As one of the first people to buy a Heritage Cornet from Geneva I have been getting a lot of questions about the instrument from friends and acquaintances who haven’t had a chance to try one. I have given various answers in Facebook replies, so this review is an opportunity to put them down in one place. No cornet is perfect. Instrument design is always a compromise so I will tell you what I like about it and what I don’t like about it and come to a conclusion based on my needs and expectations. Just to be clear, I paid for this cornet myself and I am not being paid to do this review!
The Geneva Heritage was designed with Phillip McCann, who was previously a design consultant to Yamaha, and someone who really understands the cornet and the needs of brass band players.
Here is the official specification:
- Bore – 11.79mm (0.464″)
- Bell – 125mm (4.9″), Yellow Brass
- Lead Pipe – Yellow Brass
- Side Bows – Yellow Brass
- Triggers – 1st & 3rd triggers, with Mini Ball Release
- Valves – 3 Stainless Steel Piston Valves (Top Sprung)
- Inner Slides – Nickel Silver
- Outer Sliders – Yellow Brass
- Tuning Slide – Yellow Brass
Firstly, the instrument is really well made. The soldering and the plating is of the highest standard. I own instruments made by Schilke, Scherzer, Selmer and Bach. The Geneva is as well made as any of those, and exceeds them in some ways. The threads on the valve caps are really well machined and the threads themselves are big enough to reduce the risk of cross threading. This is very helpful as I have had problems getting Yamaha caps into the threads when I need to oil a valve in a hurry. The bracing is stress-less and in similar places to the bracing on the old Boosey and Hawkes sovereign cornets. The second valve slide has reinforcement so if the cornet is laid the wrong way down it will have some protection. Brass band instruments get heavier use than orchestral instruments – they do more playing, get used on marches, rattle around in bus boots and generally have a tougher life than their orchestral cousins. The Geneva Heritage is very robustly made and feels like it will take that level of wear.
The Heritage has triggers on the first and third slide and these are connected using ball and socket joints. This means you don’t need a screwdriver to take them off for cleaning, they just pop off. The valve buttons are made from silver plated metal and remind me of the ones used on some of the French Besson trumpets. If you have never played on plated buttons they are actually quite grippy and works as well as mother of pearl. There is a lyre box for marching, which some top end makers don’t fit to their cornets.
The valves have very tight tolerances. It came with a bottle of La Tromba T2 lite valve oil. Initially I cleaned the valves and applied Ultrapure standard. This is the valve oil I use on most of my instruments, but on this occasion it made the valves very sluggish so I cleaned them again and went back to the supplied La Tromba oil. I find this dries quite quickly so I am going to try the light version of Ultrapure when it runs out.
The bore size of 0.464″ is a little bit smaller than the Besson Prestige I was playing on but still a lot bigger than the older medium bore cornets and bigger than most large bore trumpets. Here is a comparison:
- .460 – B&H Sovereign M
- .462 – Bach L
- .463 – Schilke L
- .464 – Geneva Cornets (Symphony, Heritage, Cardinal)
- .466 – B&H Sovereign L
- .468 – Besson Prestige
Bore size is only part of the formula for making a great cornet and the wrap of the Heritage is somewhat looser than many cornets. The bend going into the third slide is much wider than most cornets, and the curves seem gentler. There is also a heavy ferrule at that joint which will no doubt dampen some of the vibrations in the area of the third valve which can affect intonation and slotting.
The mouthpiece receiver is machined to fit on top of the leadpipe. This means there is no mouthpiece gap. Some manufacturers do this by smoothing out the join between the two pieces, but this has been designed to fit together smoothly. What this means is there is no mouthpiece gap to be considered. There are also no mouthpieces that will “bottom out” in the receiver – or at least I can’t find any that do. The receiver tapers in and then smoothly out into the leadpipe. The leadpipe expands quite quickly for 7 or 8 cm and then more gradually for the rest of its length. I think it is the design of this part of the instrument that gives it it’s “compact tone”.
The supplied case can take a full set of mutes and has a compartment for holding music. It has a storage hole for one mouthpiece. The case is made by the Italian company Marco Magi. Previous Geneva cornets have had Jakob Winter cases. I am guessing that with Winter now being part of the same company as Besson they have decided to not be tied to them as a supplier. It is a quality case, and importantly it can hold an entire set of mutes. There are many cornet cases that can’t, including the Besson Prestige.
What I like about it
My goals when selecting a new instrument were:
- Finding something that played better in tune.
- Finding something that was less hard work to get my target sound from.
The Geneva Heritage has achieved both of those goals.
Firstly, tuning. The open partials on the Heritage cornet are really well in tune with each other. On my Heritage the three C’s in the normal cornet range are very in tune with each other. There is also a solid C above top C playable open. Not that brass band players need to be able to play up there, but it is another sign of good acoustic design. The other open partials are similarly close to each other.
Although it is smaller bore than a Besson it is still able to play a pedal scale down to low C, which is a sign of a well designed instrument. I do exercises in the pedal register as part of my practice routine and the Heritage can definitely get down there.
As with all cornets, the A above the stave is slightly sharp. I need to extend the first valve trigger a tiny amount to give me a bit of comfort when hitting it as an entry note. Some previous cornets I have owned didn’t like that note at all and on some instruments I have had to use third valve and then lip up. The bottom C sharp, D and low G need the normal amount of trigger extension. This is to be expected. In my experience, instruments that have a difficult A usually don’t need as much trigger on those other notes. This is probably the design compromise that causes the A to be extremely sharp in these instruments. The heritage needs a tiny amount of trigger on second space A depending how you land on the note. I find it normally doesn’t need any on the first line E. This will vary with players and depends on whether you play high on the pitch or low on the pitch. For reference, I play about a third from the bottom of each note slot which is probably where most people play.
Secondly, sound. The Heritage cornet plays with a very compact sound. It is easy to play softly and quietly on, but when you push it the sound really blooms in that way that cornets used to. It sounds bright but without a nasty edge. So when you play a march you get the the bright attack on the forte sections but you can get right down to a gentle pianissimo without it sounding pale. This might be down to the use of yellow brass throughout. A lot of modern cornet designs use red or gold brass which tends to reduce the upper harmonics in the sound.
I also play traditional jazz and this cornet has the agility to play in an ensemble without overpowering the other instruments. It can sit nicely behind a clarinet. I have tried my brass band mouthpiece, which gives a real 1920’s sound. It also works on a deeper bowl shaped mouthpiece to give that 1950s British revivalist sound. For information the bowl shaped mouthpiece I use for jazz is a combination of a Wick 3 trumpet top fitted to a Bach 6 cornet backbore. The top being opened out to match the #24 throat on the backbore.
What this shows is that the Heritage cornet has no set sound. It is easily manipulatable to fit your target sound. Some other cornets have less of a tone colour pallet and you can get a bit stuck with how their designer wants you to sound. The Heritage has greater possibilities for self expression through the music. At the same time it does fit with other cornets in a section. I have played it alongside current Besson, vintage Besson and Geneva Heritage cornets and it sits well in the section.
This brings up the issue of mouthpiece choice. Some cornets will either not play in tune on all mouthpieces or are difficult to use with others. I have tried a range of mouthpieces from a Wick 2 to some very small jazz mouthpieces in the Heritage and they have all worked in it. The Wick 2 feeling much tamer in this instrument than in most others. Every mouthpiece I have tried has fitted the receiver with no problems of it hitting something and not going in fully.
I am currently using a Wick 2, the mouthpiece I have mostly used for over 30 years, while experimenting with a Yamaha 16E and a GR 67#7. All of them have a good sound and there are no tuning issues with any of them.
The cornet has a very even response with the effort of going from one note to the next being pretty equal. There is no feeling of having uneven steps when you are ascending or descending a scale. This, combined with the even tuning makes intervals a lot easier to play.
I have noticed that since switching to the Geneva Heritage I have more stamina. I think this is mainly down to not having to fight the tuning of the instrument all the time. The bore size may be helping too. Generally, it is a much more relaxing experience to play on and I get to the end of a band rehearsal feeling I could keep playing rather than being totally out of lip.
What I don’t like about it
Very little. Every instrument is a compromise because we are playing equal temperament on lengths of tube that want to play with natural temperament. The only area where people might not like the Heritage is the sound and it’s dynamic range.
If your model of cornet sound is closer to a trumpet then you will find it hard to get that sound from the Heritage. Its just not built to do that. It also can’t play with the extreme volume that you get at the top end of the dynamic range on some cornets. However, I did compare it to an old medium bore sovereign and the Heritage was able to play louder. I suppose the question is: do we need to play that loudly in a brass band? Is fortissimo that loud and raucous? It is an issue of artistic interpretation. If you can play a proper pianissimo then this cornet has a wide enough dynamic range. A lot of cornets don’t really get that much louder at the top end anyway, the sound just spreads out and sounds bad.
I have some misgivings about the security of the case catches as they don’t always go fully down, or look full down even when they are (see photo). I always double check them as I use the shoulder strap. I wouldn’t want the lid opening and the cornet dropping out.
In conclusion I would say that the Geneva Heritage is well made, encourages good tone production, plays well in tune and is worth considering if you are looking for a professional level cornet.