!

    Anyway, with the responses that you guys have provided for me, even though I tend to be a bit of a gearhead, I'm not going to worry about being too wrapped up in my gear. It is what it is; I gig, I make money, I reinvest some of that money into gear to give myself the piece of mind that I am maximizing my ability with the tools I use to get the job done, and that the expense is justifiable, regardless of my reasoning! :D
  7. camelbrass

    camelbrass Mezzo Forte User

    Nov 5, 2003
    Dubai, UAE
    My simple one line answer is yes.

    However, my life's just not that simple. I think it's really, really about balance...both horns and mouthpieces and how they relate to the player and his context. Professionals like Manny, Ed ,Wilmer and Dylan have to sort out that balance very quickly..putting food on the table depends on it. Amateurs like ourselves can take a while and probably have the luxury of WANTING to throw more money at that problem over a longer period of time. Like Dylan said everyone needs a hobby and Toots rightly confirms this...I'm not sure that the taxi driver analogy works. I know that if my livelihood depended on my sound then I'd pay whatever it took for me to achieve my optimum..trouble is I suspect that's a different answer for every player.

    I've actually recently cashed in 1 very good trumpet and 1 very expensive trumpet with all the bells and whistles for a garden variety ML Silver Bach Strad and I've never played or sounded better so go figure.....


  8. trickg

    trickg Utimate User

    Oct 26, 2003
    It's interesting that you should say that because I did that very thing prior to buying the LB Strad that I bought in 1997 and played up until last April when I bought the Schilke. I had two or three Bbs in various conditions, a Yamaha C and a Besson pic. I cashed out everything and put the money toward a brand new Strad - the first and only brand new trumpet I have ever owned. And I put a lot of time and energy into picking that one out too, so I know that it is a good Bach among Bachs.

    However, I picked that trumpet out with the idea of playing legit gigs, but as fate would have it, I have only done a handful of legit gigs with it. Most of my playing was Latin Band, Big Band and now playing in the dance band doing rock and roll covers, and the Schilke is naturally far better suited to that scene than the Bach ever was.
  9. Tootsall

    Tootsall Fortissimo User

    Oct 25, 2003
    Yee HAW!
    Trevor, you said "I'm not sure that the taxi driver analogy works"

    From the point-of-view that you are taking, you are absolutely correct. I am referring to a very small percentage of taxi drivers who want their "tools of the trade" to make a statement other than "Here I am, where do you want to go?"; same as the mechanic who wants only THE BEST in hand tools, etc. Obviously not all professional mechanics use Snap-On (or Proto or Challenger or.....).

    For the rest of my argument I hope it's clear I was talking more about the hobbyist player who just takes "pride of ownership" in something that's a bit unique and undoubtedly of the highest quality.

    PS... before I get jumped on by Manny, Wilmer et al... I recognize that you guys buy the horn(s) that gives you that special sound or flexibility or response that you feel you need to "do the job at the highest standard". I am not suggesting for a moment that Manny (for example) purchased a Monette "because he takes pride in owning the best" but rather that a Monette happens to give him what he wants in terms of it's ability to "do the job" that he has for it. The pride of ownership (which he undoubtedly has) comes secondary to that primary need.
  10. Bugler997

    Bugler997 Pianissimo User

    Mar 22, 2005
    One of my band directors always said that there will always be sacrifices, different equipment will always have good points and bad points, or something like that. I disagree with this. I think it is quite possible for one trumpet to be absolutely better than another one, in every single way.

    Someone else -hell, maybe it was me- said "The perfect trumpet won't hold you back." I agree with this, meaning that if it isn't holding you back, buying a new one is absolutely pointless. Also, this can apply to different things: The perfect cables won't make your speakers sound worse, &c..

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