The world of mutes can be quite confusing when you're not in the know, so hopefully this guide - written by our Brass Specialist Steve Herbert - will help to illuminate!...
STRAIGHT MUTE - this mute is usually the first mute that a player would use and is indicated on the written music as ‘Con Sordini’ or ‘Muted.’ It can be manufactured from fibre or metal and produces a buzzy type of sound. Different shapes and mixtures of metal will produce different variants of sound, common straight mutes would be the Denis Wick aluminium, Wallace copper bottom or the Tom Crown all copper straight mute.
CUP MUTE - this mute is used in many types of music and is usually the second mute on a player’s list. It differs from the shape of a straight mute as it has a ‘cup’ shape at the end of it. Some of these mutes have an ‘adjustable’ cup part to the mute which can be moved closer to the bell of the instrument to achieve a more ‘closed’ sound. Some players even remove the cup to use the remaining part as a ‘straight’ mute. Again different materials will produce different sounds, favourite models are the Denis Wick adjustable cup mute, the Humes & Berg fibre and the Wallace fixed or adjustable models.
HARMON MUTE - this mute has over the years been known by many names such as ‘Wah – Wah,’ ‘ET’ (extending tube) or more commonly as the ‘Harmon.’ It is commonly used in Big Bands and Jazz Bands. The Harmon mute has 2 individual parts - the main part that is put in the bell, and a tube that extends from the main part. This tube can be extended and will have a direct effect on the sound produced, as it can be fully pushed in, or extended out of the mute and can be used to produce the ‘wah – wah’ sound by moving your hand over the end of the tube. It can also be completely removed from the mute to produce a buzzing sound. Generally these mutes are made from metal with the most common and inexpensive being the aluminium varieties such as the Denis Wick and Humes & Berg. The all copper Jo Ral mutes are slighty heavier and are called ‘Bubble’ mutes which are more rounded with the most expensive being the all copper version.
PLUNGER MUTE - as the name suggests, this mute is essentially a rubber plunger which you hold in your hand and alternately place it over and remove it from the bell of the trumpet creating bigger wah-wah effect than you get with the harmon mute. This mute is popular with Big Bands and Jazz Bands and can combined with flutter tonguing to create a unique sound. Best selling models are the P&H black rubber plungers, the Humes & Berg red and white rubber plungers or some players even visit their local hardware shop to make their own!
PRACTICE MUTES - As it’s name suggests this mute is used for practicing and not whilst playing in a band or orchestra. It significantly lowers the volume of the instrument’s sound and is very useful for the purpose of not disturbing other family members whilst practicing. Popular models include the Wallace PRV1 and the Bremner Sssshhhmute.