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Players Endorsing Instruments

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In my conversations with brass players over several decades I have gotten the impression they believe the fact that professional players are endorsing particular brands makes their recommendations and opinions biased. In fact, that is somewhat true. But it's also true that amateur, non-endorsing players may also be biased. We all take care to choose the horn we're going to play, but naturally we have different reasons for our choice(s). It is complicated by the fact that playing a particular brand over time will usually engender more bias. (If you get annoyed with it over time, you probably would switch!)

But an analytical person can separate personal preference from the positive and negative qualities of the various choices. I've gotten very good feedback on brands from players you've never heard of. Some professionals are equally analytical and can discuss the qualities of various brands intelligently.

Does this all get more complicated for a professional player who endorses a brand? Perhaps, or perhaps not; it does depend on the player. I have known pros who render very balanced opinions to folks asking them about instruments. On the other hand, I have heard (a smaller number) who seemed more slanted.

Along the same lines, I think most endorsers chose their brand carefully and feel it is the best choice for them. No pro wants to play a second-rate horn, so at the very least you can generally assume they think the one they play is a good pro instrument. However, I have seen a few cases where a player is convinced to change brands for promotional or monetary reasons. In the instances I'm familiar with, the player switched from one good brand to another, but is seems obvious that the switched-to brand was not their first choice, all else being equal.

This may come as a surprise to some readers, but I would not be quick to "blame" someone for doing so. I thoroughly understand the rationale. In my own life I have chosen for personal and family reasons to not travel to perform as much as I might otherwise. Consequently, I have less need to be concerned that a company will support me if I wish to perform in far-away venues dozens of times a year. But if I wished to get out there and "set the world on fire" most of the year, I might need to think about establishing a relationship with a company that has deep pockets.

My own philosophy on endorsements is that I want to play the horn that I truly feel is best; therefore, I can endorse it without hesitation. Every time I have the chance, I play-test other brands. As I do so, my goal are:
  • see if I like it better than mine
  • find out what its good qualities are
  • find out what its weaknesses are
If I find myself wondering if this new horn is better than mine overall, I would probably try to arrange a longer test. If the longer test revealed that it is a better horn, then I would work on switching.

I have never had a "contract" with a company to play their instrument forever or even for a set time. As such I am not bound to play a horn I feel is second best. I played Besson starting in college and for most of my days in The U.S. Coast Guard Band. In 1980 I became a Besson artist, which continued until about 1990. During those years I was naturally happy to share the reasons I chose Besson, but I was also candid about the weaknesses as well, mostly the intonation issues. I would sometimes even share which brands I thought had the best intonation. But having said that I would explain that I stayed with Besson because it had the sound I wanted, and that a horn with better intonation could not sound the same way for me.

In 1989 I tested a Sterling and became interested in its qualities. Then around 1990 I became a Sterling artist because I thought it had the kind of sound I wanted as well as somewhat better intonation and response. In addition, it seemed like Sterling was listening to players and improving the horn, while at the same time Besson was not showing as much interest. Over the years I have been playing and discussing Sterling, I gladly shared why I like it, but I also freely discussed the positive qualities of other brands. My goal, as it was with Besson, was to get folks to give it a serious try. Then players can make up their own minds about what to finally buy.

In most cases, when you talk to a player who endorses a brand, you can get a good feel for what they like about it. Some will even talk about the relative strengths of other brands and give you a sense of how they see the balance of qualities among the competitors. But, as I said, any player has a bias. Make it your job to gather as many of these subjective opinions as possible, then try some horns!

In a related area, you may have discovered the intonation graphs I have on the site. These are not there to sell you on a brand or discourage you from a brand. They are my honest take on how well in tune each horn plays. I have a long process I use to try to build non-biased numbers, and I feel what I show you is accurate, especially regarding the relative sharpness/flatness of different notes. The amount they are sharp or flat may vary with the player, but in almost all cases if I find a note is sharp, you will not find that it is flat.

I don't have all brands represented in the graphs simply because I have not had sufficient "quality time" with other brands to be sure I could produce accurate graphs. But the ones that are there are as accurate as I could make them. The Besson Sovereign graph, for example, was made when I played a Besson Sovereign. I shared the results with the company's designers so they could have more information about their design. In fact, I have shared most of these graphs with the corresponding companies to help them improve the breed. I feel it's better for all of us when each company gets better; competition drives improvement!

But back to the main topic!
  • You should never buy a horn on just one player's endorsement unless you have absolutely no chance to try horns yourself.
  • You should not assume your favorite player will have the best opinion for your needs in a horn.
  • You should not assume that a player's opinion is hopelessly tainted because of their endorsement arrangement.
  • You should not necessarily think you must be wrong if you like a different horn than one recommended to you by someone you respect. You are the one who will be playing it and your opinions are probably perfectly valid.
Regardless of the likelihood of encountering a bias here and there, talk to lots of people and gather lots of opinions. The most valuable "take-away" of these conversations is that you will get some ideas of the kind of things to look and listen for.

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