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. 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.

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 last longer and play better than other available options.

Note: This is not meant as an exhaustive list of every brand available. Additionally the 3 hard categories are a stretch as things are on more of a continuum, individual brands may have a standout horn, and the list is subjective to an extent. If you find something that works great for you and is built well using quality materials then you probably have a winner.

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 horn. Brands include: Yamaha, Bach, Shires, Schilke, B&S, Schagerl, Adams, Stomvi

Midrange – These brands offer several models of instrument that are well made but may have some design flaws in some of their product lines. They are solid choices for most players and you will not notice limitations with these instruments until you are playing at a high level and you may not notice limitations at all. These manufactures often have a handful of professionals using their instruments. Brands include: BAC, Getzen, Besson, Selmer, King, Carol Brass, Eastman, Jupiter, ACB Doubler’s Instruments

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 the below 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 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, slow valves, peeling coatings, and even dusting metal. You can think of these as “disposable” instruments. Good to beat up or do a test run on but not much else. Brands include: Jean Paul, Mendini, Eastar, Merano, Glory Brass, Kaizer, Eastrock, and many others.

1) Check Response – See how easy it is for you to make a sound. Are true PPP sounds possible? Does the horn respond quickly and have a “pop” even on soft articulations? How is the resistance of the instrument and is it comfortable to play against?

I tend to use something low and stepwise to test this aspect and incorporate “P” articulations in whatever I use. Clarke technical study 1 or 2 works well as do scales and arpeggios.

2) Check evenness through the registers (including intonation) – See if the horn remains comfortable to play through the range. Does the blow resistance change considerably in any one register? Do notes slot securely through all ranges? Does any one partial feel or sound strange? Is the horn in tune with itself?

I tend to use Stamp, Cichowicz, arpeggios, and easy/slow partial slurs to test this aspect. Multi-octave scales can also work.

3) Check Tone Quality – See if the horn’s characteristic sound closely matches your ideal sound. Can you make every tone color you want on the instrument? Can you adjust the sound? Brighter? Darker? Narrower? Wider? How easy is vibrato on the instrument? Keep in mind that you can adjust the “base” sound with your mouthpiece selection while the “adjustability” of the sound is harder to expand.

I tend to use short excerpts from several pieces of different styles to test this. Long tones (while changing the quality of sound) also work well for this.

4) Check Flexibility – See if you can move quickly and accurately through the horn. Can you skip partials cleanly? How quickly can you go through your entire range? Do fast finger dexterity passages speak cleanly?

I tend to use Irons and Bai Lin partial exercises, multi-octave passages, lip trills, and Clark Technical studies to test this.

5) Check Articulation – See if you can apply a variety of articulations to a note. Do you have a good “pop” on each standard articulation? Can you get rid of the “pop” for a smooth articulation if needed? Can you accent a note cleanly? Do multiple tonguing passages speak cleanly in a variety of styles?

I tend to use Arban Exercises, Vizzutti Exercises, and short solo excerpts to test this.

6) Play a Longer Excerpt – See how comfortable the horn is overall. After spot testing each aspect of an instrument make sure that it is comfortable to play overall. Can you create compelling music using this instrument? Is the instrument easy to play as a whole?

I tend to use a combination of solo pieces, excerpts, and etudes for this final test of an instrument.

1) All valves should move smoothly and quickly. They should also not have any dents, major discoloration, deep scratches, or flaking metal on the valve itself.

2) All slides should move freely. First and third slides should be smooth and fast while the second and tuning slides should be smooth but slow moving. The slides themselves should not be extremely discolored or have any dents or major scratches. No properly oiled/greased slide should have a “scratchy” sound when moved.

3) The inner tubing should be free of mold or major discoloration.

4) There should be no cracks through metal or major dents in the body of the instrument.

5) There should be no sign of any kind of rot through the metal. Specifically look for Red Rot which is identifiable as a red spot on the instrument that is circular-ish in shape, with a dark spot in the center. However, wear in the coating of the instrument (through the lacquer, silver, or gold plate) is expected and harmless. If you see brass it’s ok. If you see red with a black dot its a problem. The attached image is a classic example of Red Rot.

If you are unsure about an instrument ask your teacher. However, in general, if something seems off it probably is.

While “intermediate” level instruments are available, in most cases they are not a good value because most students who buy an intermediate instrument need a higher quality instrument within a year or two. Instead you should look for entry level professional instruments which will allow a student to consistently develop until a strong professional standard is reached. This is enough for lifetime hobbyists or budding professional players. There are exceptions to this rule however, and a few “intermediate” horns are real gems. These “intermediate gems” are listed specifically below. Budding professional players should look at high quality or top of the line professional horns to ensure the longest lifespan for their instrument. World class professionals usually play a top of the line instrument that has been tailored to them personally or a completely custom instrument.

At an intermediate or higher level of ability it is important that a player tries the instrument they are looking to purchase. This is because everyone is physically different which means they will prefer a different instrument. In addition, many of these instruments are designed to specialize in one type of music rather than be a general instrument. It is important to make sure the instrument plays comfortably and can make the quality of sound that you are looking for. I highly recommend taking your instructor with you when you try these types of instruments to make sure you are finding the “fit” for you. If you do need to order an instrument online, make sure to look at the return policy and be prepared to send horns back to try others.

One final note, this is not an exhaustive list of every single trumpet that is available that falls within this category. These are the instruments that I personally have the most experience with and can recommend (based on needs) without reservation.

Instruments on the top of this list are more highly recommended.

Recommended Brands and Instruments

Yamaha – One of the first choices for professional players Yamaha makes outstanding instruments that are impeccably designed, consistent from horn to horn, and sound fantastic. They have three different model lines of trumpets that I can recommend.

1) Custom Xeno Artist Series – These horns are the absolute top of the line for professional classical players. I do hesitate recommending these horns to non-professional players because they are prohibitively expensive. However, if you are a classical music performer I believe that these are the best horns on the market and I personally play a third generation Chicago Model for my Classical Bb and C trumpet.

2) Custom Series – These horns are the absolute top of the line however, they were designed with a particular artist in mind and you will see a name in the description for each of these instruments. As a result these instruments are fairly specialized to a specific kind of playing with three of the four being more commercially minded instruments. If these horns work well for you and match the sound you are looking for they are fantastic instruments that will last a lifetime. I do hesitate recommending these horns to non-professional players because some of them are prohibitively expensive. However, these do vary in price considerably so they are worth a look. I personally play a 8335LA for my commercial playing.

3) Xeno Series – If you are a student player, hobbyist player, or budding professional I can easily recommend looking at the Xeno series from Yamaha. This series offers a multitude of well designed, consistent, and well playing horns. The various options in this series allow a player to find the blow resistance, sound, and projection that they are looking for. With proper care these horns will last a lifetime. Of the different series that Yamaha makes these are also generally the most available at music stores to try in person.

Bach Stradivarius – One of the first choices for professional players Bach makes fantastic instruments. Historically the brand has had consistency issues so make sure to play test the EXACT instrument you are purchasing. These horns are top of the line and are played by professionals all around the world. Bach offers many variations of their products which are fairly available in music stores to try.

Jupiter – JTR 1100 – This horn is one of the intermediate gems. If you are looking for a solid all around trumpet at a good price point you should absolutely consider this instrument. I have several students (past and present) who use this instrument and I have never been able to find fault with them. While this isn’t a fully professional level instrument it is a solid horn that will last a player a lifetime if taken care of.

Carol Brass – Carol Brass is a newer company based out of Taiwan. They make excellent all around instruments that are fantastic for a student or hobbyist player. In addition, they are available at a great price. They have several horn models designed for varying player needs so be sure to try several horns. These can be a bit tricky to find in a store however, they are available on Amazon.

The below instruments are those that I commonly recommend for new players with a few notes on each one. Any of these horns will serve a player through their beginning and into their intermediate years of playing. However, at some point all of these instruments will hold a player back and will need to be replaced with a higher quality instrument. Instruments on the top of this list are more highly recommended. Additionally, if you know your student is interested in playing long term, investing in a higher quality instrument early may help them develop faster and will last longer into their development. I always recommend purchasing the highest quality instruments that you are comfortable with.

There are many other models of student trumpets available. However, I have listed what I consider to be the best at several price points. Other brands are generally of a lesser quality at the same price point and while they will still work the recommended instruments will generally last longer and play better than other brands.

Links all go to Amazon however, prices can vary significantly at different outlets so shop around for the best price. Amazon is generally close to the lowest price unless a particular model is on sale elsewhere.

Recommended Instruments

Yamaha – YTR 2330 : This is the standard beginner model trumpet that many people begin on. It was actually also my first trumpet. It is well constructed, durable, and plays well. You can expect this instrument to last many years and can serve a player well into high school depending on ability. This is my top recommended student trumpet by far due to manufacturing quality and consistency. I have never played a bad example of one of these horns. After upgrading from this instrument many students keep it for use in marching band (so they don’t damage their main horn) or as a backup instrument. This horn is also easy and fairly inexpensive to repair thanks to how common it is. Replacement parts for this horn are often “in stock” at repair centers shortening repair times. While this is the most expensive instrument on this list, the quality easily justifies the price.

Jupiter – JTR 700 : A strong second option to the Yamaha above. While the Yamaha almost never goes on sale this horn tends to be on sale a few times a year. The Yamaha is a slightly higher quality instrument and will last a player longer than this Jupiter model. However, if you can find this instrument on sale for around 500$ it offers a better value than the instruments below. It is well made and can last a player into their high school career depending on ability. Replacement parts are also easy to find in case of damage. However, they are often not “in stock” at repair centers and may need to be ordered which may delay repair times.

Carol Brass – CTR 2000H Student Trumpet : Carol Brass is a newer instrument company based out of Taiwan. They make consistent instruments that play well. These instruments are a great choice and are very affordable. However, repairs with this instrument start to become difficult as parts are not as common. In addition, the material and design quality is not as high as Yamaha or Jupiter which means that students will grow out of this instrument faster. However, this is a solid first instrument that I can easily recommend.

Austin Custom Brass – Doublers Student Trumpet : This instrument is a horn produced cheaply overseas then “corrected” by the Austin Custom Brass Shop in the USA. It is a fine instrument for beginners but will likely need to be replaced after a year or two of study to prevent hindering development. This horn is more cheaply produced and the design and materials used show that. These horns generally will develop mechanical issues over time that require the replacement of the instrument. In addition, you should consider serious repair on this instrument to be impossible due to unavailable parts. If it is damaged significantly it would likely be cheaper (and easier) to just replace it. You should also not expect any resale value on this instrument. However, all that being said it is a solid budget choice if you have a young student who may change their mind about trumpet and you want to test the waters before you purchase a more quality instrument. This instrument is only available through Austin Custom Brass and is not always in stock.

Here I will answer some common questions about when to begin activities with a brass instrument. I will update this post as more common questions come up.

When can my child start playing a brass instrument? (usually trumpet)

  • Whenever they have front teeth! I know it sounds funny but you cannot play a brass instrument effectively if you are missing one of your front teeth.
  • Most parent wait until the child has their adult front teeth which roughly corresponds to when brass instruments are offered in schools (about 4th grade age 9/10 years). This prevents students from having to take a break from trumpet when their teeth fall out. Additionally, their attention span is strong enough at that point that practice sessions can be highly productive and the student will progress faster and more consistently than if they began playing at younger ages.
  • That being said, I have had students as young as 5 who had an interest in the trumpet and were very successful.

When should my child start private lessons?

  • Private lessons are beneficial at any stage. However, setting up your ability to play is very important so I recommend at least 3 months of lessons at the very beginning of learning to play a brass instrument.
  • If your student is not in school music weekly private lessons are important to keep your student improving consistently and if you want to be a strong player private lessons will accelerate your learning with instrument specific and player specific knowledge.
  • Private lessons are imperative to continue to improve quickly on the instrument. If you find your progress slowing, you are unsure of what to practice to fix something, you can’t do a specific skill, or you can’t figure out what to do next find a qualified private teacher!
  • I have had students as young as 5 in private lessons and as old as 74! There is never a bad age. However, lessons are most effective when a student can focus on a task for 30 minutes or more. I have found that around age 8 students begin to have consistently highly productive lessons

When does my child need their own instrument? (Vs using the schools or renting)

  • I encourage parents to purchase students their own horn when the student has decided that an instrument will be a long term activity.
  • Purchasing a very inexpensive instrument can also be worthwhile if your student is young and the instrument total cost is below a few months of a rental cost. However, these instruments are low quality and the student will outgrow them quickly (6months – 1year of playing depending on progress and student age) so expect to replace this instrument quickly unless your student is very young. Inexpensive instruments are also harder to play due to poor construction and can hold your student back from improving.
  • Beginner Trumpet Buying Recommendations

Have any additional questions you think would go well on this list? Let me know in the comments and I will answer them!

Before you read anything watch the linked youtube video below.

LA Phil Rehearsal Video

There is something that happens in the first three seconds of this rehearsal video that is incredible.

Did you catch it?

The orchestra goes from laughing to serious in less than a second and an amazing sound erupts from the orchestra as soon as Dudamel drops his baton. This orchestra (the Los Angeles Philharmonic) has a unique skill. They can “flip the switch.”

“Flipping the switch” is the ability to change from focused to relaxed and back to focused again with no loss of productivity or excellence. It is not an easy thing to do and it requires that every member of a group makes the decision to “flip the switch” every single time. However, when your group is able to do this rehearsals become not only productive but also fun.

Think of it this way. If a director can not trust their group to get back on task after he or she tells a joke then why would they tell it? The potential loss of time is too big of a risk to take. When a group is unable to “flip the switch”, directors often feel like they have to rule the group with an iron fist in order to keep the rehearsal on track. This means no jokes, breaks, or any other distractions. In contrast, if a director knows that the group will “flip the switch” every time then they can use jokes and other potential distractions as a way of getting what they want out of the group (much like Dudamel did in the video).

How do you get a group to be better at this? Great question. I don’t have all the answers but I have found that if I explain the concept of “flipping the switch” (and the benefits) to the groups that I work with they start to do it automatically. Having a specific name for the phenomenon rather than just a general label like “discipline” seems to plant the idea into their minds. If they start to trip up a quick reminder of the concept goes a long way to restoring order.

Have any ideas on this topic? Let me know in the comments.

– Troy