My first trumpet was a Holton T602.
These old horns can be bought on eBay today for anywhere between $60 and $150, depending on quality. I believe my mother had purchased the instrument for about $20 at a garage sale. Sure, it had a dented bell, but it was a good quality, working instrument that gave me a good foundation.
Why am I telling you about my first trumpet? Well, since my beginning days a lot has changed.
Finding a good quality instrument for a beginner has become a much harder endeavor. Recently in my teaching, I’ve been getting a lot of questions regarding brand new instruments for sale on websites like Amazon, eBay, Target, and Walmart.
The question is, are those trumpets worth buying?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a straightforward answer but hopefully, you’ll find some good information in the words to follow.
So What Has Changed?
When I was young, the only place to purchase an instrument was through a dedicated music store.
These stores are usually run by musicians that play and understand the instruments they sell. Generally, these small businesses will only stock good quality instruments that they have play-tested. However, nowadays you can type “trumpet” into websites like Amazon, eBay, Target, and Walmart and they will give you a lot of buying options.
These retailers do not play-test these instruments and some of the prices seem to be too good to be true.
Typically brand new beginner student model trumpets will range from $500-$1000. Intermediate/professional trumpets will run about $1500-2500 new. True professional trumpet and auxiliary horns like piccolo, E-flat, and C-trumpet will range between $2500-$5000 and higher.
And yet eBay has a “Silver Professional Concert Brass Student Bb Trumpet” brand new for less than $70.
How is this possible? Are many of the major trumpet manufacturers like Bach, Yamaha, and Jupiter, and others overcharging? How do you know what a good price to pay for a new instrument is? What if a $600 expense is not possible with your budget?
Don’t fret, we’ll get you out of this.
Searching for Trumpets in Walmart
If you go to Walmart.com and search for a trumpet you get both tools and toys listed side by side. I’ve included a picture below for your reference of my search results.
First I think we need to talk about the difference between a “tool” and a “toy.”
A “toy” exists simply for the enjoyment of having it.
A “tool” is an object that has a very specific function and a very specific job to do.
The first three instruments from left to right show toys that would be appropriate for very young children to play with. None of those instruments are actual functioning instruments that could be played in a school band.
However, the instrument all the way to the right looks to be a more serious tool. But is it?
Well to be honest I’m not sure.
I’ve been playing trumpet for over a decade and I’ve never heard of the brand “Ktaxon.” That price seems incredibly and unbelievably low for a new instrument. And the fact that this retailer does not seem to be able to distinguish the difference between a “tool” and “toy” makes me think this would be an extremely poor choice for a beginner.
Now, just because a manufacturer is unknown does not mean it’s bad.
Take Jupiter for example. When Jupiter first started making instruments many people thought poorly of them. But over time, they continued to improve and see the advice of major musical artists and developed an entire line of very high quality brass instruments.
However, I would consult someone who has actually played these instruments like these before I would ever consider purchasing one.
Searching for Trumpets in Target
If you search “trumpet” at Target.com you’ll get some different results.
They too are quick to list a “toy” next to a “tool” however you’ll find that they actually are nothing more than a middle man for another retailer.
They’ve partnered with Musician’s Friend, a reputable online instrument dealer to include instruments on their website. I wouldn’t recommend you purchase anything this way.
In my opinion, it’s best to go straight to the source. Musician’s Friend is a great place to find gear and would be able to help with customer service needs more easily.
Looking for Trumpets in Major Online Retailers Like eBay
Let’s talk about other major online retailers like eBay.
I’ve had a personal experience with a student who purchased an instrument from one of these online retailers. The instrument was colored purple and was marketed as an instrument that would be appropriate to play in a band.
I believe at the time the student paid around $100. This was the worst playing instrument I had ever held in my hands. To say it was even a playing instrument is a stretch.
The construction was quite poor. It felt as if it was glued together rather than soldered, and it may have been. Using glue to hold metal together is a poor way of cutting costs.
The sound of the trumpet was incredibly thin and it was difficult to get the necessary air through to produce a good sound.
The worst part of it all was that the valves did not change the pitch of the instrument in the expected ways. Meaning that it would be impossible to learn trumpet fingerings on this instrument because no matter what valves you would depress, the desired note would never sound.
I could not imagine a more discouraging start to playing an instrument than what I just described.
If bottom dollar is the main concern when purchasing an instrument, it is my opinion that you look at one of the following options to come.
Are All Trumpets from these Retailers Bad?
I should offer a disclaimer. Not all inexpensive trumpets purchased from these online retailers or other retailers are bad instruments.
Very recently I had the pleasure of play-testing a Millbrook trumpet that was purchased from eBay for around $200.
I was absolutely shocked by how well it played and the overall build quality. It was one of the best beginner model trumpets I have ever played.
After a bit of research, it turns out that a crucial part of the construction of the instrument, the valve block, was actually built by the reputable company Bach. Horns made like this often play very well and can be acquired on the cheap.
The message is this; although it’s possible to find good quality instruments through these major retailers, it is just as possible to end up with absolute junk.
It’s not that all things from eBay or other retailers like Amazon are poor quality horns, it’s just very difficult to distinguish what is good and bad, so ideally you should go to trusted sources.
Solutions for the Budget Minded Buyer
If budget is a limiting factor in finding an instrument, I suggest one of the following solutions.
Many young children have interests that are as feeding and fickle as the wind. Is it really worth a major investment in an instrument when it’s not a guarantee that a child will want to continue with the instrument in a month? This is a common problem and many of your local music stores may have the answer.
Many places allow students to rent trumpets for a monthly or yearly rate.
They will select a good instrument for a beginner student and provide all the auxiliary components a young student will need. They take the guesswork out of selecting a trumpet and also take the financial strain out of purchasing a brand new instrument.
Used Student Trumpets
I started my playing career at a young age by playing an older used student line instrument. Many instrument dealers will offer incredible deals on used trumpets that are of very high quality at a more affordable price.
Many others sell and trade high quality used instruments. These are reputable shops that will make sure they only sell instruments of quality. These sellers would NEVER list a toy and a tool on the same page. They know the difference and can help you to make a good decision.
Additionally, it’s possible to do a private sale through places like FaceBook Marketplace or trumpetherald.com. A critical eye and discretion are advised when purchasing from private sellers. Not everyone has good intentions.
Get Expert Advice
My last suggestion in finding an instrument for a beginner is to try to get in contact with some professional/semi-professional musicians and band directors.
I’ve had student model trumpets just given to me because the original owners wanted to donate the instrument to a young player in need.
This happens often and if there is absolutely no budget available there are often systems and methods in place to find instruments for those who could not otherwise afford anything at all.
Author: Kyle Matthees
- Kyle is a trumpeter living and working in the Nashville, TN area. He holds a bachelors degree in trumpet performance from the University of North Dakota and has recently finished his Masters of Music degree from Belmont University.
- Apart from various performing commitments, Kyle maintains an active teaching studio and provides coaching and masterclasses for schools in the Nashville area.
- Additionally, Kyle is an adjunct instructor in the music theory department at Middle Tennessee State University.