Archived News Stories

Smith-Watkins Archived News Stories

This page contains our archived news stories. To view our more recent news, please visit our main news page.

Trooping the colour

We celebrate the Queen’s official birthday, and how better to do so that with a spectacular Trooping of the Colour!
Events begin at approximately 10.00am, with the fly-past at 1.00pm. Watch out for those Smith-Watkins trumpets again!

Smith-Watkins trumpets open the Jubilee concert in truly spectacular form!

Smith-Watkins trumpets opening the Jubilee concert in truly spectacular form!

Smith-Watkins Best New Arrangement or Composition Winner Announced

In November 2010, the US Open Brass Band Championships took place at the Norris Cultural Arts Center in St. Charles, Illionois. With Alan Morrison, David Morrison and Dr. Dale Lonis as adjudicators, competitions was fierce, and bands came from all over the world to compete. Smith-Watkins was pleased to sponsor the ‘Best New Composition or Arrangement’ section (prize $250), which was eventually won by an arrangement of ‘Give It One’ by the Brass Band of Central Florida, who went on to be crowned Grand Champions for 2010. What a result!

Website of the Month

Smith-Watkins website selected as ‘Website of the Month’ by Brass Band World, the leading online independent magazine for the brass instrument world.

Results for 2009 US Open Brass Band Championship

Winner of Smith Watkins prize for Best New Arrangement of Composition:
Foggy Day/Lee Harrelson, Fountain City Brass Band

Derek Watkins features in Sky advertisement.

Derek features in an advertisement for the Sky Arts Channel. To view the short video, click here

100% Smith-Watkins trumpets used in BBC Promenade Concert.

Four Smith-Watkins trumpets were played at the very successful BBC Promenade Concert on 1 August in the Royal Albert Hall. John Wilson and his hand-picked Orchestra celebrated 75 years of MGM musicals with songs from unforgettable movie classics, including The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St Louis, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, High Society, Gigi and Singin’ in the Rain.

Sky Advert featuring Derek Watkins

Sky Arts Advert featuring Derek Watkins

Derek Watkins is featured in the new advert for Sky Arts.

Smith-Watkins fanfare trumpets used in Wagner at the Royal Opera House

During May, Smith-Watkins fanfare trumpets were used in a recent series of performances of Lohengrin (music by Richard Wagner) at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London.

“the orchestral playing, whether from the pit, offstage or from the (Smith-Watkins fanfare) trumpets in a balcony box was so excellent under Semyon Bychkov’s guidance.” Dominic McHugh

Our new Tenor Horns reviewed.

We were delighted to see that our new tenor horn received a rave review in a recent edition of, where our instrument was awarded a staggering 91 points out of a possible 100. The reviewer was particular impressed by the quality – if you ‘want something that exudes the same type of quality as you do as a performer then you can’t get better’. His final judgement, with which we are very proud, was that our new tenor horn should be lauded as ‘a very exclusive instrument for a very exclusive type of player.’ You can’t say fairer that that!

Lee said:

If you want something that exudes the same type of quality as you do as a performer then you can’t get better.
The craftsmanship on show is outstanding, an instrument put together with hand made precision and attention to detail that would make Rolls Royce green with envy. Every last bit and bob is fine tuned to near perfection – and not a single bit of ‘bling’ gold to be seen for love nor money.
The overall performance plus points are huge – superbly engineered, blows like a dream, is pliable and elastic in the right hands, and can be moulded to suit very specific musical needs.

Tenor Horn

New product: Special ‘Soloist’ Cornet leadpipe for trumpet mouthpieces.

Smith-Watkins is delighted to announce the development of a novel interchangeable leadpipe for the ‘Soloist’ Cornet (Millennium Product, 2000). This leadpipe – which is available at the same price as a regular cornet leadpipe – will enable cornet players who double on trumpet to use the same mouthpiece for a quicker change of instrument.

Yorkshire Post Magazine Article.

A substantial article about Richard Smith and the Smith-Watkins instruments is to be published in Magazine of The Yorkshire Post on Saturday 31st January.

Blow me! There’s cornets in the cow shed

Published on Friday 30 January 2009 10:44

A SEARCH for a new trumpet brought Andy Middleton to rural North Yorkshire and the discovery of a world-renowned virtuoso.

Listen to the soundtrack of the latest James Bond movie Quantum of Solace and you’ll hear some sizzling high notes on a trumpet. The performer is Derek Watkins and his instrument was made by Richard Smith.

The pair of them are a unique duo whose combined talents are concentrated within a former cowshed in North Yorkshire. How did I discover this? Let’s go back to the beginning.

When the famous manufacturer of brass instruments Boosey and Hawkes closed its doors to production in 2003, it seemed the Last Post had been sounded for a British industry in decline.

Needing to buy a new trumpet, I went shopping in York. “Richard Smith of Smith Watkins”, whispered the man reverently in the music shop. “He’s your man. He lives just a few miles away in Sheriff Hutton”. The thought that someone so near was actually making trumpets was music to my ears.

The approach to the workshop is via a stone track and through the thick mud of a farmyard. Richard’s home is in the lee of the Howardian Hills and he turns out to be a zinc-haired man with a wry smile and slate blue eyes. “Welcome to Smith Watkins. Would you care to see inside the workshop?”

The mild-mannered 63 year-old wears a navy serge overall (the obligatory ballpoint pen tucked neatly into his top pocket), jeans and comfortable loafers. Here is a man who looks as if he could have been restoring a Norton Commando motorcycle or tinkering with a miniature steam train in his garden shed.

There’s no hint that this is Dr Smith, a world authority on acoustics, let alone a pioneer in the design of sophisticated brass instruments for global export.

Cow shed

Richard opens the door of the former cow shed. Inside this lovingly restored stone building (“It was a real mess when I moved in”) are work benches piled high with lathes, widgets, half-finished trumpets and paraphernalia of all kinds. Vintage enamelled signs adorn the whitewashed walls; antique brass weighing scales and a First World War helmet balance precariously on oak beams. In the far corner, hanging like silver pheasants from hooks on a woodworm-riddled byre, is a row of immaculate cornets ready for despatching to eager players from to

Sydenham to Sydney

Richard explains the detail of his operation. “This stretches the brass over the template here to make the bore on the lead pipe (as in ‘leed pipe’]. It has to be absolutely precise to create the exact bore profile.” He adds with disarming nonchalance, “A neighbouring farmer knocked it up for me. Come to my office.”

And with that we leave the apparent disorder of the workshop and crunch across the gravel of his courtyard to the apparent disorder of his office.

Instrument cases, box files and pressure charts in garish colours spill over the desks and cascade onto the floor. A complete set of ceremonial fanfare trumpets – Smith Watkins is the only supplier of such instruments to the armed forces – gleam on one wall. A stack of shelves support a tangle of wires linking oscilloscopes, laptops, amplifiers, a pulse generator and coils of brass tubing fitted with electrical pick-ups.

“This machine sends a wave of energy down the tube”, he enthuses, pointing at the pulse generator and tracking with his hand the imagined energy wave passing through the brass pipe. “By adjusting the pitch, we can measure the resonance across the entire frequency range. It’s simple, but it works”, he adds.

To some this might seem a touch Heath Robinson. But it’s in the great tradition of English back-room inventors and does the job as effectively and rigorously as any experimentation in a climate-controlled super laboratory.

Unconventional, maybe; eccentric, perhaps; but then few scientists in their field can claim to have charted new territories of knowledge like Richard Smith.

He’s an Honorary Fellow of the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Edinburgh and has published his research in many influential scientific journals. He has also pioneered the use of interchangeable lead pipes – enabling the same trumpet to be played for classical concerts and jazz, hip hop and other musical genres.

“I’ve always been fascinated with the acoustics of brass instruments,” he says. “I began as an apprentice at Marconi – a great start as it helped me to develop my skills in working metals. But things didn’t work out so I left to do teacher training in York.

“After three years in the classroom I took a masters degree in acoustics at Southampton University and then a PhD, applying quantum mechanics to the resonances of brass instruments and the changing pitches of notes.”

He knits his fingers as he attempts to explain to a lay person just what the terms ‘quantum mechanics’ and ‘brass instruments’ are doing in the same sentence. Imparting knowledge is clearly a missison of his.

Kitchen table


Before starting his own company he worked for 12 years as chief designer and technical manager for Boosey and Hawkes. Here he designed trombones for Don Lusher and a famous Sovereign trumpet for John Wallace, the then principal trumpet player at the London Symphony Orchestra.

Richard’s Sovereign cornet range is still a favourite amongst brass and military bands. He also designed an instrument for the legendary session trumpeter Derek Watkins, and the alliance with Derek has lasted to this day. Indeed, Derek is the Watkins in Smith Watkins.

Richard is the theorist, Derek is the practitioner, frequently travelling up from London to test Richard’s latest designs.

It was in 1984 in his semi in Southgate, North London, that Richard first started designing and building his own trumpets. “I began making them on my kitchen table. Then I progressed to a shed at the bottom of the garden. Then there were two sheds. And all the while my house was slowly filling up with trumpet parts.”

In 2004 he formed a limited company and moved with his wife – a professor at York University – to his present home where he converted the cow shed and began production on a larger scale, building around 100 instruments a year.

Working with others is something Richard clearly relishes. He regularly lectures at universities and has teamed up with some eminent scientists over the years. He is presently collaborating with a theoretical physicist on and has also criss-crossed Europe, the United States and Japan testing instruments with top professional symphonic and session players. As we spoke he was about to jet off to deliver a plenary lecture in Utah and launch his latest instrument in Florida.

Is he attempting to create the perfect trumpet? “There’s no such thing”, he says. “Just the perfect trumpet for a specific player. That’s why we build instruments for the individual. Every instrument here is hand made, and musicians come from as far as the States to be ‘fitted’.

“We look at their style of playing and their requirements, and we give them an instrument to make them the best player they can be.”

The only question that foxed him was later over a cup of tea in his kitchen. How did he see the company developing, what was his business goal? The knitted fingers came into play again together as he stares at a spot on the oak table.

“That’s a good question.” (Pause.) “I’m nearing retirement age, not that I’ll ever retire. And we’re going for a Queen’s Award for Innovation, which we hope to achieve next year.” (Pause.) “I suppose my mission is to impart knowledge, to encourage students and players to learn from my work. That’s all.”

And this was the point. Richard Smith is a man very much in demand. Smith Watkins is a flourishing business with a staff of five which, even in the teeth of the credit crunch, boasts a six month waiting list from around the world.

Yet it is not a business in a conventional sense. It has no commercial objectives, no five-year plan, no corporate growth strategy. It seems to be a business by default, a by-product of Richard’s fascination with acoustics and his endless urge to explore the frontiers of his subject.

Read the There’s Cornets in the cow shed article.

New Products made to Order

A symphonic E-flat/C/B-flat trumpet, a larger flugel horn and another E-flat soprano cornet are now included in our range and as with most of our instruments, made to order.

Dr Richard Smith has been awarded an Honorary Fellowship in the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Edinburgh.

This is in recognition of his collaborative work within the School of Physics, mainly focused on the measurement and understanding of the acoustics of brass instruments. His continuing association with Edinburgh University will further the training of the next generation of brass instrument designers and makers.

1000th instrument made

Richard Smith (right) with Derek Watkins playing the 1000th Smith-Watkins trumpet al fresco!

S-W wins contracts for military bands

Smith-Watkins has once again beaten international competition from makers in Japan, France, Germany and the US to win a much-sought after contract to supply musical instruments to the military. Following a full day of tests and auditions, we were honoured (but not surprised!) when RAF musicians from across the country declared our instruments the best, winning the contract as supplier of cornets to the RAF. To celebrate our win, Richard presented the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band, based at Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, with six fanfare trumpets: “The thrill for me is seeing and hearing them being put to use by the musicians. The important thing is that these trumpets have been made in Yorkshire for the only military band in the county.”

Captain Jason Griffiths, Director of Music with the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band, explained what set Smith-Watkins instruments apart:
“Our cavalry trumpets have to be in tune, responsive and reliable. Our musicians depend on them day in, day out for a distinctive musical sound. In my experience, the only instrument-maker to offer that kind of consistent quality is Yorkshire’s own Richard Smith.”

The Northern Echo (Friday 11th May 2007):

S-W Interchangeable Leadpipe Conversion available for Bach Trumpets

John Ravenor has developed a conversion for Bach trumpets that allows their players to take advantage of the unique range of Smith-Watkins interchangeable leadpipes designed by Richard Smith. This then enables the player to modify the musical characteristics of a single trumpet for a particular style or environment. For example, the same S-W trumpet is used by players in both symphony and commercial sectors but with different leadpipes and mouthpiece. See the trumpet section for more details.

Cornets delivered and presented to the Royal Air Force bands

Richard Smith visited the RAF Regiment and College Bands at RAF Cranwell to present the cornets which had been specifically designed for each player after personal consultation

See also 21st March entry for details of the international competition for this contract, overwhelmingly won by Smith-Watkins,

‘Classical Music’ article on Richard Smith

The article describes how Richard, as a bassoonist and physicist, became one of the world’s leading brass designers and creator of the Smith-Watkins brand.


Herald Fanfare Trumpets presented to the Army in North Yorkshire

Herald Fanfare Trumpets presented to the Army in North Yorkshire

Herald fanfare instruments were presented to the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band at Catterick Camp in North Yorkshire. This was a colourful event widely reported in the local press. ‘A one-man instrument maker in North Yorkshire has won a contract to supply unique ceremonial fanfare trumpets to the Army in Yorkshire.’


Smith gives Research Paper at the ASA meeting in Utah

Smith gives Research Paper at the ASA meeting in Utah

Richard Smith gave a plenary lecture at the June meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Salt Lake City, Utah. Leading the session on the Mysteries and Myths of Musical Instruments, Richard entertained a large audience with theoretical background and fascinating demonstration.


Smith-Watkins wins Royal Air Force cornet order

In a day-long test held at Uxbridge RAF HQ on 21 March, RAF musicians overwhelmingly voted Smith Watkins instruments their first choice, trumping ten rivals from Europe, the USA and Japan. In the trial involving players from across the service, an astonishing 94% awarded Dr Smith’s instruments the top accolade. Smith-Watkins are now the only supplier of cornets to all four bands of the RAF.

The Northern Echo (Friday 11th May 2007):

Smith gives Research Seminar at Durham University

Richard has been invited to give a Research Seminar at the Music Department of Durham University. The title is ‘Myth-busting in the design of brass instruments’.

It will start at 16.15 and local players are welcome to attend.

Congratulations to Martin Hall

Congratulations to Martin Hall

Martin has just accepted the principal cornet chair of Drighlington Band.

He joins many other principal cornet players in the Championship Section using a Smith-Watkins ‘Soloist’ Cornet.

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