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Wow, when I began embarking on studying this topic, I thought it would be a much simpler answer. It turns out that this is a much more complicated question than I could have imagined. So what is the difference between a professional trumpet and a student trumpet?
Professional trumpets are not guaranteed to have a better sound than student trumpets even with the same player. Professional trumpets are expected to have the highest standards of build quality, including lacquer, soldering, and valve construction. Also, professional trumpets will also have more customization and features.
I’m coming to this from a bit of an outsider’s perspective. I played trumpet through high school and was in a community band for a year, but I am not a career trumpet player. However, I think this is to my advantage because the reason why this is complicated is because pro trumpet players are expected to have pro trumpets.
So, are professional trumpets all they’re cracked up to be?
What Is Different Between Pro and Student Trumpets
One important thing to remember is that whether a trumpet is “professional” or “student” is completely up to the manufacturer’s label. In other words, there is no set of standards a trumpet actually has to uphold to be labelled as professional.
So, the quest is to find what the actual differences are led to a lot of research. The following is what I was able to turn up as the primary differences between professional and student trumpets.
By far, the most important (and probably most obvious) difference is the cost.
Most professional trumpets cost new from $2000-5000. A couple are labelled professional that are around the $1800 mark, but the vast majority are from $2000-$5000 range.
Trumpet labelled as student vary just as much as in price as it turns out, although rarely will you see them priced far above $2000 at the very high end.
You can find a lot of student trumpet models hovering around the $150 to $500 range, but a good number live in the $500-$1500 range.
I don’t mean this in a negative way, but it’s almost impossible to see the price tag of a professional trumpet and not be influenced to think that it must have some special qualities. This is especially true of those who own a very expensive instrument.
Even though not everyone can agree whether a professional trumpet is worth the money, everyone can agree that what is most important is your own perception of your trumpet. The instrument in many ways is a part of you. If you don’t like your instrument, that’s a very difficult thing to deal with.
So, really, price doesn’t really matter–all that matters is you and your relationship with your instrument.
Build quality is a broad topic. I’ll break it down into what determines build quality. Professional trumpets are much more likely to have a higher build quality, overall.
- Higher Quality Lacquer and Finish: This makes sense–professional trumpets are expensive and it’s a hard sell if the finish isn’t in top-quality shape. No imperfections and consistent.
- Higher Quality Brass: Trumpets are brass instruments, and although they can be plated with silver or with gold they are primarily made of brass. Brass can be sourced with more or less imperfections and contaminants and high-end professional trumpets will source the nicer stuff.
- Vacuum Valves: This isn’t an advertised feature, it just means the valves are working properly. When you pull the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd valves out, there should be a vacuum force which tries to yank the slide back into place. This resistance indicates there is no trace air escaping the valve. If all valves are up there should be no entry points of air into the 3 valve’s slides.
- Proper Valve Piston Action: Valves have to put up with an extremely repetitive force for potentially decades of use. A valve is supposed to spring back up with the proper force when pushed down, but also, it should not be too hard to push down. A valve should not feel mushy.
- High quality threading: There are a couple things that screw on and off the trumpet, and they are all in the valve system. The valve caps on the bottom of the instrument, and the valves themselves are screwed on the top of the instrument. Also, the valve finger keys do actually come off the rest of the valve mechanism as well. If the threads are solid this is a sign of a higher quality instrument. If not this is a sign of cheap machining.
- Solder: The trumpet isn’t made of one piece of metal. The cross bar between the bell and the lead pipe is a solder point, as well as several other solder points scattered on the instrument. An inexpensive instrument may come apart easily or after a few years of use. Unfortunately this one isn’t immediately apparent some of the time.
- 3rd Valve slide: Most trumpets will have a ring on the 3rd valve slide, but the difference is that high quality 3rd valves actually have the capability of being adjusted in a split-second while playing. The slide should fit in such a way and have the proper vacuum action to be able to move out quickly for the appropriate notes and move back. Lesser quality 3rd valves you can move the slide but not easily or fast enough for real-time playing use.
- 1st Valve slide: Many professional quality instruments have a hook (called a thumb saddle) for the left hand for the 1st slide. This is for adjusting the 1st valve while playing. The slide needs to move with just the right action so it doesn’t pop off easily but is easy enough to move quickly.
- Valve durability: Trumpet valves have to work in incredibly tight clearances. Any imperfection in the metal or the machining will result in metal that will pit or even cause abrasion and potentially be damaged. Unfortunately this isn’t something you can spot immediately.
- Exceptional Warranty: A quality trumpet relies on its brand name–so you know you are working with a good brand if their warranty is solid.
Assurance Of Quality
So, with “student” trumpets you actually can see all of the qualities and features of a professional-level instrument. But you might not see them as often.
What I mean by that is that less expensive trumpets are not going to have the same processes to ensure that the quality of the instrument matches standards.
The tolerances for error and for variation in an instrument differ on the price point of the instrument. If an instrument is mass-produced, its quality checks are likely to be less thorough–while a custom-crafted instrument is going to have more attention to detail.
This is presumably true–you can’t guarantee that a professional-level instrument won’t have defects.
The long and short of this is that you might get a really good inexpensive “student” trumpet that has all the features you want, but it’s more of a gamble whether all of them will meet specification.
For example, Jean Paul trumpets (one on Amazon) are making a splash because they are extremely affordable and have a lot of features that you typically only find on professional level trumpets. However there is no way that a trumpet under $500 can have the same quality assurance process.
This is just a guess, though. To really find this one out you’d have to find out how often a Bach Stradivarius is sent in for repari
This is where a warranty is very important if you are buying online or if you’re even luckier, to go try out trumpets at a music store. Examine every part of the instrument–if you’re lucky, a student model instrument could be in great shape and have everything you want.
One thing that is clear about student trumpets vs. professional trumpets is that student trumpets are designed for all-purpose use. It’s not usually until you get to professional-quality trumpets that you get to specialized trumpets.
For example, Bach has a C190 model trumpet which is designed for symphonic orchestra and is even in the key of C (common for symphonic trumpets).
Bach also makes a triumphal trumpet (theinstrumentbarn.com) made for ceremonies
There are other specialized trumpets that are used for jazz, etc. In any case, it’s in the professional price-range where you see this level of specialization. This makes sense since a student presumably hasn’t chosen their path at this point.
What’s Not Different Between Pro and Student Trumpets
There are some major similarities between student and professional trumpets that I want to call out.
I’m going to put myself out on a limb here. Professional trumpets have an expectation of a better sound–but this expectation doesn’t always match up with reality.
In other words, don’t buy a professional trumpet so you will sound better.
Why is this?
Well, to be short, a trumpet is essentially a coiled up pipe with some keys and valves that can be pushed that control the length of the pipe. Any trumpet player knows that it’s not as simple as all of that, but bear with me, here.
The way the sound is produced is that a standing wave is created by the player buzzing into the mouthpiece. This standing wave is changed by the player buzzing faster or slower and by the length and shape of the pipe.
The sound is created from an air column produced by the player and that is guided by the shape of the mouthpiece and the shape and length of the trumpet.
Professional trumpets are often made from more fancy materials such as gold and silver, and advertise having specialized thicknesses of bore or the bell.
Because of this, professional trumpets are much more expensive.
People have been arguing for ages whether the material of the trumpet changes the way the sound bounces around in the trumpet, and it’s incredibly controversial to say that the material doesn’t matter.
Does the Material Of A Trumpet Change the Way It Sounds?
The answer is, perhaps!
In a famous research study conducted by Bennett at the North Texas State University, the research played a clarinet type instrument made of plastic and another made of wood. The study found there were sound differences in the material but they were negligible.
More modern studies have occurred, and they are expertly summarized in this thesis from James Whitehouse.
- One study asked study participants to see if they could distinguish between 6 different flutes that they could hear but could not see. The study participants could not tell the difference between the flutes
- Another study showed that the material of the instrument could show a factor but the differences were so small to be difficult to quantify as a human.
In James Whitehouse thesis, he found compelling evidence that the material does make a small, complicated and potentially noticeable difference.
However, my takeaway from the studies were that it’s still not proven (or disproven) that material makes a difference. What is extremely likely though is that the material only really matters for expert trumpet players.
In other words, if you are chasing a good sound, a professional trumpet is not going to deliver that. A true professional trumpet player can make any (passable quality) trumpet sound great.
So, does it matter if your trumpet has a specific lacquer? Does it truly sound warmer with thicker brass or with gold plating? If so, it’s most likely imperceptible.
By far, what’s most at play is the trumpet player’s perception of the instrument.
What Do Other Trumpet Players Say?
I asked over 80 trumpet players what was different between pro and student trumpets.
The differences in opinion were huge. Some firmly believed there was no important difference while many firmly disagreed. How can this be? Why is this not a simple question?
The answer is that the factors that makes a trumpet sound good is so complex that nobody has been able to pin it down with science, yet.
These are some of the complicating factors:
- The player’s skill: By far, the most important piece to the good sound puzzle. Every player comes from a different level of experience and has their own unique sound.
- Embouchure: One Trumpet will sound different on the lips of two equally skilled trumpet players (I mean not at the same time 😉) simply because their embouchures are different
- Mouthpiece pressure: In the study from James Whitehouse, he theorized that varying amounts of mouthpiece pressure can cause the actual material to resonate differently. Talk about a subtle complicating factor
So that’s why it’s difficult to answer this question.
I thought this was an excellent video from Charlie Porter where he compares an inexpensive Jean-Baptiste trumpet ($200) with a Bach Stradivarius ($2000) and a Monette ($20,000).
I thought Charlie was very tasteful and he didn’t comment on the differences instead leaving the discussion to the listener. As you can tell from the discussion on this video, many people felt that the $200 with a nice mouthpiece sounded on par with the other two trumpets.
To be more practical, though. Don’t worry that a student trumpet might not sound as good–many student trumpets are more than capable enough to be played professionally–at least sound wise.
What Is the Best Student Trumpet To Buy?
I’ll recommend two types of trumpets, but in general, I recommend to not purchase a trumpet for more than $500. The quality of student trumpets has increased so much to the point that it makes no sense to spend more than $500 for a beginner.
Jean Paul trumpet are fully featured and have incredible (incredible!) quality for the price range. I really enjoy Trent Hamilton’s videos because he’s very thorough and he actually did an initial review of a Jean Paul trumpet and then a follow up instrument after he’s played the instrument significantly. This is an ideal review since it’s had some time to show any weaknesses.
You can use see the horn here on Amazon as well.
This is an ideal instrument for a beginner who is old enough to be careful with the instrument because brass is delicate. It’s definitely high enough quality for a beginner to intermediate, and in my opinion could be used in recordings and as far as the player is willing to go with it.
If you are looking for something for a very young beginner or are looking for something that’s a little different, I would totally get the pTrumpet. It’s plastic, but, if you do a little bit of YouTubing, you’ll be shocked at how great it sounds. I too have a mental block where I don’t feel like it could be used professionally, but absolutely perfect for the hobbyist or for a young child that you won’t be afraid of it being dropped.
See it on Amazon.