Amoeba Talks Trumpets

Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba has had a bit more to do lately than watch television. But he did sit down for one of the earliest matches of this year’s football (sic) World Cup. Which is when he learned about the vuvuzela craze affecting South African football fans – and afflicting fans everywhere else.

At the time, YFNA wasn’t good for anything more than coughing, sneezing, blowing his nose, and watching TV to try to forget about coughing, sneezing, and blowing his nose.

Tips for blowing your nose if you’re an amoeba.

1. Find nose …

He was beginning to worry about his ears, too, because, while he was watching the match, all he could hear was a constant low buzzing. He was debating whether to get a specialist to check his hearing (see “find nose”, supra), or ream out America’s four-letter sports network for making this debate necessary, when a commentator pointed out all the vuvuzelas in the stands and made it clear that the dratted noise was coming from thousands of these cheap, one-note plastic trumpets all being played at once.

To which YFNA replied, “Crikey! The least you people can do is go get real trumpets!”

Maybe they tried.

Y’see, there are about 17 million makes and models of trumpets on sale out there these days, which is kind of a neat trick for a musical instrument that only became available in its modern form about a century ago. (I always wondered how come there were hardly ever any trumpets in Mozart symphonies. The answer was that, in Mozart’s time, there were hardly any trumpets, and those that were available would, in most hands, make the vuvuzela sound good.)

Needless to say, there are about 17 million ways to get burned if you’re new to the game and are trying to acquire a horn. Like the fellow who placed a special order with a Chinese firm for a trumpet with this and that and the other, and it came in the mail one day and looked absolutely beautiful, and precisely to specifications. Our Hero put it to his lips – and it wouldn’t play a note.

The Chinese firm made the trumpet out of solid brass, instead of brass tubing.


Jim Donaldson, whose (alas, now defunct) Trumpet Gearhead website is was about the best I’ve found for guiding the new trumpet player through the morass, describes the “alleged” trumpets sold at the likes of Wal-Mart to be like giving your fifth grader a twenty pound basketball and expecting him to hit from the top of the key. A trumpet student given one of these things is likely to take up skateboarding instead.

Or maybe the vuvuzela.

The usual advice given to the first-time trumpet buyer is to go looking for an Ambassador model trumpet, made by F.E. Olds and Son of California. They have a well-deserved reputation for quality in construction and tone, so good that professionals played (and still play) these ‘student’ models at gigs.

In fact, the trumpets were so good that they could not be made at the price the market was willing to pay for them, and as a consequence, the Olds company went bankrupt in 1979. (The “Olds” firm active today, and the horns that they make, are cheap imitations.)

The story of the Ambassador line of trumpets is one of those “small world” stories. “Small”, because that’s the number of craftsmen (I haven’t heard of many women) who actually know what they’re doing when they make trumpets, and because of their ability and willingness to steal (the politically-correct term is “copy”) each other’s work.

For example. About half the professional trumpets on the market today (the Yamaha “Xeno” and the Zeus “Guarnerius”, to name two) are (ahem) copies of the “Stradivarius” horns originally made by a New Yorker named Vincent Bach. Which were copies of patented (“Breveté”) horns made by the Paris branch of the Besson company during the 1920s and ’30s.

The Ambassador horns were designed in the 1940s by a gentleman named Foster A. Reynolds, who worked at the H.N. White factory (“King” trumpets) for decades, and then owned his own firm – which produced (ahem) copies of the horns he had designed for H.N. White. He retired in 1946, only to be coaxed out of retirement in 1947 by Olds. He would die on the Olds shop floor twelve years later.

Soon after arriving at Olds, Reynolds trained a young man in the art of making Ambassador and other horns – a young man by the name of Zigmant Kanstul.

Yes. Really.

Kanstul worked for Olds until the early 1970s, becoming chief designer and shop manager after Reynolds passed away. He then left, eventually to start his own company. A company that produces produced high-quality horns, both under his own name and on behalf of other manufacturers.

Some years ago, Kanstul accepted a contract to make student horns for another company. For which, Kanstul turned out (ahem) a copy of the Olds Ambassador – which by then had not been produced for more than a decade (Olds having ceased to exist).

That horn was known (it’s no longer being made, either) as the Besson 609.

The same Besson whose “Breveté” horns were copied as the Bach “Stradivarius” (and, to name one more, the Olds “Mendez”), which were copied as the Yamaha “Xeno” …

Vuvuzela ensemble, anyone?

  – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2010 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.


  1. Your friendly neighborhood curmudgeon’s first stab at a musical instrument was a rented trumpet in fourth grade. After the stabbing, I finished it off by blows.

    • That’s funny, Dawg – usually, the blows associated with a trumpet rental finish off the audience. The parental units in particular. Who suddenly are all in favor of the skateboard.

  2. I tried to play the Guitar once, I am not very musical. I didn’t know this about the Trumpet, What do they say about Plagiarism being the sincerest form of flattery.

    • Without plagiarism, Bill, a person might actually be able to purchase a decent horn without being buried in the blizzard of opportunity. The business was obviously initiated and conducted in the absence of lawyers – how, I have no clue. They must have realized the truth of the expression “starving musician” and found more lucrative fields to parasitize.

  3. Be it known that comments deemed inappropriate will join those deemed spamiferous in the netherworld of command-X.

    Control-X, dude!

    Whatever …

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