Q: Yeah, but my kid is just starting out, what kind of horn should I get him?
If you are unsure that the kid is going to stick with the horn for at least a year, it might make sense to go with the local music store's rental program, preferably on a Yamaha student model, though the other major makers (King, Getzen, Conn, Bach, Holton) make similar satisfactory horns. If you are confident that the kid is going to stick with it, here is what I recommend. I concede there are a number of satisfactory ways to skin this cat, but here are a couple of ideas. This is somewhat eccentric and highly opinionated, but i've started a few hundred young trumpet players and it is the best opinion I can come up with.
Cornets are similar to trumpets, but shorter. One could get into a lengthy technical discussion about this subject, but not here not now. Suffice it to say that especially with younger students or students of small stature, a cornet is somewhat easier to start with since they are shorter and the cornet's center of gravity is closer to the player's body, making it easier to play. My attitude, macho man at age 12, when I was first starting was, "I don't want no stinkin' cornet--I want a trumpet!" left my parents little choice. My daughter, however, when she started at age 11, played a good used Getzen cornet that I bought for $65 at a music store liquidation sale. It was a good decision.
At this point, with national markets available, I would buy an Olds Ambassador trumpet or cornet on eBay (search for "Olds Ambassador trumpet") for around $100 - 125 to start my kid on, unless I thought my kid would be significantly motivated by how shiny the horn is.
Olds made over a million brass instruments, but went out of business in 1979 or so. Their Ambassador line of student brass instruments was the best ever and there are many many of those horns still out there. I started on one myself and recently purchased one on eBay for my high school age daughter to use for marching band. These are great playing horns, often better than other companies' allegedly professional models, built to withstand all the rigors of the school band room, marching field, and street. They were built to be played at Armegedon. But these horns are not the prettiest things around at this point because even the newest ones are at least 20 years old and most were finished in lacquered brass and the lacquer has often at least partially worn away. Some of the more expensive (in this context that means over $125) eBay examples can, however, look pretty good and nearly new. Others are worn and in need of some repair and they often sell for under $50, but I wouldn't bother with those, unless you know pretty much what you are doing (which means you probably aren't reading this page). Look at the more expensive ones--they are essentially ready to go and the comparable new horn would be 3 to 4 times as expensive. But they may have some splotchy lacquer.
If you think that your kid would likely be more successful, i.e., more motivated to practice, on something that is newer and shiny (that is not a moral failing, it is just being a kid), I would buy a used recent model Yamaha student horn. They have model numbers like YTR 2320 (probably the most common, they'd all be anywhere from 4 to 12 years old), the current model, the YTR 2325 would be newer, and the YTR 232 would be older. I'd stick with the newer ones myself, but you might stumble on a good deal for a YTR 232 in unusually good condition (search on "Yamaha trumpet"). You can get one that looks very close to new for anywhere between $200 and $350. The Yamaha student horns are the best ones available, in my opinion. A used one, with good care, can likely be sold for nearly what you paid for it (but it is wise to keep one's student trumpet for marching when he or she gets to high school).
Silver plating adds about $100 to the cost of a used student trumpet. The big kids (high schoolers) all have silver (pro quality) trumpets and so younger kids, slaves to fashion we all are, start craving silver early. But hold out. Don't spend the extra money now. It is a great practice motivator when the kid gets to 8th or 9th grade and is sufficiently serious about it for parents to start thinking about upgrading.
If you are a gambler, student models by Bach, Getzen, Holton, Conn and King are also satisfactory, though not as playable in my opinion as the Yamaha. These things also cost from $200 to $350 or so, similar to the Yamaha student horn prices. Do not spend less unless you really know what you are doing and know you are taking advantage of an uninformed seller.
In any event, stick with one of those brand names. Avoid Winston, Amati, Monique, Lark, Heimer, Jean Baptiste, or anything else made in Taiwan, China, India, Pakistan or Eastern Europe.
Do not--and I cannot emphasize this too much--buy an alleged trumpet from Costco, Walmart, Sam's Club or any big box discount retailer. Trumpets aren't vacuum cleaners. These are truly terrible unplayable things and they are a complete waste of money. It would be like giving your fifth grader a twenty pound basketball and expecting him to hit from the top of the key. Learning the trumpet is a difficult thing for almost everybody as it is. To saddle a student with one of these boxes of junk is guaranteeing failure.
I know, people are always writing me to ask me what I really think.
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