Differences between grades of instruments
Warning: beginner question. What's the gist of the difference between beginner, intermediate, and advanced instruments besides the enormous price differential? Coming from guitars, such differences are blatant. But with trumpets, it's hard to imagine any but subtle differences.
@_mark_ just remembered an interview with Miles Davis where the interviewer handed Miles what looked like a decent instrument and Miles looked at it with contempt and said I couldn't do anything with that. How could he judge it instantly at a glance?
Dale Proctor last edited by Dale Proctor
Today, the main difference between a lot of beginner and intermediate instruments is the trim level - basically the same instrument, but with more extras. The professional model is normally a huge step up in quality and playability, but a beginner or inexperienced player will have trouble telling the difference.
When talking about vintage instruments, the beginner, intermediate, and professional models were unique instruments, different from each other and more of a step up in playing quality the higher you went up the ladder.
oldpete last edited by
I recall when beginner instruments had no first valve thumb saddle, and the third valve slide always had an adjustable throw ring that could be removed for a lyre.
J. Jericho last edited by
In a basic sense, beginning instruments are made to survive inexperienced handling and provide the player with a positive sense of playing on a budget, intermediate instruments are affordable instruments made with more attention to things like intonation and response for players who can discern such qualities, and finally, advanced instruments are well-thought-out and designed to optimize characteristics that enable advanced players to play without concern for compensating for an instrument's shortcomings.
As for Miles Davis, he had a very high opinion of himself and perhaps feigned insult at being handed a trumpet he recognized as being beneath his lofty standards. Show any number of members of TB a picture of a trumpet, and they'll likely be able to tell you the make, model, and year range of that horn. As for Miles not being able to do anything with the one he was handed, the truth of the matter is that a good player can make any horn sound just fine. I've said in the past that there are some well-known trumpet players that could play a cast iron bathtub and make it sound good.
@j-jericho Too bad that beginners get stuck with instruments that don't respond well and require compensation for poor intonation since these are the people most likely to become discouraged, and frustrated with flat and sharp notes. Their inability to overcome poor instruments will go a step toward guaranteeing their failure. From this, it seems even beginners should shell out for responsive, more playable, well intonated advanced instruments.
Some pro instruments are not suited to beginners at all, and will actually make the learning experience more difficult. Many pro models these days are built with a particular pro player’s needs in mind and are difficult to handle for a student whose needs are “easily playable” and “durable”. I find that when young students come in looking for their first upgrade, something middle-of-the-road usually plays much better and easier for them than any of the pricier signature models, for example a Yamaha 8335 vs. a Yamaha 9335 series. Not only will they not understand the nuances of the more expensive models, but they will likely also have a difficult time playing them. Something to keep in mind when shopping for new horns as you improve as a player.
I really don’t think vintage horns had a higher quality level for intermediate vs. pro - some of those were still no more than fancier plating. The most important thing when looking at vintage is condition. If it’s been played to death or knocked around a lot, it will need some serious work to be brought back into playing condition, and may end up costing as much or more than a new horn when finished. It also may not be able to sell for enough to recoup your investment if you decide to switch to another horn. Also, no matter what the reputation, there is no magic in any horn. A Martin Committee in perfect condition will not make you sound like one of the greats if you are a marginal player, OR if it doesn’t suit you, though you may be able to sell it for what you paid if you don’t like it. A new Yamaha pro model you played and didn’t like will also hold a significant amount of its value. A restored vintage horn will only hold its value if the restoration is done very well, and if the model already commands higher prices. Stuff to think about as you play, practice, and shop.
It is important to recognize context when talking about "quality". A students instrument can have a very high quality, but the focus is on different things!
A beginner handles their instrument more by "chance" than by "experience". This means that a student instrument must be very durable to insure good mechanical properties even when not regularly maintained. The next mark of a high quality student instrument is how easily it "speaks". It needs to resonate easily with good tone. The player has to hear themselves easily. The valves will not have as tight of a tolerance to prevent them from hanging when not regularly brushing teeth before playing!
I will leave out "intermediate" instruments as I personally really see no musical sense to them. We can move from a Yamaha 2xxx or 3xxx directly to the 8xxx series for instance.
Professional instruments are not "soldered or designed better" than the student instruments. The improvements are in the time it takes to manipulate the materials for a playing response more closely connected to the players intentions. Instead of "durability", materials are used that allow a greater choice of playing colors, perhaps more ease of playing extremely soft and loud. The ability for "articulation" to be heard. A more controllable transition from clear to brilliant in a crescendo. In many cases, professional instruments have considerably more manual labor in their construction and that costs money.
I certainly agree that buying a beginner a pro horn normally does no one a favor. we start on a bicycle with training wheels, not carbon fiber rims. As our use case matures, we have opportunities to offer more colorful playing. A professional instrument can help us tap those talents by giving our ears/brain less gaps to fill in. When our vocabulary and quality of musical speech warrant it, the pro horn lets us shine through more.
Dr GO last edited by
I agree entirely as to Rowuk comments. As his posts tend to do, it got me thinking as to my first horn, the Ambassador. All Rowuk said was entirely true in my early experience with that horn. It endured all the trauma I as an elementary student inflicted on it. And it was kind to me with the ease it provided me to play. I imagine that was the real value it provided, to afford me that opportunity to advance towards me becoming a more accomplished player.
But looking at that Ambassador now from this time in my life as a professional, man does that horn give an amazing flexibility in response! I just never had the chops as a beginner to appreciate that horn at that level. That horn in my hands out performs all of my Recordings and my Getzen Power bore in overall playability. Rowuk provided a most interesting introspective with his above post to allow me to make this personal connection.
fels last edited by
My first horn was a Conn -- don't remember the model -- I was in Fourth Grade.
I used it successfully into what is now called Middle School and we (my parents and I) looked for an upgrade. Olds Recording.
That was my horn through High School and then into College (although not as a music major).
I took the Recorder with me when I was in a Junior Year Abroad program in Regensburg. It was a new University and a new program. Did not get much play time excepting at a local Atilier bar where I played with local talent. During "Spring Break" my Olds was stolen from my Volkswagen in Spain.
I replaced it with a Selmer (modified) upon returning to the US. Decent horn.
When I intensified my playing, I bought the Bach 37.
As I continued to intensify my playing, I bought my Schilke X3.
Also picked up a used Courtois flugelhorn.
My point is that I was always interested in horns- but not actively looking. Circumstances dictated actions. The Selmer was available at a decent price at the time. The Schilke was available at a decent price at the time. The Courtois showed up on the internet. My advice -- sometimes your horns find you. And depending on the journey, the quality of the horn will suit you.
GeorgeB last edited by GeorgeB
My first horn was something from a pawnshop and just had Varsity etched on the bell. I bought in 1953 for $40, a fortune to me who was working part time after school delivering prescriptions on my bike for a local drug store making $12 a week.
I was taking lessons at The Maritime Conservatory Of Music. My teacher, Professor Ifan Williams, who also happened to be the music director at the conservatory, was not pleased with the Varsity and urged me to buy something better as soon as possible.
Well I used the Varsity but dropped the Conservatory for lessons with a top notch professional trumpet player because I didn't seem to be getting anywhere. The pro player's name was Eddie Richards and he was one of those guys who did it all, from dixieland to Haydn and played for all the top local orchestras, as well as the Halifax Symphony Orchestra, I started to advance quickly under his tutelage after he arranged for me to buy a nearly new gold plated Conn Constellation 28B on time for $5 a week. The Conn made all the difference in the world. To me, at the time, it was like magic.
I stupidly sold the Conn when I quit playing in 1965, but I kept the Varsity for sentimental reasons. I still have it and play it once in awhile as a reminder of how hard it was to play as a student. I have no idea of the age of the Varsity.
Today the term “student instrument” is often associated with trumpet shaped objects that have terrible playing characteristics, but more-over tend to fall apart in your hands and cannot be repaired – if not because of the complete lack of any parts, then because the labor costs more than the horn.
That is not what the term meant in the 20th century when the student market was first acknowledged with White’s “King Junior” and “Student Prince”, and around the same time with companies and lines such as York’s Grand Rapids Band Instrument Co., Holton’s Collegiate brand, Martin’s Indiana Band Instrument Co., etc. The first was the “King Junior”, and what the catalog said about the renaming of that particular lower cost, and at that time already 8-year-old model, was “This is a ‘Long Model’ Cornet especially built to fit the needs of beginners who want to learn on a high grade, quality instrument that is not too high in price. The Junior Cornet is identical in quality workmanship with every other ‘King’, the lower price is made possible by simplicity in the engraving and trimmings. The instrument is not elaborately designed with respect to ferrules, etc. It is neatly and plainly finished. Great attention has been given to the proportions, valve action, etc., so that the instrument is exceptionally easy playing. The intonation is the same as all other ‘King’ cornets. It is a fine sensible model that will allow the beginner to make rapid progress.”
Some of the claims are a stretch, such as the ferrules that were actually more elaborate and expensive to make than normal King ones so that they matched the aesthetic used by White’s mentor McMillin for his Crown brand (White obviously sold these to McMillin for stencil too), and in my opinion, the intonation is not as reliable as on a King Improved Long Model – but I will admit it may be better than that of a King Perfecto. Nonetheless, the concept of “Student Instrument” is clearly laid out in this first of its kind acknowledgement of the market.
The best example of the differing tiers of instruments can be found in Leblanc’s system for Holton after 1965:
T-100 series of models: Professional level. Excellent tone, response and projection, but requires some skill to control effectively.
T-200 series of models: Professional level, but adapted to the unique playing characteristics favored by an artist.
T-300 series of models: Advanced Intermediate level. More secure centering thus less ease of bending and matching, excellent projection, very responsive, less color to the tonal spectrum - often specializing in a particular sound or genre.
T-400 series of models: Intermediate level. More secure centering thus less ease of bending and matching, excellent projection, not as easy responding as higher levels, less breadth of color to the tonal spectrum.
T-500 series of models: Step-up student level. Secure centering, not as easy to project, higher resistance and inertia, mostly core tone – often artist-linked for promotion (but not played by).
T-600 series of models: Student/Beginner level. Secure centering, not as easy to project, higher resistance and inertia, mostly core tone and built like a tank to take abuse and still keep working.
GeorgeB last edited by
Very interesting post. The old Varsity I purchased at a pawn shop in 1953 is still in remarkably good shape even today, 68 years later. I don't know who made it or how old it really is, but I am sure it is a student horn when I compare playing it to the professional horns I own and play today. And the Varsity is definitely built like a tank.
Newell Post last edited by
One major difference is that professional instruments can be purchased with many different features to suit the experienced player. Bach Stradivarius, for example, can be purchased with at least 4 different bell geometries, at least 4 different bell materials, several different finishes, and a bunch of different "accessories", although some of those things require a special order. Student and intermediate instruments usually come in one configuration, take it or leave it. As as example, I have an older Bach Mercedes which I use as a practice and backup horn. That model was sold as an "intermediate" model with Strad valves, but it had only one available bell geometry and two finishes.
The only truly awful "student" instrument I have ever owned is a Tromba plastic cornet I bought just for fun. It's no fun.
@newell-post Actually with the Bach Bb Strad, just the 180s, there are 3 forms of construction (180, LT180, LR180), and a mix of bells and leadpipes depending on which of those 3 you pick, that add up to 1470 options for construction, bell, bore, alloy, bell weight, and leadpipe. Then there are 2 tuning slide geometries, so 2940. Then there are 4 options for throws (triggers or rings on 1st & 3rd), which brings us to 11,760 configurations. Add in the option of a spit key on third and the 6 finish options, and you get 141,120 different configurations before taking into account the myriad of engraving options. (and those numbers predate the new option of a 72 bell with a French bead, so its actually more now)
And as fine of a horn as the Bach 180 Stradivarius is/was (when yours found you), the "build quality" in the 60s/70s/80s was worse than a student Ambassador or certainly a Schilke. Lacquer and silver plate usually developed blemishes within 3 years. For heavy players, the valves were worth refurbishing every 5 or 6 years to get compression back. Precision valve alignments had very noticable effects (sometimes even negative). Perhaps the valve wear could have been minimized with synthetic lubricants - or cleaning more often and repeated application of "Al Cass" per day. Standard for me was oiling when the horn complained or after the weekly bath.
Although there were hundreds to thousands of possibilities, Most everyone that I knew went to a store to pick one out of stock. I know of one single trumpeter that actually ordered a customized horn directly from Bach. In my opinion even today, Bach=play before you pay.
Our experience and perception relative to true Mt. Vernon, Mt. Vernon 180, and Early Elkhart Bachs is vastly different. I am not used to hearing people knock those. As for the earlier modern Elkhart 180s, I know pros who started on randomly picked stock 180S37s in high school around 1979/80 and, though they can play anything they want today, still have that high school horn in their arsenal - one rather prominent player as backup to his primary Bb, a modern 37 (though he admittedly has to spend most of his time on a 229).
That being said, the best way to pick a Bach is to play a lot of them. Bachs are not consistent in the finer details with the intent of having a variety of horns to fit a variety of players. Many will not be a perfect fit for you, a few will. Its not a quality problem, its a quality choice - to have product as diverse as those who play them. What works for you may suck for me and vice versa. (though really, people like to exaggerate - "suck" is just an egotistical statement based on believing we are that much better than everyone else)
@oldschooleuph Even at the end of Mt. Vernon, the horns simply did not have the build quality of the "competition". That does not necessarily have anything to do with playing "well". Even a "bad" Bach had that magic core and adjusting to the playing characteristics was just something that we did back then.
The perception of the Mt. Vernons today is considerably different although the lacquer and valve issues are the two things normally necessary when refurbishing. Either the Bach lacquer was not so good or the horns were not prepped properly.
There is a swiss artisan Rene Spada that disassembles Bachs and rebuilds them with swiss precision. In my view, they are what Bach should have been all along. The Spada Bachs are simply that much better using only Bach parts. Even if I had a Mt. Vernon, I would have it disassembled, cleaned and put back together with Spadas precision and attitude. There are other artisans. I use one Rainer Jordan who has his shop close to Frankfurt.
I have had 3 Bach trumpets. A 180 B172* (new picked at Giardinellis in New York but rebuilt by Spada), a 180 B25 and a C229H (also bought from Giardinellis). I still have the 229 although in the mean time, it has been completely disassembled and rebuilt without tension as well as getting a tuning bell and a new leadpipe.
There is a lot to take in here, and I appreciate it! As I suspected, the differences are subtle, innumerable, and in the end, magic comes into play. The days of music stores are gone, however. It's primarily internet shopping now, with all the risks. I'll keep using my Chinese horn for some time because I have the beginner's road ahead of me still, and I can't afford to take risks on horns that are complete unknowns to me. Eventually, when justified by improved skill, and I have saved enough, I'll see what I can afford and judge according to the catalog or listing description, I suppose. I remember once, long ago, buying a Gibson guitar sight-unseen on the basis of reputation and getting a 'lemon' that was 'off', couldn't be well intonated, and lacked resonance/response. I sold it on without losing money thanks to the brand, but learned to judge by actual tactile engagement with the instrument, not by name brand, and taught myself to re-do frets, nuts, and bridges because almost no off-the-hook instruments are finely set up from the factory. With horns, to some extent, it seems like you roll the dice and gamble your c-notes, and you just get lucky on a magic horn, or you don't.
adc last edited by
I really don’t think vintage horns had a higher quality level for intermediate vs. pro - some of those were still no more than fancier plating. A Martin Committee in perfect condition will not make you sound like one of the greats if you are a marginal player,
I have very old (before 1920) Conns, Kings, Yorks. They are in extremely good condition..valves are 'good'. None of them can rival my Strad Shepherd's crook. My almost unused (near mint) Conn Concert Grand is a touch below my Strad.
It well could be that valves are an issue. But two of my older ones have been refitted with valves. Al my horns are Cornet.
I had three Committees. all had very tight valves (that was their forte') They all played mediocrealy the same. Who would have thought.?