How can you tell a good trumpet from a bad one? Does your son or daughter need a trumpet for school band, and you don't know the bell from the mouthpiece? This guide give you the information you'll need to make an informed decision on your next purchase of a trumpet.
SILVER OR GOLD?
Trumpets are made of brass, which, as you know, is an alloy of zinc and copper. The sound of the trumpet is dependent upon good brass materials. Raw brass is yellow in color and will tarnish over time. A minority of trumpet players think that unvarnished brass has more freedom to vibrate and improves the sound (see Monette trumpets, for example). Most trumpets are finished with either a clear lacquer or plated with nickel. Lacquered trumpets will maintain the yellow brass color, and plated trumpets will have a silver color to them. The vast majority of professionals use plated trumpets, as it is widely believed that the plating unifies the trumpet into one vibrating unit, thus improving the sound quality. Also, nickel plating gives the trumpet a beautiful shiny, silver look. Student trumpets tend to be lacquered, as it is less expensive and easier to maintain. Trumpets can also have a reddish tint if the alloy is heavy on copper. Copper generally makes the sound more mellow, and manufacturers often use it for flugelhorns or student trumpets. Trumpets that are bright red, blue or any other color are simply finished with a tinted lacquer.
QUALITY OF MANUFACTURE
The finest manufacturers of trumpets are located in the United States and Japan. The brass is of consistently excellent quality as is are the fittings, dimensions and general quality of the trumpets. Trumpets that are made in other parts of the world simply have not been shown to be made of good materials, stand up over time, or play well. Check to see where the trumpet was manufactured before your purchase.
DIFFERENT KINDS OF TRUMPETS
Trumpets are made in many different keys, or sizes. The most common trumpet, the one that you play in band class, is the Bb Trumpet. The Bb (B flat) is the trumpet played in marching band, jazz, salsa, and for school. If the description does not mention the key of the trumpet, it's probably a Bb. The C trumpet is slightly smaller and is commonly played by professionals in orchestral settings. Trumpets in Eb are less common, and are used to play concerti such as the Haydn Concerto, or sometimes in orchestra work. The piccolo trumpet in Bb, A or G is much smaller than a standard Bb trumpet, and is used for baroque playing or high passages. There are two other related instruments worth mention: Cornet and Flugelhorn. A cornet plays in Bb like a regular trumpet, but it is conical in shape, causing it to have a warmer and more flexible tone. Trumpets are considered to be cylindrical, meaning that if you were to stretch one out, the diameter of the tubing would be cylindrical until the bell flare. Cornets start small from the mouthpiece and consistently grow to the bell. Flugelhorns are also conical, giving them a nice jazzy ballad mellow sound. A pocket trumpet (not to be confused with a piccolo trumpet) has the same length of a standard Bb trumpet (and thus plays the same notes) but has more bends, causing it to appear smaller.
A small dent in the bell will not cause any perceptible harm to the sound of a trumpet. A dent in one of the four slides (each of the 3 valves has a slide, and the tuning slide) may cause slight problems with intonation or movement of the slide. Dents can easily be repaired by a brass technician IF the brass is of good quality. If the brass is of poor quality, the trumpet may not survive the dent removal process which involves heating the metal. Valve casing should not have any dents. This is much more difficult to fix. If there are no dents and the valves do not work, they may simply be in need of valve oil. As I mentioned, there are four slides on the trumpet, each of the three valves and the tuning slide. The tuning slide should slide with some resistance. The third valve slide should move freely. Some trumpets have a moving first valve slide and some don't. The second valve slide should not move at all.
All parts of a Trumpet fit together in one piece except for the mouthpiece. If the trumpet does not come with a mouthpiece, you'll need to purchase one separately. The most common mouthpiece sizes are Bach 7C, 3C and 5C. Bach is the main manufacturer of mouthpieces, although there are many other very good mouthpieces on the market. In Bach sizes, the lower the number, the larger the diameter (3C is larger than 7C). The letter corresponds to the depth of the mouthpiece, A being the deepest. Mutes often come with trumpets, but are not a required piece of equipment. The most common mutes are straight mutes (made of cardboard or aluminum), and cup mutes. A hard case is good to have with your trumpet and usually is included in the purchase. You'll need a bottle of valve oil to keep your valves lubricated and moving well. The slides can be lubricated with slide oil/grease or plain old Vaseline.
Good luck with your trumpet purchase! I hope this guide will help you make an informed purchase decision. May you enjoy your trumpet for years to come!