How Good Does A Trumpet Have To Be?

Discussion in 'Bandroom News - User Submitted' started by Bruce Chidester, May 18, 2017.

  1. Bruce Chidester

    Bruce Chidester New Member

    If you ask most trumpet players this question the answer is usually “I need one better than the one I’m playing on now!”

    But is this a true evaluation of our current instrument?

    To fully understand what I am about to say, I will approach this question from two different perspectives;

    How good does the instrument have to be to satisfy its player?


    How good does the instrument have to be to make a difference to the listener?

    How good does the instrument have to be to satisfy its player?

    Every musician wants to be able to perform with the best instrument for to use one of lesser quality would produce music of a lesser quality. Few would argue this conclusion and for that reason most of us are constantly revaluating our playing ability and forever looking for another instrument which would improve our performances.

    If your valves are not functioning properly, a newer instrument may be the answer. If the tone quality is not what you would consider acceptable on your present instrument, another may be your solution. If moving between notes seems more difficult than you expect, perhaps a newer or different model would solve this issue. We are constantly evaluating our output and measuring possible improvement with another instrument. Each of these examples can be justified for none of us would enter a race with inferior equipment when so much is on the line.

    If, while performing, the musician has in the back of his/her mind the possibility of a valve freezing, a possible sloppy slur between notes or a question as to the quality of the sound escaping from ones bell, that musicians concentration will wander and in most cases, mistakes will be made. There is no doubt that worrying about the proper functioning of one’s instrument is something no musician should have to deal with.


    There are many musicians who blame their playing problems on a perfectly functioning instrument instead of realizing the problems are not caused by the instrument but stem from the performers lack of practice!

    Too many musicians have convinced themselves that all of their problems can be corrected by purchasing a “new and improve” mouthpiece or perhaps the purchase of one of the “bright and shiny, never fluff” trumpets offered on EBay. I am convinced that the percentage of victims to this utopian philosophy could be as much as 50% of the trumpet world today.

    I have more times than I can remember heard from players who purchase extremely expensive trumpets who have convinced themselves that all of their problems will be solved with the new instrument. Almost all of the same people, when demonstrating their new purchase, seem to play exactly the same as they had with their old instrument. One such player, after shelling out more money than I had paid for my first car, tried to justify his purchase to his wife by telling her that he made the purchase as an investment for as he put it “the value of this instrument will only go up”. The value of the same instrument actually went down and he eventually sold it at a loss to another sucker.

    In concluding this section of my post, I will admit that playing on an inferior instrument will not manifest into your best performance and on the flip side; don’t condemn a perfectly good instrument for your laziness and lack of discipline.

    Now on to point #2…..

    How good does the instrument have to be to make a difference to the listener?

    Could it have been possible for the late, great trumpet player Mr. Adolph Sylvester "Bud" Herseth to perform brilliantly on a student model trumpet? Of course he could have! Mr Herseth could have sounded great on a mouthpiece inserted into a section of garden hose with a funnel at the other end! To illustrate this even further, let me share with you an experience I had while a member of the faculty brass quintet at the University of Northern Iowa several decades ago…..

    Once upon a time, many years ago in a far off land called Iowa, I needed my Schilke trumpet repaired and due to the fact that it would be in the shop for a couple weeks, I needed a replacement for our daily quintet rehearsals. A quick trip to the university’s instrument store room produced a solution to my problem; a fairly new Yamaha student model trumpet. I did not share the dubious pedigree of my replacement horn to my fellow quintetians and continued to rehearse with them for the next two weeks. Then one day, a fellow member asked if I had purchased a new horn to which I responded “no, not yet. I’m just trying it out to see if I like it”. No more questions were asked and no one ever knew that I was playing on a student level horn. This is just another example of the limited thinking one could entertain when considering the necessity of a new and improved instrument. The lower level trumpet was nothing close to the superior quality of my Schilke, yet to the ears of my colleagues, little difference, if any was detected. If I remember correctly, I even performed some concerts on that student level instrument.

    In concluding this section of my post, I will admit that every musician needs the best instrument they can afford to perform as well as possible. Inferior quality instruments will hold a musician back but do not try to justify a better instrument if the problems lay with your own lack of ability or preparation.
    Malamute and Jack E like this.
  2. Hsop

    Hsop Member

    Hi Bruce

    Interesting post you made there. I am not a trumpet player myself but are there many people on this forum that play in a quintet on a daily basis? Is it perhaps possible that sitting in close proximity to each other during rehearsals that it would be quite difficult to make a true comparison of tone quality between a Yamaha and Schilke trumpet?

    The argument of instrument selection and ability will have already been discussed here many times, however the individual has the freedom to choose what they prefer. A good instrument will certainly help any player irrespective of their skill level achieve better results. Do you believe that skilled musicians should trade in their favourite instruments and buy a student range instrument just because they can play on anything?

    Music is for the enjoyment to play and the pleasure it gives an audience in listening. I personally believe in playing the best instrument that you can buy or borrow, especially if you have the long-term commitment to progress. I was fortunate as a child to borrow from my local band and play on an old B&H sovereign cornet even when I was in the early stages of playing brass instruments. Fast forward 20+ years and I still play on a B&H sovereign cornet after my ability has increased.

    Use whatever instrument makes you happy and meets your requirements :)
  3. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    As good as a cornet? ;-)
  4. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    By chance I can across comments by Algridas Matonis (Algirdas Matonis) who is a Euphonium player in River City Brass - both of them are 'big' in the USA and produce some 'good stuff'. It seems like AM supports the view that it is possible and practical to produce excellent music on 'lesser quality' instruments as demonstrated in this video of him talking and playing a 'student' instrument:
  5. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    The better the player, the more consistent the results.

    A stronger, more consistent player is going to be more capable of picking up on intonation tendencies of the instrument and more capable of adjusting to them as they go...
    But at the same time, they're going to be more appreciative of instruments with better intonation, harmonics/slots lining up more evenly, especially when the music gets more intricate - in this sense, when you're referring to slurs between different notes feeling harder than it should, it's the intonation tendencies of the instrument more often than not in my experience (if you're slurring from 4th space E to the G on top of the staff, for example, on most instruments the E will be flat to some extent and the G will often be slightly sharp - the further from centered the notes want to be, the harder it'll be to slur it if you're aiming for where the middle of that note should be..)

    At the same time, a top top performer might be willing to accept slightly dodgy intonation if it allows them to make the sound they want - and since you won't hear it, it's easy not to notice how much effort they're putting in.

    I suspect the style of music might play some part, too - if you're always playing a solid MF or louder, it's easier to lip notes around a bit than if you're trying to play quietly in your high register.

    I don't know about you, but I'll take the best I can get my hands on, personally.

    But I take your point - an excellent instrument you're familiar with is enough for the vast majority of us... And if your own playing isn't consistent enough that you form that connection and familiarity with the tendencies (intonation or otherwise) of a given instrument, it's probably not the instrument - it's the player.
    Euphonium Lite, Jack E and 4th Cornet like this.
  6. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    By the traditional definitions, most of them are cornets... Or atleast hybrids of the two.
    mikelyons likes this.
  7. Trumpetuk

    Trumpetuk New Member

    I play a Yamaha Trumpet which has a massive sound and full tone. Not sure if this comes from a past of playing euph but I have a massive sound on a standard Yamaha/ Use a Schilke 24 mouthpiece
  8. Pauli Walnuts

    Pauli Walnuts Moderator Staff Member

    I own many trumpets - none of them purchased though because I thought they were better but all because of the different sounds. My primary horn is an awesome Selmer Paris which is my default horn - but if playing in an orchestral section where they are using C trumpets, I stick out like a sore thumb. Similarly, if they are using rotaries, that has a similar problem,
    So, it's horses for courses really to ensure the overall section sound is right. With the exception of my Wessex rotary Bb, I have purchased all of them second hand - rather than buy a cheaper new model.
    The points on intonation are interesting - and I agree its as much about the ability of the player as the instrument. For example, in one band, we had a flugel where their intonation on a first valve D was always poor. I lent this player my Selmer Paris flugel (on which I don't have that problem) and of course, the player still complained about my 1st valve intonation.
  9. Bruce Chidester

    Bruce Chidester New Member

    After a while, musicians used to playing out of tune force their instrument to comply to their wishes.
    Slider1 likes this.
  10. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    Ofcourse they do, but that doesn't mean it's not a wasted effort compared to an instrument that's in tune (all else equal).
  11. Emb_Enh

    Emb_Enh Member

    The Trumpet (or any other instrument) needs to be as good as the music you are asking it to perform...

    I've played $25 Chinese trumpets that were easily good enough (tone / intonation etc) for all playing until it got to the most further reaches of register (G above High C)

    I've encountered many students who think that certain notes on certain instruments are dodgy until they are shown that it's their technique..

    I've encountered many instruments that had dodgy notes...for the past... I had the great good luck to be able to go to the Bach/Selmer warehouse to have my own choice from at least 20 of the same size and model. Of which only 3 would be 'in the running' :(
    2nd tenor likes this.
  12. Malamute

    Malamute New Member

    Hi Bruce, I enjoyed your post very much. I can't pretend to be a good player, I am not disciplined enough for one thing, and my health is not good for another so when I play badly I blame myself. Now the funny bit....
    I wanted a C trumpet for church carol concerts and whatnot and bought a second hand slighty battered Cortois that had been refurbished . With much excitement I unpacked it and started to try it out. the noise that came out was horrendous. I thought I need to practice more. so I gave it an hour to rest my poor chops, and had another try. and another. and another. no joy . by this time I was wondering if I had another chest infection or worse and felt pretty rough. I thought either I am ill, or I have bought a heap of junk so I rushed off to my locl repairer and showed it to them . I explained that it was probably me and not the instrument and asked them to just take a look. The young lady took it off to her workshop and came back in a few minutes to tell me not to call an ambulance just yet, and explained that whoever had soldered on a new lead pipe had unsoldered just about every joint on it and it leaked like a sieve. when I got it back a week later it sounded so much better.
    I never felt so good as when I tried it out and I didn't sound half as bad as I thought I would.
  13. 4th Cornet

    4th Cornet Active Member

    That sounds like a faulty instrument rather than a poor one as per the context of the original post. However it raises a good point, it's always worth getting a second opinion and / or a repairer to check your instrument over to make sure there aren't leaks etc.
  14. julian

    julian Active Member

    Over the years I've had many instruments (granted only a few were trumpets - most were cornets, flugels, even sops), but in answer to your question 'How good does a trumpet (or any other instrument) have to be - IMHO even the poorest instrument can be vastly improved by choosing a decent mouthpiece that suits both the instrument and the player alike.
    2nd tenor likes this.
  15. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    “IMHO even the poorest instrument can be vastly improved by choosing a decent mouthpiece that suits both the instrument and the player alike.” Julian above in #14.

    “The Trumpet (or any other instrument) needs to be as good as the music you are asking it to perform... “ Emb_Hen above in #11.

    The above hits the core of the issue. In truth relatively few players are capable of hitting the limit of what their (if fault free) instrument is capable of, and therefore the ‘ask’ is well within its capabilities. I’d agree that matching an appropriate mouthpiece to an instrument and player certainly does make a great improvement too.
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2017
  16. David Broad

    David Broad Member

    It is sort of horses for courses, Most Cornets and Trumpets are pretty much clones of a 1902 Besson with a few honourable exceptions like the Wilson with straight ports in oversize valves and the various rotary valve instruments. As long as the valve ports line up smoothly and the ports are as free from bumps as possible then you can pretty much get any new tat into tune. Admittedly you may need a blow lamp, a tube cutter and a file or two. However while you can fake a great sound on a £50 Chinese horn accompanied by a piano in a temperature controlled environment actually playing with an ensemble in variable conditions is where a good quality horn of the same breed as your fellow musicians pays off.
    In an Orchestral setting you spent the entire gig trying to keep up with wood expanding and contracting changing the tuning of Pianos etc so it probably makes little difference whether the horn cost $50 or $ 50 000 but in a Brass Ensemble or Brass Band from my perspective commonality is king.
    Its the variations in tuning in sections, principally solo Cornets on the melody when valves are pushed down which annoy me as a conductor, its fine playing slow melodies, anyone can work that out but its the fast passages with out of tune F's and E's howling which annoy. Much better to have 8 student Cornets playing than 6 student and two different "Professional" instruments.
    Again the quality of the metal is important, I was playing a 1927 High pitch Boosey Tenor Horn the other evening, my choice, I was offered a Sovereign for the gig. First point it is much lighter and tinnier than modern instruments, noticeably thinner Brass. Second , it is only just able to get up to A 440! Third it has an effortless upper register compared to the Sov, top C,D.E.F. Fourth it has a very sweet Flugel sort of sound in mf playing (Rasps horribly if you push it) and seems to work very well in a mixed Brass ensemble playing alto part on Carols, though it needed 1/2 for E and 1/3 for D on certain chords. I'm sure it would sound awful in a full band situation.
    I would therefore submit that the cheaper instruments will tend to be heavier, deader, less powerful, and more tiring to play than lighter built ones and the quality instruments will hopefully be better optimised to balance ease of playing, tone and power and exhibit less quality control variations.