I have custom fit thousands of trumpet players to new mouthpiece configurations. And I have gained a wealth of knowledge from those very same clients. They taught me what works for one person may not work for anyone else. And what works for most is really just a mediocre average that could easily be improved upon on an individual basis. The most important lesson from working with such a diverse cross section of our industry? Every single person is different and reaching your potential requires much more than dedicated practice and passion.
Some of you will disagree with just about everything you will see in today's video...
Comments, criticism and questions are welcome!
Having built a brand from the ground up, I have devoted a fair amount of time and energy to this question. I began experimenting with trumpets and, what eventually became known as Standing Wave Efficiency, in 1992. My first experiment involved soldering weight to a set of Bach Stradivarius bottom caps to reduce anti-nodal vibrations on specific partials. My friends though I was crazy. And my parents did not approve of defacing my prized possession, the Bach 37 built 30 years prior, which they gave to me for a high school graduation gift. In complete disregard to all warnings, I began disassembling the Bach brand name by disassembling Bach professional trumpets.
For the previous few years, it had been drilled into my head that all great trumpet players only perform on Bach trumpets because they are the best. This "fact" was something I never questioned. My band director told me that Bach was the best and it seemed true considering all the best players I knew at the time also played on Bach. This brand name was synonymous with the best available brass instruments.
My perspective changed after I was given my first Bach Strad 37 a few months before setting off to music school to pursue a Bachelor's of Music degree in Trumpet Performance. My Dad had purchased my particular Bach 37 from my uncle and it was in need of repair. He spent his savings having it refurbished to "like new" condition in clear lacquer before giving it to me. When I opened the case, I was amazed at how new the horn looked even though it was built in the 1960's. I knew that my level of performance would improve immediately because I know held the holy grail of trumpets!
Fast forward three months to auditions for Band and Orchestra in college. I'm struggling to play my audition pieces as well as I did on an old beat up cornet that had been lent to me from my grade school music teacher since 5th grade. I could not for the life of me reach wide intervals as easily and my tone became distorted and harsh as much lower dynamics than I had remembered. I was convinced that the problem was me and never once considered that my Bach trumpet could be holding me back. In fact, I was completely disappointed in myself for letting down my family who worked so hard to buy me this instrument. How could I be failing with this amazing Bach trumpet in my hands?
The surprise of my life came during that week of auditions. And the next events changed the course of my career and trumpet design as we know it worldwide. As I was standing outside the audition room giving my chops a break from practicing, I met another freshman trumpet player also auditioning for the Symphonic Band that day. His name was Dave and he has been one of my best friends ever since. Dave asked me about my horn as he immediately recognized it was built decades earlier than his brand new 1992 Bach Stradivarius 37 finished in polished silver plate. To make a long story short, we exchanged horns and both returned to our practice rooms to test them.
In my mind, I was thinking that both horns are the same model, but Dave's horn is in silver so it will probably sound brighter than my horn. I had been working on the Hindemith Sonata, which is a very dark piece full of emotional outbursts in the form of wide interval leaps, sudden dynamic changes, bold statements and after thoughts to be executed with very light finesse. I played the first two lines and was in complete disbelief! Dave's Bach soared on every note in a way that allowed me to phrase on a musical level I had never before achieved. It was not overly bright, but mature, vibrant, dark, warm and brilliant all at the same time. This horn was alive in my hands and I felt like a wizard who had discovered a spell that gave my trumpet playing an operatic voice. I was in love with this horn.
A few minutes later, Dave knocked on my practice room door and hand my old, but somewhat new, Bach to me and said something to the affect of, "yeah, I've heard great things about those vintage Bach trumpets, but I don't see why anyone would want one." And I couldn't agree with him more. My horn was a dud. It did not resonate like his horn and I found myself, for the first time in my life, questioning the brand name Bach. How could one Stradivarius play so amazingly well and the other play so very, well let's just say not amazing in any way?
The guilt began to set in. My Dad spent all of his money buying and refurbishing that Bach trumpet so I could succeed as a musician. I felt terrible as I now understood that his money was spent on something that did not live up to the name. Bach was no synonymous with questionable quality, sometimes amazing and other times not good at all. I was crushed. And I had an audition in 15 minutes!
to be continued...
Having working with thousands of trumpet players over the years, I'm often asked for advice regarding range, endurance, tone, technique, etc. However, I am very rarely asked about mouthpiece pressure. In reality, most trumpet players' concerns are directly related to the space between the mouthpiece and teeth. Rather than focus on mouthpiece "pressure", I prefer to discuss the distance required to vibrate the lips. This video will guide you through concepts that may seem completely new, yet directly related to our overall performance success.
I'm asking you personally, what is your greatest challenge as a musician? Is it finding the time to practice? Or maybe it's connecting with the right musicians to make an ensemble really click?
This question has driven much of my life since I was in high school back in the late 80's. Once I got hooked on playing trumpet, I found myself running into more and more challenges that were seemingly beyond my capacity. I wanted to play high, fast and loud like many others, but my greatest goal at the time was simply making beautiful music that would captivate any and all listeners. You see, my challenge was embouchure. I suffered loose teeth and mangled lips due to excessive mouthpiece pressure and I would have done anything to correct this issue.
As a young man, I became obsessed with overcoming my challenges on trumpet and helping my colleagues with the same. First, I studied the physics of brass playing and corrected my embouchure. Then I studied the physics of brass instruments and redesigned the trumpet hundreds of times in search of the perfect balance between efficiency and resonance. Then I studied the psychology of trumpet players to eventually create the world's only mouthpiece with modular cup and throat variations both in dimension and shape. Yes, this innovation is directly related to the psychology of how trumpet players hear themselves! And this led to introducing the variable performance system (VPS) allowing complete adjustment of flexibility, slotting, air flow, and resonance. What is my greatest challenge as a trumpet player today? Finding the time to practice and perform!
Take a few seconds to think about your three greatest challenges as a brass player? Write these down.
What if I could help you with just one item on your list? Would you want to learn something new that may lead to you overcoming that challenge? Are you willing to learn something new? I can only help you if you are truly interested in breaking your paradigm. I've done this for thousands of trumpet players over the past 25 years. And I wake up every morning excited to get into the shop or showroom to work directly with my clients on their challenges. In fact, it was working with so many amazing people that led to my own success as a musician, inventor, trumpet designer and brass coach.
I'm ready to help you tackle the first challenge on your list. Comment below and share what you would like to do better so that your audience will be entranced by your next performance.
Harrelson Trumpets was built on trust. From the very first day, I have been committed to helping musicians achieve success by providing solutions to their performance challenges. This requires a great deal of trust in terms of vision, process and results. Without trust, we have risk. And when risk is high, we tend not to do business. My name is on every Harrelson product and I back up my name with my high quality craftsmanship, customer support and response to your feedback and needs. This is how we build trust.
The very first trumpet I ever built for a fee was returned and refunded in 2002. I spent weeks working on a trumpet for the very first paying customer when I lived in Northfield, Minnesota. This customer was paying $900 for me to cut down a gently used UMI Benge Bb trumpet (which I provided) to play in the key of C with early SWE technology upgrades. I had done the math and cut the horn up, then re-assembled everything to the best of my ability. Nervous to deliver my first horn, I did everything I could think of to make sure this went just as planned. The customer called me a few days after delivery and said the horn didn't play in tune for him. I offered a full refund and took the horn back.
The early days of my company were filled with learning opportunities. I made a lot of mistakes and responded by improving the process, approach and results again and again. Having built over 2000 trumpets, I have a great deal of experience with every major make and model trumpet, cornet and flugelhorn as the first 300+ builds were modifications to some extent. Some were complete rebuilds where I only re-used the valveset and/or bell while others were re-built numerous times in the name of science. Yet every single instrument I have touched has one thing in common. I gained the trust of my customer by providing service and results that outweighed the price of the horn.
In the video below, I share with you why trusting the Harrelson team is a wise choice on your journey to take your playing to the next level...
Having custom built mouthpieces for thousands of trumpet players, I have some insight I would like to share with you. Despite the great number of professors and self-proclaimed experts spouting that equipment cannot solve range and endurance challenges, my experiences working with players of all levels has proven that Rim shape and Cup depth are almost always contributing limiting factors. By adjusting these two components, I have witnessed amazing breakthrough moments by players almost daily for the past two decades.
Is it possible that Rim shape and Cup depth changes could unlock your potential to play higher and longer? The answer is quite possibly yes, but often this depends on a full range of factors including your approach to producing tone and your willingness to break old habits.
Finding the correct Rim shape requires some experimenting with variations based on your personal history. I typically collect information on what has and has not worked for you in the past including the time periods in your life that major changes occurred. For instance, telling me that you regularly played above high C through your late teens and 20's before taking 20 years off the horn is very helpful. You may go back to your original "go to" mouthpiece only to find it feels limiting. The reality is that your body, dental structure, physical approach and mind set have changed since your last successful period of playing.
Why do we expect everything to work with generic equipment in the first place? Seriously consider this question for a moment before reading any further. Would you expect your grade school shoes to fit you today? Take that concept a step further. Would you get on the highway and drive 75-85mph every day in the same car you drove when you were 18 years old? If you are 18 years old, would you drive that fast in traffic in this 1970 Buick?
Common sense would tell most of us that what worked in the past should work again, today. Why fix something that isn't broken is what I've head from most educators and professors. It really bothers me that these words are spoken in the context of a private lesson where the student (you) is clearly stating that something is not working properly to produce your personal range and endurance goals. The arrogance of such a statement is 1) dismissive and 2) lacking in understanding of your personal situation. You are there, after all, to overcome challenges with the assistance of a paid professional. Yet this attitude is persistent in the western world of trumpet playing and teaching.
So let's first admit that something is in fact "broken" and that we intend to diagnose the problem by exploring all contributing factors of tone production. Now let's list these contributing factors so we can get started.
1) Your specific approach to tone production (your technique in forming an embouchure and setting the air column into motion)
2) Your physical nature (state of your lips, tongue, dental structure, lungs, etc.)
3) The instrument determining the wave length variations and amplification (design, length, condition, etc.)
4) The physical design of interface between the player and instrument known as the mouthpiece
5) The environment in which the tone is being produced
Once we break down the system into components, it become clear that every contributing factor is somehow related to another factor. Considering the environment, if we are playing underwater we will surely have trouble creating a tone due to the lack of air. A more realistic concern is playing in a very cold building with an organ that is low in pitch until the room warms up. While this is inconvenient, it is unlikely to be a major contributing factor to tone production, but I have encountered players who have difficulty getting their lips to vibrate against a cold mouthpiece.
Now let's consider the instrument determining the character of the standing wave and amplification. You've probably heard that "insert name of famous trumpet player" can easily play a double high "insert note" on his/her "insert name of make and model" trumpet. And you've probably also heard something similar to, "Well that player could play that high on a garden hose". In reality, this is not entirely true. In fact, the success of anyone playing a specific range of notes on a trumpet or a garden hose is directly related to the design and integrity of the instrument. A garden hose 50' in length will play completely different than one that is 10' long. Likewise, a trumpet designed with a very small venturi, leadpipe and bell will play completely different than one designed .005" larger on the venturi, .020" larger on the leadpipe and with a faster tapered bell. In fact, it is quite possible that many players will find success on one of these variations while almost no success on the other when producing a specific type of tone color. Playing on the instrument that does not match the player's natural or preferred impedance can in fact reduce range, endurance and degrade motivation to play in general.
For now, let's assume the environment is acceptable and the musical instrument in question is a perfect fit for the player. What can go wrong at this point? You could have a flawed approach to your physical performance technique, deficiencies in your physical nature or have mismatched mouthpiece design factors. Can we overcome our technique challenges? Yes, of course we can by educating ourselves on the factors involved and working on them thoughtfully over time. Can we change our physical nature? In most cases, the answer is no. We almost always have to work with what we're given with the exception of dental work and muscle development. And can we change the mouthpiece design? Yes.
Of the three major factors that limit range and endurance, making changes within the design of the mouthpiece is the most straightforward approach to experiencing results quickly. In fact, the reason many players require many years to achieve measurable results in terms of range and endurance is directly related to the player building up embouchure and technique to overcome the mismatched design of a generic instrument interface (mouthpiece). By finding the best shape and size early on in the process, players can achieve results more quickly as they work towards strengthening their technique.
In my next blog, I will discuss the advantages and pitfalls related to various mouthpiece Rim shapes and diameters. Cup depth and shape will be presented in a dedicated blog entry as well. Until then, please comment with your experiences and questions below. If you are ready to explore the advantages of a custom mouthpiece fit to your personal needs, give me a call at 303.657.2747 or email me at email@example.com.
Choosing the 5MM Body style that's best for your playing situation can make or break a performance. Projecting too little or too much results in more or less feedback to you, the player, and your ensemble. Small rooms often require us to play with finesse in a way that communicates with the audience with care. Medium and large rooms vary greatly in acoustic character posing even great challenges when balancing projection, efficiency and feedback. To simplify the selection process, I have created the following three question process that charts out the most common performance situations.
#1 - Does your performance feature trumpet as a primary voice in the ensemble?
#2 - Is there potential that musicians in your ensemble may have difficulty hearing you play?
#3 - Is there potential that you may have difficulty hearing yourself play?
We launched our first Trumpet Challenge on YouTube this week. This project has been on my mind for years. I envision a fun, collaborative community of brass players sharing and learning along the way. The first few challenges will be simple with an element of humor. As we progress, they will become increasingly more difficult with crazy ideas mixed in here and there.
In the spirit of the New Year, I will be working towards my resolutions, which include three new YouTube projects:
I have prioritized these projects so you will see the Trumpet Challenge take form first and Let's Make This develop last. Ironically, I spend most of my time engineering, inventing and making things while playing trumpet only a few minutes a day. My goal is to bring balance to the various aspects of my professional life while sharing my knowledge with you.
I would really appreciate your insight and comments on these projects. Do you have a suggestion on a topic to be covered? A burning question about physics or brass playing? Would you like to see me create a fork and knife with a CNC machine or get the inside scoop on hand carving a wooden frisbee? Post your ideas in the comments below and we'll get started!
Are you ready to build your new Harrelson trumpet or flugelhorn? I'll guide you through the process while highlighting features designed to take your playing to the next level. Let's start with what makes Harrelson different from any other trumpet company...
We take great pride in leading our industry in design, manufacturing and personalized customer service. SWE and VPS Technologies both set Harrelson apart in playability, efficiency and versatility. In addition, our manufacturing process incorporates the latest CAD/CAM software and precision CNC machining technologies. We are the only brass manufacturer to fully machine the leadpipe, tuning slide, bell crook and bell. Understanding our approach will reveal how Harrelson has created innovative solutions to your brass performance challenges.
In addition to embracing physics and important modern technologies, we strive to offer solutions that meet your needs.
Our motto at Harrelson Trumpets is three-fold...
1) We have your size.
2) Every instrument and mouthpiece is completely adjustable.
3) We guarantee a perfect fit.
Let's start with We have your size. We mean this literally. Our designs incorporate modular components allowing the instrument to fit YOU rather than the other way around. The traditional one-size-fits-all approach used by large corporations is streamlined for profitability whereas we build our instruments around the individual player. Every Harrelson instrument is completely adjustable in terms of air flow, flexibility, slotting, tone color, projection and even intonation tendencies. We guarantee a perfect fit to YOU and back it up with a 12-month exchange policy on all instruments and a 30-day exchange on all mouthpieces.
VPS Series Instruments include all Harrelson trumpets built after 2015. VPS is short for Variable Performance System, which encompasses a series of inventions that allow any player to find the right balance of flexibility, slotting and air flow. Harrelson is the only manufacturer in the world incorporating VPS Technology into brass instrument design. This revolutionary approach guarantees that every one of our clients will find the perfect horn that exceeds their expectations.
Harrelson VPS Instruments include the entire Summit and Muse series. We offer configurations in the keys of A, Bb, C and Eb designed for Jazz, Orchestra, Big Band, Solo, Symphonic Band, Commercial, Lead, Latin and Brass Quintet. We also offer a VPS Flugelhorn in the Bravura Series that will be introduced in late 2017.
WHAT IS A CUSTOM HORN?
Are Harrelson Trumpets custom?
Yes! In fact, every Harrelson instrument is custom built to your exact specifications. The Summit and Muse models offer more custom options than all other trumpet builders combined. This is a true statement and I've done the math. If you take every custom option available from every single company worldwide, you are left with a fraction of options when compared with Harrelson.
A personal consultation is included with every order
Almost every client has a conversation with me directly to clarify options and expectations. This ensures that I build exactly what YOU want in terms of playability, tone, projection and aesthetics. We also discuss the model variations to find a balance between efficiency, price and wait time. The more efficient models like the Muse and Summit One require more time and machining whereas the standard Summit is usually the quickest build time available.
Which model is right for you?
I have recently discontinued all instruments not designed with the Variable Performance System so that every customer receives the latest technology available including...
What is the difference between the Standard, Jazz and Lead models?
There is no difference in build or overall design when ordering these three variations. The real difference is only the way you configure the leadpipe, bell, tuning slide and trim options. The Standard Summit IS exactly the same as the Jazz and Lead versions. I have given them different names since trumpet players are accustomed to seeing these words in the model descriptions. I could generalize by stating that most Classical players use a specific leadpipe and bell, but in reality that configuration may be the perfect setup for a Jazz or Lead player. So I refer to all of these models as the "Summit" trumpet. Likewise, the Muse model is easily configured for any genre by adjusting the mouthpiece, leadpipe and bell.
What is included?
Just about every option is included on all Summit and Muse models...
What is not included?
The final finish is always an up-charge on Harrelson instruments. Options include Acoustic Armour, Brushed Brass, Silver or Gold plate. Other options available include additional text, graphics, art, special bell bends, custom bracing shapes and just about anything you can imagine.
What is the price?
The entire Harrelson line is the most reasonably priced instrument available today when you consider our custom options, service, playability, energy efficiency and quality. There is no competing model available anywhere in the world and thus Harrelson is in its own class. Pricing of each model varies based on the time and materials invested into the design and finished instrument. You can see our ever changing inventory of instruments here.
At first glance, the sheer number of options available may seem overwhelming. I assure you, this is more fun than work. There are no right or wrong answers when choosing components and I will guide you through the entire process. It's almost like designing a custom home and the goal is for your horn to feel like coming home. The following is a brief overview of every option included on all Harrelson trumpets including links to resources within the HT website.
There is a leadpipe and bell configuration to meet the demands of every player. I will walk you through the options that will best fit your needs helping you make the final selection.
Understanding Bell Options
This in-depth overview will help you determine the bells that will best fit your needs.
The latest SWE tuning slide options include styles A, D and R. Style R designates the "Ripples" design that matches the new SWE Bell Crook available on all Summit trumpets ($600 option).
Finishing your trumpet in silver, gold or Acoustic Armour may be preferable if you want a clean appearance. Mixing brushed and polished accents in any combination is common except in raw brass. Silver will tarnish over time, but much more slowly than raw brass. Adding carnauba wax to brass and silver finishes will also prevent tarnishing. Gold plate never tarnishes and looks great in a brushed finish.
5MM Modular Mouthpiece
Guaranteed to fit YOU, the 5MM will allow you to play dark to bright, soft to loud, broad to focused and it is included with every Harrelson VPS Instrument.
Your choice of tapered or cylindrical shapes in two diameters, the AGR Receiver is available plain or with text and/or model logo engraving.
A full set of 9 AGR Inserts is included with every Summit trumpet. After you have had a few weeks to acclimate, we will send you 9 more inserts in your choice of venturi and size to continue fine tuning air flow, flexibility and slotting.
Including with every Summit, your name or a small graphic may be engraved or milled into the receiver, top bracing or trim kit. In addition, you choose what will be milled into the top bracing. The standard setup includes the Harrelson logo, Leadpipe and Bell designations on the top and the build date and Denver, Colorado on bottom.
We now offer 4 water keys including the Saturn, Harrelson, Pollard and Amado designs.
Our standard option is the original ergonomic design. Variations include the pinky rest with or without an open ring, cylindrical rings in 1/3" and 1/2" and the following custom styles; Flames, Summit One, Skeletonized and Ergonomic Arch.
Top caps are available in standard recessed 1/2", classic 1/2", tapered and low profile versions. Updated photos will be added to our website soon. See our Facebook pages for a sneak preview!
Bottom Cap options
Bottom caps are available in standard cylindrical and classic styles in sizes ranging from 1/4" to over 1". We also offer numerous designer options including tapered, tapered groove, grooves and the new organic curves styles that will debut this coming summer. Updated photos will be added to our website soon. See our Facebook pages for a sneak preview!
Finger buttons are now a modular 2-piece design allowing interchangeable threaded "bottoms" with inlaid or styled "tops".
Finger Button inlays options include everything from vintage dimensional glass to shells and semi-precious gemstones. We literally offer over 200 inlays and we perform extensive lapidary work in our Minneapolis shop. Updated photos will be added to our website soon. See our Facebook pages for a sneak preview!
Third Stop Mechanism
We offer 2 options to keep your third slide from falling onto the floor. The spring ball stop is the most popular allowing you to set a tension screw once. Then you simply pull the slide with extra force to remove for cleaning or greasing. The screw stop is a much improved version of the industry standard.
Every new Harrelson Trumpet includes a full 12-month guarantee. You may exchange your trumpet for full credit towards another new Harrelson Trumpet based on your original invoice amount, allowing you to upgrade to a more efficient or different configuration without risking any of your investment.
How will you set up your Custom Harrelson trumpet?
Feel free to share your ideal Harrelson trumpet configuration by leaving a comment. I also encourage you to check out my Facebook pages "Harrelson Trumpets" and "Jason Harrelson" where you can share ideas with current Summit trumpet owners.
limited production vs. in-stock instruments
Beginning in 2017, we have limited custom trumpet and flugelhorn production to 24 orders per year. In addition, we will begin charging extra for option to have your trumpet designed and built "custom" in 2018. Please note that we invest a great deal of time and energy into fully custom built trumpets designed specifically for one person. For this reason, we adhere to strict cancellation policy to ensure your order receives the attention required to create the highest quality instrument possible.
We encourage most of our clients to visit our Denver showroom to try out a full array of Harrelson trumpets and choose one in person. This will allow you to find the best fit, work through the 5MM Mouthpiece setup and VPS options with us in person. We can have your receiver custom engraved the same day so you can leave with your trumpet in your case.
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Winners so far...
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