Features to Consider when Buying a Trumpet

Trumpet valves
Photo Credit: dmcneil on Flickr

When deciding on which trumpet/cornet to buy, there are a few guidelines that need to be addressed. The bottom line cost is one of the most obvious questions for most people. Unless you are interested in the ultimate, hand fitted, custom made, work of art, one of a kind horn, you should expect to pay between $1,000 and $2,500 for a quality instrument. When I speak of the ultimate, one of a kind trumpet, I am reminded of a situation many years ago when a college first told me about  his friend who was making truly one of a kind, custom trumpets. The new trumpet maker was David Monette. I was very skeptical of the claims given to the talented trumpet builder and when I was offered the opportunity to play on this new Monette trumpet, I jumped at the chance.

I played it for a couple days and one evening while practicing at home, my wife came into the room laughing. I asked her to explain and she asked me if I was trying to make those funny sounds. That does not strengthen your confidence when that happens but I had to agree with her. I didn’t like the sound either. Not more than a week passed until I had the opportunity to visit with Mr. Monette at our campus. I shared with him my wife’s comments and he was not a happy camper. I told him that I had a very difficult time producing an acceptable sound and his response was simple and to the point, “I didn’t make the trumpet for you to play on, I made it for (name omitted) to play”. That’s when I became a true believer in the talents of David Monette!

My college’s playing style and background were much different from mine and if the horn was made for him, it’s completely plausible that the same horn would not work for me. So, when David’s promotional material states that the trumpet is built to your playing skills, style and need, it is a fact. Now if you are ready to go on line and order one for your fifth grader, let me first mention that there are no prices listed on his site. The unofficial estimate of the cost of his horns has been posted to be between $5,000 to $50,000. I can not prove nor disprove these figures for I was a university professor and anything with more than two 0’s makes me weak kneed.

If you still want one or more of his horns, please take a number and he will get to you after he finishes with many of the top trumpet players in the world today, including the following- Maynard Ferguson and his trumpet section, Wynton Marsalis, Charles Schlueter, Andrea Giuffredi among others. If you would like additional information on this very talented and personable young genius, check out his web site at http://www.monette.net/newsite/index.htm

Now let’s get back to the basic features to look for in your new trumpet-

  • Bore size- Most trumpets fall into three basic bore sizes (the smallest diameter of the lead pipe) which are Medium, Medium Large or Large. Generally speaking a Medium bore works best for most players and this designation (M, ML, L) is usually stamped some where on the instrument.
  • Bell size- Most trumpets come with a bell size to be matched with the bore size but there are exceptions. I remember playing a dance job with a friend of mine, Mr. Joe Morrissey, who performed with the late Bill Case’s group “Chase” and can be heard on the Pure Music 1974 album. At that time we were both playing Schilke trumpets and we decided to switch horns during the evening. When I brought my (his) horn up to play, the bell completly covered the music. I had to play off to one side in order to see my part. NOW THAT WAS A BIG BELL!
  • Light weight and heavy weight horns- avoid the extremes and go with the middle of the road weights.
  • Special alloy bells- special materials and sizes are for specialized players and their playing requirements. It is best to go with the normal characteristics for the average player.
  • First and third valve slide saddles (U shaped) and rings (O shapes)- These are attached to the corresponding valve slides and are used to improve intonation problems as you play. It is absolutely imperative that you have one on the third slide. Do not buy any trumpet that does not have a third slide ring attached. The first slide saddle is equally important but many good horns are sold without one. Personally, I would not play on a horn that did not have both. I will discuss this later in the section “How to play in tune”.
  • Lyre (music holding device) – this is only important if you are in a marching band and need to hold your music while you play. Many horns serve dual purposes with the third valve ring being removed and replaced with the lyre. For serious players it would be better to have a permanent third valve ring and pay a few bucks for a removable lyre.
  • Keyed in Bb- The trumpet family includes horns pitched in different keys such as Bb, C, D, Eb, etc. The only one you will need at this time is one pitched in Bb. All the others would have little use and you would be wasting your money on any horn other than a Bb. More on that under the section “Why are there trumpets of different keys?”
  • Water keys- As you play and force warm air through your instrument condensation forms on the inside of the tubing  just as it does when you blow warm air on a cold window pane. In order to extract this condensation, exit holes are placed at the stops where the water tends to concentrate. These keys can be one of two basic styles and both work well. One style works like a teeter totter and the other slides from side to side.
  • Accessories- This would include the instruments case, cleaning material, valve oil, brushes, instruction etc. These materials will be fine to start with and as you develop, you will want to fine tune some of these items and I will discuss them further under the heading “Trumpet accessories”.

Even More Interesting Assumptions Proved and Disproved

It seems as if there is an endless list of miracle changes which can be made to your trumpet to make it play better and this is just another idea I wanted to test for myself.

Some have criticized me for not “using more individuals and instruments” as test units or not doing “blindfold” tests. Some feel that I have not entered enough variables into my testing to make my observations conclusive. To these comments I can only say this; these are my findings and from what I have tested, I feel very confident that I have answered the questions for myself. By bringing these ideas to the surface, I feel that my readers are intelligent enough to look into the possibilities on their own. I am not here to tell anyone what he/she should or shouldn’t believe for that is for you alone to decide. So for those who also feel I am biased in any way as to my conclusions, I’m sorry you think that even though I can’t understand how you could possibly reach that conclusion. Now at the age of 71, to be perfectly honest, I real don’t care if you feel that way for there are many more readers who understand that I am only interested in getting people to think on their own rather than believe everything they read on the Internet- INCLUDING THIS BLOG.

Now on with another test…….

It was mentioned last week that by adjusting the screw on a trumpet’s water key, the horn would respond differently. I really didn’t think so but here we go again.

I conducted tests on several on my horns by tightening and loosening each water key screw and found no difference.

I could not feel a change, see a change nor could the persons listening to me hear any difference.

If you have a different opinion, please write and we will discuss it.

In the meantime, spend less time trying to find a mechanical way to improve your playing and start practicing more.

More Interesting Assumptions Proven and Disproven

paper clipIn our never ending quest for truths and the American dream, I came across this assertion which sounded very plausible, yet questionable.

On one of the more popular trumpet bulletin boards I found a reference to a trick which apparently Mr. Armando Ghitalla was given credit. The writer mentioned in passing that “Ghitalla did a lot of experimenting with paper clips, and various hand fashioned doodads, placing them in the backbore of the mouthpiece and other places”.

Now I am not a strong fan of placing paper clips in my instrument but the name Ghitalla raised my interest. If this great champion of the cause thought to try it, why not yours truly?
Crank up the old equipment and let’s have a go at it.

Question #1

How would he have attached the clip to the backbore?

As you can see from the photo, I decided to use a large paper clip, straighten it and place a small bend at one end to keep it in place in the mouthpiece cup.

Question #2

What will it sound like?

To my amazement, the tone was more compact and the clip seemed to add resistance to the air stream.

Question #3

What other changes will the clip have on the playing?

I set out to check range, intonation, flexibility, dynamics and overall playing response.

Range– It went up (at least a third)

Intonation– Very little change

Flexibility– The clip made the tone more centered with a little less flexibility

Dynamics– Slightly softer with clip in

Playing response– The clip tended to make each note a little less spread or tighter in sound.

Tone quality– Felt more compact a sound

In summery-

As you can see from the second photo, the recorded examples prove what I had felt. The tone without the clip had more resonance (sharp peaks and more drastic peaks and valleys) and edge than with the clip. The clip made the tone more compact than without the clip (less change and more flat in nature).


I had no idea as to what to expect but was pleasantly surprised to find that with the simple placement of a paper clip in the mouthpiece, I was able to change the sound from a well-rounded, fat sound to a more compact and penetrating sound with an increase in my range and no large changes in intonation and flexibility. I did notice a decrease in dynamic levels. The biggest problem is getting used to the feel of having a paper clip in your mouthpiece.

I would suggest that you do the same experiment to see if you come to the same conclusion as I and let me know what you decide.

The Definitive Guide to Trumpet Mouthpieces

Trumpet Mouthpieces – Getting Started

Trumpet Mouthpiece
Photo Credit: Eggybird on Flickr

Most instrument manufacturers also make mouthpieces which are produced under their own name and are included with the purchase of their instrument. Beginning trumpet and cornet players will not need to go through the endless quest to find the perfect mouthpiece as the more experienced players often do for the younger player needs to be more concerned with basic practice habits and steady improvement on his/her instrument and less concerned with what Mr. Trumpet player uses to play his style of music.

To be perfectly honest, if I’m asked what is the best trumpet mouthpiece, I would have to say that “there is no perfect mouthpiece for every player”.

If that were true, every trumpet player in the world would be playing on the same mouthpiece. If one mouthpiece gets you more high notes it will also be the mouthpiece that gives you more problems in the lower register as well as possibly limiting your flexibility in all ranges.

Function of all brass instrument mouthpieces

Whether you are playing a trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn, tuba or any other brass instrument, the function of the instruments mouthpiece is exactly the same. The mouthpiece is there to help vibrate your upper and lower lip when air passes between them. It does this by anchoring the outer limits of your lips as well as spreading the contact area on the lip over a wider area.

As with every variable on a mouthpiece, one advantage will usually cause an equal disadvantage. That is the reason again that “the beginning student should continue with the mouthpiece which came with the instrument” until the time in his/her development a change needs to be implemented.

Parts of a trumpet, cornet, and flugelhorn mouthpiece

All brass mouthpieces have the same general sections and function in the same manner. A trumpet mouthpiece and a cornet mouthpiece, though not interchangeable, have the same basic structure and functions.

Diagram of sections of mouthpieces-

When comparing and choosing mouthpieces, consider these effects:

Mouthpiece Rim

  • Wide: Increases endurance.
  • Narrow: Improves flexibility.
  • Round: Improves comfort.
  • Sharp: Increases precision of attack.

Mouthpiece Cup

  • Large: Increases volume, control.
  • Small: Relieves fatigue, weakness.
  • Deep: Darkens tone, especially in low register.
  • Shallow: Brightens tone, improves response, especially in high register.

Mouthpiece Throat

  • Large: Increases blowing freedom, volume, tone; sharpens high register (largest sizes also sharpen low register).
  • Small: Increases resistance, endurance, brilliance; flattens high register.

Mouthpiece Backbore

Combinations of size and shape make the tone darker or brighter, raise or lower the pitch in one or more registers, increase or decrease volume. The backbore’s effects depend in part also on the throat and cup.

Difference between Cornet, Trumpet and Flugelhorn Mouthpieces

Trumpet mouthpieces and cornet mouthpieces as I stated before are not interchangeable for two reasons.

#1. They don’t fit, and

#2. They are designed for different playing styles and sounds.

Trumpets most often have a strong, powerful tone quality which contrasts to the sound of a cornet. One should not think that one is any better than the other, they are just different. The trumpet is brighter in timbre (tone) and the cornet is more delicate and sweeter in tone quality.

When you think back to the turn of the century (that would be 1800-1900) with park concerts for well dressed men wearing top hats and women carrying parasols, the sound of the sweat cornets drifting on the air was very typical of the cornet and brass band music of that time.

Now jump ahead to the big band, swing days in the 1940’s and the sound of Harry James rocketing through the big ballroom will give you an indication as to what the trumpets function had become.  Many trumpet players complain of the inability to play a cornet with the same power and sound as they play their trumpet. And this is why we play cornets.

The strong, sometimes edgy trumpet sound can be complimented by the softer, gentler sound of the cornet. For that reason, trumpet and cornet mouthpieces are designed to do what they were intended. Don’t expect a trumpet sound with a cornet and don’t expect to play a cornet the same way you play a trumpet. The flugelhorn mouthpiece is also unique to itself.

Top 10 most popular mouthpiece manufacturers

  • Bach mouthpieces
  • Conn mouthpieces
  • Bob Reeves mouthpieces
  • Blessing mouthpieces
  • Parduba mouthpieces
  • Monette trumpet mouthpieces
  • Warburton mouthpieces
  • Yamaha mouthpieces
  • Purviance mouthpieces
  • Giardinelli mouthpieces

Recommended Trumpet Mouthpieces

For the younger student- use the mouthpiece that came with the horn as long as it was the original mouthpiece. By far the most widely recommended trumpet mouthpiece which almost all of us started on is the Bach 7C. Each time I’m asked which mouthpiece I recommend for a beginning player that is the one I recommend.

When buying a used instrument many times the original mouthpiece has been replaced by the previous owner so try to match the instruments name with the mouthpiece which in most cases will also be in the case.

For the more advanced player- you will have your own requirements and playing style so use your own judgment in this area. It’s like asking advice on which pair of shoes to buy- “It totally depends on what you want them for and how they feel”.

Where to buy Trumpet Mouthpieces

Buying a used Trumpet Mouthpiece

For a young player- Don’t do it. The cost of a new mouthpiece is not that expensive but if you must, check for these problems.

  1. Check the rim (the flat area which comes in contact with the lip). If there are any dents or scratches on the rim, DO NOT CONSIDER BUYING THIS MOUTHPIECE. This is where the comfort factor comes into play. Trumpet players do not and should not play on a rim which is scratched or dented.
  2. If the plating (silver or gold) has been worn down to the point that the brass is showing, DO NOT CONSIDER BUYING THIS MOUTHPIECE. Bare brass which comes in contact with the lip will in many times cause reactions or at least infection.
  3. If the shank (the part which is inserted into the instrument has been filed or sanded down, DO NOT CONSIDER BUYING THIS MOUTHPIECE. Many players will file down the shank to make adjustments to improve their sound. Also many times they file too much down and the mouthpiece will not fit properly in the instrument.
  4. Even with the most careful cleaning, you will always wonder just who played on this the last time and what his or her medical history was. DO NOT CONSIDER BUYING THIS MOUTHPIECE if you don’t know the person. Better yet- DO NOT CONSIDER BUYING THIS MOUTHPIECE.

Is it time to replace my current trumpet mouthpiece?

I can answer that very easily if you can answer these questions-

  1. Who serious will you student be when practicing the instrument?
  2. How long will they continue on the instrument?
  3. How proficient will they become on the instrument?

The chances are very good that if the student continues to improve and becomes a better than average player, he or she will look into a mouthpiece change and at that time a professional should be contacted for recommendations.

Dime or No Dime?

DimeOn one of the more active trumpet discussion boards this month was a question about inserting a dime in the third valve lower cap to change the sound of your trumpet.

Being the skeptic I am and will always be; I decided to test the concept.

I played with the dime placed in the bottom of my third valve for two weeks and today removed it for my testing. During the two weeks with the dime in, I neither felt, heard nor recognized any change in timbre, accuracy, response, range endurance, amount of money made or any other factors in my playing.
Today I took the dime out and still could not distinguish any change.

The next step was to record my sound and compare any differences. I recorded several notes, different dynamic levels along with different distances from the mike and in every case, the dime made no difference to my sinusoidal curve or even my sinuses.

Dime- No Dime

When strange ideas surface I want to find out “the rest of the story” as I did with the location of the mouthpiece in the receiver (How To Place Your Mouthpiece In Your Horn). In that case I doubted the mouthpiece position in the horn would have an effect on tone and I proved myself wrong! I hate it when that happens. In this case, I doubted that a dime would change anything, and it didn’t, in my tests.

For those who feel that a dime in the bottom of your third valve changes you tone, I respect you for your opinion, but I don’t see it and the recordings don’t lie.

For those who would like to learn more about this valve cap thing read on-

I found no change from the normal setup,
I found no change with the dime inserted,
I found no change with all the caps off,
I found no change with the first cap off,
I found no change with the second cap off,
I found no change with the third cap off,
I found no change with the dime in the second valve,
I found no change with the dime in the first valve,
I found no change with two dimes in my pocket,
I found no change with three cents in my left pocket and a dime in my shoe.
I would like to continue this discussion with anyone with differing views. Just drop a dime and give me a call.

Musical Engraving

5173960096_915aa86fb5With all the new developments in technology, we sometimes forget how things used to be accomplished and for that reason, I thought some of you might be interested in another lost art in the music business.

While teaching at our university, I offered music writing manuscript as an elective and enjoyed working with our students in placing musical notation on staff paper which was at that time the only way to get the job done. With the advent of computer software we can now complete the same amount of work in record time with a much more profession product at the completion.

I hope you will enjoy watching a master of the art of musical engraving and appreciate even more what our predecessors were faced with in “the good old days”.

History of Dance Cards

DanceCardCoverUSPresidentialCandidatesGroverClevelandEtc1884Dance Card

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A dance card or programme du bal (also known by its German-language name, Tanzkarte) is used by a woman to record the names of the gentlemen with whom she intends to dance each successive dance at a formal ball. They appear to have originated in 18th century, but their use first became widespread in 19th century Vienna, especially at the massive balls during Fasching before Lent.

Dance engagements card for 11 January 1887, showing a list of all the dances for the evening – valse, polka, lancers and quadrille; opposite each dance is a space to record the name of the partner for that dance. After the event the card was probably kept as a souvenir of the evening.

An actual dance card is typically a booklet with a decorative cover, listing dance titles, composers, and the person with whom the woman intended to dance. Typically, it would have a cover indicating the sponsoring organization of the ball and a decorative cord by which it could be attached to a lady’s wrist or ball gown. From the 19th century until World War I, dance cards for the elite of Austria-Hungary were often very elaborate, with some even incorporating precious metals and jewels.

The use of Dance Cards has fallen out of favor for most dancers but life was breathed back into its use this past weekend in our area. A local Dance club hosted a formal dance at which time the dancers were treated to an age old custom of Dance cards.

To the younger generation this may seem old fashion and it is for the use of Dance cards was popular two century’s previous. The reason I have shared this information with our readers is to illustrate an old custom which was resurrected last week end at a dance I played.

As you can see from the included images, each style of dance was indicated and adjacent to the dance was an area reserved to include the name of each partner whom the dancer had danced with.

Throughout the evening, everyone would have known what style of dance was coming next and could choose the next partner accordingly.

This mix of dance styles made for a very interesting evening for each member of the dance club was well versed in each of the styles of dance and to watch fine dancing throughout the evening was very entertaining for yours truly.

Dance Cards 001

Dance Cards 002

Trumpet Valve Tightness and Compression Issues

Many times trumpet players will discuss a topic which can be confusing to a beginning student, i.e. valve compression. The term valve compression is usually misused for there is very little compression in any section of a trumpet. Air is free to move through the instrument for there are obviously two openings, one at the mouthpiece and the other at the bell end. What most discussions are centered on are the tolerances or space between parts through the instrument. These areas usual are the gap between the valves and their corresponding valve casings, the first, second and third valve slides and in rare cases the tuning slide area.
The most important area to a trumpet player would be in the valve area for if the valves are too loose in their valve casings, air might be allowed to pass between the valve and its casing. This loss of air, though very slight can affect the response of the instrument. In addition to possible air loss, a valve with an extreme amount of clearance will generally become a problem as it eventually will bind within the casing. An ideal situation would be a valve which has a seal through the use of a small amount of valve oil and its surroundings. New instruments are usually not a problem but instruments which have had extensive use will many times have too much play and will eventually need expert attention.
Younger students many times ask if their valves are tight enough and I tell them that there is a very easy way to test their instrument for excessive leakage.

How to test your valves for excessive leakage-
1. Depress your third valve, and extend your third valve slide to its full length.
2. Release your third valve and slide your third slide back in while you count slowly.
3. Place the bell opening next to your ear as you continue to count off seconds.
4. When you reach 30 seconds, depress your third valve and if you hear a pop, your instrument is tight enough for all your needs.
5. Continue this test on your first valve and first valve slide in the same manner.
6. If you are able to hear a pop after 10 to 15 seconds, your first valve is also adequate.
7. Due to the very short distance you are able to move your second slide; it is not a practical test for that valve.

If after taking this test, you find that your best times are in the 5 second area, it indicates that there is indeed air escaping either around your valves or through your valve slide. If you think it might be escaping from your slides, you may hear some bubbling sounds or see actual bubbles escaping around the valve slide as you compress the air. If there is air leakage from your valve slides, an easy solution would be to use thicker valve side grease on your slides.
If you have identified the air leaks as coming from your valves, I would suggest that you contact a professional repairman to examine your instrument. A professional repair shop will be able to help you for there is nothing an inexperienced person can do at this point. These problems are most often found on the really old instruments and if you have taken care of your instrument, you will probably be trading instruments before you wear the valves out.
I have included some numbers from testing a few of my horns to give you an idea as to how much air can be trapped in an instrument which is used daily.

Instrument (Age-Valve 1-Valve 3)
Yamaha Custom Z (5-6 years old-1:30-Over 2:00)
Yamaha Bb (15-20 years old-0:15-0:30)
Bach Cornet (35-40 years old-0:00-0:00)
Conn Vintage 1 Flugel (6 years old-0:45-1:30)
Getzen D/Eb (30 years old-0:15-0:25)

The Ups and Downs Of Playing On A Cruise Ship- Part 2

Cruise ship 2I just got home from a cruise and spent some time visiting with the musicians on the ship. I asked them some questions that some of you may be interested in hearing.

The ship was one of the largest and the band was from all over the globe. The instrumentation was two trumpets, one trombone, two saxes, a bass, keyboard, and drums. Every musician was a good reader and the trumpets were very fine solo players. The tenor, who you would expect to be the jazzer, was a little light. The best musician in the band, in my opinion, was the drummer.

The responsibilities of the band were to back the three big on board shows and play in the lounges with a smaller group for dancing and drinking. The last job for the band was on the last night and it was billed as a Jazz in the Lounge performance. I was very interested in hearing the players “open up” so my wife and I went, even though it was late for a couple our age. That was the biggest disappointment of the cruise. The advertised “Jazz singers” turned out to be just a medley of “Elton John doing Ethel Merman” tunes all night. The band had invited me to come back that night to sit in on the last number and after seeing the speed with which they left the stage, I realized that there was not going to be any jazz played that night.

The bands responsibility on board was to play the shows as well as serve food or any other chore they could be given during their time off. Some served the hamburgers and some waited on tables. Most of their off time was taken by odd jobs around the ship including marching in the parades (without their instruments).

If you are looking for a Jazz job, you will be very disappointed. If you are looking to make a lot of money, you will again be very disappointed. But if you are single, wanting to travel and see interesting places as well as get some experience, make contacts, and build chops, sign up. If you have a tendency to gamble or drink in excess, stay home and practice your Arban.

As far as the difficulty of the playing is concerned, half of the show music was prerecorded and the band was only seen when they performed live. Careful use of the curtains and the hydraulic stage made it feel as if they band was playing all the time, which it wasn’t.

Playing on a cruise ship has some benefits and some draw backs. For me, I’m very happy keeping my feet on the shore and playing in town.

Playing on a Cruise Ship- Part 1