Roger Voisin & Earl Gaar: A Users Manual for the 4-Valve C/D Trumpet

In today’s blog post, I will be sharing with you all an unpublished typescript of a “users manual” on the 4-valve C/D trumpet, as well as some of my thoughts and findings on this write-up. With the help and permission of Dr. Earl Gaar, I have been able to put together a short blog post on this rare informing composition. I hope you enjoy this read as much as I did!

*** DISCLAIMER: I am not and will not take credit for any of the articles that are written by the primary authors following this disclaimer. These articles are posted by my having received permission from one or both of the authors listed in the main article. ***


At the turn of the century, the greatest school of trumpet playing of all time was at the National Conservatory in Paris, the legions of great players it produced are now legends. Legendary players that graduated from the National Conservatory in Paris include Maurice André, Daniel Bonade, and Philippe Gaubert, as well as several well-renowned composers such as Claude Debussy, Hector Berlioz, Georges Bizet, Darius Milhaud, Erik Satie, Maurice Ravel, and Camille Saint-Saëns. Heading that department was a Professor Merri Franquin. It was around this time that the modern trumpet as we know it was coming into its own, a subject in which Franquin had a keen interest. During this time, the firm of Jerome Thibouville-Lamy had a monopoly on providing brass instruments to the Conservatory and the Army. Franquin began working with this firm to introduce new prototype instruments and in 1905 began working on a four-valve trumpet, the fourth valve being an ascending valve putting the instrument in the key of D instead of C. This essentially is a double trumpet such as modern French horns are “double” French horns. A five-valve prototype was also developed, having the normal three pistons and two pistons at right angles, one above and one below the second valve slide. One piston was ascending to D, and the other descending to either A, B, or Bb, depending on how far you pulled the slide. Mastery of a complicated fingering chart along with the instrument being heavy and difficult to handle were factors that never led to its acceptance, but the four-valve model became very accepted. In 1916 the unprecedented happened where this instrument took eight first prizes at the conservatory, something unheard of (back then one had to win a prize in order to graduate!).

This instrument enjoyed popularity for several reasons. It is a real C trumpet in the true French tradition, with a bright sound, smaller bore, and smaller bell. The sound is focused, making the playing of extremely soft or loud passages easier. The fourth valve negates the necessity of heaving to pull slides to “get the notes in tune”. Out-of-tune notes are played on the D side which are in tune. Also, difficult fingering is simplified with the fourth valve.

Unfortunately, two factors prevented this instrument from being widely adopted. One is that most of the prize winners were killed during the first world war. Secondly, those who survived the war could not find work. There were no “steady gigs” in Paris at this time, everyone freelanced. Established players looked at this instrument as some kind of “secret weapon” and if you showed up to the gig with one of these, you were blackballed.

Around 1928, the monopoly for the Conservatoire passed from Thibouville to Couesnon. Couesnon indeed made some copies of these instruments, both with piston valves, and also rotary valve assemblies which were added to their D trumpet. We have seen examples of both of these instruments, and their playing characteristics are clearly inferior to the original Thibouville. They were custom made and obviously in very small numbers, and never used professionally.

Around 1956, the senior author (Roger Voisin) acquired two four valvers and one five valver from widows of former prize winners, and exclusively used the four valvers as the principal trumpeter of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

*** To read more on the side-topic pertaining to modern five-valve trumpets, check out the 5-valve C Trumpet by David R. Hickman and Blackburn Trumpets, as well as The Five-Valve C Trumpet: History, Design, and Advantages by Bryan C. Ewing. ***

Around the early 1960s, the Thibouville firm finally closed under M. Acoulon, and the tooling for the brasswinds was sold to Milliens, 14 rue Crespin du Gast. A collaborative effort was undertaken between Milliens and Roger Voisin to reproduce these instruments, but in spite of using original tooling, most of these were unsatisfactory. The main business of the Milliens factory is making Bugles for the French Army and making a line of student instruments, which it continues to this day.

As the original Thibouvilles were made in extremely small numbers, obtaining an original was essentially impossible, and several firms attempted to make modified copies. In the early 1970s, Bill Tottle of Boston, MA worked with BSO trumpeter Armando Ghitalla to produce custom-built four-valve instruments. Essentially this was a Bach C trumpet with a Bb leadpipe, slides cut to D, a 238 bell cut to D, and a German rotary valve inserted on the tuning slide which was cut. Giardinelli also was producing similar instruments to custom order. Schilke, in the early 1980s, produced several instruments with a fourth piston valve, but on a modern valve block with a large bore and with all four pistons parallel to one another.

Schilke also custom modified a Bach D trumpet with a fourth rotary valve on the tuning slide with a tuning bell conversion for the author (Earl Gaar). Though these instruments had the advantage of a fourth valve, they essentially had the playing characteristics of a Bb trumpet, not of a real French C trumpet.  Interestingly, we know of numerous people who have contacted the Bach factory (including the authors) to try to have a faithful reproduction made, and everyone has been turned down. For further information, the reader is directed to the publication Ascending Trumpets by Wilfredo Cardoso.

In the summer of 1994, we approached Mr. Zig Kanstul of Los Angeles to see if he would make a reproduction of an original Thibouville. After a long discussion, he was provided with an original Thibouville serial number 18305, and we feel that he has produced a copy that plays like an original (actually better since computer technology certainly made this task easier, as a computer can look at the fourth valve and then direct machines to make an exact duplicate. We were also impressed that he measured the bell every 1/1000th. of an inch when making a new mandrel, as we insisted on having the original bell which is matched to the bore.


Many players have been wowed by the way these instruments play, but have been dissuaded from playing them because they “didn’t understand the fourth valve”. Also, many players have tried to play these instruments cold “on stage”, only to fall flat on their faces, and never try the instrument again.

Though this instrument can play in D, it is not a D trumpet it is a C trumpet; it was never meant to be played in straight D. Before trying to play the instrument in public, we feel that around six months of familiarity with the instrument is necessary so that one is secure in the fingerings. And to this end, a thorough mastery in transposition is necessary.

The easiest way to become familiar with the instrument is to play the etudes, solo pieces, excerpts, etc., that one is familiar with on this instrument except to begin to incorporate the fourth valve for certain notes always. We always use the fourth valve for the low D (open with the fourth valve depressed), high G# (second and fourth valve depressed), and high A (open with the fourth valve depressed). These notes are always bad on the C trumpet and are always good on the D! Sometimes the high E is played on the D side. After that, then one encountering difficult fingering passages, will soon find that the most difficult ones are always easier on the D side. With the high notes, we don’t know if it is the instrument or if it is psychological, but for instance, in playing the high A, we play a G with the fourth valve down, we think we are just playing a G (which is easier on tired lips) and it just comes out a great sounding A! In the following pages, we have provided some well-known excerpts/audition pieces for which the benefits of having a fourth valve will readily be appreciated. We strongly believe that as trumpet players we need to have every edge and trick in the book to get the notes out, and the Thibouville (copy) is one of our best tricks!


Before playing the instrument, for maximum benefit, it must be tuned correctly. If not, one won’t be playing it with anyone else for very long. This is somewhat a difficult matter as one is actually tuning two different instruments, then matching them to one another. There are many methods, but the following is the one to which we recommend:

1. Pull the main tuning slide out about 3/16th. of an inch.

2. Pull the fourth valve slide out about 5/16th. of an inch.

3. Pull the first valve slide out about 5/16th. of an inch.

4. Pull the third valve slide out about 5/8th. of an inch.

5. Leave the second slide in all the way, either if using the D slide or the slide cut for C.

6. One can then individually tune the first and third valve slides either with a strobe or with one’s ears.

7. Once that is done, then match up the C with the D side comparing an A on the C side vs. A on the D side (open with fourth valve depressed) and adjust the fourth valve slide accordingly.

8. Tune the overall instrument to the concert pitch with the main tuning slide.

We prefer the instrument with the second valve slide cut for D,  although Kanstul has made slides cut for C for the second valve. Which one you use really is a matter of preference.


ROGER VOISIN, is one of the most respected names in the trumpet business. Born in Angers, France, he owed to America at an early age when his father, Rene Voisin joined the Boston Symphony in 1928. Roger’s teachers besides his father were Marcel Larousse and Georges Mager. He caught Arthur Fiedler’s ear while playing bugle calls for the audience at the Boston Esplanade and in 1935 was invited to join the Boston Symphony by Serge Koussevitzky. He was assistant first/third trumpet with Georges Mager until his retirement in 1951 when he became principal trumpet of both the Boston Symphony and the Boston Pops. He is credited with making the first recordings of and championing baroque trumpet music. He founded the Boston Symphony Brass group and was a founding member of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players. Formerly head of the trumpet department at the New England Conservatory, upon his retirement from the Boston Symphony in 1973, he became Professor and Chairman of the Department of Brass, Percussion, and Woodwinds at Boston University. He also continues as a faculty member of the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood where he teaches trumpet, solfege, and coaches chamber music.

EARL GAAR, was born in Louisville and is a Tanglewood alumnus. Including Roger Voisin, former teachers include Leon Rapier and Robert Grocock. He received a B.M. in music performance from Boston University and an M.D. from the University of Louisville. He currently resides in Louisville, where in addition to having an active private surgical practice, he is a clinical assistant professor of Surgery at the University of Louisville and Louisville V.A. Medical Center. He is a founding member, the principal trumpet, and music director of The Top Brass.

Michele Chapman, Horn — Earl Gaar, Trumpet — John Gutermuth, Tuba — Jerry Pharr, Trombone — Jeff Staten, Trumpet


After reading through the historical content pertaining to four-valve trumpets, it has drawn me closer to further understanding the refinements involved with the overall design of the instrument. Not to mention, the significant features and advantages of the four-valve trumpet and its design definitely piqued my interest and got me thinking of all the possibilities that can be accomplished playing- or performing-wise.

When talking specifically about modernized designs of “double-keyed” instruments, the main thought that pops into my mind is the double French horn. The modernized design that we see with many manufactured French horns today is in a “double-keyed” configuration—that being the main key of F and then the second key of Bb. In the case of the four-valve C/D trumpet, it allows for it to sound primarily in the key of D and then in the key of C when actuating the fourth valve, thus making the four-valve trumpet a “double-keyed” instrument. Unfortunately, as mentioned above in the main article, this fell quickly out of favor after the Great War due to certain standards—showing up to gigs with a four-valve trumpet would have led to a quick rejection by others because it was viewed as being a “secret weapon”. Folks can also argue that the extra weight of a 4th valve assembly being added onto the trumpet is not a long-term benefit to the player.

However, some “double-keyed” trumpet designs that have become widely accepted within the realm of trumpet playing include the popular P5-4(BG) and P7-4 four-valve piccolo trumpets made by Schilke Music Products. What folks may not know about these piccolo trumpets is that Schilke offers an additional, shorter fourth-valve slide that can change the key of the instrument from concert A down to concert G while using the A pipe and then actuating the fourth-valve with the shorter fourth-valve slide installed. Of course, there are probably several other piccolo trumpet makers that offer this same add-on as a nice feature to their overall design. This setup, like on the Schilke P5-4(BG) or P7-4, works very well on demanding pieces like Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major, BWV 1047, Mvt. I – Allegro, for example.

Playing a four-valve trumpet certainly requires some put-in time and practice to effectively master the fingerings—both standard and alternative fingerings in both keys. Depending on which key you are playing in on the four-valve trumpet, either for an entire piece or for particular notes in a passage, having the right fingerings down for any complicated notes is crucial when it comes to playing in-tune with the trumpet section—and most importantly with the rest of the ensemble. Many individuals are taught about the importance of transposition, the four-valve trumpet can provide trumpeters a “transposing bypass” when having to perform on difficult orchestral passages, solo pieces, etudes, or other types of trumpet literature. As it is still mostly a rarity to see a four-valve trumpet “out in the wild” today, we have many opportunities now to acquire one—though they are quite expensive—with the help of better-advanced technologies and more skilled laborers that can create them.

  • Voisin, R. L., & Gaar, E. (1994). A Users Manual for the Four Valve C/D Trumpet. N.p.: Unpublished typescript.*
    • * Republished with permission from Earl Gaar (06/12/2022)
  • Hickman, D. R., & Trumpets, B. (2014). 5-valve C Trumpet. In Hickman Music Editions. Retrieved from
  • Ewing, B. C. (2016, December). The Five-Valve C Trumpet: History, Design, and Advantages. In Arizona State University. Retrieved from
  • Schilke Music Products, Inc. (2022). Instrument Catalog (pp. 8-9). Melrose Park, IL: Schilke Music Products.

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