Hey, congratulations! Your son or daughter is starting to play trumpet in the school band. Now comes one of the trickier initial decisions you need to make. What is the best student trumpet that they can start practicing on?
Why research is so incredibly important
Like any new experience we find ourselves in, it can be hard to sift through the abundance of information that is out there. Whether you're buying a new house, car, or starting a new hobby or sport, you want to make sure that you properly understand the decision criteria before making a larger purchase.
Your top two resources for finding the right beginner trumpet are most likely your child's band director and a Google search.
As a former middle and high school band teacher, I know how tricky it was to navigate this conversation. Want to know why? There have actually been lawsuits against school districts regarding the information that is provided about different brands of musical instruments. Teachers preferring a specific instrument manufacturer or retailer over another can be a touchy subject, and as a result, many music teachers I know are hesitant to provide any recommendation on musical instruments aside from a generic pamphlet listing popular brands and models.
Now let's talk about your other primary source of information: the internet. As a consumer in the 21st century, what's easier than asking Siri or Alexa for instrument recommendations? After all, you probably managed to land on this website from an internet search!
But here's where you need to be careful. 90% of these "best x musical instrument" articles are written by overseas writers who have never touched a musical instrument in their life. They're blindly recommending terrible models of instruments off of Amazon because they'll get a commission from the sale.
And what do I mean by terrible? They choose cheaply made instruments from overseas because they get a higher kickback from these Chinese manufacturers who also are manipulating reviews on Amazon.
Right now you're thinking, Ugh. Well, that sounds awful. And remind me why I should listen to you Mr. Guy-on-the-internet?
I'm a former band director, I'm a brass musician and teacher, and I would hate for your kid to be playing on a junky instrument. So let's dive in!
Unless you're Mr. or Ms. Monopoly Money-Bags over here, the price of the instrument is probably one of your top three guiding decision criteria.
And I get it! Especially when your child is trying an activity like band for the first time, it can be hard to fork over your hard-earned dollars especially when you're unsure if this is something that your child is going to stick with for the next several years.
The one thing I would encourage you to do is step back and start to reframe this part of the conversation from the total cost of ownership perspective.
Now what do I mean by that? Doesn't a trumpet cost whatever it retails for on the website?
Let me tell you a story that I've seen unfold time and time again:
A parent goes to the big box retailer or their favorite online retailer that offers free shipping. They see an instrument that costs ~$100 and picks it up for their child along with the rest of the school supplies for the year. Boom. Done.
Kiddo starts the school year with their brand new shiny trumpet. Sounds just like the rest of the kids, because let's be honest, it's going to take a few months until junior starts to develop a really solid trumpet sound.
But a couple of months in, probably right before their first band concert, one of their valves starts to be really sluggish. Junior tries, you try, the band director tries to do the normal process of removing and oiling the valves. Maybe you clean the whole trumpet just to try to get any additional grime off of the valve casings.
But no luck. So you bring the trumpet into the repair shop. The repair shop charges you for the consultation, and you find out that the valves were made cheaply. What should have been some normal wear and tear now results in trying to source replacement parts.
But, since the manufacturer is based overseas and doesn't staff a full sales and service organization, it's almost virtually impossible to get ahold of them. So now you have to make a decision, do you start renting a trumpet while trying to source the parts to fix the trumpet? Do you buy a new trumpet from a different manufacturer?
I know this sounds dramatic, but I've situations like these unfold time and time again.
This is the main reason I recommend families purchase their first trumpet from reputable manufacturers. Are they more expensive than these cheap horns? Absolutely. But they'll last longer, endure more abuse, and retain their value pretty well when you need to upgrade the trumpet down the line in their playing career.
For those of you that are especially price conscious, I highly recommend looking at used trumpets. I won't get into all of the mechanics in this article, but buying a high quality used trumpet (even one that might be several decades old) is going to be a much better decision than buying a brand new instrument from a cheap manufacturer.
Here are some of the best older models to look for locally or on sites like eBay. They'll save you a good chunk of cash, and they are from some of the most reputable brands out there:
Getzen 300 series
If you're going the used route, I highly recommend an Olds Ambassador. They're no longer in production today, but were one of the best constructed beginner trumpets of their time.
I myself started on a used trumpet when I played in elementary and middle school band. My one personal regret is that because my instrument was older, the lacquer had been rubbing away and the instrument looked less "cool" than the other students' shiny new trumpets, despite the quality of the instrument that I had.
If you purchase an older horn, it may be worth considering bringing the instrument to your local repair shop to have them strip the existing finish, polish, and relacquer the trumpet. This will give it that exciting new feel and provide a protective layer for years to come.
Aside from price and quality of manufacturer, here are the other qualities I look for in a good student horn:
Valves made of Monel metal
A third valve slide ring which lets you adjust the third valve slide on-the-fly with your ring finger. This is especially important to help keep certain notes in tune on the trumpet.
A first valve ring or saddle for your thumb to be able to adjust on-the-fly.
Really, you don't need to be concerned with all of the ins and outs of all the minute metrics. If you stick to one of these trusted brands, you don't need to worry about dimensions and bore sizes (that will come in time). If price is not the primary guiding factor, and you want a solid quality beginner trumpet for your student, I'd stick to one of these:
If budget is the number one factor, consider buying a used, older well-established model. This will be a much better choice than opting for something new and shiny in the $100 range from no-name Asian manufacturers.
If quality is the primary factor, consider the above Bach or Yamaha models. They'll set you back some additional cash, but have been used by thousands of students across the world and hold their value well.
Check out this article for extra advice on beginner trumpet mouthpieces.