Slide trumpet

The slide trumpet is a medieval, renaissance and baroque brass instrument, somehow between the natural trumpet and the trombone since it has only one slide.

3D-printed slide trumpet playing alongside a traditional instrument.

The slide trumpet is a mysterious instrument. There are no surviving medieval nor renaissance natural trumpets with a slide (models which made it to our time are baroque or later) yet there are many good arguments for it existence. The iconography can’t show an instrument in movement and therefore prove the existence of a slide, yet the shapes, proportions and the way in which the instruments are being held suggest the possibility that the depicted instrument is not a natural trumpet but rather a slide trumpet, like in the altar piece of Santa Maria la Real in Nájera (1489) below.

Altar piece Santa Maria la Real, Nájera (1489)

The „standard“ alta cappella trio, as described in some sources with a shawm, a bombard and a (slide) trumpet, would simply not work for almost every polyphonic piece due to the missing notes on a natural trumpet, a problem which gets a very fitting and practical solution by adding a slide and therefore many more notes to the trumpet. Furthermore, since the evolutionary „jump“ between natural brass instruments and trombones (which have a double slide) did happen somewhere during the renaissance and is well documented, it is very difficult to argue that there was no transition model with a single slide, even if this design later fell in disuse.

There are not many surviving natural trumpets from the medieval or renaissance period, yet their overwhelming presence on iconography and literary sources tells us that they were not unusual instruments at all. Both the iconography and the surviving models point out a huge variety in designs and shapes, ranging from straight trumpets (also called buisines) to S-shaped trumpets to the design that later would become the most common one, which is rolled once.

The oldest known European trumpet, which has a remarkable story on its own, is the Guitbert trumpet (1442). More information on this instrument and its discovery can be read on this article by Pierre-Yves Madeuf, Jean-Francois Madeuf and Graham Nicholson. This trumpet, preserved even with its original mouthpiece, fits both the iconography and the required range (once added a slide) for the alta cappella trio.

The Guitbert trumpet plays at Eb in 440 Hz., which corresponds to a high-pitched instrument (466 Hz.) in D and perfectly fits D shawms and G bombards in an ensemble. This original instrument has been used as the main source for our model, mouthpiece included. Yet, the aim of our slide trumpet is not producing an exact replica of this original but rather to develop a functional instrument.

Our model is made out of 3D-printed parts and carbon pipes, making for a very robust yet extremely light instrument when compared to a traditional brass model (135 gr. vs ca. 500 gr., mouthpiece included) which is therefore much easier to play.

The carbon slide is very precise and does not require grease lubrication like metal ones. A wet slide is stickier than a dry one on this material, but letting it dry and cleaning it with a cloth is better than putting grease on it as far a we have been able to test.

As you can see above, intensive slide testing has been done.

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