Archive for the 'Trumpet' Category

My Experience Learning to Be a Teacher

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

Nicole SasserNicole Sasser

By Nicole Sasser

They say teaching isn’t for everyone and I always thought it wasn’t for me. That is, until I started to teach. Since graduating from college, I’ve created my own studio with twelve students. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that, to my surprise, I’ve become very attached to my students! True, I would rather perform than teach. After all, there is an amazing rush of adrenaline when I’m on stage in front of an audience. But with teaching, I’ve discovered that there’s great joy in watching a student grow as a musician. I love the challenge of motivating my students to be better trumpet players. In this last year, my skill as their teacher has developed along with their skill as musicians.

When I first went to Indiana University I wavered between classical and jazz performing, but one thing was always certain: I wanted to be a performer not a teacher. Naturally, I worked toward and earned my degree in performance. My friends tried to convince me that, with an education degree, I would always have teaching to fall back on. However, an education degree had different requirements that would limit my time and opportunities for practicing and performing so that option was out. My performance degree did require one pedagogy class that I took towards the end of my college career. In that class I learned how to set a studio policy and guidelines for teaching and I started to get excited about it. When I moved to Florida I decided to establish my own trumpet studio. Now, half of my living is earned performing while the other half comes from teaching private lessons. Who would have guessed?

My first rule for teaching is to have a solid studio policy, which I give to both my students and their parents in writing from the beginning to prevent any issues. One thing I have learned about studio policies is that once I set them, I need to stick to them, but doing that can be a challenge. For example, I offer a discount to students who pay for the month of lessons in advance. Most of my students do this, but it can be difficult to get that check once a month. When the time comes for a lesson and you haven’t been paid for it yet you face a difficult decision. Having the lesson means you might get paid for it later, but you might not. At the same time, skipping the lesson all together means that you definitely won’t get paid and the student misses out. Even though my rules say that the lesson won’t be held, I usually give in and teach the lesson, hoping to see a check the following week. If I don’t, I then skip the next lesson. Of course, all of the rules are given to my students in writing to prevent any problems if this happens. I also make sure that if I have to cancel or switch days, I give the students a printed note for their parents. You have to remember, kids forget.

When I start teaching new students, I tell them and their parents my expectations and goals for them at the start. I highlight my attendance policy and make it clear just how important regularly scheduled lessons are. I also request that every student buys a metronome and a notebook. The metronome is a must have, especially when the players are young and just starting out. The notebook is for me to write their assignments in. That way they can take it home with them and there is no confusion as to what they are supposed to practice all week. It’s very important for students to know what’s expected of them and what they want to accomplish. I ask them to write out their own goals as a player. I want my students to think about why they are practicing. They need to know that they aren’t practicing for me; they’re practicing for themselves. When they realize this, their practicing will be more focused. Even though they are taking private lessons and I can guide them along, their individual practicing at home is the key to the whole process. Students must understand that the lessons alone will not guarantee success. They must be dedicated, to the amount they practice, but also to the way they practice. I discovered that, although many students spend the right amount of time practicing, they don’t always spend the time wisely. The best thing I can teach my students is how to be their own teacher when practicing. To help them out, I wrote the handout How to Practice Properly consisting of 10 guidelines for them to follow. I thought, if they just focused their practicing in the appropriate manner, they would become much better players overall. I give the handout to my students and go over the guidelines with them. After a few lessons, I highlight the top three items that pertain directly to each student. This way they know what they’re good at and what they need to spend more time on.

After a student plays an etude or excerpt for me, I like to ask him/her questions. I ask if the student was happy with the way he/she played. What does he/she think could be done better? It’s interesting how many times students play without even really listening to themselves and instead just go through the motions. So I will ask them to play it again and then tell me what they think. I’m not just going to give them all of the answers. I want to guide them to finding out how to become a better a player for themselves. Eventually, the student will point out a few things he/she did wrong and then I can elaborate on those issues. From there, I can give tips on how to improve these areas. I also point out what I liked. It’s just as important to tell the students what they have done right as what they have done wrong. This positive affirmation of their success will further motivate them to work harder and achieve more.

Not only does this approach motivate students to work harder, it also helps them to open to their minds to other areas that need improvement. One student of mine inspired me to write a short guide on sight reading. Since I encourage that self-inspection, he found that he was having trouble with sight reading and told me he wanted a way to get better. After working with him, I was able to put what he and I learned together down on paper so that it could help my other students as well.

As a new teacher, I am always learning just as much from my students as they are from me. The more I teach, the more tools I develop and the more I fine tune my technique. If you are a teacher, I hope you find these handouts useful and pass them on to your students. If you are a student, I hope they help you to further your playing. I’m a firm believer that, no matter how long we have been doing something, we all have more to learn. I know that I learn something new everyday that I continue to teach. And, while this is good for my students, it is great for me, too.

How To Practice Properly

  1. Write down goals. Do you want to learn all of your scales, or improve your range, double tonguing, triple tonguing, jazz improvisation, etc…? Write a practice schedule and what you will do to achieve these goals.
  2. Realize that you are your own teacher. Analyze your playing. What do and don’t you like about it? How can you make it better?
  3. Isolate tricky sections. Play them tongued if they are supposed to be slurred, and slurred if they are to be tongued. Play them down an octave. This will help you hear the sections rather than focusing on hitting the high notes.
  4. Play slowly. You will accomplish your goals much faster if you learn to play a piece slowly and then speed up. Playing too fast will result in sloppy play and it will take you much longer to perfect.
  5. Use your ear. Listen carefully. Did you pay attention to what you played or did you just play through it without thinking or using your ear?
  6. Try working on one measure at a time and adding to it. Don’t continue until you can play without stopping and without making any mistakes. Yes, that means going back to the top each and every time you stop.
  7. Record yourself. Listen to your playing from a different perspective and take notes on what you like, don’t like, mistakes you can fix, and areas you can improve.
  8. Perform for your family. Get used to your nerves by having someone listen to you play a piece straight through from beginning to end.
  9. Get a recording of what you are playing and study it. Listen to it over and over until you have it memorized.
  10. Listen to various trumpet repertoires and players (classical, jazz, etc…). Each has his or her own unique sound. For example: Phil Smith, Bud Herseth, Sergei Nakariokov, Wynton Marsalis, Alison Balsom, Wayne Bergeron, Arturo Sandoval, Doc Severinsen, Allen Vizutti, Chet Baker, Freddy Hubbard, Louis Armstrong, Lee Morgan, Rafael Mendez, Harry James, Marcus Printup, Bobby Shew, Clark Terry, Maynard Ferguson, Miles Davis, Nicholas Payton, Donald Byrd, Clifford Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, and Chris Botti.

Sight Reading Guide

  1. Know all of your scales (major and minor), arpeggios, scales in thirds, and key signatures. Then you are prepared for anything. If you know the key of the music, you can essentially “skim” sections that are scalar.
  2. Always check the key signature and time signature before playing. (This is a familiar and simple rule that’s often forgotten. Even I do it at times.)
  3. Don’t take it too fast. You don’t want to play sloppily and you don’t want too many starts and stops. Pick a comfortable tempo that allows you to be consistent.
  4. Be prepared and know before you play. Look for key words like a tempo, allegro, and adagio so you know when to expect tempo changes. Find and identify all key changes as well.
  5. Be as musical as possible. Anyone can play notes on a page. A musician brings the music to life.

About the Author
Nicole Sasser graduated from Indiana University in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in trumpet performance. She is now a classical and jazz trumpeter as well as a jazz vocalist in the Orlando, FL area. Her professional experience includes being an adjunct trumpet teacher at the Osceola School for the Arts, a regular sub for the Brevard Symphony Orchestra and several different bands at Disneyworld, as well as performing as a trumpeter with Norwegian Cruise Lines. Prior to her professional career, Nicole made a name for herself with the Chicago Youth Symphony and by earning herself a place on the Honors All State Band (first chair) and Honors All State Orchestra (second chair) in Illinois. For more, visit

Hints for Building Range

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

By Mike Vax

The proper way to build range is to increase it gradually over a number of years, always using as natural an embouchure as possible. Students need to learn to let the air do the work instead of the chops. And always, always, always avoid false or trick embouchures like the plague!

Always remember that range comes from endurance, not the other way around! After you gain the support and muscle control to play for longer periods of time, you begin to have the basic foundation to start increasing your range. Working to extend range by half step increments, over a long period of time, insures control, confidence, and consistency in the upper register that will last for years. There is no deep dark secret that will increase your range overnight. It takes hours of hard practice and concentration. There is no shortcut!

Young players trying to stretch into the upper register too quickly can face quite a few problems. Gaining the ability to reach up high should be thought of as a marathon rather than a sprint. A student can injure muscles in the embouchure as well as other parts of the body by trying too hard to hit the upper registers without first having the knowledge and physical stamina to play up there correctly. Rushing it can also be a detriment to other aspects of playing.

There was never a time in my life that I spent hours a day just trying to “honk out” high notes. The upper register was just one of the many facets that I worked on with regard to my overall playing. Instead of focusing only on high notes, I try to point out to students the importance of working on technique, articulation, flexibility, reading, and endurance. If all of those are mastered, the ability to hit high notes will follow. I also stress to students that the measure of a player is not how high he/she can play for one, forced note. The real measure is how high he/she can play both consistently and musically. I urge them to remember, that the main consideration of trumpet playing is to achieve pure musical sound in all registers of the horn.

Things To Focus On To Extend Range

  • Flexibility studies
  • Long tones
  • Pedal tones (with natural embouchure)
  • Endurance builders (such as the characteristic studies in the back of the Arban’s Book and the Daily Set-Up drills of Herbert L. Clarke)
  • Chords and scales that gradually go higher
  • Breathing exercises. (AIR is your real “octave key”. When you SUPPORT your sound properly, playing high becomes much easier)
  • Walking, running, biking, swimming, etc… (the better shape your body is in, the better chance you have with both endurance and high notes)

Warning Signs Young Players Are Rushing The Upper Register

  • Loss of flexibility
  • Airy tone
  • Trouble with lower register
  • Loss of control and consistency
  • Loss of endurance
  • Inability to center pitches

Extending a Helping Hand

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

Brandt Brass Band Click image for larger view

In the fall of 2005, I was contacted by Mike Vax. Not a big surprise since Mike checks in with us at the factory quite a bit. This call was different. Mike was looking for our help. Some friends in I.T.G. had passed a story on to him that he thought we would be able to assist with. A group of musicians were having trouble getting instruments. Specifically a piccolo trumpet. The musicians were members of the Brandt Brass Band of Saratov, Russia. A very talented group rapidly making a name for themselves. Up until that point, the band was forced to borrow a piccolo trumpet from a neighboring town’s band. Not at all an ideal situation. In an effort to alleviate this, the members of the band were able to scrape together a few hundred dollars. By no means was that enough to purchase a new piccolo. They were hoping that through contacts in I.T.G. they would be able to find a used piccolo at a reasonable price. Enter Mike Vax.

Mike called us after he heard the tale and asked if there was anything we could do to help. Trumpet players around the U.S. had heard of the band’s troubles and were donating money to the cause hoping to boost the band’s buying power. Mike wanted to know if we had an old or seconds piccolo around that we could sell the band directly. We did not. After discussing the situation with my father Tom Getzen, we came up with a better solution. Rather than selling the band an old horn, we decided to give them, free of charge, a brand new 3916 Custom Series piccolo. From our standpoint, we had been fortunate in life and this was a perfect opportunity to pass that along. At the time, Tom relayed a lesson to me that my grandfather had taught him. At some point in life, you’ll have the chance to help someone else. While the time, effort, or dollar amount may not seem like much to you, to them it will mean the world. This was a perfect example of one of those situations.

Immediately, I got a hold of Mike and told him the good news. He was ecstatic and quickly passed the development on to his friends in I.T.G. The news spread fast and I was inundated with emails and phone calls thanking me for our donation. That’s not the reason we did it, but they were all appreciated. As word spread of our donation, trumpeters continued to donate money to the band. The new plan was that the band could use that money to help pay for a quality recording of the band with a CD to follow. I’m personally excited for that since I have heard nothing but praise for the band’s performances and I’m anxious to hear them for myself.

Soon after we decided to donate the horn, I was contacted by Mr. Gary Mortenson. He had great news. Gary had arranged for Steve Chenette, a former President of I.T.G, to deliver the horn and cash donations to the band during a visit to Russia. This was great, as it would ensure the horn made it to the band in good condition. Once the method of delivery had been established I had the piccolo prepped and shipped it to Steve. I also sent along several care kits (valve oil, cleaning cloths, etc…) for the band.

Once the piccolo was on the way to Steve and all the arrangements had been made, the members of the Brandt Brass Band emailed me to express their thanks. They asked me to pass on their “endless thankful words to all the people who some how took part in our life and help us to work better”. A few weeks later they also took the time to send me a nice Christmas greeting. I was honored that they would take the time and proud that they were so excited to get the instrument.

Fast forward to March of this year. Steve Chenette made his way to Russia with the piccolo and donations in tow. He emailed me from Saratov to tell me how excited the members of the band were upon his arrival. In fact, they couldn’t wait to try the horn. Instead, they spent nearly a week playing and practicing on it so they could use it in a concert shortly after the “official” presentation. After having the 3916 for a few days, Oleg Abramov emailed me to pass on their feelings. “Our trumpeters now behave like children.” Oleg said. “Everyone is trying to play it and they are always discussing it.” He went on to say, “Thanks a lot for the wonderful gift! We haven’t had such a trumpet until this in Saratov! So I think now it’s the most beautiful treasure in musical Saratov.” When asked how the players felt about the horn Oleg said, “Our piccolo player, Nikolay Khudoshin, is very delighted with the instrument. It’s very beautiful, has reach and a wonderful sound. It reacts on every breath you put into it!” “As our guys are joking,” Oleg wrote, “we have a beautiful blond, but we haven’t chosen her name yet. An enormous huge Thank You! If you’ll need something someday you must remember that you have 3 friends in Saratov, Russia that have close relations with one of your girls.” You cannot imagine my sense of pride. Knowing that not only were we able to help, but that the piccolo was met with such high regard. That, after all, is the most important thing. In July, Oleg Abramov contacted me to say that Nikolay Khudoshin enjoys the piccolo more with each practice. He went on to say that they have chosen music for their upcoming recording. The band will be performing Mozart’s The Night Queen’s Aria from The Magic Flute. I’m sure I’m not the only one anxiously awaiting its release.

All in all, this was a very rewarding experience for the company as a whole and for me personally. It was great to see the trumpet world come together to help their brothers in need. I am just glad that we could have a small part in the effort. Hopefully the piccolo will serve the band for years to come. I wish them and everyone who helped them continued success in all of their future endeavors.

News Coverage Videos: Channel IST | Channel Russia


Improving from Start to “Finish”

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006

At Getzen, we pride ourselves on our industry leading quality and we are constantly striving to find ways to improve our products even more. In that effort, we have made two key advancements in our production.

First is a new, cutting edge, aqueous ultra sonic cleaning system. This process uses a combination of special cleaning solutions and ultrasonic tanks to remove oils and other surface contaminates left behind during manufacturing. The process leaves the surface clean and prepared for lacquering or plating. A clean surface is key to bright plating as well as preventing acid bleeds and other lacquer defects.

The second advancement is an all new silver plating system. Our constant strives for improvement led us to create a new solution and implement new plating methods. Together, this provides a stronger, more durable bond with a brighter, richer silver finish.

Matching the Outside with the Inside

Monday, October 2nd, 2006

Field Trumpet Case Click image for larger view

The American Heritage Field Trumpet has served to show the proper respect to American’s veterans. Now a new case will also reflect those strong feelings of patriotism. The case features the same great protection in a lightweight package as before, but in red, white, and blue colors. Contact your local Getzen dealer or Bugles Across America for more information.

Photo Album

Monday, October 2nd, 2006

Getzen Display 2006 Musik Messe
Once again, Getzen proudly displayed the full line during the 2006 Musik Messe in Frankfurt, Germany. Long time fans and first time Getzen buyers visited the booth during the 4 day event.
Mike Lekrone and Mike Vax
University of Wisconsin marching band director Mike Lekrone visits with Mike Vax after a jazz performance in Madison, WI this past May.
Music Messe Dinner
Tom Getzen (front left) treated Swiss distributor Peter Marcandella (far right) along with Getzen’s Dave Surber (rear center) and Brett Getzen (far left) to dinner at Claudia’s in Sachsenhausen, Frankfurt. All four were sure to thank owner, Eisa-Mohammed Solaimaukehel (front right) for another fantastic dinner.
Dave Allison
Dave Allison worked with the Brea High School Marching Band during a clinic sponsored by Getzen and Pecknel Music. Dave is a well regarded player/clinician and has worked closely with Pecknel all over South Carolina.
Jack Long and his Getzen 900 Eterna Classic
Jack Long shows off his new custom made 900 Eterna Classic. The trumpet was presented to Mr. Long to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Long & McQuade Musical Instruments in Canada. The trumpet featured hand engraving, custom etchings, and a gold trim kit. As Mr. Long put it, “I can’t think of a gift I would have appreciated as much.”
Tom Getzen and Haim Attias
In Frankfurt, Tom Getzen gladly welcomed Haim Attias from Getzen’s Israeli distributor Hamusica Musical Instruments. Haim wanted to learn more about Custom Series trumpets to meet the growing demand in Israel for quality instruments.

Nickel vs. Monel: The Battle Rages On

Saturday, March 4th, 2006

by Brett Getzen

I suppose a better title would be “Us vs. Them”. Regardless, one of our proudest accomplishments is the reputation we’ve earned for having such great valves. Still, we’re asked why we use nickel plated pistons. Why not follow everyone else and use monel? The answer’s pretty simple. We use nickel plated pistons because they’re the best.

Are they cheaper to make? Nope. You could make a cheap plated piston, and some do, but that’s not how we do it. Are they faster to build? Not a chance. Over the years we’ve made both plated and monel pistons and the extra steps needed to properly make a plated piston almost double the labor time. In a business where labor is the biggest cost, that’s significant. So again, why do we use a more expensive and time intensive product? As I said, they’re the best.

When considering the quality of a valve section there are three factors to look at. First is overall build quality. No matter what material is used, poor construction will doom any valves. Second is the surface condition of the pistons. Ideally, a trumpet piston needs to be both smooth and hard. This determines how fluid the action is, how well it will wear, and even how much affect corrosion will have. The third factor is overall lifespan, which is generally determined by a combination of the first two. A well built valve section made from low quality materials won’t last nearly as long as one built with high grade metals.

I developed three tests to determine the quality of trumpet valve sections. The Getzen trumpet tested was a 390 student horn with nickel pistons I took right off the shelf. The second trumpet was a competitor’s student horn with monel pistons. For obvious reasons, I won’t name names and will just refer to this horn as Trumpet X. I will say many of you have probably had some experience with the manufacturer and leave it at that.

Test No. 1: Build Quality

Simply measuring key points of the valve section gave me a fairly good indication of the build quality. The three benchmarks I used were the outside diameter of the pistons, inside diameter of valve casing number three, and the amount of air pressure each trumpet held.

While the overall sizes were different, the gap on both horns was the same. However, Trumpet X held almost 1/3 lb less air, coming in below our standard for new horns. The low air pressure was caused by the lack of consistency in the piston diameters. Each piston on Trumpet X was narrower at the top than at the bottom. This allowed air in the valve section to escape from the top of each valve resulting in poor compression.

Initial Measurements
  390 Trumpet X
Air Test 1.2105 lbs .8947 lbs
Piston #1 O.D. .6485″ .6695″
Piston #2 O.D. .6485″ .6695″
Piston #3 O.D. .6485″ .6695″
#3 Casing I.D. .6520″ .6730″

Test No. 1 Winner: Tighter fit and higher compression put the 390 on top.

Test No. 2: Surface Condition

The most important factor of piston quality is the surface condition. Valve action depends on how smooth the pistons are, durability is dependent on how hard the metal is, and corrosion resistance is reliant on both factors. Let’s take a closer look at the three.

First, it’s important to note that nickel plating is very dense which creates a lubricious surface. In plain English, that means the piston surface is so smooth that it feels wet even when completely dry. Now that’s smooth. Monel on the other hand has a very grainy surface once annealed. This graininess causes pistons to drag and provides a place for acids and dirt to take hold, which can cause rapid corrosion.

Second, one of the most time consuming steps in piston construction is the final lapping. This process of working pistons into the valve casings can make or break any trumpet. In an effort to save time and money, many of our competitors cut corners when it comes to lapping. In some cases, student and intermediate level instruments aren’t lapped at all. Proper fit and valve action are sacrificed to cost cutting. Another common trick is to use a low grit lapping compound. The benefit to the manufacturer is that the pistons can be lapped to size very quickly. However, the coarse grit leaves a surface covered with tiny intersecting scratches known as cross hatching. Cross hatching can cause uneven wear, sluggish valve action, and pistons depressed off center to actually bite into the casing wall. Cross hatching can also hold dirt and saliva, again speeding up the corrosion process. To prevent that from happening, we lap our pistons with a fine grit compound. This not only creates a smooth, even surface, but also a tighter fit. While it takes longer to lap this way, the finished product can’t be beat.

Surface hardness is key to long lasting valve action. No matter how tight your tolerances are or how smooth the surface is, if the piston is soft it will quickly wear out. Most importantly, the surface needs to be consistently hard. Varying areas of hardness will cause uneven wear which not only slows the pistons, but can also damage the inside of the valve casings.

The common argument in favor of monel is that it’s harder than nickel. This may come as a shock, but that’s true. Monel is harder… in its original state. However, monel is very susceptible to annealing. That is softening due to exposure to high temperatures. High temperatures like those needed to braze in piston liners. That’s right, a process used to turn a piece of monel into a piston is the very thing that ruins it. You’re left with a surface that’s hard in some spots and soft in others, mainly around the ports. The soft spots wear faster than the rest of the piston resulting in a poor fit and slow, sluggish action along with air leaks and compression loss. Not exactly what you want from a trumpet piston.

Nickel on the other hand is much less susceptible to annealing. The temperatures required are much higher. What little annealing may occur is negated by the extremely hard nickel plating which creates a consistently hard surface. This provides you with even wear throughout the life of the piston. Not only that, but the hardness makes nickel plating an ideal bearing surface and allows it to be honed to amazingly tight tolerances. All ideal attributes for building trumpet pistons.

I had a local metal treater test ssome tubing for me. They tested the surface hardness of raw and annealed monel as well as raw and plated nickel. In the chart below, the higher the number the harder the metal surface. I think the results speak for themselves.

Metal Hardness
Metal Hardness Rank
Raw Monel 64 Second Hardest
Annealed Monel 59 Softest
Raw Nickel 60 Second Softest
Plated Nickel 75 Hardest

Now you may be asking yourself why not just nickel plate monel. Those of you that asked, pat yourselves on the back. That’s the only way to build a decent monel piston. However, nickel plating over monel is not as durable as plating over nickel. Starting with nickel tubing provides a stronger bond between the layers as well as a piston with a built in safety. That is, if and the nickel plating does wear, you’re left with an exposed section of nickel tubing. While it’s not as hard as the plating, the nickel tubing is harder than an exposed piece of monel would be. That means your pistons will still perform and hold up well until you can have them replated.

Any and all pistons can corrode. It’s just a fact. If they aren’t cared for, this corrosion happens sooner rather than later. The key is to prevent corrosion as long as possible, therefore extending the life of your trumpet.

So what causes corrosion? Basically, the answer is your spit. Acids in your saliva combine with dirt in your valve section to form a piston killing mixture of sorts. This mixture most aggressively attacks soft or worn areas on the piston’s surface. As the surface corrodes it becomes rough. The problem grows exponentially as more dirt builds up in these rough spots and causes more corrosion, which makes the surface rougher and so on. This corrosion and roughness can get so bad that, left unchecked, brass from the valve casings will actually begin to deposit on the pistons. Once this happens, the valve section is, for all intents and purposes, ruined.

Our pistons are built with this in mind. The hard, smooth surface created by the nickel plating protects the piston. The extreme density and corrosion resistance of nickel plating offers no place on the surface for acids and dirt to attach themselves. Think of the plating as a force field of sorts repelling the piston’s attackers.

Monel on the other hand doesn’t offer this protection. Not only the failings of the metal itself, but also the corner cutting of other manufacturers creates pistons that might as well be sponges. The soft areas caused by brazing quickly wear creating microscopic pits. These pits act as tiny little hooks grabbing on to acid and dirt causing corrosion to spread quickly over the piston. In the end, you’re left with a piston surface that’s more like sandpaper than a bearing. Not exactly what you want from such a crucial part of your trumpet.

Test No. 2 Winner: With harder, smoother, and therefore more corrosion resistant pistons, the 390 is obviously the winner again.

Test No. 3: Life Span

Finally, the most telling test of all was how long monel pistons lasted in head to head competition with our nickel plated pistons. After all, that’s the true mark of quality.

The first thing I did was have both valve sections disassembled and cleaned. Each piston was oiled using standard Getzen valve oil, reassembled, and air tested. The whole point of this was to ensure that each horn was treated the same way and entered the test in the same condition.

The Test
The way I tested the piston life span was pretty simple. Each trumpet was mounted into a machine built for just this purpose. A small bench motor attached to an arm mechanism that moved up and down when turned on. The travel of the arm was set to the exact travel distance for the pistons being tested. When everything was set up, the machine ran the trumpet valves at 300 strokes per minute.

At this point, it’s important to keep in mind that the test was not intended to simulate actual playing conditions. It was more of an overall quality test. I equate it to automakers testing seat cushions. They repeatedly drop a 50 pound weight onto a seat to test its construction. That isn’t a real world test, but it does show the seat’s durability. That’s what this test was intended to do. Also keep in mind that, over the duration of the test, both trumpets were treated the same way. Both were only oiled once and each trumpet was exposed to breath and moisture after 100,000 strokes. As the machine ran, I blew through the horn for a few minutes to introduce saliva in order to test the pistons’ corrosion resistance.

Trumpet X Test Results
  Starting Numbers 128,800 Strokes Loss
Air Test .8947 lbs .7368 lbs .1579 lbs (17.6%)
Piston #1 O.D. .6695″ .6670″ .0025″
Piston #2 O.D. .6695″ .6675″ .0020″
Piston #3 O.D. .6695″ .6670″ .0025″
Casing #3 I.D. .6730″ .6740″ .0010″

At somewhat random points along the way, I stopped the test to take measurements of the pistons, casing, and compression. For the sake of space, the starting and finishing results are shown here.

Trumpet X was stopped after 128,800 strokes. At that point, the pistons were so corroded, that they locked in place while the machine was running. As soon as I pulled a piston, I could plainly see why. Corrosion covered the surface of all three pistons making it impossible to continue the test.

Monel Pistons Notice the wear and corrosion on Trumpet X’s pistons, especially the large amount on No. 2 and No. 3. Also note the yellow discoloration of the pistons. This is brass that has been deposited on the pistons from the valve casings. At this point, all three pistons were ruined and no longer functioned.

It’s very telling to see what kind of wear took place on Trumpet X. The wear not only destroyed the valve action, but it completely ruined the compression of the trumpet. While it wasn’t up to our standards to begin with, the compression was still enough that the trumpet could be played with some success. However, after losing over 17% of its air pressure, Trumpet X was left almost unplayable. At this point, the only thing that could save the horn would be a complete piston rebuild

As you can see, the 390 lasted much, much longer. At the 128,800 mark there was almost no change to the pistons, casings, or compression. In fact, the only measurable difference was .0005″ worth of wear to the valve casing. Where Trumpet X was ruined, the 390’s valve action was still smooth, fast, and showing no signs of slowing down.

Now fast forward to 1,000,000 strokes. At this point there was some wear to the valves. However, the valve action was still smooth and fast. Most importantly, the trumpet still tested at over one pound of air. This means that the 390 trumpet still had enough compression to meet our new horn standards. Also, while the pistons looked used, they were still corrosion free with all of their plating intact.

There are two key factors to note about the test results. First, the nickel plating stayed corrosion free during the entire test. This is important because corrosion is like cancer for trumpet pistons. The monel pistons in Trumpet X quickly failed once corrosion started. All it took was a small amount of acids via saliva to expose the weakness of the monel.

Nickel Pistons At first glance, the 390 pistons appear to show almost no wear at all. It wasn’t until the pistons were measured that the minimal amount of wear was shown. At this point, the 390 pistons had been run for just over 1,000,000 stokes on one oiling and still performed almost like new.

The second thing to note is where the wearing took place. With Trumpet X the vast majority of wear was seen on the pistons themselves. Each piston lost .002″ – .0025″ from their diameter, but Trumpet X only lost .001″ from the valve casing. The majority of wear on the 390 occurred on the casings themselves while the pistons stayed relatively intact due to the hardness of nickel plating compared to yellow brass. With a bearing surface, it’s ideal for one to be surface be much harder than the other. This leads to consistent wear of both pieces and longer overall life. Harder pistons are preferred because worn casings are easier to repair. In the case of nickel pistons, it’s relatively easy to replate them slightly oversized and relap them into the worn valve casings to repair the valve section. Repair would be more costly and time consuming with worn out pistons. Your only realistic option would be to start again with brand new pistons refit to the trumpet.

Finally, I was amazed by the performance of our pistons. I knew they’d win, but I had no idea just how much longer they would last. The actual count on the machine was 1,009,100 strokes, which is no small feat. It’s difficult to put that into real world terms, but the fact that the nickel pistons lasted 10 times longer than the monel is very telling. In fact, the 390 could be run even longer. I only stopped the test because my point was made and it had to stop some time. Based on the amount of wear between 500,000 and 1,000,000 strokes I have a good feeling the 390 has at least another 500,000 strokes in it and that’s still with only one oiling.

390 Trumpet Test Results
  Starting Numbers 128,800 Strokes 1,000,000 Strokes Loss
Air Test 1.2105 lbs 1.2105 lbs 1.1579 lbs .0526 lbs (8.7%)
Piston #1 O.D. .6485″ .6485″ .6475″ .0010″
Piston #2 O.D. .6485″ .6485″ .6470″ .0015″
Piston #3 O.D. .6485″ .6485″ .6475″ .0010″
Casing #3 I.D. .6520″ .6525″ .6545″ .0025″

Test No. 3 Winner: Obviously, without a doubt, the clear winner is the 390.

So what does this mean to you as a player? One million strokes on a piston may not be regularly achieved, but it’s nice to know that you could do it. The real lesson is that, despite what the “big boys” tell you, monel is not the superior piston material. It may function well for some manufacturers in the short term, but the overall quality is sub par in comparison to nickel plated pistons. In the case of some trumpets, you’re faced with low quality materials built with little or no craftsmanship leaving you with slow valves that may corrode in place overnight.

Another lesson to take away from this is that nickel plating is not the end all answer for piston performance. It’s possible to build cheap, inferior nickel plated pistons. Generally speaking, these pistons are made from monel and covered with a very thin or “flash” layer of nickel plating. As with anything, time and care must be taken to ensure the right materials are used and worked in the right way to create a superior finished product.

That’s the kind of quality and craftsmanship you’ll find in every Getzen trumpet. From student cornets to professional trumpets, every Getzen valve section is built from the same quality materials, using the same skilled techniques, and tested to the same high standards. After all, there’s a reason why we have the courage to cover our horns with a lifetime valve warranty while other companies only feel comfortable with a year.

News from the Road

Saturday, March 4th, 2006

Goteborg Brass Band in Elkhorn
Tom Getzen (far right) welcomed the Goteborg Brass Band to Elkhorn in October. The band members toured the factory and spent time play testing Getzen and Edwards instruments. The band and its members purchased several 3850 Bb and 3892 Eb cornets and 3895 flugelhorns to add to their impressive inventory of Getzen small brass.

For more information on the band visit

ike Vax, Tom Getzen and Johnny Brit
Mike Vax (left) and Tom Getzen (center) listen on while Getzen artist Johnny Brit test drives the new 3001MV trumpet during the 2006 NAMM show in Anaheim, CA.

Mail Bag

Saturday, March 4th, 2006

Dear Getzen,

Here are pictures of my son, Will Parker, playing his American Heritage Field Trumpet for the first time at a funeral.

Will has been playing Taps since the seventh grade for local funerals. He is now a tenth grader. The field trumpet was my gift to him this past Christmas. Up until then, he had been playing a Bach trumpet. The field trumpet sounds awesome.

Thanks for offering such a fine instrument to the Bugles Across America bunch. It will always be special to him.

Gina Parker
(Will’s mom)

Will Parker
Will Parker (fourth from left) pictured with a United States Marines funeral detail. Will is a member of Bugles Across America and has been performing Taps for over three years. This was the first of many to come using his new M2003S American Heritage Field Trumpet. Thank you for all you do, Will.

Battle of the Bands

Saturday, March 4th, 2006

Battle of the Bands
Click image for larger view

On January 2, the University of Wisconsin Badgers faced off against the Auburn University Tigers in this year’s Capital One Bowl. Not only did the game bring together a Big Ten powerhouse and an S.E.C. force, but it also showcased two of the nation’s premiere marching bands. What made this game in Orlando, FL different from any other bowl game is that both bands performed on Getzen instruments. While the Badgers came out on top, both bands gave their fans something to be proud of.

The University of Wisconsin has used Getzen trumpets and trombones for years. Most recently, they purchased one hundred 900S Eterna Classic trumpets and seventy-five 351 trombones all in silver plate. This year, Auburn University purchased sixty-five 700S trumpets.

Both Wisconsin and Auburn purchased custom cases for their instruments. The cases feature each band’s logo embroidered on the outside and show off each of the school’s colors. Anyone seeing a member of the band on their way to practice will have no doubt where they play. Auburn also had the band’s logo etched on the bell of each trumpet adding that extra touch of school pride.

Both the custom cases and etching are available to any school looking to upgrade their marching band program. Not only does it provide the band with top notch, Getzen instruments, but also with that special touch on and off the field.