Let’s say you’re going to buy an instrument, you want a trumpet, you already decide on the type of trumpet, it’s going to be a C trumpet and the brand, for this example Yamaha, because that’s the same brand of your recorder flute from school.
So now you get to their website and find that Yamaha has 4 different C trumpets called series or models, which one do you choose, what tends to change between models? Does it even matter? In this article, we will cover those questions in a beginner-friendly way.
Basically, the name, response time, blowing resistance, size, color, material, parts weight & price.
This one can change a lot, you can get hints on which series is better with names like “100 series”, “200 series”, “1000X Series”, “1001X Series”, so you can go with the bigger number… of course, we will recommend comparing the lowest number in the series vs the biggest to make the differences more noticeable.
There are also names that make sense only to the developers, things like “YCL-CSVR-ASP”, “CSVRA-ASP”, “82ZIIVB50TH”, for this models see if there’s a description explaining the name or what makes the instrument special, if you don’t find any, ignore it.
When you hear response time it usually means how easily and fast you can change the sound of the instrument. For example, if you have an instrument with valves, this means how hard you have to push the valves to change the notes and how fast you can go, the better response time the better.
Similar to response time, blowing resistance means how much you need to blow to get a pitch. Of course, it is easier to play with less blowing resistance, because it requires less air, this also helps response time.
You can test response time easily and blow resistance in person by getting the instruments you want to compare. First, you play with little effort to see which one is easier to make sound with, then press the valves, keys, buttons, etc and see how hard you have to press them, then play as fast as you can to see if the instrument gets stuck or feels harder to play.
Size and form
Size is going to change very slightly because making an instrument bigger can change its range, the changes in size are mostly aesthetic. For example the curvature of a bell, the angle at which one of the tubes curves. This is common in instruments like guitars where the head and body are the main difference between models.
Color & Material
This is self-explanatory, some series come in one color, some in another one. Where this can matter is in metal instruments with lacquers like brass instruments, this particular instrument has a lacquer (layer) of metals like silver or gold on top of the brass, this does not change the sound of the instrument, but will change the price a lot.
Another thing material can change is durability, if your instrument is made of wood you may want to check a timber durability chart, if it’s made of metal check if it’s stainless and for plastic how easy it is to bend or even break.
The parts that change are important because they are made for different people. For example, a series of bass guitars could be made for left-handed people, a line of tubas could be made for people in marching bands (like sousaphones), some have smaller grips for people with small hands, one piano may come with a pedal and another one not.
Mouthpieces in particular are one of the most common things to see changing between series, if you want to find the exact same mouthpiece some years after you bought it, a newer series may substitute it, so we would recommend you buying an extra mouthpiece from the start.
Weight is just a combination of many small changes, like material, size, and parts, but what is not, is something like weight distribution, this could mean a couple of things depending on the instrument.
For example, some instruments have small parts that help you put straps to carry the instrument easier without the straps sliding and in the optimal place for weight distribution. In the bow of instruments like the violin or cello being able to apply less pressure in the bottom of the bow and more at the tip is called weight distribution.
This is the sum of the previous features, here’s where you know if the expensive instrument is better for you or not. If you can play the instruments in person we suggest testing the instruments you want to compare, choosing which one feels better, and then asking for the price.
If the cheaper model feels better you can get it guilt-free or ask what the expensive one has that you may have missed, if the answer to the increased price is one of the next things you may just want to take the cheaper one.
There’s also what they say it changes, things that are a little bit more subjective like feel, balance, performance, ring, range of color, clarity, & intonation.
Feel / Performance
This one is one of the reasons we suggest testing the product first then asking for the price because knowing one is more expensive than the other will give you anchor bias and confirmation bias, the first one is gonna make you feel like the quality must be relative to the price and the second one that since you expect the more expensive to feel better, you’re going to make it feel better.
The best way to buy an instrument is to know what you want and be as objective as possible when you search for it. Don’t forget the blindspot bias or bias bias which is to think that because you know the bias, you’re less biased.
Balance / Color
These are 2 things, the volume levels of 2 or more instruments playing at the same time and how much dark and light sounds can the instrument produce. The 1st one is used for electronic instruments, the second can be used for any.
This one is for professionals only, they need to be able to distinguish the differences in timbre/color of each instrument model and based on the notes choose the better-balanced one.
This is usually found in the descriptions “has a better ring to it”, “giving it a better ring”, “increasing the ring of it”. Having a better ring to it means sounding better, so if you find that and they don’t explain why it sounds better, ignore it.
This means being able to hear the exact same sound as the source, so no distortion at all. This applies mostly to electronic instruments with speakers and means little to nothing in acoustic instruments because the sound comes directly from the source. To find out the quality of the speakers of your instrument before you buy.
This means how accurate is the pitch compared to what it should be, this means better intonation is when a C note sounds exactly like a C and not like a C# or B. Of course, most instruments will be perfectly tuned, so there’s no need to worry about it for beginners.
What may differ between versions is how they are tuned in frequency and how easy it is for the instrument to be tuned. After all, even if the standard is concert pitch with the A over middle C being tuned at 440Hz (A440), some models may be in Scientific pitch, baroque pitch, or any variation of them. If the instrument cannot be tuned, try getting the standard concert pitch.
As you can see there’s a lot of things that may change between models, but there’s not a lot of them that matter, especially if you’re just starting. We recommend going for beginner models in regular materials, once you become a pro you can get the gold version of the instruments or the rarest lumber.
If you can’t play the instruments, online shops will have an aspects/details/characteristics section where you can compare models, brands usually have 1-3 models that don’t change a lot, so you may want to compare between brands instead.