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This little guide to buying your first trumpet, cornet, or flugel will help you get started as you begin your journey. There is much, much more to consider that what is written here – please contact us for expanded advice!
Below this guide is a list of new and (sometimes) second-hand small brass instruments – perfect for the beginner.
Read: our in-depth guide to the brass instrument family
The trumpet is the rock star of the brass world. It is used in all types of music, from orchestral to jazz to indie and nearly everything in between. Your first trumpet will probably be a Bb (B flat) which is what most music is written for.
Trumpets have a cylindrical bore, which means the tubing is mostly parallel rather than tapered like a cone (called a conical bore). Cylindrical bores produce a brighter tone. Conical bores produce a warmer tone.
Cornets are the most popular instrument in brass bands. They have the same amount of tubing as a trumpet but appear shorter. This is because the tubing on a cornet is coiled in two complete revolutions rather than a trumpet’s single revolution.
The cornet has a conical bore and uses a deep mouthpiece. These characteristics give the cornet a deeper, broader sound than a trumpet.
The lovely, warm, mellow sound of the flugel is commonly used in jazz music. The flugel has the same length of tubing as a trumpet or a cornet and is in the same key, but 2/3 of its tubing is conical making it the winner for mellow tones.
There are two main concerns when it comes to the condition of a small brass instrument:
Unlike woodwinds, most brass instruments are in fairly good playing condition when they first arrive from the factory. Some manufacturers are consistently good, e.g. Bach, Schagerl, and Carolbrass. Other manufacturers release instruments with random problems. Some problematic brands are expensive (B&S) but most are cheap (every brand you’ve never heard of).
This is something to consider when buying a new horn. It is also why buying from a repair workshop like Vanguard is a smart idea! A workshop will be able to set up a new instrument; it will ensure the slides are functioning as they should and the valves are operating freely.
Important: if you want to enjoy playing the trumpet, cornet, or flugel, do not buy a cheap new one. On TradeMe (as of this writing) you can buy a new ‘Mirage’ cornet for $289. Make no mistake: this cornet will undoubtedly be terrible. It will discourage anybody who attempts to play it.
Tread carefully in the minefield that is the second-hand brass instrument market. As well as the potential issues remaining from the manufacturer, an old horn might have been neglected. 50-year-old bacteria might have thrived in a dank closet and developed into a small, impressive ecosystem within the leadpipe.
If your budget only allows for a second-hand instrument, please consider the following:
‘Yamaha’ or ‘Bach’ are brands you have heard of. ‘Mirage’ or other names related to visual trickery are not brands you have heard of. Google if unsure.
Bring your potential small brass instrument into a workshop (e.g. Vanguard Orchestral) to get it checked if possible. It is not fun buying a $200 Conn trumpet from somebody’s grandad and then learning that it needs $400 worth of work and doesn’t play in the right key.
Some workshops (including us) sell instruments on behalf for people. These will generally be in good playing condition or will have the repair cost built into the price.
Renting is a great, affordable way to start playing brass. It can let a new player know if they want to pursue something without committing to buying. Rental flugels may be difficult to come by, but you should have no problem finding a trumpet or even a cornet.
Rental instruments have usually been around the block a few times and may not be in the greatest condition. Your rental shop should keep their instruments serviced to a reasonable standard. If in doubt, bring the instrument into a workshop to get it checked over.
A bad horn can discourage a player. A good one can give a player years of joy!
Alto / Tenor Horn
MULTIPLE WIND and BRASS
277 Tinakori Road, Thorndon, Wellington 6011
04 472 2668 | 021588738
Weekdays – 9am – 5pm
Saturdays – 11am – 1pm
Sundays – closed
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