What Does a Trombone Leadpipe Do For You?
Everyone knows that trombones have a bell and a handslide. What a lot of players don’t realize is that all trombones also have a leadpipe. However, the majority of leadpipes are fixed (soldered) into the handslide. This is because most manufacturers do not want to offer options to the customer. To the manufacturer, options mean building more complex components with additional parts. This adds time and money to the construction of the horn. On the contrary, at Getzen we believe in offering the player a wide variety of options. These options are all intended to better fit each instrument to each specific player.
Getzen offers a large number of trombones featuring three interchangeable leadpipes included as standard equipment with the instrument. In fact, every Getzen Custom Series trombone model is designed with the added flexibility of interchangeable leadpipes. This flexibility gives the player more control over response and timbre by custom fitting the leadpipe to their specific playing needs.
The Getzen Custom Series line of jazz, tenor, and bass trombones were derived from the industry leading Edwards Instrument line. Edwards trombones were the first to provide interchangeable leadpipes as a standard feature with their instruments nearly two decades ago. The interchangeable leadpipe system fit perfectly with the modular design of Edwards trombones. In essence, the Edwards design allowed players to custom build a trombone for themselves in an affordable and timely way by simply choosing the components that worked best for them. Over time, the Edwards technology made its way into the Getzen line. Now, three brass leadpipes are included with all Getzen Custom Series trombones as well as with Eterna bass trombones.
Many players do not understand the basics of the interchangeable leadpipe system. Why are they used? What are the differences between the three? How do players properly choose which leadpipe is right for their situation? To answer these questions, you must understand the physical characteristics of the leadpipe and why it is built the way it is. There are only three parts to a Getzen leadpipe, but each is crucial to the overall performance of the trombone.
Simply put, the receiver accepts and connects the mouthpiece to the horn. Great care is taken to ensure the proper fit between the mouthpiece and receiver. The fit is crucial because it allows for proper vibration transfers into the instrument. An incorrect fit would result in not only an annoying “buzz”, but also in a less efficient blow caused by air leaks between the mouthpiece and receiver tube.
The receiver also has an external portion known as the threaded nut. It serves two purposes. First, the threaded portion screws into the handslide and “fixes” the pipe to the horn eliminating any vibration or buzzing. The threaded nut is also used to denote the different sizes of the leadpipes. Each receiver nut has either one, two, or three decorative cut lines in the knurling. This tells the player if they are looking at the smallest, medium, or largest size pipe.
The venturi is the smallest diameter section of tubing after the receiver section. Since the diameter at the end of the leadpipe is the same for all three sizes, the initial diameter of the venturi dictates the rate of taper over the length of the leadpipe. With a smaller venturi, the rate of taper will be faster from start to finish in order to match the bore of the instrument. On the flip side, a leadpipe with a larger venturi will have a slower rate of taper into the instrument. The venturi is what gives the player the feeling of compression or something to push against to start a note. Think of the venturi as acting like your mouthpiece throat. If the venturi is too large for a player the horn will feel woofy and lack clarity. If the leadpipe is too small the instrument can back up and feel tight. The three venturi sizes we have chosen to use are the result of many years of development and experience with thousands of players.
The tapered section of tubing within the leadpipe determines the sound characteristics of the leadpipe. Generally speaking, a faster taper will produce a more compact sound. A slower taper will create a broader sound and resonate with more width near the player’s face. As previously mentioned, it is easy to distinguish which leadpipe is which based on the cut lines in the receiver’s threaded nut.
When selecting an instrument, it is very important to find a compression level in your instrument that is right for you. When testing an instrument or trying to find the right leadpipe, you should be thinking of this compression. Compression within the instrument should be right at the chops. If compression develops too far into the instrument, you will have to correct it by tensing your chops in an effort to get clarity back into your sound. This will make any articulations much more difficult as you battle against yourself and the horn. If there is too much compression, it will begin to back up into your throat. You may feel a tightening in your throat because of this, which can/will cause tightness in your sound.
When testing leadpipes you should play a lyrical etude that covers most registers. This allows you to get a better feel for the leadpipe across a wide spectrum. It also gives you the chance to better study the sound differences between each pipe. You will also want to try a scale and a more articulate work that covers most registers. This is a great way to study how the leadpipe effects the articulation. All the while, you should be paying close attention to what you are experiencing with each leadpipe. Some differences are dramatic while others may be more minor and hard to notice right away. It is important to note that every player is different. The best sounding and most comfortable leadpipe should always be chosen, regardless the specifications of the leadpipe or what size one’s colleagues may prefer. Allowing a player’s preconceived notions to come into play may prevent him/her from choosing the leadpipe that fits best. Therefore, it is imperative that an individual “blind test” each leadpipe in the beginning. This creates an open mind and prevents a biased opinion from the start. It can also be very helpful to do a blind play test for someone else. Let them listen to an etude and scale on each leadpipe without knowing which is which. Get their input and opinions from the bell end.
Once all of this is done, you can put the information together to find the leadpipe that gives you the best compression, tone, and feel. Keep that leadpipe in the instrument. While experimentation is never a bad thing, you will generally not need to retest or change leadpipes unless you make a change to your mouthpiece. If that is the case, the same technique should be used to find the right pipe again.
The purpose of these leadpipes is to properly match the instrument to you as the player. While working with musicians as I have over the years, I have found that making a small change close to the face will result in a large change to both sound and overall response. Each person has his/her own resonating characteristics that make the matching of the horn to the player necessary. Everything from oral cavity, chest cavity, dental structure, and overall height/weight will determine how much air volume each player has and how that air works for them. An individual may be over 6 feet tall, but if they are not efficient with their air they may need a smaller diameter venturi on their personal leadpipe in order to give them the best compression, articulation, and sound.
At Getzen and Edwards, we know it is important to find the perfect instrument for you. An instrument that not only matches your playing style, expectations, and needs, but one that matches you physically. Matching your mouthpiece and personal playing characteristics to the leadpipe can give you a much better overall playing experience. Getzen has made the conscious decision to let you decide what is best for you. We want to help you find the perfect instrument for your playing style.
So what does all of this mean to you? It means that you now have the knowledge and tools to find a better instrument. One that can work with you instead of against. Finding a great instrument is not only important to you, it is also important to us at Getzen. We strive daily to provide you with that instrument. Why limit yourself musically? Give yourself the tool to do the job and find the enjoyment of a great instrument resonating with you.
About the Author
Christan Griego studied music performance at Texas Tech University under the tutelage of Don Lucas. He is the Director of Development & Marketing at Edwards Instrument Company. While at Edwards, he has fit thousands of trumpet and trombone players to their instruments, including Joe Alessi, Dave Taylor, Mark Lawrence, Leonard Candelaria, and Christian Scott. Christan also owns Griego Mouthpieces.