Trumpet – Brass or Silver Finish?

Should I get a silver or brass finish on my trumpet?

Brass and Silver Trumpet

Photo credit: Gregorio Parvus on Flickr

This decision is not the same as deciding on a color for your new car. Color and finish are two different issues when deciding on the surface of your new trumpet. Many people decide on the silver because it “looks” cool. Many believe that the brass finish is too similar to the student horn’s finish they are trading up from. The decision between the brass and the silver can be made easier by reviewing the following questions and my responses to those questions.

What difference is there between silver and brass finishes?

Both the silver plated trumpet and the brass trumpet are the same before the finish is applied. Both start out as bare brass and then they are polished to a bright luster. Then they go different ways. The brass finished instrument is prepared for a clear coating of lacquer or other suitable, sprayed on sealant. The purpose of this sealant is to protect the bright brass from contamination and exposure to the elements. If bare brass were to be left unprotected, the elements would slowly start to tarnish the polished brass. Just as any old brass left out would eventually tarnish, so would your trumpet. You might have seen professional players on television performing on instruments which look very tarnished. It could be that they prefer to play on instrument in that condition. Many musicians believe, and rightfully so, that the bare brass gives them the sound that they want. Without a sealant over the brass, the instrument will sound different. The reason is the thickness of the sealant will affect the tone quality or timbre of the instrument. Some musician prefers a silver finish on their instrument for the same reason. The silver finished instrument will sound different (usually more brilliant) because of the fact that the silver plating is much thinner than the spayed on sealant.

Other considerations when selecting the silver or lacquer would be the care and repair of the instrument finish. A sealant will sometimes wear through faster than the silver. Because of the high acidic content in my system I prefer the silver over the lacquer for I will wear through a lacquered horn finish within six months and a silver finish will last for years. Another consideration is repair. If your instrument were to get a bad dent in its bell or lead pipe a repairman could repair it much more easily and for less expense if it were lacquered instead of plated. Refinishing an old instrument with a completely new finish is much cheaper for a lacquered instrument than a plated one. In order to re-plate a silver horn, the shop has to first strip off the old silver, then re-polishes the brass and finally re-plate.

I also need to explain the presence of the multicolored trumpets on the market today. The practice of multicolored horns is most often traced back to the Martin Company who supposedly formed a committee to design a new trumpet. As the story is told, the name Committee was selected as the name for the new instrument and members of the advisory committee included Renold Schilke, Vincent Bach, Elden Benge and Foster Reynolds. Introduced in the design was the use of different colored lacquers for effect. It is interesting to note that Mr. Schilke was never partial to lacquer on any of his horns for he told me that when applying “paint” to a trumpet it is too difficult to control its thickness and in effect it’s tone quality and response. That’s why he would only sell his horns in bare brass, silver or gold plated finishes. The Martin Committee trumpet was very popular in the late “40s to the 60s, then quickly lost its popularity. Now we see more interest in the colorful horns more at the student level and less among the professionals. Exceptions to that last statement would be the fine jazz trumpet players such as Miles Davis, Don Rader, Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson and Al Hirt who were among the elite clan of “colorful” trumpet players. To most working trumpet players, the color is there for effect not for any improvement in the instruments performance.

What affect does gold have on the instruments performance?

The change made to an instrument plated with gold has more to do with the added thickness and weight than it does to the material itself. In order for an instrument to be gold plated, it first has to be polished, then silver plated and then gold plated. The effect of the gold over the silver is debatable. There is one thing we all agree on today, “we would rather have the gold in our portfolio than on our horns”.

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.

12 thoughts on “Trumpet – Brass or Silver Finish?

  1. Robert


    I purchased a ’54 Olds ‘Super’ on ebay for my son and I want to have it refurbished. Some people are telling me that college and University brass departments require silver trumpets in their bands and ensembles. Is there any truth to this? the ‘Super, like the ‘Comittee’ has the two-toned color that looks great and hate to change that look. But, if there is a silver trumpet fetish going these days (and there seems to be) I hate to be the outcast. I am also getting different opinions on the tone quality…some say silver sounds brighter, while others claim the opposite. I just want to make the right decision.

    • Bruce Chidester

      “Some people are telling me that college and University brass departments require silver trumpets in their bands and ensembles. Is there any truth to this”?

      Unfortunately this is true in more cases than you might realize. Many colleges and universities have this miss guided idea that all of their students “must” play the same model and make of instrument that they play. I do not hold to this misguided and self-indulging stupidity. When checking out my first college to attend, I met the trumpet teacher and he asked me what mouthpiece I played on. I showed him my bored out Bach 10 and a ½ to which he told me “all my trumpet students play a Bach 1. That was even before I had even played a noted for him. Needless to say, I went to another college to study. At the next college, I was told that every trumpet student played a Bach silver trumpet. I stayed at that school and decided to test their loyalty to a Bach and after the first weeks auditions, I was told that I would be first chair in all their ensembles. I did that on my Olds Recording trumpet while all the others played their beloved Bach trumpets. Eventually I decided the best trumpet for me was the Schilke and played them for many years.

      Now on to silver over lacquered horns. Most agree that a silver horn has a brighter sound but who is to say everyone should have a bright sound. Miles worked to get the darkest sound as do many players. I prefer silver only because I have a high level of acid in my system which will eat through a lacquer finish within a month. I play silver horns only because of that factor.

      “But, if there is a silver trumpet fetish going these days (and there seems to be) I hate to be the outcast”.

      One way you can find out is to contact the trumpet teacher where your son is interested in studying with and ask him/her. Sometimes you can visit their web site and some teachers like to have a photo of their students posted on line. You can tell how open minded a teacher is by checking out the horns the students are playing on.

      I wish I could tell you that every trumpet teacher is open minded enough to first hear the student play and then make an unbiased suggestion but in most cases this does not happen. When you are dealing with university trumpet teachers, there are only two kinds. One type of instructor is there to teach the students and the other is there to boost his/her ego. I have worked with both.

      My suggestions would be this-

      • Contact the teacher and ask him/her how they feel about the a trumpet other than a Bach
      • Ask him/her how they feel about silver or lacquered
      • Contact one of the teacher’s students and ask him/her how they feel about their teacher’s open-mindedness on these two issues.
      • Keep your Olds for if you have to purchase another trumpet, you can always use the Olds as a backup or marching horn.

      I wish I could give you a simple answer to your questions but it all depends on the individual teacher. I have seen a tremendous number of teachers who insist that ALL of their students play the same horn they play. To me this is stupid just as telling all of your students that they have to wear the same shoes that they wear or shop at the same store they shop.

      • william e graham

        As an engineering major, I know that the phenominon known as, Projection” does not exist. Two trumpeters whose sound power levels are the same at the firs row in an auditorium must necessarily have the same SPL at the last row, or the furthest row from the stage. But I have been banned from TPIN for believing this. Advising them to consult with the head of the physics department at their universities didn’t change their opinion. What do you think about this? – Bill Graham, Salem, Oregon

  2. Michele byars

    What is the difference between a gold trumpet and the sliver trumpet.?

    • Bruce Chidester

      Gold is at $37 per gram
      Silver is at $14.97 per oz.

      Now back to your question-

      When we say a trumpet is a silver trumpet we actually mean it is plated with silver and the same for a gold plated trumpet.

      Obviously the gold plated trumpet will cost you more because of the value of the material.

      Some players believe that the gold plated trumpet has a softer, darker sound and the silver plated trumpet has a brighter, more edgy sound.

      I say some players feel this. In my case I never found much difference in sounds and have always played silver plated horns.
      The reason I prefer the silver plated instrument has very little to do with the sound and has more to do with the acid in my system.
      A lacquered horn will last about a month before the paint job starts to wear through.

      Another reason some prefer the gold plating is for allergy problems when touching a silver horn.

      If you have unlimited funds and think the gold would be cool, go for it.
      As a retired professor, I’m more into the silver.

  3. Maddy Stephens

    Hi! I’m in 9th grade and due to a recent trumpet tragedy (tube of slide grease stuck in my horn. Local music shop can’t do anything about it. I have to get a new one.) I am trying to decide between a silver King 1501 and a Yahama YTR- 232. I am in marching band and the color and make doesn’t matter. Which one would you recommend?

    • Bruce Chidester

      Each player usually prefers one brand over another and although I prefer the Yamaha the best way to choose the best for you would be to play each one side by side. If this is not possible, be sure to ask your band directer his/her preference. I used to play a King and found it to be a very fine instrument.

      I do have a question for you. I have never known of a repair shop which could not solve your slide grease problem!
      You might try another shop and save yourself some money.

      Since they told you that they couldn’t get it out and the horn is disabled until it is removed, another possibility would be to have someone help you try to get it out. Two possibilities come to mind which have worked in the past.

      1. If you have access to an air compressor with a hose line, fit the end of the hose with the attachment used to inflate blowup toys and air mattresses. Before starting the compressor, turn the dial down so that no air is coming through the hose. Remove your mouthpiece. Insert the end of the hose into the lead-pipe. Ask your helper to GRADUALLY increase the amount of air flowing through the hose. Be sure to point your bell in a safe direction for if the tube of grease comes out, it could shoot out fast. If this doesn’t work move on to possibility #2.

      2. Substitute your garden hose for the air compressor. Again, be sure to keep any metal parts of the water hose from coming in contact with your horn for it will scratch your instrument.

      I hope you get it out. If it got stuck because you wanted a new horn………….. good luck.

  4. John Patai

    I recently saw a Schilke B5 trumpet I believe on e-bay that had a glass bead finish similar to a Blessing BTR-1580BS but cannot find it. Any ideas who might have the Schilke B5 with this finish? I believe it was priced around $2,795.

    • Bruce Chidester

      I have spent most of the morning searching for a glass bead finish Schilke and found nothing.

      The old man was very adamant about his finishes and sold only bare brass, silver plated or gold for the reason that a lacquer finish was not consistent enough for putting on his horns. Now that he has turned the company over, I’m not sure what they allow.

      This might be a one of a kind and to have it come up for sale might mean that it sold quickly.

      I’ll keep looking and ask some of my friends.

      I played Schilke (B3) for many years and miss the flexibility of tone that it offered.

  5. Steven L Carrier

    Silver has some great acoustic properties if you have ever heard an old solid silver coin drop and hit the floor you know what I mean.

  6. Jim Sadler, trombone Baritone horn and sousaphone.

    I spent quite few hour trying to get deep information about sound and metal qualities. At the end of that chase the best info seemed to indicate that the surface hardness of the metal was the key in sound production which may explain the hand hammering on some bells. That hammering hardens the surface of the metal.
    And now my pet peeves. First the old Conn finish was the best I have ever experienced. Why the heck can’t it be common these days on many brands? My second horror is the black tarnish near the bell rim where the bell is folded over the wire. On many horns the first spot of ruin you see is at that point. Certainly that problem could be fixed by any company that wants their horns to look good for decades. I have seen Conn horns that are 40 years old that still have a good finish.

    • Bruce Chidester

      So true! Eventally all of my current horns have turned black on the edge of the rim.

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