This is the first we are told, of a number of collaborations between retailer John Packer and manufacturer Michael Rath, with Rath having had a hand in the design of the instrument and Packer finding a quality manufacturer in China. The 231 comes with a large bore and a very playable, lightweight slide. The build quality is excellent and the finishing is nothing short of superb. It’s a very responsive instrument, particularly in the middle-to-lower register, where it can really bark. The upper register needed a little getting used to, requiring as it did a lot more puff. But the tone is warm and the character of the sound suggests that the 231 would be just as comfortable in a symphony orchestra setting, as it would be used by a jazz group or big band. At a fraction of the price you might expect to pay for a horn of this quality, it all packs into a standard nylon denier semihard, zippered shaped case, with exterior zippered pocket, grab handles and a back harness with a velcro flap cover.

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Mutes are of course an integral part of colouring brass sound and although this market is well catered for, there’s always room for a new kid on the block – particularly if they’re bringing some innovative ideas to the table. Wallace Brass is one such company. We tested three of their aluminium range and were impressed with the build quality, design (particularly the rubber end base) and general finish as well as being amazed at just how light they were. First up to the bell was the ‘Aluminium Straight’. These sort of mutes can often produce a harsh sound, but the Wallace model managed to temper this with a softer, richer delivery, although still having plenty of presence and intensity to the sound. It was also very consistent across the full range. Second up was the ‘Aluminium ‘5’ Straight’. This mute offered a more mellow and smoother sound than the ‘Straight’. However, it was less ‘muted’ than the ‘Straight’ with more of the instrument coming through. Last up was the ‘Adjustable Cup’ combination. The ‘V’ shape has a clear, sharp tonal colour and there is a lot of resistance. The ‘Bowl’ shape on the other hand, although still having a high resistance, is very mellow when placed right into the bell. Even though these mutes are machined from lightweight aluminium, the ‘Adjustable Cup’ combination made our test horn feel very bell heavy. It’s a shame that Wallace don’t yet produce a single ‘Fixed Bowl Shaped Cup’ model as we feel that this would not only be considerably lighter than the ‘Combination’, but would also deliver a very satisfying mellow tone. For more go to

As they say, you can always tell a Taylor. And it’s not just the sound – it’s the feel of the instrument, the balance and the build. The Pocket Rocket is typical of the marque. Expertly engineered, it sits nicely in the hand and feels very solid and robust with its heavy angled supporting plate lifted from the Taylor ‘Chicago’ custom trumpet. The surprisingly long valves with attractive blue tortoise shell heads, carry a good action and come with heavy domed bottom caps. This extra weight, along with the heavier pipework to the receiver is clearly a deliberate design feature, which adds to the tone and sonic punch of this instrument. The sound is consistent across the full range and is very bright and clear, which presumably is in some part down to the wide flared bell (wider than most standard trumpet bells). With polished pipework running into that large brushed bell, this is a very stylish little horn and one that is in every sense, typically Taylor.

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Not only is this signature trumpet very light, but it’s a horn that has a real edge when you drive it – Miyashiro obviously relishes being ‘out front’! Visually it’s a very striking, if traditional looking instrument with quite an abrupt flair to the bell – which is perhaps where it gets its punch from. The plating is honey brass, with what looks like brass finger loops, along with mother of pearl capped finger pads and black felt cushions to the valves. The valve system is integral (top sprung), and I should perhaps issue a note of caution here – I found it surprisingly easy to return the valves the wrong way round, so they sit incorrectly. Overall however, the build quality is excellent and on our sample everything was airtight.

A light instrument, it delivers a light sound and the Miyashiro is clearly more at home at the top rather than the bottom. It’s frighteningly playable and glides through the full range with ease. Sonically it may not be the most subtle of instruments with its bright, full tones, but play it softly and it soon becomes clear that there is a very appealing mellow, almost sweet side to this horn - an aspect to it’s character that I particularly liked.

Interestingly, Yamaha have recently gone down the rucksack/bag route for their instrument cases and have had developed a multi-pocketed nylon denier unit with a heavily padded twin compartment accommodating two horns. Unfortunately, it seems that the manufacturer has stuck too closely to the dimensions given and as a consequence, the bag is a few centimetres short on height and in its present form doesn’t give the instruments real protection. No doubt, knowing Yamaha, this minor miscalculation will soon be rectified.

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This German made horn has to be the lightest horn that I’ve ever laid hands on – and it’s not that I’m used to handling Monettes or Taylors! No, this horn is really light and it’s well balanced. Coming with hand lapped Monel pistons with boxed bronze springs, there is no doubting the quality of the components, although I did find that the spit slide on the second valve was a tad tight. I was also somewhat surprised that there was no tap on the third tuning slide. And if I’m being really picky why doesn’t the curve on the front crook match that of the back pipe?

 That said, the Challenger is an extremely easy player with no real change of resistance over 21/2 octaves, and has a tone that is both smooth and even across the full range. The light hand hammered one piece brass bell with its French bead wire gives a sharper bell rim edge and by implication, an improved projection. However, I felt that the overall sound was somewhat on the bright side, so I changed the supplied 3 mouthpiece for one of my own (Taylor) 3’s which is slightly heavier and found a darker tone that I felt had more jazz character.

Although there’s no denying that the build quality and finishing is excellent – our sample came in French gold lacquer (there are silver and gold plated options), I was left feeling that the balance between lightness and strength could prove to be an issue when taking the Challenger “on the road”. Happily however, the instrument is supplied with a heavily padded, rectangular hardcase, with quality catch locks and grab handles.

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