EDITORS NOTE In 2008, Michael Camilleri wrote a very useful overview of Besson horns. Something happened and the information became unavailable for many years. I was able with some difficulty to track down the information on the Internet Archive at http://web.archive.org/web/20150928050525/http://users.actrix.co.nz/mcamilleri/TheBessonLoyalist.htm
Since it is difficult or impossible to find this information on the Archive for most people, and it is useful to those of us interested in trumpets, I reproduce it below. It will NOT be updated, I am not an expert on these horns. This is Michael Camilleri’s original text. Some of the links may not work, or they may link through to archived versions of how they appeared at the time.
Yes, another copy-cat loyalist site. In the Grand Tradition of the Schilke, Bach, and Conn Loyalist pages, and with a respectful nod of the head to Olds Central, here is all you ever wanted to know about Kanstul made Besson and French Besson trumpets.
This site is primarily about the modern Kanstul made French Besson and Besson trumpets. The real reason for this page is that these are excellent trumpets that are not well known and are under-appreciated. With such a large number of models and long history it can be confusing to figure out which Besson or French Besson instrument you are looking at, if it was Kanstul made, how good it is, and how much it might be worth. This page addresses this gap.
For information on all Meha and Brevete trumpets go to Vintage Trumpets.com .
For reviews and info on all Besson models go here BrassReview.com
The best source for historical and model info on Besson brass instruments is here Horn-u-copia Besson Page
A very little bit of Besson history
The Besson trumpets of the early 20th century were the first truly modern trumpets. The innovations in leadpipe design, bell shape, and wrap (the overall shape of the tubing and instrument) resulted in a far superior instrument to the trumpets of the day. Bach trumpets were inspired (or copied) from early Besson trumpets, and most modern trumpets closely follow the same pattern. Most modern trumpets are in fact close copies or clones of early 20th century Besson instruments.
The Besson Brevete was a very popular choice for generations of Jazz trumpeters, and was played at various times by artists like Miles Davis, Rafael Mendez (the Olds Mendez was basically a copy of his old Brevete), Lee Morgan, and Fats Navarro.
The Besson Meha was also a very popular choice, being a brighter horn more suitable for lead and big band playing, played by the famous Conrad Gozzo and others.
These original French Besson trumpets are now collectors items, and command high prices. Unfortunately they were out of production for decades until….
The best source for historical and model info on Besson brass instruments is here Horn-u-copia Besson Page
For some unknown reason the owners of the French Besson trademark decided to make a new line of trumpet in the early 1980s. Fortunately they choose top US maker Kanstul to design and produce the line, and Kanstul faithfully recreated the original horns, and many new models too. The Besson Meha and Brevete lived again (see http://www.vintagetrumpets.com/meha.shtml for loads of good information). These Kanstul made horns are beautifully made and play as well as the originals, without all the issues of 50+ year old instruments. See here for an article from The Music Trades magazine in 1983 (kindly supplied by Kanstul) Kanstul-Besson Trade Magazine Article
From the early 1980s till about 1998 all French Besson trumpets were made by Kanstul, and some other Besson models also.
Sometime around 1998 Kanstul lost or decided not to renew the contract to make some Besson instruments, and the 609 and related lines were terminated. Boosey and Hawkes became part of The Music Group and was then sold to Buffet Crampon, and Kanstul still makes the Stamm and Classic models for Buffet Crampon. There are still French Besson Meha and Brevete trumpets available new, with some called the “New Generation” model. From what I have heard these are Kanstul made but are old stock, as for some unknown reason a lot of these were stockpiled in warehouses and not distributed at the time of production.
The Kanstul made French Besson and Besson trumpets are universally excellent instruments. Model numbers include:
French Besson International
French Besson Meha
French Besson Brevete
French Besson Classic
French Besson “Stamm”
If you see “London” anywhere on the instrument it is NOT Kanstul made.
The Kanstul ones may or may not have “USA” stamped on them somewhere – the lack of a USA marking does not indicate a non-Kanstul one to my current knowledge. They usually had “Kanstul” stamped on them somewhere or a small Kanstul “K” logo. If you find one with these markings it is Kanstul made.
The 609/709, Meha, Brevete, Classic and Stamm models were (or still are) only made by Kanstul. The International was made by Kanstul and also in the Besson plant in India (more recent models I think). Only the International model is of questionable maker.
This was a “student” line instrument that outplays most any student instrument on the market, and are as good as some pro instruments. Plays dark in tone, and has some similarities to the Olds Ambassador. Comes in a variety of configurations, the most common in lacquer with standard water keys and a 3rd valve saddle, but some have Amado water keys, 1st and 3rd slide saddles, and some are in silver plate. For the money you can’t beat these, especially the ones in silver plate. They are commonly sold on Ebay for $100-$300, depending on plating and specs and condition, often in great condition for around $150. The Kanstul 610 is basically the same instrument but newer and rarer and still available new from some shops.
If your main trumpet is too bright for orchestral playing a Besson 609 is a great choice as a cheap second instrument that will do the job well.
If you are looking for a used starter instrument or backup trumpet these are the best value for money at the moment, and I respectfully suggest that the Olds Ambassador should be passed over, and similar used Yamaha or Bach models also. For the price of a department store trumpet you get a recent model Kanstul made instrument? No contest!
Step up intermediate models from the 609. All have 1st slide saddles and usually in silver plate. Uncommon compared to the 609, but when available often sell for the same price. In early 2008 Ferguson Music took delivery of some newly made Kanstul 709 trumpets which seem to be the same instrument.
A semi-pro level instrument. Even rarer than the 709 and 809 and seldom seen.
French Besson Trumpets
French Besson International
This model is a real sleeper. Originally marketed as an “intermediate” model it is intermediate in name only. It deserves a ranking as a professional level instrument and compares very well with Bach or Yamaha pro models. Tone is rich and a little on the bright side compared to a Bach 37, but is a very versatile all-around horn. Players that own them love them and play them for all styles or music.
The Kanstul made ones are INCREDIBLE value on the used market and often sell on Ebay for $200-$250, always in silver plate. Often a seller does not know what the model is or how good they are and they sell “under the radar”. On Ebay it pays to check out EVERY silver plated Besson trumpet to see if it is the International, which is usually stamped on the bell. There are usually one or two Internationals on Ebay at any one time as they are fairly common.
A post on TH from a trumpet pro shop noted that the French Besson International was VERY similar to the Kanstul CCT900, only lacking the reverse leadpipe.
The Besson International is the one model that has an uncertain pedigree. Some are Kanstul made, and some (more recent ones I think) made in the Besson plant in India and they are not easy to tell apart. The Kanstul made ones would usually have “USA”, or “Kanstul” or the Kanstul “K” mark stamped on them somewhere, sometimes the bell. If you see any of these you can be confident it is a Kanstul instrument. If not, it may be an Indian made one, or might be an unmarked Kanstul one, so may be best left alone. It is possible that the ones labelled “Besson” are Indian made, and the ones labelled “F. Besson” are Kanstul made, but I don’t know if this is correct. The Indian made ones do appear to be good instruments anyway.
There is a model called Besson International BE800 trumpet. It is not listed on the current Besson website. I do not know if these are Kanstul made or not, but I have my suspicions. One picture I have seen looks different to known Kanstul F. Besson Internationals, and have an adjustable 3rd slide pull instead of the fixed ring (well, assuming it is the correct picture). They also are described as “Besson” not “F. Besson” or “French Besson”. For my money I’m betting these are not Kanstul made – if I get reliable information I will add it. Once correspondent claims to have an F. Besson BE800 model that is Kanstul made, and Ferguson music was selling a Kanstul 800 model in early 2008, so it appears that at least some of the 800 models are Kanstul made Internationals . I suggest you either leave this model alone or make sure it has the Kanstul or USA markings. They sell for so little money and resale is usually easy so even if you do get caught out you shouldn’t lose much money if you decide to sell it on.
French Besson Meha and Brevete (Kanstul made)
Plenty of these around if you know where to look. Usually sell for from $700-$1,200, depending on condition. Occasionally you can find one for less, but these are so sought after that a lot of people are looking for bargains so this is getting rarer. See Vintage Trumpets.com .
French Besson Meha and Brevete – New Generation
A more recent design with a Najoom leadpipe and modified bell and are Kanstul made. See Vintage Trumpets.com. The New Generation Meha was still being sold new from some shops (like Dillon Music) for around $1,200 as recently as 2006, but I think the supply has finally dried up. As far as I know these were old stock, but new unused instruments made by Kanstul some years ago.
French Besson Classic
These were designed and made in collaboration with Dennis Najoom (www.najoom.com) as an orchestral and all around trumpet and are fine instruments. There is also a C trumpet version. Kanstul still makes these.
There are not many of these around and they usually sell for $600-700 used in great condition. At this price they are much better value than a used Bach Strad, and are an excellent choice for the orchestral or classical musician. One correspondent said the tone was more suited to chamber music than heavy symphonic playing, but that is often down to the player.
Newer ones have the model number 260 for the Bb and 560 for the C, and “New” discount prices are about $1,400. Kanstul have confirmed that that still make these for Buffet-Crampon.
French Besson “Stamm” model
The French Besson “Stamm” model was designed in conjunction with jazz artist Marvin Stamm (www.marvinstamm.com). He played these for many years and only recently (2006) changed to an artist model Yamaha trumpet made to his specifications.
His French Besson prototype was a tuning bell instrument with two different bells, an A bell for a rich full sound, and a B bell for a brighter sound (in early 2008 a tuning bell Stamm Besson was sold on Ebay – was it one of Marvins’ horns?). These were produced as two different fixed bell models, the BA with the A bell, and BB with the B bell. Also comes in 2 bore sizes, 0.462 and 0.464. Full model numbers are:
92BA – 0.462 bore, A bell
92BB – 0.462 bore, B bell
94BA – 0.464 bore, A bell
94BB – 0.464 bore, B bell
Then to confuse the issue Boosey and Hawkes changed the model numbers from 92/94 to 160/162. Apparently only the model numbers changed. The bore is stamped on the valve cluster, and the bell type stamped on the bell tube where it meets the 1st valve. I’m guessing the change happened in around 2000.
There are also variants with a reverse Najoom leadpipe made by M/K drawing. This is a seriously good leadpipe and would be a $150-$250 upgrade on a Bach trumpet. The normal ones have leadpipes of pedigree unknown to me – they might be factory Kanstul ones, or perhaps aftermarket ones. I’ll assume they are Kanstul ones for now.
They are all quite free blowing instruments, with comparatively light weight bells.
According to the B&H catalog the A bell is from a modified 229 mandrel and the B bell is from a modified 239 mandrel. The B bell has slightly tighter parameters and a bit more resistance than the A bell. According to the Bach loyalist the 229 bell is similar to a 43 bell, and the 239 is similar to a 65 bell (which is a dark, symphonic style bell). In other B&H literature the B bell on the French Besson Classic C corresponds to the Bach 239 bell and the A, to the 229. Go figure!
In general people that have played the Stamm Besson consider the A model to be somewhat similar to a Bach 72 with lightweight bell (though maybe it should be considered closer to a Bach 65, but the Bach 65 is so rare most have never played one), and the B model somewhat similar to a Bach 43 with lightweight bell. This is a very rough generalisation.
Most come with two tuning slides (rounded and square) and a set of normal and heavy valves cups to vary the response and sound a bit.
These trumpets have a short reach valve cluster that is closer to the mouthpiece than usual. Still comfortable for adults, but also an easier reach for small players, and feels light and perfectly balanced.
These trumpets are real sleepers. The 92/94 models were discontinued and closed out by mail order shops at very low prices in 2005 (still a few around in some large mail order shops and some local shops). New “discount” prices for the 160/162 models are about $1,200-$1,400.
They compare equally or better to Bach or Yamaha pro instruments (personal choice really), and are very versatile trumpets. The A model is more suited to orchestral playing or anywhere you need a rich full tone, and the B model to jazz or big band playing, but that depends very much on the player – more than a few lead players use a Bach 72* for lead playing, and the A model works well for that too with the right player. You can hear some sound samples on Marvin’s website.
Kanstul have confirmed that that still make these for Buffet-Crampon, models numbers now 160 and 162.
A note about leadpipes
The French Besson Stamm models came with aftermarket leadpipes – made by for Najoom by M/K drawing (http://www.mkdrawing.com/). As a custom upgrade this would cost $150-$250 alone and is a serious performance upgrade!
The Najoom reverse leadpipe Stamm models have Najoom receivers which are built over-tight with the intention that the player will have it reamed out to give optimal mouthpiece/leadpipe gap or use a mouthpiece with a smallish shank diameter. Most aren’t reamed out so the gap is too large (depending on the mouthpieces – e.g. Schilke mouthpieces go further in as their shank is smaller and are basically OK). Only a few shops have the right tools to do a top class job (a tool made by GR mouthpieces www.grmouthpieces.com, see tutorial page on mouthpiece gap). Charlies Brass Works is one, as is Dennis Najoom.
The Stamm model standard leadpipes (only) are source unknown at the moment – chances are they are Kanstul made. These are set with a smaller gap to suit a Stork brand mouthpiece (which is what Marvin was playing at the time), which have a larger than usual shank diameter, so many mouthpieces may go in further than optimal, and some may bottom out.
The French Besson Classic comes with a Najoom leadpipe.
Don’t panic about the gap. Adjusting it can tweak the trumpet performance a bit. On most instruments the gap is highly variable anyway, and there is so much variation between mouthpiece shanks of different brands that it is a lottery which gap you get anyway. A shop can adjust the receiver gap for a small fee, or you can get a mouthpiece shank adjusted or custom made if you want to get the gap optimal.
When I had the gap set properly on my Stamm Besson (by replacing the receiver with one supplied by Gary Radtke of GR mouthpieces) there was a noticeable but small improvement in the trumpet.
Kanstul is not keen on supplying serial number info as it takes a lot of time to look them up and the records are patchy on the Besson lines anyway. Your best bet is to contact Buffet-Crampon for these Bessons, or just rely on the identification info. Kanstul records of the French Besson are better, although for 4 digit serial numbers they overlapped with other brass lines, for example the same serial number could be on a French Besson trumpet, a mellophone, and a custom Callet trumpet. All existing Kanstul French Besson trumpets have 3, 4 or 5 digit serial numbers (got to about 7,000 by 1998, now at around 40,000). Many non-Kanstul Bessons have 6 digit serial numbers or longer. If you see a 6 digit or longer serial number on a French Besson trumpet I’m guessing that it is not a Kanstul French Besson, but the 609 and similar models may have long serial numbers. Since we know that all Classic, Stamm, Meha, and Brevete models are Kanstul made there is no need to check their serial numbers.
Prices vary hugely for the Kanstul made Besson and French Besson instruments, with prices reflecting their popularity more than their intrinsic value as trumpets. The Meha and Brevete often sell in the $700-$1,200 range used as they are so well known (although occasionally sell for less), whereas the French Besson Classic or Stamm models generally are slow to sell and don’t reach such high prices. The price on the Internationals seems to have been creeping up and it is now hard to find them under $300. The Besson 609 ranges in price from about $75 to around $300, depending on the specs and condition, though ~$150 is typical for a lacquer one in very good condition.
These prices are a very rough guide as to what to expect, and may help you avoid paying more than you really should, given the current market. The Internationals in particular seem to be getting more well-known, and the expect used prices have been climbing. I suspect that the Classic and Stamm models will be slow to follow prices upwards as there are fewer of them around, and being such good trumpets people will be less inclined to sell them. In time the secret will get out…
Besson and French Besson trumpets have at various times been made in France, London, USA (Kanstul) and only recently in India. For a long time between WWI and WWII the French Besson trumpets were considered superior to the ones made in London, which is how the French Besson name became famous. Besson never stopped production in England, and still makes Brass Band instruments there, many of which are excellent instruments. Some student line Besson instruments are now made in a modern plant in India, and are still good instruments as they have maintained quality standards.
For our purposes you need to know how to spot the non-Kanstul ones. Don’t get me wrong, these non-Kanstul Bessons are all good trumpets, just not as good as the comparable Kanstul ones.
Any trumpets with ‘London’ stamped on it is not Kanstul made.
Any French Besson or F. Besson is either a vintage one made in France (or possibly London, though will be labelled as such), or a modern Kanstul version. The Meha and Brevete models sold new in shops are Kanstul made but old stock. All Stamm and Classic models are Kanstul made, and are still being made.
The International is the trickiest to identify as some are Kanstul made and some are not. See notes on the International model.
Some model numbers that are NOT Kanstul made (not exhaustive, there may be others, and some may not exist)
Besson 1010 or 10-10
Besson 1020 or 10-20
Besson 1110 or 11-10
And the most infamous of all is the “BESSONS” rip-off name applied to fake brass instruments made in India and sold cheap on Ebay. Fortunately they usually don’t claim French Besson, or Meha or Brevete names so are easy to spot.
Other Non-Besson Kanstul made trumpets
Kanstul makes great trumpets that sell for premium prices. They have their own complete range of professional level brass instruments, and also make trumpets for some other makers or brands. These include the famous Flip Oakes Wild Thing range, the equally famous Callet range, the controversial Zeus range, and the Max trumpet.
Kanstul has re-made a number of other classic and vintage instruments including:
· The Burbank Trumpet, which is a remake of the full classic Benge trumpet line
· Kanstul Chicago series – a remake of some Benge trumpet models
· One Chicago model (1070) is very similar to the Claude Gordon Benge
· The Kanstul Mariachi, which is a remake of the famous Conn Connstellation
All of these instruments are modern remakes faithful to the originals (and in some cases are arguably better than the originals).
Thanks Kanstul for maintaining this link with our trumpeting heritage! The sounds of the greats of our trumpeting past will not be forgotten!
www.TrumpetHerald.com has been a rich source of information on Besson and French Besson trumpets. Thanks for all those people that contributed to the discussions.
Kanstul has until recently kept the tradition of the Vintage Besson trumpets alive, and introduced some fine new models. If you are looking for a great used horn include the Kanstul Bessons on your list. Many are unbeatable value on the used market at the moment. Some are still available at closeout prices from shops. The International, Classic, and Stamm models are as good as any other pro level instrument by Bach or Yamaha, and the 609 and similar are great as a starter or backup instrument (or even your number one trumpet). I fully expect that in time some of these trumpets will become the collectible trumpets of the 1980s and 1990s.