The trumpet belongs to the family of brass instruments, and as the name indicates, most trumpets are made of brass.
In this article, we dive into what brass is and which other materials you find in a trumpet.
List of Materials In Trumpets
- Brass (copper and zinc alloy)
- Silver or gold lacquer
- Nickel* (for silver-brass)
- Monel (for the valves)
- Cork or rubber (for the water keys)
*Check below for a thorough description.
Why Are Trumpets Made of Brass?
Brass is used for trumpets and horns because it is easy to work with and very resistant to rust. Brass is also used because it is relatively cheap and because it can be soldered which is useful for repairs.
Brass has been the main building material for trumpets for more than a century, so history also plays a role here.
Back in the day, people knew how to make brass and it has always been relatively easy to come by zinc and copper. Brass was already being used for church decorations etc. so it was an obvious choice to go with brass.
We also find other good reasons to use brass.
- Brass is inexpensive
We also find silver and gold trumpets but these materials are obviously way more pricy and brass seems to produce a similar tone and great sound.
- It looks pretty and shiny
Brass is a great material for instruments because it is shiny like gold and silver but at a much lower cost. Trumpets are typically used in marching bands and parades where the shiny finish plays an important role.
- Easy to form
Brass is malleable, which means that you can hammer into the desired form without cracking or breaking it.
- It can be soldered
When you need to repair a trumpet it’s important that you can solder or braze the elements together again. This is possible with brass, and it’s another good reason why it’s so commonly found in trumpets.
- Brass is rust-resistant
Brass does not easily corrode and rust. I have a Yamaha trumpet that’s more than 30 years old and it is starting to corrode on the surface but it still looks nice.
Different Types of Brass
All brass types are made from copper and zinc. However, in some types of brass, you will find a higher concentration of copper which is said to have an impact on the timbre (the color of the sound).
The higher the concentration of copper in the brass alloy, the darker the timbre will be.
But really, it’s not easy to tell the difference between brass, silver, and gold trumpets from the sound alone.
They all sound pretty similar, and it takes a well-trained ear to distinguish them from each other.
However, you can feel the difference in the weight of the instrument. Gold is heavier than silver, which again is heavier than brass.
What is Gold Brass Made Of?
Gold brass is made of 85% copper and 15% zinc. The term “gold” refers to the color and not the actual material. Gold brass is commonly used for trumpets and other brass instruments.
The relatively low concentration of zinc gives the instrument a darker brass color which is really pretty.
What Is Yellow Brass made Of?
Yellow brass is made from 70% copper and 30% zinc. It is also commonly found in trumpets and brass instruments. Trumpets made of yellow brass produce a slightly brighter sound.
The higher concentration of zinc gives the instruments a brighter color that many people associate with trumpets.
What Is Silver Brass Made Of?
Silver brass has a bit of nickel added to the zinc. Silver brass is an alloy of copper, zinc, and nickel. Adding a bit of nickel to the equation often adds a darker tone to the instrument.
Yamaha use silver brass for some of their trumpets, and you also find it among other brands. You can spot the silver brass when you have the trumpets lined up.
The silver brass trumpet will have a lighter and almost whitish color.
What Is Rose Brass Made Of?
Rose brass has a concentration of 90% copper and only 10% zinc. This gives the rose brass alloy an even darker color. The instrument will also have a slightly darker tone. It is also referred to as red brass.
When you see a darker golden trumpet it is typically made of rose brass.
Other Materials Used for Trumpets
We also find trumpets made of pure gold or silver. These are typically made for special occasions such as royal birthdays or weddings.
They are very rare for several reasons, but mostly they are harder to make as you cannot easily form gold and silver like you can with brass.
Also, the material is much more expensive and heavier.
Silver Vs. Gold Lacquer Finish
Trumpets typically have a lacquer finish added on top of the brass.
Gold lacquer will help produce a more powerful and sharper tone to the instrument. Trumpets can also have gold-plated lacquer added and it doesn’t really impact the sound and timbre.
Silver-plated lacquer trumpets are also very common.
Some people argue that they can tell the difference between each type of lacquers from each other from listening to the instrument.
However, the differences are extremely subtle!
What Are Trumpet Mouthpieces Made Of?
The trumpet mouthpiece is mainly made of solid brass or silver. On top of the brass, we find gold or silver-plating to protect the player from the nickel in the brass. A few manufacturers also use stainless steel or titanium.
Yamaha used to make mouthpieces from sterling silver, but it’s more expensive to produce and doesn’t really offer any difference when compared to a regular brass mouthpiece.
It’s important to pay attention to the plating on the mouthpiece. If it starts to reveal the brass underneath you should exchange it for a new mouthpiece.
What Are the Valve Pistons Made Of?
Most trumpet brands use monel for pistons. Monel is an alloy consisting of around 60-65% nickel and the rest is copper. It is used for pistons because it’s a hard and long-lasting material.
The biggest brands such as Vincent Bach and Yamaha both use monel for the pistons, but the cheaper brands also use monel today.
Some brands such as Getzen still apply a nickel-plating on top of the pistons for a smoother and harder finish. This is pretty unique and some people swear to this material.
However, it’s worth mentioning again that monel is also an extremely durable and strong alloy that will last a very long time.
The pistons are enclosed in the valves and they are only exposed when taken apart to apply a few drops of valve oil.
What Are the Best Trumpets Made Of?
The brass alloy used in the best trumpets is very similar to what you find among beginner trumpets. Brass is a relatively cheap material so it’s the manual processes that make a trumpet expensive, such as a hand-hammered bell.
The more expensive trumpets such as the Bach Stradivarius model 37 are more expensive because they have more hand-built parts. They are also made with better and more precise tools.
You also find more manual checks and inspections among the more expensive trumpet models.
They will often be produced in the United States and have several checks before they are shipped.
Materials to Stay Away from When Choosing a Trumpet?
We also find quite a lot of plastic trumpets in the music stores. These are only for complete beginners or kids who are so small that they have trouble lifting a real trumpet.
However, even a 5-year-old can easily carry a small cornet that looks exactly like a trumpet. Check this article where we recommend a cheap trumpet for beginners.
We also find a few trumpets made in China without proper silver-plating on the mouthpiece.
It’s important to use a proper mouthpiece with a good strong silver or gold-plating in order to seal the nickel in the brass.
Are Plastic Trumpets Useful for Beginners?
For complete beginners, a plastic trumpet can be an alright choice, for a while. But only until you find out that this is something you are really interested in.
Plastic trumpets can actually produce an alright sound but they are not as fast and easy to play as a real trumpet made of brass.
Are There Any Trumpets Made from Recycled Materials?
We haven’t been able to find any trumpets made from recycled materials. However, brass is an alloy and there’s no reason why you couldn’t produce a great trumpet from recycled material.