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A Visit to Andy Taylor's Trumpet Workshop
Reveals Back Stories About
Trumpets in the Utley Collection

By Sabine K. Klaus
Joe R. and Joella F. Utley Curator of Brass Instruments

The most striking trumpets in the Utley Collection were created by the British trumpet maker Andy Taylor in Norwich (Norfolk), U.K. No tour group, when visiting the Utley Collection, has ever failed to ask questions about these unusual-looking instruments. It was, therefore, a very welcome opportunity on October 18, 2010, to visit Andy’s workshop in an industrial estate on the outskirts of the English cathedral town of Norwich to interview the maker personally. Taylor generously gave of his time and provided fascinating insight into his work.

Right: Andy Taylor’s trumpets on display in the Utley home in South Carolina.

Taylor trumpets on display in Utley home in South Carolina

It all began with French Horns

Andy Taylor did not train as a trumpet maker, but rather, as a French-horn maker, with the renowned London firm of Paxman, where he landed a job right after school and spent the next fifteen years of his working life. “I was the last of an old line of apprentices who worked with their boss.” It was old-school, hands-on training, and after specializing as a bell maker, Andy ran the bell department for a couple of years. Later he ran the whole workshop and had to learn all the other jobs as well. In the 1980s, Paxman was still making everything in-house, including the valve sections. This gave Andy ample opportunity to learn most aspects of horn making from scratch. He also worked in the repair department, where damage that may have occured during the manufacturing process was mended:  “My repair background is from repairing for new, not repairing used instruments.”

Setting up Shop as a Trumpet Maker

Andy Taylor in his storeroom, 2010

After leaving Paxman and relocating to Norwich in 1990, where his wife held a job as a micro-biologist, Andy took a completely new path, making trumpets rather than horns. “I think my strength was that I was never ever taught to make trumpets. So I had to make up my own mind, what I would put into a trumpet.” His French-horn background led to a new concept for trumpet design:  “My background in French horns was more about creating that warmer, softer, broader tone.” This timbre appealed to certain customers, particularly in the U.S., where David Monette of Chicago had been re-designing the trumpet in a much heavier style. Andy’s instruments looked like normal trumpets at first, but they had a sound that interested players who liked the warmer tone, but could not afford these top-of-the-price-range instruments. To satisfy this market, Andy created imaginative-looking trumpets that would not only sound different, but also look different, and which were more affordable.

Left: Andy Taylor in his storeroom holding a trumpet with square tubing.

Joe Utley Discovers Andy Taylor’s Trumpets

Joe Utley was among the first U.S. customers who were immediately drawn to Andy’s unusual-looking instruments. Consequently, most of the Taylor trumpets in the Utley Collection are also the first of their kind. When shown pictures of these early trumpets with their imaginative names, Andy started to reminisce:  The Custom Shop 'Uncle Sam' (NMM 7147) was “the first one to combine my love for cars and bikes (meaning motor bikes) with instruments.” For this first custom-made trumpet, Joe requested a patriotic theme. Andy responded by making a trumpet with stars and stripes created with a motorcycle-paint finish, featuring an American eagle inside the bell.

NMM 7147.  The Custom Shop Uncle Sam trumpet by Andy Taylor, Norwich, 1996
Detail of eagle inside bell

Above: The Custom Shop Uncle Sam trumpet (NMM 7147) by Andy Taylor, Norwich, 1996, with stars-and-stripes finish and an American eagle inside the bell.

The more traditional-looking Retro 'Renaissance' Custom Shop trumpet (NMM 7224) was the first of the Heritage series, in which vintage looks of the 1920s through 1960s are combined with modern trumpet design that makes the instruments sound louder than the old ones on which they are based. This series includes reconstructions of Selmer Balanced Action trumpets (the type Louis Armstrong played) and Martin Committees, a favorite of jazz musicians. The trumpet, NMM 7224, is decorated with arched braces and abalone pearls; the fingerbuttons are made from British five-pence coins, revealing Andy’s keen sense of humor.

NMM 7224.  The Retro Renaissance Custom Shop trumpet by Andy Taylor, Norwich, 1995
Detail of inlaid abalone pearl

British five-pence coins used for fingerbuttons

Above: The Retro 'Renaissance' Custom Shop trumpet (NMM 7224) by Andy Taylor, Norwich, 1995, with a vintage look and decorative features such as arched braces with abalone pearls. British five-pence coins form the fingerbuttons.

The Blues Boy trumpet (NMM 7225), exhibited at the International Trumpet Guild Convention in Long Beach, California, in 1996, has a bluish, translucent nickel plating that gives it a lovely sheen. This trumpet has a strikingly wide bell throat, the dimensions for which, Andy explains, were inspired by David Monette’s flumpet (a cross between a flugelhorn and a trumpet). Not only is the bell throat wider, but also the overall proportion of conical tubing is greater than in a normal trumpet, resulting in a darker, warmer sound. Later, Andy developed this type into the Phat Boy series. This series “is just a big, phat, huge, thick sounding trumpet,” and Andy proudly reports that he has made an instrument of this type for Gregory Davis, Miles Davis’s son. “He wanted what his dad would have bought now, and that also pays homage to his father.”

Right: The Blues Boy trumpet (NMM 7225) by Andy Taylor, Norwich, 1995, has a wide bell throat, a design that later led to the Phat Boy series.

NMM 7225.  The Blues Boy trumpet by Andy Taylor, Norwich, 1995
Back of Blues Boy trumpet

When the heavy-style trumpets first emerged, there was a joke going around that they looked like a lump of concrete or a slab of brick. So, Andy decided to take this joke literally and made the Fred Flintstone Custom Shop “Rock’n Roll Artform” trumpet (NMM 7252) to look just like a slab of concrete. But when it was finished, it looked grey and boring. “What do people do with concrete? They graffiti it; so I applied the graffiti straight away.” Another inspiration for the heavy granite-like coating was the pseudo stone-age technology in the animated TV series The Flintstones, popular in the 1960s, which gave this trumpet its name. When asked whether he uses any designers to make such extravagant instruments, Andy replies: “This kind of stuff is all me, totally me. I need artistic control. I make most of the special ones, it stops me from getting bored with making ordinary ones!”

NMM 7225.  The Fred Flintstone Custom Shop 'Rock'n Roll Artform' trumpet by Andy Taylor, Norwich, 1997.
Side view of trumpet

Above: The Fred Flintstone Custom Shop “Rock’n Roll Artform” trumpet (NMM 7252) by Andy Taylor, Norwich, 1997, with graffitied concrete-imitation exterior.

Andy Taylor’s instruments fit right into Joe and Joella Utley’s ideas about collecting trumpets as works of art. In 1998, Joe commissioned a special instrument as a focal piece for his collection:  the Utley Collection Custom Shop trumpet (NMM 7316). In his correspondence with Joe, Andy confessed that “this is the most involved and difficult horn I have ever made.” Once again, he was inspired by car and motorcycle designs:  “I am constantly looking at car development and bikes. The best looking bikes have these sexy curves.” This trumpet was very complex to build:  the filled-in bows had to be made with double-skinned metal and it was tricky to join the straight and the curved tubing.

For the decoration of this artistic trumpet, Andy drew on the experience of a specialist, the motorcycle-painter Ty Lawler, the owner of ‘Pageant Paintwork’ in Norfolk. For Ty the challenge was to paint an object which is to be seen close up, not at some distance as are motorcycles; that meant greater attention to detail. The larger than normal bell provided more surface area for the art work, but also helped create a bigger sound.

To the question, “what kind of customers order such instruments,” Andy replies, “people who are quite happy to show off, or who want a centrepiece for their collection,” like Joe. It was this very instrument “that inspired me to push it further,” eventually leading to designs which contradicted common wisdom about trumpet design, such as the Vulcan series with corners in the tubing. “When I design anything, I want to get away from two straight lines and a semicircle at each end.” When asked whether he does any acoustical testing, Andy paused for a moment and looked at me, saying “What?——Ears, that’s all we use. The guy who gets re-booked is the guy who sounds good. That’s what my instruments are based around—sound. The other stuff is secondary.”

NMM 7316.  The Utley Collection Custom Shop trumpet by Andy Taylor, Norwich, 1998.
Side view of trumpet

Above: The Utley Collection Custom Shop trumpet (NMM 7316) by Andy Taylor, Norwich, 1998, was a special commission to celebrate the Utley Collection.

NMM 7317.  The Faberge London Model trumpet by Andy Taylor, Norwich, 1998
Side view of the Faberge London model trumpet

“When this [the Utley Collection Custom Shop] trumpet arrived, Joe was over the moon with it,” Andy remembers. “So I asked him on the phone” (their main means of communicating), “where do we go from here?” And in his humorous way, Andy suggested: “You know, there are these Fabergé eggs . . . .” There was a silence on the other end of the phone, after which Joe answered: “If you make it, I’ll buy it.” This is the origin of the Taylor “Fabergé” trumpet (NMM 7317), basically a standard model trumpet that is decorated with numerous colored glass beads of various sizes. “I spent fifteen hours decorating this. One problem was the circles of the gemstones didn’t interlay with each other, because of the bell curves. It opened up how hard it is to do this decoration on an egg.”

Left: The Fabergé London Model trumpet (NMM 7317) by Andy Taylor, Norwich, 1998. The bell is decorated with numerous colored glass stones of various sizes.

The Taylor Trumpet Workshop Today

Today, the U.S. remains the biggest single country of export for Taylor Trumpets. After working alone for the first couple of years, Andy has now expanded to a company with five employees. The mixed group of workmen have previous experiences working as a chef, fisherman, and hobby cabinet maker with a degree in politics (“we try to stay away from deep political discussions with him”) and includes an old-school engineer who is experienced in lathe work, machine work, and even cuts threads by hand. “We don’t use computers to make any of this.”

Indeed, when entering the workshop, the traditional manner in which these futuristic-looking trumpets are made is striking. One worker forms a bell over a mandrel and a blow torch lies ready for action on a huge hearth. In a corner next to an ultra-modern looking, half-finished flugelhorn is a stack of unfinished bell parts, some of which are lopsided and not yet formed out into a cone. The conical section of the bell is made with the traditional tab seam, while the flaring part is spun and then soldered to the cone, Andy explains.

Unfinished bell sections
Buffing a bell

Above, left: Unfinished bell sections, those on the right showing the characteristically lopsided shape before being formed into a cone. On the far right are brass rods and tubes. On the wall hang wooden moulds for bending the bows; they have unusual contours and reveal that unconventional instruments are made in this workshop.

Above, right:  The buffing of a flugelhorn bell. In the background and on the floor are bell mandrels of various shapes and sizes over which the bells are formed.

Bells and tubing in various stages of completion
Tab seam

Above, left: Bells and tubing in various stages of completion (the ketchup is not used in trumpet making, it's left over from lunch).

Above, right: The conical section of the bell is formed with a tab seam, a technique that has been in use in trumpet making for over three thousand years.

For all these parts Taylor uses the traditional 70/30 brass (70% copper, 30% zinc) with some additives to make cutting easier. “Material and material changes have been an issue over the years,” Andy reports. The mills have cut down on the size options, and it becomes increasingly difficult to order sheet brass in small quantities. The brass that is now available is harder than it used to be and therefore has to be softened in the Taylor workshop; in addition, the alloy mix is not as consistent as it once was. The European health and safety regulations also add to the growing difficulties in obtaining materials needed for trumpet making, such as lead solder. “The lead stuff just runs, it cuts better, it is easier to clean up,” Andy says enthusiastically, “but now we have to be very careful about lead content.” Three different joining methods are used:  brazing, silver solder and soft solder. The pitch needed for filling the bows during the bending process is also problematic as it can be dangerous. “All this added safety legislation means the manufacturers have to spend more to meet the new standards of the European Union.”

The only part that is made completely differently from the old methods is the mouthpipe or leadpipe. “The pipes for our own instruments are special.” Andy pulls out a drawer with a whole array of pipes. “This is one piece of brass, machined with great big reamers.” The workpiece starts with a solid rod which is then hollowed out with a series of drills. At the end “you run a reamer to take all the edges away and make it smooth inside.” While in traditional seamed tubing each tube is slightly different, in these machined pipes, everyone should come out the same and the outside and inside tapers are both very controllable. A pipe manufactured that way can also be a lot thicker than a tube would be and is ‘almost’ undentable.

Everything is made in-house, except the valve section. “What we have is the best of CNC [Computer Numerical Controlled] engineering in the middle and British flare and craftsmanship on the rest of it. It is important to get the best valves we can as this is the real heart of the instrument, the part you actually hold in your hand.” The valves are the only part on a Taylor trumpet that is made with computer assistance, because accuracy is of the essence. Valves are like a car engine—it has to be precision work—and that’s where the machines come in, Andy explains.

Sixty to seventy percent of the work in the Taylor workshop goes into creating their own instruments, while thirty to forty percent consists of making parts for other people. This includes the making of speciality bells on a small scale. A custom-made trumpet is created in eight to ten weeks. Most of our customers are what Andy calls “commercial players,” jazz, pop, and big band players. “Classical players don’t always come out to us as a first choice, only after they have had a chance to play a Taylor instrument do they realize we make a full range of trumpets, not just commercially biased ones. In the classical world there is much more resistance to change!”

Right: Taylor Trumpets make a variety of bell shapes for their own instruments as well as for other manufacturers.

A collection of various bell shapes

Andy Taylor talks with Sabine K. Klaus

When leaving Andy Taylor's workshop, which is guarded by a huge, but cuddly dog in a comfortable bed right by the front door, it feels as if one has stepped back two-hundred years for a few hours, into a time when trumpets were hand-crafted instead of mass-produced by computers in factories. But at the same time, it feels like having seen a glimpse of a future when old wisdom will be thrown overboard and the trumpet will be a different instrument. It certainly increased tremendously my understanding and appreciation of the eye-catching trumpets by Andy Taylor in the Utley Collection.

Photos by Mark Olencki and Malcolm Rose

Return to NMM Newsletter Index (December 2010)

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