Trumpet playing engineer applies unique skills to develop
high-performance mouthpiece line
If you’re a trumpet playing mechanical engineer with a passion for music, it’s hard to find a job where you get to apply both skill sets. That’s why Peter Pickett had no choice but to found his own company, Pickett Brass. As a music and engineering student at Virginia Tech, he applied his unusual expertise combination to produce an exhaustive analysis of trumpet acoustics. Numerous theories about brasswind design had been put forth over a period of centuries, and rather than simply accept them, Pickett modeled and tested them scientifically. In the process, he developed an acute understanding of how variables like bore shapes and inconsistencies, and bell shape affect performance.
After graduating in 1998, Pickett took a “real” mechanical engineering job, but continued to study brasswind acoustics in his spare time. In 1999, he bought a metal lathe, and for fun, made several heavy bottom caps for his trumpet. As he recalls, “The goal was purely aesthetic—to change the look of my horn from traditional to a subtly different modern look.” He succeeded on the aesthetic front, but with “too much mass in the wrong places,” the caps didn’t enhance the performance of his horn. But he enjoyed making them so much, he continued refining his designs until he had created trim parts—top caps, stems, and buttons—that really made his horn play and look better.
Other trumpet players he encountered immediately noticed his custom trim parts and began asking for them. In response, he began turning out sets in different weights and styles, ultimately creating something that had never been available before: a complete and unified trumpet trim set that was not only completely customizable but also functional and visually beautiful. By 2003, demand for the trim parts had increased to the point where he incorporated Pickett Brass, acquired a sophisticated CNC metal working lathe, and set up a production facility in Lexington, Kentucky.
Pickett found a growing market for his trim pieces among serious players around the world. He also caught the attention of several brasswind manufacturers, and before long, he was doing OEM work. From machining trim parts to exacting tolerances, it was only logical to expand into making Pickett-branded mouthpieces.
In launching his mouthpiece line, Pickett sought the counsel of Vince DiMartino, an acclaimed trumpeter whose résumé includes stints with the Lionel Hampton Band, Chuck Mangione, and Clark Terry, and solo appearances with major symphonies across the country. The collaboration resulted in the initial trumpet mouthpiece line that Pickett says, “is optimal for a large percentage of brass players.” Pickett continued his “player-centric” approach, developing mouthpieces for leading players including Allen Vizzutti, Wycliffe Gordon, Doc Severinsen, Roger Ingram, Ko Yamamoto, and Mark Wood.
Pickett offers a number of signature mouthpiece models, but the product line includes dozens of different models for trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn, French horn, and trombone. Peter Pickett says the product line, available with either a silver or gold plate finish, includes a mouthpiece for almost every conceivable playing style. For the specialized player though, he’s happy to do custom work.
Pickett credits much of the success of his mouthpieces and trim parts to his unusual background. He’s the rare individual who can quickly translate a brass player’s comments about backbore, cup size and shape, and leadpipe gap into production specs. High manufacturing quality standards and prompt deliveries also play an important role. Pickett Brass mouthpieces are design with in-house custom CAD software, shaped with absolute consistency on precision computer-controlled lathes, and then hand finished to a level usually associated with fine jewelry. The refined, advanced manufacturing process allows for quick order turnaround for individual mouthpieces. For OEM customers, it makes it possible to produce small batches at extremely competitive prices. “We work very hard at being a company that’s easy to do business with,” he says.
With a comprehensive website, a custom iPhone and Android app that helps players make a mouthpiece selection, and an expanding marketing budget, Pickett Brass is finding new adherents around the world. Peter Pickett reports that sales have steadily increased every year since 2003. Plans in 2015 call for expanding in three areas: Acquiring new dealers, new OEM customers, and introducing a new tuba mouthpiece line. Pickett is acquiring new dealers around the world to make Pickett mouthpieces more accessible. Given Pickett’s manufacturing efficiency and OEM capabilities, it’s easier than ever for many mouthpiece brands looking to source their mouthpieces from a new company to easily transition. “Our trombone mouthpieces have been well received, so we’re confident the tuba line will be a success,” he says.
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