The traditional use of wooden mutes in classical orchestras is quite popular in European operas and helps to create that unique silvery subtle tone that is so useful in early nineteenth-century opera music. They’re particularly useful when being played in early symphonies, when often a fairly light piano tone is needed. The problem with using wood windlasses (as they are also known) in later symphonies is that it’s quite easy to get them stuck on the ivory keys. It’s not an issue if you just keep covering the key with your fingers: the key will eventually slide out of the wooden muff. This is a common problem with young students learning classical string instruments: they’re so focused on making the music as beautiful as possible, they often forget that this is about tone.
The main problem with using wooden mutes in later symphonies is that they can become quite hot from all the friction caused by the hammers as well as the air from the air valve above the keys. That’s why brass players often prefer to use metal bodywinds instead, because they require no maintenance and they don’t get too hot. But the problem is also overcome by the fact that metal bodies provide a much more solid tone. It is these noises that give the musicians the sense of depth and distance that makes a brass instrument so versatile.
Because of the benefits of metal and brass players using straight mowers over wooden mutes in later symphonies, manufacturers have come up with a solution: a “ringed” or “coloured” inner lining on some models. The inner lining is made of steel attached to a wooden body, so the two cannot be separated – this means that the user always ends up using the same instrument, even though he uses two different models. If you’re not using a straight mute, you could use a gundell, a baroque instrument with a straight body. Guldell players use a steel-made inner liner, while baroque players use wood.
Another advantage that the thicker wood gives is that it makes the trumpet sound better when you’re playing in a busy or fast ambience. In such cases, I would recommend you to use wooden mutes. On the other hand, if you find the constant vibration irritating, then you might consider the steel-made or brass-made mutes. Both models are fitted with metal flanges on the inside of the mouthpiece, which stop the vibrations and keep the intonation constant, but they do not give the feeling of constant rumble.
Another thing I want to point out is the difference between the regular wooden mutes and the much more complex but less common horn mutes. The difference is purely cosmetic: in a wind instrument, the whistle is always at the front and there is no lip, so the open air intonation is always achieved by blowing onto the nose. In a brass instrument, on the contrary, the trumpet is always at the back (in case you’ve noticed – if a loud sound is made, it comes from the trumpet mouth piece). This means that the player must learn intonation techniques for both brass instruments and wooden ones. A complicated whistle call needs a sophisticated intonation pattern that can be learnt only with lots of practise.
The main idea is to learn to intonate the notes correctly, so you need to practice until you get the right shape of the mouthpiece. If you use plastic mouthpieces you will make intonation more difficult because the soft edges make it difficult to seal the mouthpiece when you blow into it. You can achieve this by taking apart a cheap plastic musical instrument, such as a marimba, and trying to assemble it again and reassemble it. It’s better if you can play without the mouthpiece, but then the mouthpiece must be perfect.