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Brass Instruments Buying Guide

Whether you want to introduce your children to music or become a great jazz musician, you'll find a large selection of brass instruments, including trumpets, cornets, flugelhorns, French horns, trombones, and tubas,etc.

Select a brass instrument

Choose a brass instrument that produces sounds you like to hear.

·Trumpets: Trumpets have a bright, crisp sound. This type of horn has three valves on top that produce different notes when pressed in different combinations.

·Cornets: Similar in construction to the trumpet, the cornet's tube grows much wider toward the end. Cornets produce a richer, thicker sound than trumpets, but are tuned to the same pitch.

·French horns: The French horn produces mellow sounds an octave lower than the trumpet and cornet and can challenge beginners. French horns are made up of a tube of coiled brass with a flared bell at one end and a mouthpiece at the other. It has three valves. Double horns are also available that have four valves. 

·Trombones: Trombones produce mellower sounds than trumpets and make a great choice for beginning or young musicians. The straight trombone is the simplest to master, with no tubing inside the main section. The F-rotor trombone, by contrast, has extra tubing within the main loop. Students usually learn on a straight tenor trombone and later challenge themselves with an F-rotor trombone.

·Tubas: Tubas, the largest member of the brass instruments family, produce bass sounds and can be fairly expensive. Each tuba has three valves and a long tube of brass that widens as it gets to the flared bell end.

·Flugelhorns: The flugelhorn, also spelled "fluegelhorn," resembles a cornet, but has a wider bore. It sounds similar to the trumpet and cornet.

Common marching band brass instruments include the cornet, mellophone, euphonium, trombone, and sousaphone.

Understand the Anatomy of Brass Instruments

When evaluating a brass instrument, understand its anatomy.

·Leadpipes: A leadpipe, also known as a mouthpipe, is tapered tubing that runs between the mouthpiece and bore tubing. You can find leadpipes made of red brass, yellow brass, and sterling silver. Although all metals require regular cleaning, red brass has a high copper content, which makes it more corrosion resistant than yellow brass. Silver leadpipes are most often found in intermediate and professional-level instruments.

·Bores: Bore size, the inside diameter of tubing, determines the characteristics of the sound produced by a brass instrument. Instruments with larger bores require more effort to play. Therefore, younger players may find it easier to sustain notes and achieve a good tone on small-bore instruments. One of the big differences between a trumpet and cornet is the bore. The trumpet has 1/3 conical bore and 2/3 cylindrical bore, which allows it to produce a more brilliant tone than the cornet. The cornet has 2/3 conical bore and 1/3 cylindrical bore, which allow it to produce a more mellow sound than the trumpet.

·Valves: Valves, fixed lengths of tubing, allow players to adjust the length of a brass instrument's sound column in order to modify pitch or tone and play a wider variety of notes. Two common valves used for brass instruments are piston valves and rotary valves. Press piston valves, like those used on the American trumpet, vertically to open and close the airway. Pistons should play smoothly and quickly. Durable nickel-plated pistons are often found on student instruments, stainless steel pistons may be found on intermediate instruments, and Monel pistons are often found on professional instruments. Press rotary valves, like those used on the French horn, to rotate your valve into place.

·Tuning slides: Certain brass instruments use slides for tuning, allowing you to adjust the length of an air column in small increments. These instruments typically have one slide in the main tube and a slide on each major valve loop.

·Bells: Bells are the flared openings on a brass instrument. Bells can vary in size and taper, both of which can affect the sound of the instrument in subtle ways. Most bells are welded, but some are one-piece and hand-hammered. Because bell construction helps determine tone and response, look at welded bells carefully. You'll want a smooth, even seam that looks seamless. The bell is usually made of yellow brass, but can also be made of rose brass or (rarely) silver brass. The "flare" of bell construction varies widely between brands.

·Finishes: Finishes range from clear lacquer to silver plate. Silver plate, a lighter finish, tends to have less impact on the volume of an instrument.