Trumpet/Cornet Buyers Guide

Makes to look out for: 

  • Budget: Windcraft, Jupiter, Yamaha, Elkhart, John Packer, Besson, Sonata, Blessing, Odyssey, Phil Parker
  • Intermediate: John Packer, Yamaha, Odyssey, Windcraft, B&S, Jupiter, Roy Benson, Besson, Carol Brass, Stomvi, Conn, Courtois, Getzen, Phil Parker, Blessing.
  • Professional: Bach, Yamaha, Getzen, Selmer, Schilke, Taylor, Edwards, Geneva, B&S, Kanstul, Smith-Watkins, Odyssey, Spencer, Schagerl, Shires.
  • Vintage: Olds, Bach, Getzen, Selmer, Martin, Conn, Besson, Boosey and Hawkes

The Bb trumpet/cornet is the most common type and the default starting point for a beginner (there are also higher pitched Soprano Cornets, and Trumpets in higher keys for specialist applications, Grade 7 and above – these may be pitched in D or Eb, or piccolo trumpets in G, A or Bb). Trumpets in C are the common option in the USA, but less common elsewhere. Student trumpets and cornets will look superficially similar to higher level instruments, but have less sophisticated materials and internal bore shapes, and fewer fine tuning aids, but should still be well constructed and capable of being played easily and in tune.

Trumpets and Cornets in Bb are the same length of tubing, and play the same notes. They differ in the way the tubes are wrapped around, with the result that cornets are a shorter more tightly wrapped form, where trumpets are a less coiled, longer arrangement. They differ also in that the bore of a cornet is essentially conical for most of its length (and smaller than a trumpet at the mouthpiece end) where trumpets, after the less dramatic, but critical, initial leadpipe taper after the mouthpiece, are largely the same bore until after the valve block where the bell flare starts.

Trumpets and Cornets commonly come in two contrasting finishes: polished and lacquered (shiny golden brass colour), or “silver” plated. There are varying opinions on the effect of this contrast: a brighter, more strident sound, or a darker mellower tone – not likely to be discernible until c. Grade 6 level and perhaps marginal even then, and very much dependent on individual taste and playing style. The thicker silver plated finish is likely to be more durable and less prone to marking if solder repairs are required, but more likely to discolour and require regular polishing. The lacquered golden finish is perhaps more susceptible to surface damage, and slightly more likely to react with sweat at hand contact points, but is a lower price in the first place.

Priority features: In addition to a checked instrument, in a sturdy case, and some valve oil, you will need a good quality mouthpiece, often one with the size designation “7C” (or non-Bach equivalent) as a starting point. This should be supplied with any worthy starter instrument (valve oil is not always included). The main mouthpiece brands are Bach, Wick, Yamaha and Jupiter. There are many other makers too, and a mind bending rabbit hole of shapes, sizes, internal profiles and options which can, and do, fill millions of column inches of opinion and advice ranging from highly valuable to downright misleading. Start with something usable, and progress, with the advice of your teacher, in the years ahead, until you can afford to experiment once you know what you want a different mouthpiece to achieve – specialist NAMIR repairers should be able to advise you too, or point you in the direction of someone who can.

Whether the instrument is new or has been played before, you should expect all of the tuning slides to move, especially the main slide (towards the bell at the first curve after the mouthpiece on a trumpet, and further round on the second curve, back towards the player on a cornet). The valves should all operate smoothly and quietly and return readily to the top of their travel.

Nice to have features: The most desirable extra feature is an adjusting mechanism on the tubing connected to the valve furthest away from the player, the third valve. This “trigger” mechanism is usually a ring on top of the tubes through which the player will have one of their left hand fingers which can push the movable end section of the tubing towards the bell to affect the tuning of certain notes – whilst this is unlikely to be needed until towards Grade 3 or 4, it’s an important feature. On beginner instruments this ring may also be adjustable in its positioning to accommodate differing hand sizes. More advanced instrument designs might also have this action effected by a sprung lever which is pulled on a pivot to extend the tubing (this is, more strictly, from whence the term “trigger” comes).

For intermediate level instruments and above (Grade 6+) it is also sensible to have a similar mechanism on the first valve tubing, extending towards the player’s neck for secure intonation options for the more advanced player.
Play test: If you are new to playing then ask an experienced player to play it for you or take advice from your local NAMIR repairer or teacher. Play the instrument with the mouthpiece supplied, or one with which you are familiar.

Common problems – things to look out for:
When considering which brand of instrument to buy, be aware that the cheaper brands may not provide a ready supply of spare parts, and may be more difficult to mend effectively when they break or wear out due to their inferior design, and materials.

If you are intending to buy second-hand, check for worn or damaged lacquer or plating, especially around hand hold areas – this does not necessarily indicate a fault, just that the finish has worn off, and the metal may start thinning over time as further erosion takes place in the exposed area – this may also cause green patches and result in a metallic smell left on the hand. Also be especially vigilant for dark spots with whitish centres, or red spots, principally in the leadpipe (the first section of tube after the mouthpiece insertion point and round to the main water key) – this can be a sign of a decomposition fault in the brass used, and can, eventually, lead to pinholes in the tubing which would mean that the tube would need replacement. This effect is known as red rot, or de- zincification: the brown is the start of the oxidisation process resulting from the degradation of the protective lacquer, the white spot (often accompanied by a noticeable mound on the inside of the leadpipe) is the zinc oxide formed, and the red areas are the colouration coming from the predominance of copper left behind after the zinc has been driven out.

All slides should move freely, ideally, although, a skilled NAMIR repairer can free these and service them, at a cost. The waterkeys should all seal well, with a good spring action – again easily solved by a skilled repairer at modest cost.

Dent damage is another area of which to be aware. Significant dents to the leadpipe area, might cause stuffiness or deadness to the playing experience, or tuning problems and would require prompt action; similarly, deep dents elsewhere around the instrument will be detrimental. Most dents in trumpets and cornets can be smoothed out by a skilled repairer, but will require patient work – their long-term effect will generally only be cosmetic. Occasionally a bad dent or crumple, or a very worn section may require a patch – if this has been done by a skilled repairer the result should be neat and robust, and should not affect the playing experience.

Be aware of the potential for broken solder joints too: these might be structural and easily visible (possibly causing a gentle click when manipulating the instrument), or more subtle leaks which may be more difficult to identify – commonly, the latter may be where the bell tube exits the valve block.
Missing finger button pearls and other missing screws or fixings are generally straightforward to replace – especially on recognised branded instruments where the manufacturer has a ready supply of spares.

Check the mouthpiece does not have scratches or dents around the rim of the mouthpiece and that the opposite shank end is round.
If you are purchasing a vintage instrument the costs of repair may be higher so take advice from a NAMIR repairer if in doubt.


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