Guide to buying second hand / used brass instruments

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Choosing the right brass instrument isn't that difficult: if you know what you are doing! To an extent, all of the usual 'buyer beware' rules that apply to any purchase - apply here:

  • If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If the seller has lots of complaints - leave it alone.
  • If there is no visible address from your home country, and landline number ... beware

etc etc etc ... but there are additional things to look out for when buying a trumpet or similar, and here is my guide to not being dissapointed:

Which makes should I look out for? 

If you are an experienced player, then you probably have an idea about what you like already so this guide isn't really for you. If you are new to trumpet playing and thinking of buying second hand, then what you buy depends on your budget!

Firstly - at the £50-£120 price bracket - there are lots of great options. I have 2 simple rules which tend to inform most of my decisions:

  • The golden age of brass instruments was the 1980's and 1990's
  • Buy instruments made in the UK, USA or Japan, and you won't go far wrong.


The era is important - once we hit the 21st Century, the market started to get flooded with cheap trash instruments for the first time. In my experience, this was a result of the demand from schools for instruments to be used in whole class teaching projects (sometimes called Wider Opportunities). Now, a lot of manufacturers made a terrible decision faced with the new demand for cheap instruments: they made them to fit the budget. Unfortunately, the shortcuts they necessarily took, meant that instruments often dent really easily (this isn't a cosmetic propblem, but a mechanical one, because moving parts no longer move once one part of a pair has a ding in it), or the instruments barely fuction properly even in brand new condition. It would have been better for the manufacturers to have stood firm, and explained to the education authorities that instruments can't be made that cheaply, so keep thinking... alas... they didn't do that.

So why do I advise against buying a pre 1980's trumpet? Well, in some cases they can be fantastic.... top notch .... awesome trumpets.... but, there was a tendancy through the 20's to the 50's when the demand for turmpets was mostly from big band players, to build narrow bore trumpets, sometimes referred to as Pea Shooters .. which are not ideal for starting to play on, and they are rather limited for professionals who are more likely to be booked for their open symphonic sound, or expressive tone., neither of which you are going to find on a pea shooter or narrow bore trumpet.

1970's trumpets? maybe just old enough to be developing some undetected rot.


Ok - country of construction- Without wanting to offend any country, this is my factually based analysis :) - much of the cheap, not fit for purpose rubbish that I described above, comes from China, Taiwan and India. Japan, UK and USA have a great history of making quality instruments.  There are also many companies across Europe that are still making great stuff.

With that in mind, my recomendations go to:

Blessing (USA)
Boosey and Hawkes (UK) .. 80s and 90s ones not the new ones which are made by another company.
Besson (UK)
Benge (USA)
Yamaha (Japan) - beware of their new, cheap student model which is made in China and I've seen 3 of them fall apart.
Bach (USA)
Conn (USA?)
Selmer (USA?)

My -'Avoid" list:

Anything 'unbranded' on ebay/gumtree
Plastic trumpets (seperate post on these)

Spending More?

If you are blessed with a bigger budget, and would like to spend above £200 on a used trumpet, then you should look at my advice for buying a NEW trumpet, and find a nearly new version at a reasonable discount. 


What should you be concerned with on a second hand trumpet?

The instrument must be complete - - this consists of 4 sliding tubes which should move freely, and of 3 valves which should press down fully and return easily on their own. If this isn't the case, a repair may be necessary. 
You need a mouthpiece in order to play. It is not the end of the world if you find one without, as you can buy one seperately, but if you keep shopping, you'll find one with!
A case is really helpful to carry and protect your instrument. Again, you can buy a gig bag or case seperately if you like.
Look for a seller that claims ' all slides and valves move freely' - this way you can return it if they are lying.
Look for a seller that sells mainly musical instruments, rather than a seller that found a box in grandad's attic and is not sure if it's a cornet, trombone, trumpet, toy car or washing machine. 

What should you NOT be concerned about when buying second hand instruments?

The short answer is - the appearance.
Brass instruments tend to be coated with a clear laquer (very common), or on more expensive instruments a layer of silver or even gold plating.
This layer simply protects the brass from tarnishing through handling. It is common to find older iinstruments that have little or none of this layer left, so a raw unpolished brass remains. This doesn't matter at all, in fact my preference would bse for raw brass over laquered because the sound is better.

Small dents on non moving parts don't matter. Dents in the Bell (The end the sound comes out of) and on the main sections are common and don't make much difference. They can also be very inexpensive to reapair if you wish. (dent's in tuning slides or on the valve casing are much more problematic, because they hinder moving parts).


As with any advice, there will be exceptions and you could find a guy on ebay listing a chinese made trumpet from the 50's alongside a wheelbarrow and an old nissan micra -- that is awesome. But in the interest of time, and in an attempt to offer concise (ish) information, I'm choosing to ignore the crazy exceptions to the rule.

Future posts will cover buying brand new instrument, and plastic instruments.