May 2002

Vintage Bach Stradivarius Trumpet

Why are so many of us trumpeters obsessed with old horns?

Most saxophonists swear by the Selmer Mark VI or Balanced Action horns, and trumpet players seem to change their choice of old horns every few years. It seems like the Conn Connstellation is making a comeback now, and before that it seemed like everyone was checking out old Martin Committees.

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Bach Vintage Stradivarius Trumpet

But why?

Logic would dictate that horn manufacturers would get better at making these things. Perhaps they have, but many feel that maybe something was lost along the way. Some think it was because of the metal that was used back then, while others think that it was because the horns were hand-built and hand-adjusted.

I thought older horns were the way to go for many years and there were many Bachs along the way. My first real horn was an early Elkhart Bach (serial #37184), and the first horn I really loved was a Mt. Vernon Bach (serial #21017). I was playing a New York Bach (serial #3853) on my first gigs of any substance upon my arrival in New York, and on my first record date I was playing a Mt. Vernon Bach (serial #16765). It was on that record date that I really discovered what I had been trying to overlook for a long time: older horns are usually harder to play and have more intonation problems than their newer counterparts. (My apologies to session leaders Bob Belden and Tony Kadleck.) However, I have yet to find a new horn that sounds as good as my old ones.

The solution, it would seem, would be for a legendary horn manufacturer to combine the best qualities of its old horns with today’s more consistent manufacturing techniques. With the new Vintage Bach Stradivarius model, Bach has done just that.

Fortunately, the creator of the Bach trumpet, Vincent Bach, kept very meticulous records of every trumpet he designed and built. It seems that after experimenting a while with different size lead pipes and bells, the trumpet that utilized the #6 bell and #6 lead pipe became his most popular horn in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The new Vintage Bach horn uses the #6 bell and #6 lead pipe of those popular New York Bachs, but little else seems to have been used from those great horns.

Just for the sake of comparison, I brought the new Vintage Bach horn to a friend’s house and pitted it against his two spectacular New York Bachs. Design-wise, the horns have many differences. The new horn is silver with a gold brass bell; the New York Bachs were rarely silver and hardly ever had gold brass bells. The new horn also has two braces on the tuning slide, which has been the standard for many years, but the New York had only one brace on the tuning slide. The tuning slide on the New York is also a bit rounder than the one on the new Vintage Bach. Also, the New York Bachs with a #6 tuning slide and a #6 bell usually had a .462-inch bore; the new horn has a smaller .459-inch bore.

So, as one would expect, the new Vintage plays quite differently than the old New York Bachs. The core is not as fat and rich as the New Yorks, which also sound a little brighter and project a little better. Granted, New York Bachs were some of the best trumpets ever made, so it might be unfair to compare these new horns to those now-legendary instruments. Also, Selmer wasn’t trying to recreate the New York Bach; it was more like the company was paying loving tribute to it by building a horn using its finest characteristics. Selmer plans to build other models based on this concept in coming years and it’s a wonderful idea. I can’t wait to try them when they’re ready.

It would be more realistic to review this horn on its own merits instead of comparing it to horns that were last made 50-plus years ago. The Vintage Bach does have a very nice tone, and it speaks freely and evenly in all registers. It is a very good horn, but I still pine for my dream trumpet, one with the tone, core and character of a classic old horn combined with the improved intonation and efficiency of today’s models. With Bach’s high standards and history they are probably the best bet to come up with such an instrument.

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