Trumpet Mutes, Materials & Their Differences
Every mute varies depending on material. Your popular aluminum mute will be loud, with marked articulation and easily heard. Other mutes, like the Sotto Tone mute will be soft and smooth. For a first mute, I recommend an all-aluminum mute. They also come in “lightweight” configurations like the Tom Crown, basically, the lighter the metal, the louder the sound.
Mutes come in a variety of materials such a aluminum, fiberboard, plastic, fiberglass and wood. Sometimes, just the bottom of the mute is changed, like the Denis Wick mutes pictured here. They come with an aluminum, copper or gold bottom. The aluminum has an “edgy” sound, while the copper has a more pleasing tone and the gold is somewhere in between. All of these materials alter the sound and feel of the mute.
When buying a straight mute you want to stay within the popular brands. Why? Because this is what other people in your section will have and you should always try to match your section. Luckily, most band directors buy the same mute for everyone. Some popular brands are: Denis Wick, Jo-Ral, TrumCor and Humes & Berg. Other very good brands are Marcus Bonna, Leblanc and Sotto Voice.
In the world of mutes, there’s the good, the bad…and the ugly. If you look for a mute on eBay you will find “professional” straight mute for as little as $3. Stay far away from these mutes! They will make it difficult to play in tune and be consistent. For this reason, when buying a mute, spend no less than $20 on a Humes & Berg. This will go up to the $50 range for a Denis Wick (great mutes) and up to $80 for other brands.
It’s easy to see why it’s named the “cup” mute and just like the straight mute, the cup comes in many different materials. In general, cup mutes will sound mellow, distant and gentle. Some will have a smooth tone, while others will be more nasal. Mutes may also have removable cups, like the Dennis Wick, which can come in handy should you need an emergency straight mute; simply remove the cup and tah-dah! One of my cup mutes, the Charles Davis, has foam in the cup (to make the tone softer and more gentle), which can be pulled out for a more pronounced tone.
Cup mutes come in mostly aluminum and fiberboard. Examples of these would be the Denis Wick and the Humes & Berg. A variety of weights and additions like silencers (foam ring) inside the cup can make a big difference in how the mute makes the trumpet sound.
Just like the straight mute, stick to the popular brands. Why? Because this is what other people in your section will have and you should always try to match your section. Some popular cup brands are: Denis Wick, Jo-Ral, Harmon and Humes & Berg.
Like other accessories, you generally want to stay away from products that cost $4. Cups start around $22 for the Humes & Berg and go up form there, well into the $60+ range. The Soulo Cup mute for example is $70, but it is a VERY nice mute.
I love the harmon mute, it sounds like a giant bee! This mute has a very nasal, narrow sound and it tends to have a tight “rattle” or buzz to it that makes it easy to identify. This particular mute has two parts: the mute and the stem. The stem can be pulled out as much or as little as the sheet music calls for, which alters the sound big time. With the stem all the way in you can also use your hand to make a “wah-wah” jazz-like sound by covering and uncovering the stem.
If you do a google search for “harmon mute” you will notice they’re all made of metal. This metal does come in copper for a slightly heavier mute that gives you a warmer, yet more pronounced tone. Trumcor also makes the “Zinger” Harmon Mute, which looks black. There is no information on the material, but it looks like either plated aluminum, or modified fiberglass. Whichever it is, I’ve heard they’re very loud.
Jo-Ral and Harmon (yes, that’s a brand) make the most popular harmon mutes, alongside Denis Wick and Humes & Berg. Jo-Ral makes the “bubble” harmon, pictured here, which is louder and more pronounced.
Harmon mutes start around $35 and go up form there into the $60 range. Like always, stay away from brands you’ve never heard from. If it’s $4, it’s not worth it!
"Stem half way"
The Plunger Mute
Using a plunger is a lot of fun, but does require practice and coordination as there is an actual technique to make it sound “legit.” Watch this video to see how it’s done. As you can see, the plunger has two positions, open and closed, and everything in between. In sheet music, the marking for open is “o” and for closed it’s “+”. Sometimes you will also see the word “wa” over a note to indicate that you should start closed and open throughout the note to create a “wah wah” sound. Although some companies do make “plunger mutes” I prefer the original plunger, which is a small sink plunger, found at many stores like Target for around $8. Be sure to purchase the right size. The most common setting for a plunger is in a jazz band.
This is the Humes & Berg Cleartone, which is similar to the Solotone. It sounds very narrow, nasal and it’s easily heard through an orchestra. In my opinion, it’s like a meatier version of the harmon mute. Depending on the brand these mutes will sound a bit different. Every once in a while, composers will call for it specifically, but it’s not too common.
Pictured is the Soulo Bucket Mute, a highly sought after mute by jazz musicians. The brand (Soulo) makes a variety of very nice mutes often used in recording studios. As you can see, this mute has clips, which are attached to the bell of the trumpet. The big bucket creates a very hollow, mellow and somewhat muffled sound.
This pixie mute is made by Humes & Berg and you can see that its name is based on its appearance. It’s a very small mute. The sound is very much like a loud straight mute. When you do see it being called for in sheet music it’s most likely for something jazzy, like the play “Chicago.” Also, it’s very common to use it along with a plunger.
Practice mutes are just that, mutes to practice with. They are extremely quiet. A quick note about practice mutes; do not play with a practice mute all the time, as it will create bad habits and give you a false sense of your playing. These mutes should be used sparingly and when you have no other choice, such as having to play in a hotel or late at night. I personally own the old Yamaha Silent Brass (the big clunky one), the new Silent Brass SB7, the Bremmer “sshhMute” and my homemade practice mute. I no longer use the big Yamaha one because it’s too heavy and I do not recommend it. The new one though is great, has little resistance and the fact that you pop some headphones on and hear yourself is pretty cool. My favorite one however is the sshhMute. This mute is super light, has good intonation all over and very little resistance. There are too many practice mutes to put all the pictures here but some other brands include Jo-Ral, Dennis Wick, and TrumCor. When shopping for a practice mute, try it first if you can since the intonation can vary greatly among them.