Q: I love those cute little pocket trumpets--should I get one?
A note about pricing: The prices here quoted are those drawn from the web sites of the large volume retail discount music stores such as the Woodwind and the Brasswind, Music 123, and Giardinelli. I have often rounded up to the nearest round number. Prices change often but usually not by all that much. Where there are particular retailers who offer unusually good prices on particular instruments, I have noted it.
Links and prices updated in July 2006.
The prices on the high volume mass produced horns are likely to be considerably less at these places than at your local music store and I post the mail order price for their relative cost because the alternative--list prices--are even more misleading. There are many reasons to visit, support, and buy from your local store, but because of their more modest volume and higher overhead per unit, it will likely cost you more even if they discount somewhat from list prices. However, your local music store often provides repair services and supports local school or youth music and you may find that the higher price is justified for the intangibles also purchased. And you never know when you may need a favor.
Although both are little and short, pocket trumpets are way different from piccolo trumpets. The piccolo trumpet is half the length of the big B flat trumpet and plays an octave higher (at least with the B flat leadpipe), the pocket trumpet is the same length as the big B flat, it is just wrapped in such a tight fashion that it is very short. A pocket trumpet uses a standard size trumpet mouthpiece. If you are looking for one, here is pretty much what is available, from the cheapest to the most expensive. Unfortunately, what everyone wants is an "intermediate" pocket trumpet--one that plays better than the cheap ones but isn't as expensive as a full size pro model. Unfortunately, there is no such thing. There are lots of inexpensive pocket trumpets around, which are worth less than you pay for them, and lots of very expensive pocket trumpets around, which perform wonderfully, but the price is hard to justify. Nothing in the middle.
Starting at the bottom, the goofy Pakistani/Indian "Bessons" (there is no such company) models that show up regularly on eBay are junk. Mere decoration and not very good at that. Unplayable. Don't get one for any purpose. James Florada, one of many, bears testimony:
I made the mistake of buying an Indian trumpet on Ebay. I bought one for no good reason, just hoping it would play. When I unscrewed the first valve to oil it, I was unable to rethread the top of the casing to the body of the casing. I still haven't been able to get it to reset. I plan on using it as a wall decoration near my stereo. It's not good for anything else. The one time I tried to play it, the sound was not very good (read lousy). I would caution against any purchase of these metallic pseudo-instruments. They are made of cheap metal and machined on a lathe powered by wind.
The Chinese ones are almost as bad, "Monique," "Jean Baptiste," "Cecilio," etc. It used to be that the names would be listed on eBay as if they were a legitimate brand and not just a labeled commodity, and they had a habit of changing about as often as a 4th grade boy changes his underwear. Now they don't even bother with the "brand" names pretty much--just the color!
The East European Amati ones used to be as bad as the Chinese, but Amati has retooled thanks to private capital since the fall of Communism and they are better than the Chinese and approaching the quality, such as it is, of the Taiwanese. They cost nearly as much as the Jupiters and are about as well made. The Amati does have a more flugel shaped bell, which provides a mellower sound that the others, if that is attractive to you ($380.00 in lacquer). Cerveny, another Eastern European brass maker also makes a pocket trumpet. It is marketed under Conn banner and is sold as the Conn 97T. The Conn web site no longer mentions it, however where it once said that it was only available in Europe. A friend recently found one at Rayburn Music in Boston and it looks to be a solid player similar to the Jupiter products. Additionally, the Brasswind private label model is probably made by Amati or Cerveny, or at least is very similar and comes from Eastern Europe.
The ones that are made in Taiwan are in all likelihood ultimately made by Jupiter, those would include the Winston and Holton T650, brands. These are all street priced roughly the same $350 to $500, and at this price range the Jupiter JPT 416, is probably the best. It comes in silver plate ($560.00), lacquered brass ($480.00), and black lacquer ($500.00). The Jupiter is in my opinion the best bet at the low end of the price range. Some of the others may be made by Jupiter but at least if it says Jupiter on it, you know it is. It plays like a solid student level trumpet and is priced about the same. Do you really want any trumpet that plays worse than an average student trumpet?
A low end pocket trumpet is good for traveling--sticking it in a suitcase and catching a bit of a buzz while away from your real equipment--I have a friend who takes his camping and goes and sits on a rock and plays to the moose. It would also be satisfactory for the occasional novelty number like a Dixieland tune or something (played by an ensemble other than a Dixieland band, of course). Chicks seem to dig 'em and they seem to start conversations every time one is pulled out. They are not really adequate, however, for any real performance. They are essentially student quality and have poor intonation (often very poor) and the sound is also compromised considerably. Think: toy.
On the higher end, the Benge Colibri and Kanstul CCT 905 have full sized bells, play like real trumpets, and cost like real trumpets (around $1100 to $1300). Not toys. If you need a pocket trumpet for real playing (hmmmm....), drop the change to get one of these. Although the design is similar, the placement of the first valve saddle on the Benge is awkward. In addition, the reputation for quality construction and consistency would favor Kanstul over the Benge.
The most intriguing horn (and my favorite at least in a Platonic way), no longer listed in the Holton catalog now that LeBlanc/Holton has been gobbled up by the voracious Conn-Selmer, is the Holton C-150 pocket cornet (nice pictures of an older model are here), at seven inches in length, is the most expensive small brass instrument Holton ever offered. It was available in very limited qualities at a price (around $1700) equal to or more than the Benge and Kanstul. It is way cool. Take a look at the weird wrap. It is the shortest pocket available, I believe. I haven't played one but i understand that they play very well. If you see one for sale, tell me!
Another interesting horn is found on Steve Dillard's Horntrader.com site. They are the Marcato Sophia Series Pocket Trumpet, copies of the Benge pocket trumpet. He wants $725 in lacquer, $800 in silver.
A reader, Claudio Saito, writes from Japan:
I also happen to be living in Japan and I checked about the Marcato brand here. It is designed by Shimokura musical instruments co not Shimokana. I phoned them and they told me that it is manufactured in Taiwan in the same factories as the Jupiter models. The bell is bigger which helps mutes stick in better but the finishing is of poorer grade than the Jupiter one. Also it is priced 287USD (Gold lacquer one) and 340 USD (Silver one) in Japan. You can see all this (in Japanese) at www.shimokura-gakki.com.
A very similar looking horn is being sold by Charles Colin in New York City, so similar looking to the Marcato than one is tempted to think that the Pocket Max is the same horn, though the people at Colin aren't telling. This may be the most solid readily available alternative pocket trumpet at the middle price point and many feel it is worth the extra money over the Jupiter as a result of its larger bell, better sound and better intonation. They deal directly and want $700 for the horn in silver, $600 in lacquer.
And finally, though I know nothing about the company, the Europeans have snuck into the pocket trumpet market with this very cool looking rotary valve pocket trumpet. Click on the horn photo in the upper right corner of the Lidl home page. Then click (don't ask me why) on "Flugelhorns" and the pocket trumpet is the first instrument on the flugel page. In response to an inquiry from a reader of this page in the UK, the following was receive in June 2002 from Lidl Music, the manufacturer.
Thank you for your request regarding valve pocket trumpet LCR272R. This trumpet has very good warm sound like a cornet and 100% tuning. Dimension the bell diameter is 130mm and bore size is 11.7mm. Material is yellow brass lacquer (body and machine); 3 rotary valves; 1 water key. Our export price is 549 EUR [a EUR is roughly a US$] incl. a mouthpiece (w/out a case). Guarantee period is 24 month. [snip]....
Roman Sotolar, DipMgmt.
In January 2005, Derek bought one and reported:
I ended up going for a Lidl, and I now have it. It has a noticeably large bell (bigger than on my Yamaha YTR 6335), and the sound is right with you. There is a little more resistance in playing, of course. The rotary valves are naturally not as natural to the fingers at first, which I'm getting used to (and I can't imagine ever being able to play as fast as on pistons). For overall pleasure, when I play my trumpet, I think, "Ah, that's my trumpet!" Then I play the Lidl, and I think, "Hey, that's alright!" Then I pick up my trumpet, and again think, "Ah, that's my trumpet", etc. So the Lidl seems to be of high quality... Also, it is clearly a cornet (increasing diameter all the way). At this stage I would almost say it slots better in higher register (for me that's not very high: up to top C than my Yamaha. I have heard, though, that cornets are a little more forgiving than trumpets. The Lidl doesn't seem to have any tuning problems, but I'm hardly a professional analyst. Pedals seem good, getting down to 3rd C below the staff; was somehow different from the Yamaha at times on pedals, but have only done that probably once, so not sure what was different. Negatives? No case. A little awkward to hold (probably just different). Not really that small, though I wouldn't forsake the large bell; it has a big sound, much bigger than the Jupiter (which I tried in Sydney recently). Rough length: about 10" without mouthpiece. Another possible negative is the extra maintenance needed for the rotary valves (two or three different oils needed, more frequent oiling, etc). I'm inclined to think this is very much a real instrument; not a toy. I guess it'd want to be, at euro 619 (including euro 80 shipping). The instrument is oozing with quality in every respect that I can see/hear/feel. Clearly the manufacturers have taken pride in its design and construction.
If anybody else learns any more about these or ever gets a chance to play one, please write me about it.
One last point: Consider buying an old Olds Ambassador cornet instead. They are cheap ($100 on eBay gets you one in pretty good condition, lacquer notwithstanding), readily available, play better than any of the inexpensive pocket trumpets, are bulletproof, and only slightly larger than the pockets. For more info on the Olds Ambassador Instruments, take a look at my eccentric little essay on student trumpets.
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