By Danny Barber
Writing about the Bach Stradivarius Trumpet is a little like writing about the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. Everyone's seen them, has their images burned into the brain. They don't really need to be told how majestic and awesomely beautiful they are. Similarly, the Bach Stradivarius is truly one of the world's great trumpets. It has been for a long time. The problem is that all trumpet players already know this. It's not news. Writing about the virtues of the Bach Stradivarius is preaching to the converted.
One might argue that it is worthwhile to occasionally revisit the givens, to remind ourselves that old hat can still be good old hat. And perhaps there are a few really ill-informed but promising young trumpeters out there who still need to be told about the Bach Stradivarius. I've played a Bach for many years now. I love it. It's my main horn and I'm always happy to sing its praises.
Still, for this review, I needed an angle. It came to me when I was told that Giardinelli would happily supply me with a Strad of my choice for this review. The light went on. I would have them send me a new Stradivarius that was an exact match for the one I have played for years. I would do a head-to-head comparison of the two-my 30-something Bach Stradivarius vs. a shiny new one-and report my findings.
Oldies and goodies
Many musicians are of the opinion that certain older instruments are vastly superior to new ones. This all got started with that other Stradivarius, I suppose, but now every instrument has its legends. In the case of Bach trumpets, it is the Mount Vernon-made horns (made in the old New York factory before 1961) that are especially coveted. When one goes up for sale, it fetches a sum many times more than what a new one costs.
My instrument is a 180 model Stradivarius that I acquired new in '72. It is the most popular Bach model, with a silverplate finish, ML bore, and a #37 bell. While not of Mount Vernon vintage, it is old enough to make a comparison with its current counterpart interesting and informative. It is a high-mileage horn but has been lovingly (some say obsessively) cared for. It still plays beautifully and sounds wonderful. It was going to be a hard horn to beat, especially with only me as judge and jury.
I requested and received a new 180 that matched mine perfectly: same bore, same bell, same gauge of metal, and same finish. Since Bach makes a claim of having held true to Vincent Bach's designs, blueprints, and specifications, the new horn should be very similar to the older one. The company also boasts a staff of highly skilled craftsmen who have been with the firm for many years (20 years on average for all employees, and the top guys much longer). This could mean that the same person actually made both my horn and this new one. If true, one might expect the new horn to be even better than the old one. How would it turn out? I would soon see.
The tête-à-tête test
First I set them out side by side and looked for differences. None were obvious. Except for the shinier finish on the new horn, they were the same. A close inspection of the soldering on the slide hooks and such revealed only the cleanest work on both. I also borrowed a device from a repairman friend, a flexible tube with a small light on the end. Using it, I could peer into parts of the horn to the inner solder joinings. Both looked equally clean and smooth.
The new horn, of course, had tighter valves than my instrument, but its valves seemed perfectly lapped and worked flawlessly. The pistons are made of Monel, which makes them very long-lasting. My own horn is proof. I've only had to replace the guides in all the time I've owned it. Monel is an alloy developed in the '30s by the fledging aerospace industry, and Vincent Bach was first to see its value for use in instruments. With students I often recommend that a new horn, especially a student model, be given a final lapping with Brasso or an abrasive toothpaste to prevent any stiff spots. The new Bach didn't need this at all. With a little breaking in its valves would be perfect-smooth, firm, and fast.
But the real test was to be in the playing. I warmed up both horns and began comparing them using the same mouthpiece, switching back and forth. Before long, I became totally impressed by how similar they were. No two acoustic instruments will ever be absolutely identical. Their molecules just vibrate differently. These two, however, were virtual clones. They had the same open and responsive feel and, most importantly, they had the same sound.
Bach trumpets are known for their tone - a big, rich, sonorous sound that both players and conductors love. I found that the new horn had the Bach sound in full measure. It was every bit as rich and full as the tone of my vintage Bach.
In the end, a draw
My ultimate conclusion is that the detractors of modern instruments sometimes are wrong. The current Bach Stradivarius continues to live up to its legend and is very much the same horn that the world has respected for years.
If asked to recommend a horn to any serious player choosing a "life instrument," I won't hesitate to advise them to go for a Bach Stradivarius, particularly a 180 model. It is an all-purpose, middle-of-the road instrument that will work beautifully for any kind of music or performance situation. Not too bright, not too dark. It has good projection and great tone through all registers and at any volume. There are many options you can select if you want a more specialized Stradivarius, but for most players, the Bach Stradivarius 180 with the #37 bell is the right choice.
Features & Specs
- Most-popular Bach trumpet for all-around playing
- Full, centered, rich Bach tone
- Excellent projection
- Key of Bb
- Standard-weight body
- .459" medium-large bore (available in 5 bore sizes)
- #37 gold brass bell
- 413Z16" bell diameter
- #25 yellow brass mouthpipe
- Hand-lapped Monel valves
- Enclosed bronze valve springs (top action)
- Nylon valve guides
- Silverplated finish
- 1st valve slide hook
- 3rd valve slide ring with adjustable stop
- Pearl finger buttons
- Nickel silver slide receivers
- Brass inside slide
- Wood shell deluxe case included
- Genuine Vincent Bach mouthpiece included