Harrelson Trumpets is a custom trumpet manufacturer based out of Denver, Colorado. As the only trumpet manufacturer that produces many of their parts on a CNC machine, Harrelson Trumpets has become widely recognized as one of the top custom instrument manufacturers in the world. Harrelson Trumpets are manufactured using a technology called Standing Wave Efficiency (SWE). Put simply, SWE Mod Kits reduce energy loss in the instrument, thus increasing efficiency. This translates to playing an instrument with less effort, improved attacks, flexibility, slotting, endurance and dynamics.
Jason Harrelson is the founder and owner of Harrelson Trumpets. He has been researching and applying SWE technology since 1993, both in the lab and real world playing situations. As of 2017, Harrelson has personally built more than 800 unique trumpet designs and 1,200 individual trumpets. We spoke with Harrelson about his history as an entrepreneur, how CNC machining changed the way he worked, and more.
Tell us about how you started Harrelson Trumpets and some of the products you manufacture.
I started out modifying my own trumpet when I discovered it didn’t play as well as my friend’s trumpet. I wondered why my friends with the same brand of trumpet could hit certain notes more easily or make a more beautiful tone. So, it started off as something I was doing for myself. Fast forward many years and I sold a trumpet I had modified that was collecting dust in a closet. I soon realized there is a huge market for custom trumpets that play easier. I bought old horns at pawn shops or music stores and modified and sold them for a few years, but that approach was a lot of work. Every trumpet manufacturer uses different bore and thread sizing. I was constantly reverse engineering each and every modification I did. So, the decision was made to come out with a line of instruments that we built from the ground up utilizing the physics principals I’d learned in my physics program in college. Many years of research, development and hard work were invested to produce the most technologically advanced trumpets available in the world. We have extended the application of our “Science Meets Sound” model into a series of accessories that improve the efficiency of other brand trumpets as well. We offer a fully modular 5MM mouthpiece, mod kits, and a variable gap receiver, just to name a few. We are launching several new products in the near future that also apply science and machining in an industry that has been unchanged for hundreds of years.
What made you get into machining?
Machining was a natural progression. Most of my designs are not possible with traditional fabrication techniques so precision machining was the logical next step. CNC machines were a necessity in allowing us to prototype and eventually put into production designs that revolutionized the industry. We are the only trumpet manufacturer in the world that produces our tuning slides, bell crooks and leadpipes (as well as most other parts) on a CNC Machine.
As someone who was self-taught in CNC Machining, what was your biggest hurdle?
Well, I think learning so many different machining and fabrication processes is the biggest challenge. We use modified machines to achieve our end goal. Most of our processes have required specialty tooling such as spindle speeders up to 90,000 rpm to create the high detail features and artwork that looks almost like they were a coin struck by a die.
What is your favorite part of this profession?
Problem solving. Finding solutions. Helping others raise their standards musically while incorporating science-based solutions.
You use a lot of Harvey Tool products in your shop. How have Harvey Tool products impacted your overall shop performance?
When we first started using them, Harvey Tool was the only small tool manufacturer for miniature end mills that I could find online. The wide range of tooling available from Harvey has allowed us to create fine detailed artwork in components that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. It’s a large part of our business to offer custom art and machining. I don’t think I’ve ever had to order anything custom because they’ve always had something that worked right off the shelf for my applications.
Tell us about your favorite project that Harvey Tools helped to create.
Any of our custom Summit Art Trumpets would be included in that category. We do a special Satchmo Trumpet every year and donate it to French Quarter Festivals in New Orleans. These are fun projects because they really let us flex our artistic and machining muscles. Some of the Satchmo Trumpets would not have been possible if it weren’t for Harvey Tool.
If you were stranded on a desert island with only one Harvey Tool, which would it be, and why?
I couldn’t live with only one! I would choose the catalog so I could dream of getting off the island and back into the shop!
You have been an entrepreneur for your entire life. What do you think was the major reason you were able to make Harrelson Trumpets your full-time job?
I have been inventing and trying my hand at different businesses my whole life. I think that the reason Harrelson Trumpets was and is a success is two-fold. We have put countless long and hard hours into learning and mastering our trade. Hard work really is a major factor in our success. Beyond that, I love music, science and inventing solutions for my customers. I have made it my life’s work to create a superior trumpet and this is an endless quest that keeps me motivated. It is very rewarding work. There is great satisfaction in delivering an heirloom quality instrument that is scientifically superior to all others and brings joy to the musician making music with it for generations to come.
If you could give one piece of advice to a new machinist ready to #PlungeIntoMachining, what would it be?
Ask other professionals in your field for help. I assist other machinists daily via email, social media, phone, and in person. Seek out mentors and learn from their experiences as often as possible. Most of what I have learned was a culmination of reading, trying, failing, reading again, trying again, and eventually finding what works. But today, we have resources like YouTube, Instagram, and online or in-person classes held by private individuals rather than full fledged college courses. You can learn as fast as you want through these non-traditional avenues!
Is there anything else you would like to share with the In The Loupe community?
Loyalty to a brand IS very important and almost always results in greater productivity and success. I mention this because many people assume the cheapest tool is the right tool. In reality, knowing your tooling is worth every penny and paying a premium over cheap imports is the wise decision. Working with tooling from the same manufacturer day after day and year after year provides the end user with benefits including reliable performance expectations, accuracy, quality and availability. To this end, be loyal to the best tooling manufacturer you can afford!
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Photos courtesy of Harrelson Trumpets