McKinney at Hotel Opera, Oslo (Nov. 28-2004)
An interview with Leigh McKinney
When Pan Lydstudio in Norway started as
dealers for Eclipse Trumpets, the maker, Leigh McKinney, came over from
England to present his instruments. I met him at the exhibit in Oslo
and we had a long conversation about his design philosophy, his
background, etc. It was so interesting that I asked him for a more
formal interview. A few days later we did this (via email):
Before we start talking about
the trumpets, could you tell us a bit about your background as a repair
man and instrument maker?
At the age of
16, back in 1987, I started to work for a British company called
Sterling Musical Instruments. I didn't come from a musical family
background but was good working with my hands and decided that making
brass musical instruments sounded interesting.
I decided to go and work as a teacher in Moss, Norway and worked there with
brass students for 2 years before moving on to work for Meinl Instruments
in Marknuekirchen, Germany. I returned to England
to again work for Sterling but felt that the time was right to
start my own company.
Yianni and you started a repair business in 1999. Tell us about that?
John to join me in starting a new company around July of 1999. We were
both working for Sterling at the time but both had our own ideas of how
to make instruments.
In November 1999 we
left Sterling for the last time to set up our own business First Class
Brass Ltd with £800 in our pockets.
What made you decide to start making pro level trumpets in 2001?
always my intention to manufacture trumpets, cornets and flugels from
Back when I was 19, I
had many ideas for a new trumpet but was not taken very seriously, so I
kept the ideas drawn out on paper for a time in the future when I could
maybe build them myself, 13 years later I did.
Was it a difficult start?
first 6 months in business were terrible! We simply sat by the
telephone waiting for it to ring, hoping that someone wanted some
repairs done or anything really.
After this time we started to get regular repair work from all over
England and now do repairs for customers from all over Europe and as
far as Korea, Australia and the USA.
Ok, let's start talking about the trumpets:
Leigh holding a
trumpet, showing the main tuning slide.
The first thing you notice when you see an Eclipse trumpet is perhaps
the placement of the main tuning slide. Why did you move it?
I am a
firm believer in air flow. I wanted to get as
much of the players energy and power into the valve section as quickly
and economically as possible. I have always thought that to have the
tuning slide at the traditional point wastes so much energy and changes
the air column which then affects the intonation or slotting of the
Placing ours at the back of the horn (after the valve section) allows
our air column to be undisturbed by steps on the inside of the leadpipe
and bend so that it is free flowing and creates fantastic response and
On the trumpet shown in the picture there is also some extra metal on
the bend. Why is that?
the XLR or Xtra Large Red Model.
The bell diameter of this jazz horn model is very big (140mm diameter)
The bell is also much thicker on this model (0.7mm) which makes the
instrument unbalanced and what we call bell heavy. We put a
counterweight at the back for balance as we believe that the horn must
also feel good and balanced in the players hands as well as sounding
This is the only Eclipse model that has this counterbalance.
Tell us about some of the custom options.
player visits our workshop and orders a horn they can have the finger
rings in any position they want to suit their hands. Traditional
waterkeys are a free option instead of amado's if the customer prefers
those. The finish options are endless. If a person asks for a certain
design then we try our best to do that for them. We also personalise
some customers horns with their initials cut from 5mm thick brass
sheert by hand.These are soldered into the horn instead of the bottom
bracing and look very nice.
You showed me how you place the brackets and how important it is to
find what you call the "sweet spot". What about that?
is correct, we spent many many months just moving around the different
bracing on our horns maybe only 1mm at a time to find the place where
they gave us the best performance of sound.
bracing even a little can either badly affect a trumpet or vastly
improve it, so we experimented to find the best positions for our
On the exhibit, we had the great pleasure of hearing two great English
jazz players, Noel Langley and Henry Lowther. What about classical
players using Eclipse?
Yellow models are a favourite with classical players.
Ian Balmaine is principal trumpet with the Royal Opera in London, he
plays the Eclipse ML bore C trumpet.
What is the current product line?
For the Bb trumpets, main models are:
Medium Yellow or Red
Large Yellow or Red Bell
XLR (Xtra Large Red)
Specialist Bell models:
Medium Yellow Classic
Medium heavy Yellow
Medium heavy Red
Medium Yellow or
Medium Red Bell
Yellow, Red or
A shorter more
cornet length Bb trumpet with a large red bell
Flugelhorn (Audun Waage uses
what are some of your future plans?
development at this time are the Large Bore C trumpets and the new
Eclipse Large Bore Cornets.
We will in the future build a 4 valve piccolo trumpet, but that will
not be looked at until well into 2006. Other than this we plan to
continue making our instruments with quality and care, we will also
continue to expand our repair business further.
More info about Eclipse Trumpets here: