These bucket mutes are very cheap and easy to make for trumpet, trombone, or any brass instrument. They sound great and add almost no resistance, except a little in the high register (as with most mutes) and don’t affect the intonation. In one day with about $30 I made eight mutes – enough for a whole big band brass section.
These instructions focus on the concept rather than precise dimensions since they will vary between bell sizes and the preferences of different players. I would encourage experimenting, but what I present here is what I found to be the quickest and most effective design that I’ve come up with so far. My design is quite similar to the commercially available Eazy Bucket Mute.
Step 1: Materials and Tools
- EVA foam floor mats ($12 for four 50x50cm mats from any hardware or homeware store)
- Contact adhesive (I used Selley’s Kwik Grip - $8 from Bunnings)
- Fabric (I used polar fleece that was about $5/metre, but scraps of anything are fine)
This should be enough to make about ten trumpet mutes or five trombone mutes
- Cutting mat
- Some kind of circle-drawing device
Step 2: Mark Up and Cut Out Pieces
I’ve given rough dimensions for a trumpet mute here, but they’re all flexible. The only important thing is that the diameter of the finished mute is the same or slightly smaller than the diameter of the bell it’s made for. The diameter of the circle piece should be that of the bell minus twice the thickness of the foam.
For different sized bells, I would scale the other dimensions so they look roughly right and experiment from there. I've included the dimensions I used for large tenor trombone mutes here as an example.
TIP: Make sure your knife is sharp and use a ruler to guide your cuts. A blunt blade will leave messy edges.
NOTE: I cut the holes using a hole saw, but a knife also works – it is just slower and you would probably want to cut square holes.
Step 3: Assembly
The order of gluing should be self-evident from the pictures. Remember to follow the instructions on the contact adhesive and do not be impatient with letting the glue become tacky before attaching the pieces.
I suggest holding the bell in place on the mute as you glue on the tabs to make sure they sit firmly against it.
Once everything is glued, stuff a piece of fabric into the mute and see how it sounds. You can easily adjust the sound of the mute to your liking by using more or less fabric.
Step 4: Finishing (Optional)
If you like, you could clean up any rough edges and glue streaks with sand paper or a rotary tool. I didn’t do this since it makes no difference to the appearance of the mutes from the perspective of the audience and I wanted to save time.
Step 5: Variations
- Instead of using two tabs, you could use three like the Eazy Bucket Mute does. I found that this feels slightly more secure on the bell, but it makes the mute a bit slower to put on and results in a loose fit if used on an instrument with a smaller bell.
- You could get a more muffled sound by cutting smaller holes in the side, not cutting any holes, reducing the gap between the mute and the bell, or by reducing the depth of the mute. This may begin to cause resistance and intonation problems though.
- If the mute is deep enough and there is not too much fabric, you may be able to use it in combination with a straight mute.
- With some tweaking, I suspect a shallower mute could work just as well and take up less space.
- You could take advantage of the puzzle-piece edges on the floor mats to make a mute that can be disassembled to save space. This could be very useful if you wanted to try making a tuba mute.
Step 6: Conclusion
I hope this tutorial helps make bucket mutes more accessible to you and saves some money. I’d love to see any improvements or variations that you come up with, or if you go to the effort to make one nice and neat (unlike mine).
If you’d like to learn more about working with EVA foam, there is a wealth of information easily available online in the costume armour and prop-making community.