Whatever your sonic intentions, when it comes to playing the trumpet, you need a solid instrument between your lips if you can ever hope to climb the lofty peak of excellence in performing or recording. If you’re looking to get yourself the best trumpet, you better arm yourself with some knowledge before wading into the jungle of contemporary music retail. This article is here to review five of the best trumpet brands around today. Before we get there, we’re going to talk a little shop and inform you about what to look for in a trumpet, some terminology you’ll need to know, the different styles available, and some of the materials and production techniques involved horn manufacturing.
Things You Need To Know
Trumpets are most commonly tuned at the pitch of Bb. This means that, when you buzz into them without depressing any of the valves, the note that comes out is a Bb. For most, however, this is not what you learn at first. Most band teachers will tell you that you’re playing a C instead.
The Bb trumpet is different from many other instruments, such as the flute, trombone, piano, and the whole strings section because it does not play at concert pitch. This is the term we use for an instrument that reads a C on the sheet and plays a C as a note. While playing a Bb trumpet, when you read sheet music to play with a symphony band, your music will be transposed three half-steps lower.
Instrument makers and trumpet players select the Bb trumpet for its sound. A concert pitch C trumpet has a lighter, airier, more silvery tone that wanders from the sound we have come to expect from a trumpet. It is simply not as articulate an instrument. Scott Sakurai writes that the popularity of the Bb trumpet is in part due to its use in the military. “Despite [the various advances in trumpets] the military preferred their valveless signaling bugles in Bb, presumably because the sound carries better, and it is those bugles that had valves added to them to become modern cornets. It made sense to build trumpets in the same key for the sake of the performers who could then switch readily between them.”
What separates a Bb from a C, piccolo trumpet, or even D trumpet? The answer is size. Think about the strings family. A violin is small and plays high notes, while a double bass is very large and plays very low notes. As you make a trumpet bigger, the natural sound it produces goes lower as well.
Your follow up question will likely be ‘if Bb trumpets are so popular, why don’t we just write the notes you actually play instead of transposing them for each arrangement?’ The answer: if each part for differently sized trumpets was written at concert pitch, trumpet players would learn different fingerings for the same notes played on different trumpets. Especially with beginner trumpet blowers, it’s much easier for a composer to simply transpose his or her score to fit the trumpet he or she calls for.
Bell taper, size, and shape:
The bell of a trumpet is largely responsible for the timbre and quality of tone in a trumpet. As you might guess, not all bells are created equally. They range widely in size and shape. A bell that has a mellow, gradual curve to it will generally create a softer, warmer sound. Bells with brief, abrupt curves tend to the edgier, brassier side of things. In terms of size, just like the bore, a larger horn will produce a larger, more enriched noise, but will be more difficult to play re: lung capacity. A smaller bell will make it easy to sustain a note, but it will be a more diminished, smaller sound.
Tuning Bell vs. Valve Slides:
While researching your next trumpet, you will doubtlessly strike upon the distinction between a regular, or valve-slide-tuning trumpet and a trumpet equipped with a tuning bell. Here’s the difference: when normally tuning a trumpet, you will adjust one, two, or three of the valve slides to get your horn sounding right. The tuning bell offers an additional slide component that lies between the valve cluster and the junction of the bell. Getting your trumpet in tune is generally easier with a tuning bell compared to the valve slides because you only have to adjust one component compared to three. There is not a significant difference in sound.
What’s it made out of?
Almost all brass instruments are made out of, well, brass, the product of copper and zinc. Some rare or ornamental trumpets may be made of gold or silver, but these are uncommon.
Variation occurs regarding the different compositions of the brass. Yellow brass is the most typical. It derives from 70% copper and 30% zinc. Gold brass doesn’t have any gold, it’s 80% copper, 20% zinc. As you may guess, silver brass has no silver, but instead some nickel.
Almost the entire instrument is made of brass to maintain a consistent, ringing tone. Screws may be steel, and the spit valve usually has a cork on the end of it to keep interference down to a minimum.
Some manufacturers will incorporate a small amount of tin into the bell of the trumpet to give it a more sonorous, ringing tone, and others still will include gold or silver plating to play around with sound even more.
Trumpet vs. Cornet
While these instruments are often of the same pitch and employ the same fingering patterns, subtle differences make them sound differently.
One of the main differences between trumpet and coronet is the shape of the bore. On a trumpet, it’s cylindrical, and on a cornet, it assumes the shape of a gradually increasing cone (from mouthpiece to bell). The trumpet, as a result, will have a more piercing, direct sound, while the cornet is softer and warmer.
If you’re just starting out, we recommend starting on a trumpet. Once you build up enough lip strength to get a good even sound, try out the cornet and see which you like better.
Now that you know a little about the horn, it’s time to find out which brands are best.
Five Best Trumpet Brands
Shilke trumpets can be customized in just about any way you can imagine. They offer six different ‘lines’ of trumpet: the Traditional B & X Series Designs, the HD Series, the Handcraft series, the ‘Faddis Model,’ the Shilke i32 Bb, and Tuning Bell models.
Shilke was founded in 1956 by the renowned trumpeter and band leader Renold O. Shilke. Most of the company’s instruments are still Renold’s own design. Based in, and manufacturing from Melrose Park, Illinois, they are one of the most popular brass instrument companies in the world. Their mouthpieces are especially sought after.
The traditional B series are great for students and even advancing intermediates. These trumpets have remained roughly the same since they were first introduced over sixty years ago. Each is made of yellow brass, has a variety of bell tapers, and bores ranging between .45″ and .463.”
The Faddis Model was built for jazz artist, conductor, composer, and general legend John Faddis. The biggest modification lies in the valve section, which is heavier at the center than most horns. All valve slides are smooth and free of nibs (the small buttons that help you pull out a poorly greased slide). With an adjustable sound post, this is a hefty horn meant for swinging.
The handcraft series is not for the faint of heart. With a bore of .468″ and an extra large bell, you’ll want to hit the elliptical three times a week for a financial quarter before you test this one out. Its tone has an incredible, full body with a downright ambrosial timbre.
Any of the horns can, of course be customized for the right price. Popular customizations include a beryllium bell, which incorporates very lightweight copper into the brass for a more “direct, compact projection.” Sterling silver bells are also available. They’re slightly thicker than the brass and create some seriously rich tones. The other primary customizations are bore and bell size and shape.
- More customizations available than you can dream of
- Solid vision for different trumpets, matching them with style of play
- Unconventional bell materials
- Not the best for student trumpets
- You’re going to have to know what you want before buying
Possibly the most popular name in symphonic and concert instruments, Yamaha offers trumpets of the Bb, C, Eb, E/Eb, F/G, Piccolo, and Rotary varieties. Within most categories, they offer several models, and to go over each one deserves a separate article. For now, we’ll touch on the company and a few highlights.
Torakusu Yamaha built his first reed organ in 1887. The company that he started produced pianos for decades before sub-dividing into motorcycles and sporting equipment. They were one of the earliest producers of electric keyboards, creating their first model in 1959. Production of wind instruments did not start until 1965. That’s still 50 years of experience in the field. Especially when it comes to trumpets and other brass instruments, Yamaha is one of the foremost producers worldwide.
The Xeno Artist Model “New York” (Bb and C) is one of their premiere horns. Developed with the help of David Bilger, who has played 1st trumpet for the Philadelphia Orchestra since 1995, this trumpet has everything a performing trumpeter could want. The bell shape has a gradual enlargement from the mouthpiece end of the horn that opens into abrupt mid-sized opening allowing for excellent articulation. They’ve beefed up the leadpipe (the piece into which the mouthpiece is inserted), while thinning down the valve casings for a better tone as well. When the spirit takes you, the slide stoppers will keep your valve slides from falling off. All in all, this is a real Cadillac of a trumpet.
On the student end, the YTR 2330 is a fantastic instrument to learn on. The bell is made of two pieces (a tuning bell) and it is intended to sound good, but also promote endurance in playing. It is not strictly as easy to play as other Yamaha horns. The pistons within the valves are made of monel alloy, a highly durable composite that helps sustain your instrument even if you don’t treat it with the utmost tlc. This trumpet will help promote good playing techniques and train you for a better horn in the future.
- Huge selection of horns
- Great models for every level of player
- Some of the highest quality in a trumpet available
- Customization is limited
- Selection is so large you might get lost in the woods — we recommend consulting an expert before buying a Yamaha
- The Yamaha company has grown distant from its musical origins and has become increasingly commercial
B & S
The Buffet Crampon Deutschland Gmbh originated (and still exists today) in the Vogtland, the music capitol of Germany. In 1994, they constructed one of the most state of the art instrument plants and workshops in all of Europe. These guys deal almost exclusively in performance and professional-level instruments. By specializing in high end brass, they can ensure the best quality.
The MBX3 Heritage, their most basic Bb trumpet, was created with the help of Christian Martinez, a celebrated French trumpet player. It is a generally great sounding trumpet that suits any kind of trumpet playing, from ska to Wagner. They have developed the bore to keep totally consistent between the mouthpiece and the valve to ensure the instrument is easier to tune, and stays in tune longer. The third valve slide has a stop in it so you won’t pop it out when playing your low D. This trumpet is made out of lightweight gold brass, giving it a bright, defining sound.
With their Challenger models, you can choose your own preference regarding leadpipe thickness and style, and bell shape and size. Its large .459″ bore gives you a magnificent, full sound. For the finish, the choice is yours: either clear lacquer or silver plate.
- Excellent quality
- Great trumpets for advancing students to experts
- High resale value
- Not as much diversity as other brands
- Bore sizes are limited
- Not great for beginner students
No, it’s Johan, or his kid either. Vincent Shrotenbach was born in Vienna in 1890. He cut his teeth on the violin, but after switching to trumpet (the same journey that the author of this article took), he heard the sound and the fury of his true calling. After a stint touring under the name of Vincent Bach and fleeing to New York to escape World War I, he started making mouthpieces and in 1924, began producing his own trumpets.
Bach’s trumpets are known as the Stradivari of brass instruments. One trumpet even bears that name officially. You can find any kind of trumpet you could imagine from Bach, from student right on down to professional concert level and several specialty models.
The TR300, Bach’s primary student model, has some interesting features that help in anyone’s development on the horn. For one, it uses a .459″ bore — that’s really cheeky. These trumpets will be tough to blow at first, but once you’ve gotten past that volume, you’ll be ready for just about anything. It also happens to sound amazing.
The AB190 also parades under the name of Bach Stradivarius. The trumpet features a one piece, hand hammered yellow brass bell. The valves are totally old school: nickel balusters and brass casings house monel pistons. You can also experiment with either of the two sets of plastic and brass valve guides and change the button response to your preference. Just like the TR300, the bore on this horn is .459.” That displays a philosophy and vision not seen in any other brass instrument company so far: start the kids on the same size that the pros play.
- Llong history and tradition in trumpet making
- Awesome philosophy in a beginner trumpet
- High resale value
- Limited customization
- Not a huge selection of horns
- More on the expensive end
If you’re running on a tighter budget and don’t want anything fancy out of your horn, Cecilio trumpets are a great choice. They offer only Bb trumpets for student to intermediate levels.
The TT-280 has everything you need to get off the ground. With a .46″ bore, a standard 5″ bell, all the nibs and slide holds you’ll need, this trumpet is a great way to get to know the instrument. When it comes to quirks and varieties in trumpets, the TT-280 is right down the middle. Start on this, and you’ll be able to branch off once you find your groove.
Like Bach trumpets, Cecilio makes the beginner trumpets big and keeps them big. The bore on the TT-500, their best model, is actually slightly smaller than that of the TT-280. Other features include stainless steel pistons, a yellow brass body, and a silver plated finish.
- Great beginner trumpets
- Trumpets will condition you for higher end models
- Good for budgets
- Inferior quality
- Lack of mid to top range horns
- Low resale value
When it comes right down to it, four of the five brands mentioned above are better than amazing trumpet brands. Horn players of the past are rolling in their graves, slavering their ghost slaver at the choices we are blessed with today. You won’t go wrong with B & S, Yamaha, or Bach, but for the best trumpet brand of 2017, we’re going to have to go with Shilke horns. No other company lets you customize your trumpet exactly the way you want it, although with the other three, you’d be hard pressed to find a trumpet they offer that doesn’t have exactly what you want. Bach also scored big points in their philosophy regarding student trumpets, but no one quite stands up to Shilke when it comes to such a huge variety of options. Play on, trumpeteers.