Should I get a silver or brass finish on my trumpet?
This decision is not the same as deciding on a color for your new car. Color and finish are two different issues when deciding on the surface of your new trumpet. Many people decide on the silver because it “looks” cool. Many believe that the brass finish is too similar to the student horn’s finish they are trading up from. The decision between the brass and the silver can be made easier by reviewing the following questions and my responses to those questions.
What difference is there between silver and brass finishes?
Both the silver plated trumpet and the brass trumpet are the same before the finish is applied. Both start out as bare brass and then they are polished to a bright luster. Then they go different ways. The brass finished instrument is prepared for a clear coating of lacquer or other suitable, sprayed on sealant. The purpose of this sealant is to protect the bright brass from contamination and exposure to the elements. If bare brass were to be left unprotected, the elements would slowly start to tarnish the polished brass. Just as any old brass left out would eventually tarnish, so would your trumpet. You might have seen professional players on television performing on instruments which look very tarnished. It could be that they prefer to play on instrument in that condition. Many musicians believe, and rightfully so, that the bare brass gives them the sound that they want. Without a sealant over the brass, the instrument will sound different. The reason is the thickness of the sealant will affect the tone quality or timbre of the instrument. Some musician prefers a silver finish on their instrument for the same reason. The silver finished instrument will sound different (usually more brilliant) because of the fact that the silver plating is much thinner than the spayed on sealant.
Other considerations when selecting the silver or lacquer would be the care and repair of the instrument finish. A sealant will sometimes wear through faster than the silver. Because of the high acidic content in my system I prefer the silver over the lacquer for I will wear through a lacquered horn finish within six months and a silver finish will last for years. Another consideration is repair. If your instrument were to get a bad dent in its bell or lead pipe a repairman could repair it much more easily and for less expense if it were lacquered instead of plated. Refinishing an old instrument with a completely new finish is much cheaper for a lacquered instrument than a plated one. In order to re-plate a silver horn, the shop has to first strip off the old silver, then re-polishes the brass and finally re-plate.
I also need to explain the presence of the multicolored trumpets on the market today. The practice of multicolored horns is most often traced back to the Martin Company who supposedly formed a committee to design a new trumpet. As the story is told, the name Committee was selected as the name for the new instrument and members of the advisory committee included Renold Schilke, Vincent Bach, Elden Benge and Foster Reynolds. Introduced in the design was the use of different colored lacquers for effect. It is interesting to note that Mr. Schilke was never partial to lacquer on any of his horns for he told me that when applying “paint” to a trumpet it is too difficult to control its thickness and in effect it’s tone quality and response. That’s why he would only sell his horns in bare brass, silver or gold plated finishes. The Martin Committee trumpet was very popular in the late “40s to the 60s, then quickly lost its popularity. Now we see more interest in the colorful horns more at the student level and less among the professionals. Exceptions to that last statement would be the fine jazz trumpet players such as Miles Davis, Don Rader, Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson and Al Hirt who were among the elite clan of “colorful” trumpet players. To most working trumpet players, the color is there for effect not for any improvement in the instruments performance.
What affect does gold have on the instruments performance?
The change made to an instrument plated with gold has more to do with the added thickness and weight than it does to the material itself. In order for an instrument to be gold plated, it first has to be polished, then silver plated and then gold plated. The effect of the gold over the silver is debatable. There is one thing we all agree on today, “we would rather have the gold in our portfolio than on our horns”.