Benge Trumpet, 1939
Elden Benge began his professional trumpet career in the 1920s and was principal trumpet in the Detroit Symphony from 1928 until 1933 at which time he took the same position in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. During these years he experimented with trumpet design and began building complete trumpets by 1935. He had played French Besson trumpets up to the time that he made his own which are closely modeled after them. The (or one of the) Besson(s) that he used as a model is shown elsewhere on this site. A very complete and well researched history of Benge's early activities has been written by Joe Lill and his website for collecting and disseminating all things Benge.
This trumpet, built in about 1939, is serial number 637. Assuming that #500 was Benge's first trumpet and used all the numbers in between, this is the 138th Benge trumpet. It is the 30th earliest known to Joe Lill and the earliest medium bore. The bore measures .453" which was one of the two bore sizes used by Besson in France, the other being approximately .460". The bell rim diameter is 4 11/16" and the overall length is 19 1/2" (19" from bell rim to bell curve).
It was originally silver plated; traces of the plating can be seen in corners. The refinishing in lacquer must have been done many years ago and is in very good condition other than where a plastic valve cover has damaged it. All of the parts are original accepting the adjustable finger ring on the third slide. This trumpet was made, like the Besson trumpets from the period, with the ring on the bottom of the third slide where the (broken) stop rod assembly is now and the stop rod was originally on top. A great many of the early Benge and Besson trumpets have been modified in this way over the years. The Lifton case and cover shown may be the original from new. The canvas cover has helped preserve it to a remarkable degree.
Benge moved from Chicago to Burbank, California in 1953, continuing and expanding production and models. He tragically died in a car wreck in 1960 and his son, Donald continued running the shop until 1972. At this time he sold the company to King Musical Instruments. A new factory was built in Anaheim, California and opened in 1973.
Benge trumpets reached their zenith of popularity in the 1970s and 1980s with popular figures such as Herb Alpert and Claude Gordon using them exclusively and promoting them. For a variety of reasons, Benge trumpets have lost popular favor even though some great players still swear by them. After expanding the range of trumpet, cornet and flugelhorn models available and including trombones in the 1990s, the parent company pared back and offered the pocket and piccolo trumpets. They have discontinued these and there are no longer any new Benge instruments available.
On the up side, Zig Kanstul, who ran the Benge plant in Anaheim, introduced "Burbank" and "Chicago" model instruments that are almost exactly the same as the original models. Even after Zig's death, these are still available.