IMTS Insider

Digital Manufacturing Creates a Trumpet Triumph

Category: IMTS Network Mar 3, 2021

By Kathy Keyes Webster, AMT Exhibitions Content Manager – Correspondence

A trumpet player turned machinist upends traditional trumpet making with digital manufacturing

Jason wants the music industry to know that technology impacts performance.

Just as avid skiers, professional golfers, and NASCAR drivers rely on technology for peak performance, so should musicians. “World-class skiers don’t ski on 100-year-old skis, golfers no longer use wooden clubs, and race teams are constantly innovating,” says Jason Harrelson, Founder of Harrelson Trumpets. “Sports professionals and enthusiasts alike use technology to help them develop the most efficient and effective equipment for peak performance—even tweaking it for individual preferences.”

Mission: Truth in Technology
Jason’s quest to find the perfect pitch between science and sound began in the late 80s when he was a passionate yet struggling, trumpet player in the St. Olaf College band. While there, he had the chance to play a classmate’s trumpet. He instantly heard the better sound quality. “I felt I had been lied to by music teachers and band directors,” laughs Jason.

“Implementing the newest technology leads to success in creativity for production, efficiency, and profit. If I am profitable, then I can bring the price point down for my clients and offer trumpets to more clients.”
--Jason Harrelson, Founder, Harrelson Trumpets

For years, his music instructors told him:

  • “Ignore the equipment.”
  • “Material and design don’t matter.”
  • “Just keep practicing.”

But playing that better-quality instrument told him something different. He could feel he didn’t have to work as hard to produce beautiful notes.

Immediately, he endeavored to learn more about the physics of brass instruments. A natural tinkerer, Jason experimented in his college lab with an oscilloscope measuring the effects of weight, bend, bore, and bracing placement on the efficiency and tone quality of a trumpet.  He discovered that design and material quality mattered, greatly, proving to himself that science does affect sound. He felt compelled to share his findings with other musicians. “I felt called to disclose the truth to other trumpet players, who were struggling like I had,” says Jason. 

By exploring and learning manufacturing techniques, he was soon manufacturing precision-machined trumpets, using digital manufacturing methods such as 3D design software as well as Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines, which cut the brass material in accordance with the software.  

These tools allowed the design and production to be so precise that each instrument is truly a perfect artistic masterpiece. Word spread, and other musicians began to place trumpet orders with Jason. Jason left St. Olaf College to make trumpets full-time. Harrelson Trumpets was born.

Harrelson Trumpets: Where science meets sound
Nearly 30 years later, Jason operates Harrelson Trumpets in a 1,200-square-foot machine shop and a showroom in Denver, Colo., which includes the latest digital manufacturing machines and software. Two are InterTech 42-9LSS lathes featuring 17 static tools, nine live tools, sub spindle, and C-axis.

  • One is a Hurco VM20 upgraded with five 20,000 rpm BIG KAISER spindle speeders and two 80,000 rpm air speeders, which work with the automatic tool changer and allow Harrelson to machine very small artistic details into their trumpet components that would not be practical with standard 10,000 rpm spindles. The Hurco CNC has Renishaw tool and part probes, which save time on setups and are used for lights-out operation on longer production runs to check for tool breakage. “If a tool breaks, we have a back-up in the tool changer so the machine can continue making parts,” says Jason.
    • Another is a Quick-TECH lathe model TT-42, which can cut on both main and sub spindles simultaneously and has 50 percent faster spindle speeds. Several Ultimaker and MoonRay 3D printers, which allow Harrelson to create almost any shape that cannot be machined for prototyping, fixturing, workholding, and custom fit mouthpieces.
    • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printers are used to make fixtures, organizers, and retail packaging.
    • Digital Light projector (DLP) printers are used to produce finished parts for Harrelson’s modular mouthpiece system.
    • They are considering the HP Multi Jet Fusion printers for full production of trumpet accessories in nylon.

    Computer Aided Design (CAD), Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM), and Finite Element Analysis (FEA) software from Autodesk Fusion 360, and Inventor as well as Rhino3D, which help Jason's visions take shape and show whether a product will break or work the way it was designed.

    “Harrelson Trumpets is a forward-thinking manufacturer, who has gathered the latest manufacturing technology to push the limits of trumpet making to create innovations and tolerances that were once thought impossible,” says Stephen LaMarca, AMT Manufacturing technology analyst. “I am on cloud nine just thinking about the ways Harrelson incorporates digital manufacturing and what he is creating!” (AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology Is the owner and operator of IMTS – The International Manufacturing Technology Show, held every even numbered year in Chicago, Ill.)

    Clients’ goals come first
    Jason has further developed his production process with high-tech manufacturing software and equipment to help musicians play better and be even more successful as trumpet players. He listens to his clients’ goals and then designs trumpet parts on CAD/CAM software to very high tolerances—tweaking for comfort, flexibility, and efficiency.

    "More sound, less effort," is how Jason describes the gains experienced with his specially designed Standing Wave Efficiency technology that reduces energy loss—translating into playing with more power, range, endurance, playability, dynamics, and sound.

    Beyond the shop
    When Jason isn’t working with clients and designing trumpets, he’s either playing a variety of musical instruments or checking out the latest manufacturing technologies that may help him make even more and better trumpets. “I believe that those who adopt the earliest technology will be the most profitable,” says Jason. “Implementing the newest technology leads to success in creativity for production, efficiency, and profit. If I am profitable, then I can bring the price point down for my clients and offer trumpets to more clients.”

    For machining solutions, Jason keeps up with the latest machine tool technology and relies on representatives of several tool builders and distributors including: BIG KAISER, SCHUNK, Inc., REGO-FIX Tool Corporation, Kyocera SGS Precision Tools, Inc., Hurco Companies, Inc., and Quick-TECH. Jason attended IMTS 2016 and plans to visit IMTS 2022 to see the latest in digital manufacturing.

    Jason’s goal is to produce Harrelson products that further educate and facilitate improved performance for musicians.

    Want to know more about Harrelson Trumpets and Jason’s career path?
    Visit hear details of Jason’s musical journey, get a close-up look inside his machine shop, and find out how his technology helps musicians perform his or her best.

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