Four hole or three hole Natural Trumpet? 

If you are considering to buy a compromised natural trumpet with vent-holes, one of the first decisions you need to make is what kind of trumpet to go for. A short, bendy, three-hole instrument or a long, historic looking four-hole model. Both models are compromises that are widely used in Europe and the rest of the world. 

Besides an instrument builder I am active as a professional natural trumpet player. I have played many different instruments over the last ten years. The first 6 years I have played short, three-hole instruments only. Later I was introduced to the four-hole instruments. I have developed a strong preference for long, four-hole trumpets for baroque repertoire. The three-hole instruments (which are often very well made) also have their qualities, but I feel that the four-hole trumpets are a more logic choice than the short, three-hole instruments. 

This preference is for pure practical reasons. These reasons are sound and playability. To my ears, a long model trumpet sounds dark and rich at the same time. Another way to describe the sound is: pure. Short trumpets tend to sound more nasal, and they tend to feel stiff, especially in the lower register. Played with the use of vent-holes the long model is very flexible and stable (resistance-wise) over the whole trumpet register without compromising sound too much. Played with, and without the vent-holes the four-hole trumpet sounds very close to a historic trumpet. This is mainly because of the correct proportions and the shape and length of the bell. The big compromise on the short trumpets is the shorter bell. The start of the bell has been cut off, interrupting the most important (and only!) long taper that it is also present on a historic trumpet. The bell on the short trumpets is made shorter to make the trumpet easier to hold and to make the vent-holes more accessible. That seems practical, but this makes it nearly impossible to play “no holes” on a short instrument. This is because the proportions are lost. Not to mention the fact that on the three-hole trumpet there is some notes (like the written D2) that don't seem to be happy to be played at all when the vent holes are in use. On the four-hole trumpet this problem is non existing. Although the short and long trumpets are different, in practice they can be used in the same trumpet section without problems.

I feel that the short three-hole instrument has reached it’s peak, and has nearly finished developing, thanks to very skilled  instrument builders (f.e. Egger Instruments in Switzerland) that have invested a lot of time and effort in the development of the short natural trumpet. The long four-hole trumpet has not finished developing to modern requirements  yet. Even my very first attempts producing them worked out surprisingly well. The long trumpet is a great starting point because of it’s basic shape (and history..), but it can be made even better. There is great potential, and that is the reason why I build long baroque trumpets only. 

© 2019 Martinus Geelen Natural Trumpets