Vosburgh’s Set-up – David DeAngelo

Let me get the geeky stuff out first:

For most orchestral work, George Vosburgh plays a large-bore silver-plated New York Bach (serial number: 7352) with a 1C mouthpiece, though he's currently breaking in one of Bach's new "Chicago C" horns.

And no one but the most seriously geeky trumpet-geek could probably know what all those words mean.

Let me explain some things for the non-trumpet geek.

Unlike most other orchestral instruments, trumpets come in many keys.  Most students learn to play on a B-flat horn, while most orchestral players play most of the time on a C.  There are some higher horns as well – those pitched in D, E-Flat, F, G and even A and B-flat (that's the piccolo trumpet).  The explanation is a bit confusing but here it is: When a "middle C" is played on a given trumpet, pitch of that note is the "key" of that trumpet.  For an average High School trumpet player, a "C" played on his or her horn will be the same pitch as a B-flat on a piano.  A "C" played on "Piccolo in A" will be the same pitch as an "A" a major sixth above middle C and so on. 

We're talking now about the trumpet pitched in C – the "C Trumpet."

Vosburgh plays on a couple of trumpets that come from what was once the Vincent Bach Corporation (it's now a part of Steinway Musical Instruments, Inc.).  The company started right after World War I and began making trumpets in the mid-20s.  Initially based in New York City, it moved to Mt Vernon, NY in 1953 and finally to Elkhart, Indiana, when Vincent Bach sold the company to Selmer in 1961.  Selmer, by the way merged into Steinway in 1995. 

There are then three types of Bach trumpets; New York Bachs, Mt Vernon Bachs and, well, Elkhart Bachs.  I own an Elkhart.  Vosburgh owns a New York.

A "New York Bach" is one of those rare horns built by Bach before the move to Mt Vernon.  How rare is rare?  According to Roy Hempley and Doug Lehrer, only 523 Bach C trumpets were built before the move to Elkhart.  That's only 523 C trumpets in the 3 dozen or so years from 1924 to 1961.  And most of those were made at Mt Vernon.

Bach numbered all the horns his company made – you can find a guide here.  My Bach C trumpet, for instance, is numbered 208218 and so (according to the guide) was built in Elkhart sometime between 1981 and 1983 (and probably closer to '81 than '83, truth be told), which makes sense as my dad bought it for me in the spring of 1983.  Vosburgh's, numbered 7352, dates (again, according to the guide) from sometime between '45 and '50 though Hempley and Lehrer date it to sometime between '47 and '50.  Only 27 of the specific type Vosburgh plays were ever made.

His other horn (one of the so called "new Chicago C" horns he's breaking in) requires a little history.  One day, and I suppose it was sometime in the early 1950's, an executive from the Armor meat packing company looked down on the Trumpet section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and reportedly said to himself, "Gee, wouldn't it be nice if all four trumpet players had matching horns?"  Calls were made and deals were struck and in April of 1955 Vincent Bach sent over six C trumpets for the four trumpet players to try out.  The principal player (and Lord God of all American orchestral trumpet players in the second half of the 20th century), Adolph "Bud" Herseth, got first crack at the six.  He took the one he liked the best.  Then the second chair got second crack.  My old teacher, Bill Babcock, got third and when he told me the story, he chuckled a bit and said, "And poor Cichowicz, he was last in line.  He got the last pick of three."

The Chicago Symphony still owns those horns and they're still played by the Symphony's trumpet section.  So when Vosburgh sat 2nd chair in Orchestra Hall in Chicago, he played one of those 4 horns, though he told me he didn't play The Bab's old horn.

Bach's new "Chicago C" trumpets are copies of the trumpets sent over in 1955.  As he's in a somewhat envious position of having actually played on one of the original "Chicago C" horns, I asked him how they compare.  He said that the accoustical signature was very close, though there may be a little more color from the older horns.

And how, you may ask, what's the difference between the new Chicago C trumpets differ and the average everyday run of the mill Bach C trumpets?  First off it's about a thousand dollars (cue the rimshot here).  Second, Bach's older horns (whether New York or Mt Vernon) were "tighter" in their construction.  The curve of the tuning main tuning slide, while rounder, was smaller.  The "wrap" of the tubing (the comparative distance between the leadpipe across the horn to the bell) is also tighter.  Vosburgh says this makes for a more brilliant sound.

"It's incredibly agile," he said. "It's a Ferrari," he added.

There are some other horns he uses as well.  For Brahms and Beethoven and Haydn and Mozart, he plays a Votruba rotary trumpet, though he added that the PSO also owns a set of rotary-valve trumpets from Monke.  It's roughly the same instrument except, owing to the fact that there are rotary valves instead of piston valves (think French Horn valves and you'll get the picture), it's completely different. Not only that but Votruba horns are from Vienna and Monke are from Germany.  Needless to say they sound totally different from each other, says Vosburgh.

For the Brandenburg, he plays a Monke piccolo, for the Rite of Spring, Bolero, Messiah, he plays a Schilke P54.

His mouthpiece is almost always a 1C.  Different pieces might require something different (the depth of the cup, for instance, or the weight of the mouthpiece itself) but the rim size is almost always the same: a 1C.

They were beautiful trumpets, all of them.  George Vosburgh is truly a nice guy for taking the time out to talk shop with an old trumpet player.

2 Responses to “Vosburgh’s Set-up – David DeAngelo”

  1. Doug Bauman says:

    This is very interesting, I’m glad you took the time to enlighten us on all this. As an aside, I’m not certain, but I didn’t see George Vosburgh in the C-Major Schubert Symphony Friday. However, there was a trumpet on an empty chair. Probably that was a backup for one of the other players.

  2. The extra trumpet on the empty chair was probably for the second player. Having played second on the Schubert Great C major there are parts of the second movement that are better played on C otherwise you are trying to play a pedal F with control at both loud and soft dynamics and at least for me that doesn’t work to well.

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Mar 29