Once you've been playing trumpet for a few years, you may start to consider whether building a custom trumpet is the right option for you. After all, while many popular advanced and professional trumpet models exist, there's nothing quite like getting to choose the exact specs for your horn.
In this article, we'll discuss whether purchasing a custom trumpet might be a good solution for you, what to look for in customization options, and what instrument manufacturers are most reputable in this space.
Should I buy a custom trumpet?
I think it's pretty safe to say that if you are in high school or younger that you really don't need to purchase a custom trumpet. Trumpet manufacturers like Bach and Yamaha provide such consistent, high-quality intermediate and advanced trumpets, that unless you're a trust fund baby, there is no real reason to purchase one.
Professional trumpet players can pick up pretty much any trumpet (including beginner models) and sound incredible. Likewise, an immature trumpet player who hasn't developed a centered tone won't magically sound like a million bucks even if the trumpet cost that much!
So why should someone buy a custom trumpet?
Despite the wide variety of higher end trumpets on the market, you typically don't get a lot of say in the construction process of the instrument. After all, in order to be profitable for the manufacturers, they need to be able to mass produce and market an instrument. That means that the individual features of the horn will be geared towards the middle, all-purpose use cases.
Buying a custom horn gets you intimately familiar with the horn construction process and the trumpet builder themselves. You might be a Yamaha Xeno fanboy, but that won't mean that you'll ever meet the folks that worked hard to design the instrument that you play.
Instead, the deep personalization aspects of the custom trumpet purchasing process are often what draws buyers in. Peter Pickett of Pickett Brass and Blackburn Trumpets strongly encourages players to come into the shop so that they can get a better profile of the musician and understand their specific desires and tendencies around the creation of the trumpet.
What are some items you want to consider in your custom trumpet buying process?
Reputation of the builder
Customer service (this can be huge!)
Bell style and material
Valve casings, valve material, valve caps
Hooks, Triggers, Waterkeys
What can I expect if I order a custom trumpet?
The exact purchase process looks different for each trumpet builder, but expect a white glove experience from some of the top brands.
A successful interaction with a custom shop may look like:
Visiting the shop for a couple hour experience
Learning more about the background and history of the manufacturer
Playing some existing horns already in stock
Performing on your own horn to get sound samples and understand your preferences and tendencies
Asking questions and being asked questions to identify ideal characteristics of your new horn
It can be really beneficial to bring a fellow friend and musician along to help provide objective feedback as well. Sometimes it can be difficult to articulate (pun intended) our exact needs and wants in an instrument, and the excitement of going through the process makes it all the more complicated. Having another set of eyes and ears who is a trusted confidant can be a great asset.
The spectrum widens
As technology, custom tooling, and manufacturing processes all tend to advance through the years, more and more options become available. This is pretty awesome for the consumer, both from a cost perspective and greater variety of options.
In 2020, some manufacturers are going the modular route. Meaning rather than committing to a single leadpipe or mouthpiece receiver, now you can actually receive multiple components that can be used in different combinations with one another. Manufacturers like Harrelson have really been leading the charge in this regard. This is a nice added bonus that now your horn can be flexible to meet the demands of different performance situations without having to use multiple horns.
I am curious to see if more custom manufacturers will go this route. I'd be excited for the potential for standardization of components so that one could mix and match across brands and product lines, although that may be too much to wish for given that these high end instruments are typically for brand loyalists and there might not be a market for that. A guy can dream!
And on the other end, you have builders that truly opt for the handcrafted experience, shaping the entire bell by hand with an anvil and a hammer.
That's the breadth of options you have, from very personalized, hand crafted instruments to modularized trumpets that can be reconfigured on the fly! At the end of the day, it can be a very worthwhile and meaningful experience to explore custom built trumpets assuming your bank account is fine with it. Luckily for trumpet players, a really nice custom trumpet could sell for $8-10k which would be about the same price range for an intermediate level tuba, so it is much more common to see custom trumpets out and about!