Buying a used trumpet, whether it be at a pawn shop, musical instrument store, from another individual or online, can save you hundreds of dollars. But, unless you get a quality used trumpet that will last and is free from problems, you will be wasting your time and money. Read on to learn how to choose a used trumpet.
Give the body of the horn a thorough inspection. Looks aren't everything. A used trumpet with small scratches, discolorations and (very tiny) dents can be a great instrument worth your hard-earned cash. Remember, though, that the exterior of a trumpet is a good rough indication of how well it has been taken care of. Take a look all around every surface of the horn. Any large dents, especially in the movable first, second and third valve slides, and the tuning slide, will affect the playability of the trumpet. Do you like the look of this used trumpet, "pretty" or not? A trumpet that makes you smile every time you pick it up will make it easier to motivate yourself to practice.
Focus on the valves. The valves are the most important thing to consider in how to choose a used trumpet. Whether you have never played the horn before, or you are an experienced player on a budget, valves that are bent, perpetually sticky or "leak air" will ruin your experience completely. A trumpet is only as good as the speed, feel and responsiveness of its valves. Carefully unscrew each valve, remove them from the body of the trumpet one at a time, and inspect them. Are they free from any surface scratches? Do they appear to be totally straight? Oil each valve with trumpet valve oil--you should have your own with you in case the owner of the instrument doesn't have any--before putting it back in the trumpet. Remember not to have more than one valve unscrewed at any given time. If you accidentally mix them up and then try to play the instrument, you will likely damage it.
Check if the slides move easily. The most important are the tuning slide, or the largest of the slides that extends almost to the bell of the trumpet, and the third valve slide, which is the one with the ring on it. If they are completely stuck, and cannot be removed even with a bit of (careful) pressure, the used trumpet could still be a winner, but it means that it has likely been sitting for quite a long time, or has not been lovingly taken care of. If the slides do come out, even if it is a little difficult, give them a little grease with the brass instrument slide grease (do not substitute) that you have brought along, and reinsert them very carefully. If they now move easily, you are good to go. If not, it is likely that there is a slight bend somewhere, and this is just another problem that will affect the usefulness and value of the used trumpet. Especially if you are purchasing a more expensive instrument, if you are going to go the used trumpet route rather than new, you should buy a horn that has been previously owned by another serious trumpet player.
Test playability. Finally, you get to play the trumpet. There are a couple reasons you should not play the horn before taking the aforementioned steps. First, if the used trumpet has been sitting in a closet for some time, even a few minutes of playing could damage the valves or slides. If the owner of the instrument is aware of this, you've just bought it, whether you like it or not. Second, even if you are a beginning player with no knowledge of technique, if you carefully run the checklist in Steps 1 to 3 the owner of the trumpet will know you have done your homework, and be more likely to work with you on the price, and to treat you with respect. Ask questions. Is this trumpet easy for you to play? Things like the size of the bell and the bore of the lead pipe vary greatly, and different horns are suited to different players. Does it feel comfortable in your hands? Use your own mouthpiece that you have brought with you. Don't ask the trumpet's owner for one, as this is both a sanitary issue and a sign of disrespect among players. Play some scales throughout your range, if you are at that point as a trumpet player. This is the point where, after making sure the trumpet is free from serious problems, you should go with your gut. If you like it, and the price is right, make the deal. Don't be afraid to negotiate. The owner is probably asking more for the instrument than he or she actually expects to get. You will now be the proud owner of a quality used trumpet that will serve you well for years.
Do your research on the model of the used trumpet before you go to see it. Price it new (if it is currently in production) against what the owner is asking.
Do not attempt to play the used trumpet without oiling the valves first. Do not let the trumpet's owner, or a salesman, be in control of your "interview" with the instrument. Do not buy a used instrument without inspecting it first, in person.