October 2004

Yamaha Z Trumpet

In America, the trend is usually bigger is better. The humble SUV, for example, has begun to receive some competition from the Hummer, a military vehicle, for the title of most coveted means of ground transportation. Since they make armored vehicles larger than the Humvee, I soon expect to see dads in New Jersey driving their kids around in, say, tanks.

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Yamaha YTR-8310Z

There has also been a trend toward bigger trumpets. The sound of a larger, heavier horn is generally darker, and that is what many of today's trumpeters are going for. But the big-and-heavy trend might be steering us toward forgetting that a great trumpet can come in all kinds of weights and proportions. Take Yamaha's new YTR-8310Z, for example. The horn is quite light in weight and has a small, .445-inch bore-and it's excellent.

The 8310Z is the latest in Yamaha's Z horn series, and it's endorsed and influenced by hard-bopper Bobby Shew. Trumpet expert Bob Malone and Chicago Symphony Orchestra member John Hagstrom came up with a "variable wall thickness" bell, which Yamaha applied to this horn, and a new design for the bead. The intention was to increase the resonance of the trumpet and to improve the projection given back to the player. The leadpipe is gold brass; the rest of the horn is yellow brass with a gold epoxy lacquer (comes with a silver lacquer too: 8310ZS). No frills, no bells, no whistles-it looks like a trumpet.

But the horn is something special. What struck me first was how easy it was to play. You can fill it up and resonate fully without blowing hard. At the same time, it could handle a lot of air. It was easy and comfortable to play at all volumes in all registers of the horn, and sounded consistent throughout.

The horn feels wonderful. It is incredibly well balanced, especially for a lightweight horn. The Monel valves are extremely comfortable and reliable, with thick key buttons. Yamaha employed some features from its heavyweight Xeno trumpets, like the valve buttons and braces, in order to change the overall feel of the Z, and it works marvelously. It feels meaty and substantial despite its meager proportions.

The horn's sound is its most remarkable and notable feature, which is always nice to be able to say. It resonates beautifully at all volumes, making it a very flexible horn suitable for lead playing as well as for more mellow soloing. It is easy to slot notes on the horn, and the intonation is fantastic. At the same time, it provides room for nuance in pitch and color, much like an old Martin Committee. You are able to get a full, bright, brassy sound, which can go in many directions, depending on the intention of its player. You get so much back for putting in so little. What it lacks in darkness is more than made up for in fullness and richness. It does not feel or sound at all thin, as many lightweight horns do. The Z packs a whole lot of trumpet into a smaller package, making it just a real joy to play.

Yamaha has set a true standard for lightweight trumpets with its newest Z. I recommend this horn highly, even as an experiment for those who swear by heavier models. Play one and most likely you will be pleasantly surprised, and you might even become a convert to smaller horns. After that you might trade your SUV in for a Japanese hatchback.

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