I have two student trumpets at home. The first trumpet I bought over 20 years ago for $80 USD and it's been in my mother's attic since then mostly. The second trumpet is a student rental from a local music shop that my daughter is now playing.

They look comparable, but the music store trumpet plays significantly better. I sound fuller and I don't crack notes -- whether stacatto, legato, or slur. My attic trumpet sounds tinny and I can't seem to get a consistent transition between notes without cracking.

I'm decades out of practice, so my chops/embouchure need work. That aside, is there anything I can do to my old trumpet to make it sound better? I gave the attic trumpet a wipe, polish, and oiling. Maybe something's broken? It was stored in an attic in a very dry/low humidity environment (Southwest US) and the temperature outside regularly gets to 38 C/100 F.

  • 1
    I'm a string player, but I would assume that any instrument that's been out of action for decades would need a once-over by a professional. Surely there's more that could be needed than valve oil. Compare: "I've got a car that's sat in a garage for 20 years. I washed and polished it and changed the oil. Why does a brand new car run better?" Spark plugs, fuel sediment, condition of the hoses... The rental was recently set up and looked over; might as well give yours the same advantage. Commented Oct 8, 2021 at 15:46
  • There are many variables, but a good start would be knowing the make/model of each trumpet. Just know, any trumpet purchased for $80 even 50 years ago is likely to be either very poor quality, very old, or both.
    – Aaron
    Commented Oct 8, 2021 at 16:10
  • 3
    Also, did you use the same mouthpiece for each trumpet? If not, knowing the brand and size of the two mouthpieces is also very important.
    – Aaron
    Commented Oct 8, 2021 at 16:38

3 Answers 3


If your daughter's having lessons, get her teacher to give your trumpet the once over.

It might be that there's an easy fix (like replacing the perished leaky cork on the main water key) but it's also quite possible that it's just a Bad Instrument.

It might also be that the instrument was put away for 20 years having not been cleaned first, in which case there might be an internal layer of grot which can significantly change the bore size. After all this time you probably wouldn't shift that just with a bendy brush and hot water, though you could have a go. Most music shops would send the trumpet off for a chemical clean, but you should get their advice to see whether it's worthwhile.

The differences between good and bad trumpets are often measurable as 1000ths of an inch (internal bore variations, tube wall thickness and so on) so even though two trumpets may look identical, the critical differences aren't visible to the naked eye.

And finally, it might be that your mouthpiece is no good - if there's no marking on it identifying its size then ditch it for a known quantity. A 7c mp is commonly the size provided with new instruments, but most players use a large mp (smaller number == bigger mp). You didn't say whether you tried your daughter's trumpet with her mp or her trumpet and your mp.

But realistically, $80 isn't very much to pay for a trumpet, which probably indicates the quality you should expect from that instrument.

Don't soldier on with a ropy instrument - if you can afford to upgrade then do - it's so demotivating when your instrument lets you down (valves stick, tuning inconsistent and so on). Of course, after you've paid a certain amount then these mechanical issues aren't so apparent, and paying extra buys you ever diminishing returns.


Clean it (warm soapy water and one of these).

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Check the cork on the water key. Check the valves are aligned properly.

Or it may be that the new one is just a better instrument. The Far Eastern manufactures have got pretty good at turning out very serviceable instruments very cheaply!


It would be very helpful to know the make/model of these horns. Ages and countries of origin can't hurt. That said, air leaks absolutely destroy the ability of wind instruments to play well. Water key corks should be examined closely. Also, make sure that the valves are inserted correctly, both orientation and location. Most horns' valves are not interchangeable! But, it happens because they do fit the holes in spite of this. They're usually marked 1/2/3 in some way. (#1 is closest to your face.) I once bought a used horn that played very poorly, and it turned out that two of the valves had been swapped. Easily corrected!

Or, your attic horn could just be terrible.

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