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Mute Stories X - The Tuba and the French Horn Stop Mute

 
Sometime in the 1980s we had finally developed mutes for trumpet, piccolo trumpet, and tenor and bass trombone. What next ? To fill out our sordina family we needed a tuba and a French horn mute. 

I had no idea where to start on the tuba mute. After some perfunctory struggles with gigantic aluminum waste paper basketsin our sordina cellar (we were then a home business), I decided to leave the tuba mute to Humes & Berg and other large mute makers. If not the tuba then the French horn.  In 1982 I was playing trumpet in the Chicago Lyric Opera orchestra.I had the horn section bring  their collections of French horn transposing mutes to a rehearsal. At the break they all tried the different mutes. Surprisingly they  all agreed that the most beat up and ugly mute of all was the best.This mute was a standard transposing stop mute. There were no manufacturer’s name or marks of any kind. 

The French horn transposing stop mute is called this because the performer must compensate for the change of pitch caused by the ring of cork that seals the mute into the bell and shortens the length of tubing. To do this transposition the player must use fingerings a half tone lower than the open horn. The sound comes out of a small mouthpiece-like appendage at the end of the mute. Our copy is in a somewhat heavier brass, nicely lacquered, with an artistically done cork closure. As a final touch we have added a leather thong wrist strap, useful on  fast mute changes.

Some thirty years later this mute has become the most used stop mute. We have sold over one thousand a year for  as far back as I can remember. Who are you horn players ?Why do so many thousands of you keep buying our mute ? The original mute we transformed into a beautiful objet d’art could have been one hundred years old, made in some one man horn shop. It is a descendent of the French horn mute used by horn players in W.A. Mozart’s opera Idomeneo, in  1781.

For those of you who would like a more scientific analysis of the open vs. the muted horn, I have attached an article by Chris Earnest, published in 1972 in The Horn Call, journal of the International Horn Society.