Choosing a trumpet can be a complicated process. There are a huge number of options available on the market and unless you have a large amount of experience it can be difficult to tell the difference. I hope this guide can help get rid of that confusion.
Steps to Choose the Right Trumpet
Step 1 : Decide on a Budget
Horns vary widely in price based on manufacturer and product line however there are some general guidelines on price you can expect.
Used Student Horns : $100 – $500 with most being around $300
New Student Horns : $250 – $1000 with most being around $600
Used Professional Horns : $500 – $4000 with most being around $1500
New Professional Horns : $1500 – $5000+ with most being around $3000
In general, I recommend purchasing the highest quality instrument that you can reasonably afford. For students who are upgrading their instrument, I generally recommend saving for longer (if needed) and purchasing the instrument you really like rather than purchasing your “second choice” at a lower price. Budding professional players should absolutely spend additional time and money to ensure they find the right horn for them.
Step 2 : Rent or Purchase?
Renting a horn is a great idea when you are unsure if your student will want to continue long term. However, it does carry some disadvantages. First, in most cases, you won’t be able to choose what instrument you rent. This often means the instrument will be previously used, not in the best shape, and may not be a quality instrument. If your student is a more advanced level, it is generally impossible to rent a higher quality professional level instrument necessitating the purchase of an instrument. Renting is also more expensive in the long term so if you know that your student is interested in playing for at least a year it is almost always a better option to purchase an instrument.
I only recommend renting an instrument if your student is an absolute beginner and you don’t think they will be playing for longer than a six month time period. Some schools may have rental instruments available at a very low cost. These are more worthwhile to use long term until a higher quality instrument is needed.
Step 3 : New or Used
Used trumpets are a great option as trumpets remain playable for decades if they are taken care of and do not have major physical damage. If you do decide to look at used trumpets use the checklist linked below to be sure that everything is mechanically sound with the instrument before buying it.
Mechanical Checks for a Used Trumpet
As an advanced player, make sure that you thoroughly test every instrument you try but especially trumpets produced before 1950 as they can be hit or miss as far as quality and playability. This is due to horns being almost exclusively handmade during that time period. As more modern manufacturing practices entered the instrument world the horns became more consistant and you get fewer “duds.” Even modern new instruments are not exactly the same because there are still processes done by hand and horns of consecutive serial numbers can play extremely differently.
In addition to those production issues, instrument design and desired sound concepts have also changed over time and old horns don’t necessarily play well next to modern horns.
Due to these issues, very old instruments should be played extensively before purchase by someone who is knowledgeable and very old instruments should be avoided by inexperienced buyers altogether. If you are interested in older instruments (many are fantastic players) bring a qualified professional with you to double check the instrument before you purchase it.
Step 4 : Decide on Level
Trumpet manufactures break their horns down into three categories for different levels of player. Each level has general characteristics that make it potentially more suitable for a specific ability or maturity level. While on the outside these instruments look almost identical, they are extremely different.
Beginner Trumpets – These instruments are generally made for a young student who has never played an instrument before. This causes manufactures to make certain choices in the construction of these instruments. First, since manufactures know that these instruments will probably be used by younger individuals they feature design characteristics that favor smaller lung capacities and weaker blowing strength (including smaller bore sizes). Secondly, designers generally choose materials that emphasize durability over sound quality because they know these instruments have a higher chance of being dropped or hit against objects. Finally, because price is almost always a consideration when purchasing these instruments, simple to produce designs are chosen and part tolerances are generally looser. This makes the instrument cheaper to produce however these designs can make high level playing more difficult.
Overall beginner instruments are generally well designed, durable, and possible to play with minimal effort. This causes them to be perfect for young students and beginning players all the way through intermediate level playing. With very few exceptions I start all of my students on some kind of beginner level instrument. Generally students will play this type of instrument until they reach a skill level where the limitations of a beginner instrument are causing problems with their ability to improve.
The link below will take you to a list of recommended beginners instruments along with some further information about this type of trumpet.
My recommendations for new / beginner players
Intermediate Trumpets – These instruments occupy a bit of an odd space. In general they are a combination of beginner and professional instrument qualities. They are generally better designed than beginning level instruments but still made on a budget. They also typically are made of more resonant materials but are still tempered with more durable materials which can give the sound of these instruments an odd quality. In general I have a hard time recommending intermediate level trumpets to anyone because they occupy such a strange design space. I generally recommend that students go from their beginning instrument to a professional level one (generally used). However, there are a select few intermediate trumpets that are genuinely good instruments.
I can not recommend many intermediate instruments so I have lumped them with the professional models. Please continue reading.
Professional Trumpets – These instruments are manufactured with a high level player in mind and are often designed to focus on a particular type of music such as Classical, Jazz, Commercial, or Pop. Designs for these instruments are focused on creating the best possible quality of sound and the easiest playability for a strong player. They also offer many more options (and even fully handmade custom instruments) to help players create the best instruments for themselves and their own style. These qualities and options are difficult to design, make, and market and the prices of these instruments reflect that. Professional instruments are easier to damage than beginning or intermediate instruments because the materials used in the construction of these instruments are chosen for the best possible resonance and quality of sound rather than durability.
Every player is different and because of this it is impossible to recommend a specific model of instrument for an intermediate or advanced player. However, I have made some general recommendations available in the link below.
My recommendations for intermediate / advanced players
My overall recommendation is new players should start on a beginning level instrument that fits their budget. Once that instrument begins to impede their progress they should look into professional level (or great intermediate) instruments that fit their price range and that work for them after play testing.
Step 5 : Try The Instrument and Make a Decision
If you are a beginning player you can’t do this step because you can’t play yet! Go purchase your first trumpet (ideally one from the recommended list) and start practicing! Come back here when you need to upgrade.
For intermediate and advanced players who are looking to upgrade their instrument it is imperative that you try the instrument you are going to buy. NOT JUST THE SAME MODEL. You need to play the ACTUAL instrument you plan on purchasing. Every instrument is different and even horns within the same model line can play very differently from one another. Make sure you try as many horns as possible to find the best fit for you. I have linked some recommendations for how to play test a horn below. I also recommend that you bring along a trusted set of ears with you. This can be a friend, band director, or private instructor to help you find the best sounding instrument.
Instructions for Play Testing a Horn
If you are a budding professional player make sure you spend enough time trying instruments to be sure that you know both what is available and what you prefer. Also, remember that you may change instruments several times during your professional journey so keep trying horns as new designs come out.
Why Would You Change Your Equipment?
Once you have found the instrument that plays the best for you that is within your budget. Go for it!
Trumpet Brand Overview
Note: Every Brand listed will have both beginner and professional horns available. Top of the line brands distinguish themselves from other brands with the quality of their respective product lines. Higher rated brands use higher quality design and materials to create a superior product that will generally last longer and play better than other available options.
Note: This list only includes manufacturers that are currently making instruments. The reason I did this is I can not in good conscious blanket recommend every used instrument from any manufacturer. The reason for this has to do with the variable condition of used instruments as well as possible modifications that people may have made to the instrument. That being said, some out-of-business manufactures made great instruments that hold up to this day.
Top of the Line – These brands offer several models of instrument that are well made and are high quality. Their professional instruments are used the world over and at least one of their products is known as a “standard” professional trumpet. Brands include (but are not limited to): Yamaha, Bach, Schilke, Schagerl, B&S, Getzen, Adams, Stomvi, and Shires.
Midrange – These brands are all quality instruments but are not as well established as other companies. Some may not offer professional line instruments or may be the “student line” branch of another company. Trumpets may also be a secondary consideration for these companies (for example their flute/clarinet/trombone/tuba is a Top of the Line Instrument and they are expanding into trumpets.)These manufactures often have a handful of professionals using their instruments but are not as widespread. I won’t name any specific brands as they change over time.
Low End – These instruments are more of a toy than an actual instrument and should be avoided. The only time that I suggest purchasing a trumpet from one of these brands is if you have a very young student who you expect will severely damage the instrument but they are enthusiastic and want to learn. The construction and materials on these instruments are generally very poor and many (but not all) begin having mechanical problems within weeks (months if you are lucky) of purchase. These mechanical issues include stuck slides, sticking valves, and peeling lacquer among other issues. You can think of these as “disposable” instruments. Good to beat up or do a test run on but not much else. I will not name specific brands in this category as there are far too many of them. In order to avoid these instruments make sure you are purchasing an instrument from a reputable seller and from a known brand that has a good reputation.
Olds? What are they, chopped meat:)
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That’s a great point. Olds made some fantastic instruments! For their student model the Ambassador is still a great choice depending on the condition. Their professional horns like the Recording, Mendez, or Opera are also great if they match the sound that you are looking for and you can find one in good condition.
For the purposes of this blog post, I actually didn’t mention any manufacturer that wasn’t currently producing instruments. Kanstul for instance is one that I would have loved to include (I went through collage playing their instruments). The reason I did this is I can not in good conscious blanket recommend every used instrument from any manufacturer. The reason for this has to do with the variable condition of used instruments as well as possible modifications that people may have made to the instrument.
I’m happy (and often do) recommend used instruments to my students however, it’s always a specific instrument or with the major caveat that it has to be in good shape and play well. This is especially true of a manufacturer like Olds where production stopped quite some time ago so the condition of the remaining instruments can be quite hit or miss. I’m sure we have both seen Ambassadors that look brand new and ones that look as if they were run over and left buried in the yard for years.
I now realize that I never specified in the post that my list only included current manufacturers. I will add an additional note to clarify.
Thanks and hope this is helpful!