Should we rent or buy an instrument?
In general, there are three levels of trumpet: student, intermediate, and professional quality. Rental trumpets nearly always fall within the student category, and many families rent for the first year to avoid investing in an instrument before the student is ready to commit to playing it. But any student who practices consistently is likely to outgrow a student-level horn within the first three years, particularly if he or she is also taking private lessons, so it stands to reason that at some point, this student’s family will be contemplating an upgrade. Some choose to make this purchase sooner rather than later to avoid prolonging monthly payments on a rental instrument, and some music stores allow them to build equity towards this purchase during the rental process. But whenever you decide to purchase an instrument, you will face the following decision: Should you…
- buy a professional horn right away and have done with it?
- buy (or rent) a student-level horn at first, then upgrade straight to a pro-line horn if your student demonstrates commitment?
- buy an intermediate-level horn and leave it at that?
- buy an intermediate-level horn at first and upgrade to a professional trumpet later?
- progress through the steps as needed: student, intermediate, professional?
I rarely recommend that families opt for the first option, for reasons I have listed below. But it is important to remember that any truly dedicated student will need a professional-level trumpet sooner or later in order to stay abreast of his peers, particularly if he is highly competitive or has decided to pursue music professionally. This is why, if a student is practicing seriously within the first two or three years, I do not usually recommend an intermediate trumpet, unless a professional model is out of the question. Those are the students that may later find themselves in a position of really needing a pro-line horn, and I have found that families are strangely reluctant to make this second investment if they have already upgraded once. Save your money, encourage your student to do yard work, and supplement whatever he or she earns in order to fund the best instrument possible.
What makes a good trumpet?
The most important features of any trumpet are its sound, intonation, and ease of handling. In particular…
- Open partials should be in tune, particularly the octave Cs.
- Notes that present special tuning considerations (for instance, fourth-line D and high G) should be close to pitch and easy to lip into place. (For a complete listing of these notes, please visit the Intonation page.)
- There should be no “surprises” in the instrument’s intonation (for instance, notes that should be in tune but are unusually sharp or flat, or notes that sound extremely dull or bright as compared to the rest of the instrument’s timbre).
- The extreme registers should feel free-blowing and not stuffy or pinched.
- The instrument should play well at all dynamic levels, and should project without excessive effort.
The particular timbre of an trumpet is a matter of personal preference and the choice between specific instruments will depend largely on whether the player desires a more orchestral (bigger, darker, more open) or commercial (brighter, sizzly, more laserlike) sound.
Whenever possible, all of these factors should be tested by a qualified professional trumpet player, preferably the student’s private instructor, prior to purchase.
Not everyone has access to a professional trumpet player to test the sound quality of an instrument, but the manufacturing quality of a potential trumpet is often observable by a non-trumpet player. When evaluating a potential purchase, particularly if the instrument in question is a used horn, ask yourself…
- Does the instrument have both a first and third valve ring or trigger to make tuning adjustments? Can the student move the third slide in and out with a minimal amount of hassle?
- Do the valves move smoothly?
- Do the slides close all the way? When you remove the slides, is it easy to replace them on the instrument?
- Is there a stopper of some sort to prevent the third valve slide from falling out?
- Does the instrument come with a mouthpiece? Is the mouthpiece of an appropriate size, or do you already own one that your student will play? Remember that a cornet mouthpiece will not fit on a trumpet, and vice versa. (More about mouthpieces here.)
Additional considerations for used or rental instruments:
- Carefully examine the area around the valves. Are there dents in the valve casings? Is the soldering secure?
- Remove and examine the valves themselves. Are they clean, or do they have stains? (Stains on the valves are not always a reason to forego an instrument, but sometimes they will require extra oiling.)
- Remove the tuning slide and look down the lead pipe. Is it clean, or have mineral deposits accumulated and created lumps? Check the outside of the lead pipe carefully for any trace of red rot, which can accumulate on an instrument that has not been properly cleaned. (Red rot will appear as a series of rust-colored flecks on the metal.)
- Do the water keys work? (Check round water keys in particular.)
- Are there dents in places that might affect the playability of the instrument? (The lead pipe is of greater concern than the bell.)
- Is there a great deal of rust or mineral buildup on any of the slides? If you purchase the instrument, you may need to scrub them gently with steel wool to restore them to optimum working condition.
If your prospective trumpet passes all or most of these tests, you are in good shape. If there are certain criteria that it does not meet, the student’s private teacher is the best person to evaluate whether or not it is still a worthwhile purchase.
Common Brands of Rental Trumpet
Recommended (listed alphabetically):
- Antigua: In my experience, these play pretty well, but I have not come across one since moving to Tuscaloosa (maybe they are simply not as common in this part of the country). My understanding from the dealers I have met is that this brand was developed specifically for student rentals.
- Getzen: Biggest problem is that the adjustable third valve ring seems never to stay in place. Good instruments overall, and comparable in quality to the Holton.
- Holton: Good horns that play well, but I’ve seen some rentals with valve slides that stick no matter how much grease I apply. If you can find one that doesn’t have this problem, or if you want to take the time to thoroughly clean the slide, it’s worth renting. Some of them have saddles on the first valve slide (which is a good thing); others do not.
- Yamaha: Yamaha is a respected brand and its student horns play well. I have never had a problem with student-line Yamaha horns, but they may be harder to find since Yamaha is very particular about which companies are authorized dealers of its equipment.
If You Want to Buy
What NOT to Purchase:
- Anything that is rainbow colored, in any way, shape, or form. The color is a sales gimmick and the instruments tend to be dull-sounding and stuffy. Furthermore, some of these instruments are so faulty in their mechanical construction that reputable repair shops refuse to work on them. They can (sometimes) be replaced under warranty, but you are likely to end up with a second horn that has all the same problems as the first one.
- Anything from Wal-Mart, Target, etc.
- Giardinelli horns. Affordable, but not quality.
Student-Level Trumpets to Consider:
- Blessing B1277 ($719 and up)
- CG Conn 23B ($799)
- Getzen 390 ($719)
- Kanstul 610 or 700 ($784) (Kanstul reportedly uses the same parts on its professional horns as on its student line, so quality is consistently good)
Intermediate-Level Trumpets to Consider:
- Bach TR200 ($1299)
- Getzen Capri ($1120) or Eterna Series
- King Silver Flair ($1149)
- Stomvi Zenith ($1399)
- Yamaha 4325 (the 2335 model, for students, has a reportedly weak high range) ($1199)
When should you purchase a professional-level trumpet?
Professional-level trumpets run in the neighborhood of $2000 and up, so make sure you wait to purchase one until you are certain it will be worth the investment. If any of the following scenarios sound like yours, you might want to reconsider:
- Your trumpet student never practices, or practices only rarely.
- Your current trumpet is in a constant state of disrepair due to negligent caretaking.
- The new trumpet would be used on the marching field. A student’s best-quality trumpet should NEVER be used in marching band, at least until the student is in college and knows how to take care of it (and maybe not even then). Save the instrument you’re replacing and use that on the field.
- The student has no interest in playing after high school, in any capacity.
With that said, a talented, dedicated student will be hindered by a trumpet of lesser quality. A seventh or eighth grader who displays both ability and commitment should have access to a professional-quality trumpet as soon as financially possible. Once you have decided that the time is ripe to upgrade, the following brands are worth a look:
- Bach Stradivarius 180S Series (models 37, 43, and 72 are most popular, but the 37 is easily the standard)—Note that in the world of professional trumpet playing, the Bach 37 (and, recently, the Artisan Series) is the undisputed standard for sound quality among classical musicians, especially players with an orchestral emphasis. This horn simply has the sound that prospective employers tend to expect.
- Blackburn Trumpets (custom-built with a price tag to match, but the players who use them swear by them)
- Sonare (a relatively new brand; I have played their professional horns and was very impressed, but I have not yet met many pros that use them—since the price is comparable to the other leading brands, and many players just choose to stick with the standard)
- Stomvi Elite Series
- Yamaha Xeno, or any model in the professional Artist Series (Bach’s main competitor)
Remember that when it comes to professional instruments, minor details can make big changes in terms of personal preference. Your student, and your student’s private teacher if possible, should play on as many different instruments as possible before making a final selection. Two Bach 37 trumpets that should be exactly the same can feel (and sound) very different when played back-to-back.