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The trombetto is a one-of-a-kind brass instrument, 10 inches long, weighing almost 5 pounds with a playable range of a full 6 chromatic octaves. It was conceived in 1980 and commissioned in 1990 by Dr. Nelson E. Harrison, a former trumpet and baritone horn player turned trombonist. It was constructed from an Amati brand pocket cornet fitted with a trombone mouthpiece which gives it the timbre of a velvety-rich French horn/fluglehorn combination. The final version was custom-crafted using additional tubing attached to a rare, antique 4th valve for the purpose of completing the horn’s lower registry capability, by brass technician, Ted Weir at the former Brass & Woodwind Shop in Carnegie, Pennsylvania.

The 4th valve allows the player to fill the chromatic gaps in the lower octaves very similarly to the way an F-attachment on a bass trombone works. In the middle octaves the 4th valve permits trills on any note since it barely changes the pitch at all. It also simplifies the most difficult trill of all for a trumpet – concert A ~ B - below the treble staff. The 4th valve also can be used to play concert middle C with truer pitch and fuller timbre than it standard fingering of valves 1 and 3.

In the highest registers the valves are not as important but it requires exceptional embouchure development. It has been demonstrated to play melodies in the highest octave (up to concert F two octaves above the treble staff) and chromatically down to concert Eb, one octave and one-third below the bass staff.

The instrument has not been patented; the reasoning is that everything imaginable has been tried in the evolution of modern brass instruments in the 18th and 19th centuries in order to wind up, through the process of elimination, with the instruments of today's standard symphony orchestra. An example of such an early instrument was even called a trombetto ( although the choice of the name was purely coincidental and not based on this instrument.

The trombetto blends well in harmony with other horns and it adapts well to the application of mutes and plungers for expressive effects. Electrified or played into a microphone it can produce an amazing range of color and dynamics.

The trombetto is played by Dr. Nelson Harrison on the CD “Schism & Blues,” recorded by The Blues Orphans of Pittsburgh, PA in 2003. No other recordings are presently available.

  • Note: Ted Weir presently works in the instrument repair department of Volkwein’s Music in Pittsburgh, PA.

The trombetto can be heard on the following websites:

External websites:

For information about Nelson Harrison, his band, or where to see the Trombetto in person go to: