Posted by Jay Bertolet on June 22, 1999 at 08:46:08:
In Reply to: Silent Brass!? posted by Todd on June 16, 1999 at 18:49:10:
Well, I finally got to try one of the Silent Brass tuba mutes and I've got to say it was probably the best practice type mute I've ever found. But it is still, obviously, a practice mute with some flaws. There was definitely some change in the response at the mouthpiece, most notably in the low range which had more resistance than normal. The intonation was remarkably good except I had a real problem with 2 clusters of notes. I tried the mute with my Willson Eb and the C and Db in the middle of the staff were noticably flat, especially the Db. However, these same 2 pitches up an octave (just over the staff) were wildly sharp. This is not the normal pitch tendency of the Willson without the mute so it is my conclusion that the mute caused this. Almost all of the other notes were unaffected though, so I'd have to say that this practice mute is much better in tune than any other I've tried.
To be honest, I really don't care about the electronic components that come with the Silent Brass as I would only be using it as a practice mute for its sound dampening qualities. That said, I did give a cursory look at the mixer and headphones that come with the mute and I think that the headphones are garbage that you should count on having to replace if you intend to use the electronics. The headphones provided don't even have a bracket that holds them on your head and over your ears. It is simply 2 earpieces attached to wires and you're supposed to insert these things into your ear to keep them in place. Unfortunately, they wouldn't fit in my ears as they were too big. So I had a hard time hearing how the mixer functioned. I had someone hold the earpieces against my ears while I played and the mixer seemed to work pretty well. The simulated acoustics were pretty apparent after being processed by the mixer.
I was most impressed by the sound dampening qualities of the mute. It was not silent but it inhibited sound to a very large degree. I felt like I could play forte and fortissimo and still not annoy people in the same room. I am certain that I could practice undetected for long periods of time in a hotel room with this mute. It certainly was no louder than, say, the television at a moderate volume.
My chief concern about the Silent Brass is, as Sean pointed out, the long term effects to the bell of a tuba that uses one of these mutes consistently. If you can imagine an old style hat box, then you can see what the mute actually looks like. The only difference is that the box has a telescoping arm that extends from the bottom of the "box" and into the bell. The problem is that the contact point for the box is the bottom edge of the box and not the arm. Typical mutes use corks mounted on the sides of the arm that is inserted into the bell and this distributes the weight of the mute over a large area and in such a way as to not stress any of the metal at the contact points. The Silent Brass simply rests the "box" part of it on the bell with the arm extending into the bell throat but not touching it. With the large number of sizes of tuba bells, I imagine that it was impractical to make different size boxes so that the contact edge of the box would be flush with the bell rim. As a consequence, the contact point is a few inches in from the bell rim and the box is secured to the bell by 3 clips, evenly spaced around the outside of the box, that use elastic to hold the box to the bell by tension. This kind of arrangement appears to be a disaster waiting to happen for bells made of thinner materials. I wouldn't use this device on my Cervany tuba or on a Mirafone if I had one. It didn't leave any marks on my Willson but it was only on there a few minutes. I would probably consider getting some sort of felt ring or other type of protection to put on the bell where the contact is made to help protect the bell but I don't know what effect that would have on the sound dampening qualities of the mute. Ideally, Yamaha will go back and figure out a way to make the mute fit flush on the bell rim and eliminate this problem altogether.
All in all, I would say that my experience with the Silent Brass was a positive one and I'll probably be buying one to tinker around with. I'm sorry if this post is overly long but I didn't want to give a partial impression of somebody elses work without taking the time to be as thorough as they were. With some minor improvements, the Silent Brass could be what everybody was looking for. Thanks for taking the time to read this!