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Published: November 18, 2003

Without, her, fanfare, two Tufts University engineering researchers announced results of a study last week rebutting a popular myth among some trumpet players that deep-freezing the instruments will change the sound for the better.
Rather, they told the Acoustical Society of America meeting in Austin, Tex., that scientific testing of cryogenically freezing 10 trumpets showed minimal differences when the instruments were thawed and played by six musicians. After two years of research, Dr. Chris Rogers, an engineering professor, said that he and colleagues determined that freezing trumpets did not make them sound better.
"One of the great things about studying musical instruments, though, is if the player believes it will make a difference, he or she will play better, so it acts as a sort of placebo," Dr. Rogers said.
There has been growing interest among musicians in these treatments for brass instruments of all kind. In experiments, the instruments were cooled with liquid nitrogen to minus 321 degrees Fahrenheit, and then slowly warmed, all in the belief that they would become easier to play. A major flute manufacturer uses the process, and small storefront businesses have popped up for the sole purpose of freezing the instruments.
Chip Jones, a Tufts graduate student involved in the research, said he had recruited six trumpeters ranging in skill from a former high school musician to a New England Conservatory player to member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
They played the same sequence on trumpets that had been frozen and those that had not, and then rated the instruments. They were also asked to identify which trumpet matched the sound that "people say is brighter, freer-blowing or that had more `presence,' " Mr. Jones said.
Differences in the answers, he said, were statistically insignificant. "There was more difference from trumpet to trumpet and from player to player than in the results from treatment of the instruments," Mr. Jones said.
The research was requested by Selmer Musical Instruments, a wind instrument manufacturer, which was considering whether to offer the cryogenic treatments for new instruments sold from the Vincent Bach Stradivarius trumpet line. As a result of the tests, the company has decided to forgo the deep-freeze.
But others who have tried the deep-freeze say there is a difference in ease of playing and in the range of "color" in the tone.
In Arlington Heights, Ill., Wayne Tanabe, owner of the Brass Bow music repair shop, said his advertising was by word of mouth. "Otherwise, people think you're talking about voodoo," he said.
He has a tub-size cryogenics tank where he can fit a tuba and several trumpets. His freeze technique costs about $200 and takes 35 to 50 hours. As Mr. Tanabe explained it, cryogenics accelerates what seems to happen to brass instruments as they age. Sound quality improves because resonance is clearer, he said.
Mr. Jones said studies had shown that while steel, for example, did undergo change through freezing, brass did not. Heating, by contrast, does soften metal, potentially changing its acoustics.
The trumpet research is part a musical instrument engineering program at Tufts.

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