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Q: What is the deal with the Yamaha Silent Brass?


A:

People feel differently about the Silent Brass depending on their circumstances and budget. Many people find it the perfect piece of equipment--it allows them to practice, in moderation, without disturbing

a) their spouses or others who share their intimate spaces;

b) their sleeping wee ones;

c) their neighbors, with whom they share one or more very thin walls;

d) the peace, requiring intervention by the local constabulary.

It isn't as wonderful as an open horn and it has some back pressure. Like all practice mutes, it is a necessary evil. For many, however, it makes it possible to practice when it would be otherwise impossible. The purpose for the electronic digital amplification is to allow one to play more softly yet still hear adequately so as to minimize the effects of the back pressure, i.e., blowing hard into a very stuffy mute. There are also two inputs which means that you can play duets with a buddy who has another SB mute or you can play along with a CD (like an Aebersold improvisation background, or Music Minus One), something that you can't as do as satisfyingly with the alternatives. The electronic sound processor is cool, giving you the choice of three different "rooms" to practice in, and you can manipulate reverb. It doesn't really make any difference to the effectiveness of the SB. But it is cool and fun to play with.

Many find it very useful to travel with, allowing them to practice peacefully in hotel rooms, at the in-laws' home, etc. A couple have come upon the perfect travel set up--a pocket trumpet (sold separately) with the SB piccolo trumpet mute.

The SB mute does not fit all trumpet bells equally well and one should test the mute on the horn with which you plan to use the system before purchasing. Given the weight of the unit, the size of the rubber seal ring, and the shape of your bell, you may find that the mute repeatedly falls out.

The headphones that come with the SB suck and you should get better ones, even inexpensive Walkman ones. The microphone built in to the mute is also cheap and not very good--good enough for its intended use--but not good enough to run your horn through PA systems or recording devices, and still sound like a trumpet. There is also some technical power supply problem that generally prohibits its effective use with those peripherals. Some find that the SB hums annoyingly if used with AC power, but doesn't hum using the batteries. Those folks usually find the cost of replacing batteries annoying.

Customizing and improving the performance of the Silent Brass, Jonathan Lee writes:

I happen to have a really nice set of headphones, Sennheiser HD565, which are high impedance and can't be driven by the typical headphone amp built into a discman. Since the headphone amp in most portable CD players are pretty awful, I splurged a while back and bought a headphone amp from Headphone.com, called the AirHead, which retails for $159. When I use the lineout on the SB with the Sennheisers I get a real improvement in sound. It would certainly not be worth investing in these things for use solely with the SB however.

Also, I was annoyed by the short cord on the mute, so I contacted Yamaha and it turns out that the extra-long cord they make for the tuba SB is compatible with the trumpet SB. It's ten feet long, and I think I ordered mine from Giardinelli for around $15.

There are two current Silent Brass models, one a smaller unit (ST9 Studio) and the other a deluxe (ST5 Performance Studio). The best advice I've heard on the new models is: Forget the budget priced ST9, the sound is not as good as the original one, spend the extra for the ST5. It has better sound quality, plus 32 effects including delay, chorus, flanger, filter, auto wah, overdrive, distortion, pitch shifting, limiter, and more. It has a built in metronome with 34 different time signatures in four different subdivision patterns. The ST5 also offers ten different drum patterns ranging from an eight-beat shuffle to funk to bossa nova and samba patterns. I'd appreciate the comments of anybody with experience using this.

Those who like it believe that the SB is a sufficient improvement over the conventional practice mutes to be worth the price. The Woodwind and Brasswind currently (July 2006) has a special on the cheaper ST9 module, plus trumpet and flugel mutes for $100. The more expensive ST5 costs around $240, plus the cost of the mute, totaling around $300.

There is a small group that likes the properties of SB mutes by themselves, so they do not bother buying the electronics. The mutes can be purchased separately and you can get piccolo trumpet and flugelhorn mutes if you are really into it. The mutes alone cost about $65 each.

As with all practice mutes, it bears repeating, relying on practicing with the mute much of the time will likely be damaging to your playing. You get used to the feel of playing with the back pressure and this can, for example, effect your accuracy in finding pitches with the open horn and determining the correct dynamic. And as you do not actually hear what is actually spewing out the bell, your tone can change in subtle ways and you don't even know it and can't fix it. Playing without it becomes a different and unknown experience. This is bad.

There is a significant group that does not care for the SB after having purchased one. They end up selling them. A check on eBay usually finds a couple for sale at any given time. For example, a quick search (type in: Yamaha Silent Brass Trumpet) on the day I wrote this reflected five units for sale, albeit all claiming to be brand new.

For a review of conventional non electronic practice mutes, go here.

On the "high end" of home remedies, Bill Siegfried suggests a 5 1/4 inch buffing pad from Wallmart with a circular auto wax pad inside. Fits over the end of the bell. Cost: $3.25.

The cheapest alternative practice mute (and my favorite) is the one you make yourself from a Renuzit air freshener (yes, I'm serious) which costs both a suspension of disbelief and about 97 cents. Here's how. How can you lose?

One other recent suggestion that I am currently investigating may prove to be even cheaper. Apparently a test tube stopper (like from 10th grade chemistry class) with a couple of holes in it (they come that way) fits nicely in the hole of your harmon mute where the stem goes--apparently reduces the volume to a whisper. Cost: about a half dollar. I'll let you know.

So, OK, the even cheaper alternative is to take your music stand and practice in your clothes closet, sticking your bell between your two heaviest winter coats, or if you live in temperate climes, between your two ugliest shirts.


 

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