Leadpipes: Do They Make a Difference?

by John R. Hylkema


Recently, we’ve discussed a lot about mouthpieces and the importance of each component. If we were to follow a player’s air stream as it moves on past the mouthpiece we are next met with the leadpipe of the given brass instrument. The leadpipe has a strong level of importance since it is the first main component of the instrument itself. With that being said, any change or effect on the leadpipe will result in an even larger, magnified change throughout the rest of the instrument, thus illustrating why this component of the instrument is incredibly important.


Taper


Most often, the taper rate of a leadpipe will determine the level of resistance within a player’s air stream, whether that be a tight or open blowing feel. In general, a leadpipe with a slower, or more gradual, taper will provide a resistant, yet stable, airstream. On the other hand a fast and free blowing air stream can be achieved with a quick-tapering leadpipe. A darker sound can most often be achieved in a slow tapering leadpipe paired with a larger bell. In contrast, a fast tapering leadpipe with a medium-sized bell can often times offer a bright or brilliant sound. Changing out one’s leadpipe to accommodate the bell size of an instrument can often be a solution to achieving a desired sound when switching mouthpieces simply wasn’t enough.


Conventional vs. Reverse (for trumpet)


I can only imagine the number of musical friendships that have ended over the great “conventional versus reversed leadpipe” debate. You may be asking, what are the pros and cons of each? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t that clear cut. As with most things in the brass world, the results are subjective.


So, what is a reverse leadpipe?


This particular type of leadpipe differs from a conventional because it has a “male” ending that goes into the tuning slide, rather than a female end where the tuning slide goes into the leadpipe. Doing this lengthens the leadpipe which allows for a slower, more gradual taper within this component. When playing with a reverse leadpipe the ridge normally created with a conventional pipe and tuning slide is eliminated, which is said to create a longer amount of tubing where the air flow is uninterrupted for a longer period of time. The idea behind this setup is also said to provide less physical backpressure when playing the instrument. Another difference in playing with this setup is a different location for the brace connecting the bell and leadpipe. My reason for mentioning this is because it can have an effect on a player’s core sound and overall response throughout the horn and is something to consider when exploring a different leadpipe.


Take Care of Your Leadpipe!


I’m sure it’s happened to all of us, you lean forward in your chair while in a rehearsal or practice session and DING! You smack your instrument’s bell on the stand or chair, leaving a small dent for everyone to see. Although the fresh mark on your bell can be quite an eyesore, it most likely will not have a detrimental effect on sound or playability. If only this were the case with one’s leadpipe!

As stated before, the leadpipe has a strong importance in how the rest of your instrument plays and sounds. Unlike with the instrument’s bell, any defect pertaining to the leadpipe can have a profound effect on how the rest of the instrument will play and sound. Any dent made on the leadpipe can and will affect the instrument’s playability, sound, and tuning. It’s also a great idea to backflush the leadpipe by pulling out the tuning slide and running less than room temperature water through the pipe. In addition, push a cleaning snake through the leadpipe to clear out any buildup of debris to prevent corrosion from the inside out.


Wrap-Up

  • When considering leadpipe taper, be sure to pair it with the proper bell size

  • A reverse leadpipe is longer and is said to provide less backpressure than a conventional pipe

  • A dent in your leadpipe is much worse than a dent in your bell

  • Backflushing water through the leadpipe can be a quick and easy way to prevent corrosion



Join the conversation