Does it even matter?
Aren’t all trumpets basically the same?
Why should you care about the bore size and the bell size? Or even care what those things are?
Well, you should.
Both the bell size and the bore size impact not only the sound of a trumpet, but also how easy or difficult it is to play.
While it is true that most beginners should stick to the standard bell and bore sizes, that is not always the case. We will explain what the bell and the bore are, how the different sizes impact sound and playability and help you figure out which sizes are best for you.
What Is Bell Size?
Have you ever wondered how trumpets sound so powerful? Their sound is one-of-a-kind and that loud, distinct sound—a sound only trumpets seem capable of—comes from their unique structure.
One part of that structure is the bell. The vibration that comes from the trumpet players lips are amplified by the bell of the trumpet.
The bell is the very end of the trumpet where the sound leaves the instrument. The reason behind the name should be obvious: it somewhat resembles a bell. But don’t be fooled. Although that part may look like a bell, it doesn’t ring like one if you strike it. Trumpets aren’t a percussion instrument, after all.
Student trumpets, lower end trumpets and beginner trumpets all typically feature a two-part bell, because the manufacturing process is quicker, easier, and cheaper. This keeps the cost of the instrument down.
Higher quality trumpets feature a one-part bell. This results in a slightly clearer sound, giving the more experienced trumpet player a better tone without requiring more effort to play.
The best analogy would be to compare the bell to a speaker. It is where the sound and vibration from the trumpet player’s mouth becomes amplified so it can reach an entire concert hall audience, or wake up an entire army at camp.
The trumpet’s sound is power, bravado, and harmonics combined. The bell makes sure that everyone nearby can hear it.
Why Is Bell Size Important?
Bell size (otherwise known as the “flare”) affects the overall sound of the trumpet. Smaller bell sizes sound sharper while larger ones sound more mellow.
Most trumpets have a 4.5″ bell, but trumpets can come in many different sizes and a lot of different tones. Some trumpets (typically the higher-end ones) come with a removable tuning bell. This feature allows trumpeters to remove the bell entirely and essentially tune their horn to a different setting, changing the tone, sound, and sometimes the volume as well.
Removable bells cost a lot more, but the additional cost is well worth it for some players. It allows you to customize your instrument, changing its characteristics at a moment’s notice, right before or after a performance.
The bell size is an extremely important aspect of a trumpet just as the size is important for most instruments (think the size of certain drums, acoustic string instruments, and wind instruments).
When you’re shopping for a trumpet, you’ll need to categorize them by their bell size, as well as the material from which the bell is constructed.
Why material you ask?
Different lacquers and materials used to create the bell affect the tone you play.
Although most trumpets are made using brass, a gold lacquer over a brass bell will make the sound more mellow (as if the bell size were increased) while silver-plated bells sound sharper (as if the bell size were decreased). There are even bells made entirely of sterling silver, which produces a higher and sharper tone.
What Is the Best Bell Size?
Simply put, it depends.
This is even more true for music where musicians are not all playing the same pieces, in the same style, and with the same tone. That’s why it’s important to understand the effects of bell size and material and how those two aspects of the trumpet work together to create a specific tone or sound.
If you’re looking for a more objective answer, I would suggest balance and playability. Certain trumpets may be more difficult to play, due to their deviation from the “standard” setup and construction. If a trumpet like that sounds the way you want and you can play it, you’re all set.
However, if you’re unsure what type of sound you really need, then go with a trumpet that is easy to play and that has a balanced sound that is not too low or too high.
A balanced-sounding trumpet, like the Yamaha YTR 2330 reviewd here, is flexible and more applicable to most types of music. It’s a safe bet when you’re not looking for anything specific, or for beginners who are just getting started. Keep it simple and, more importantly, just keep playing.
What Is Bore Size?
If you take a minute to examine your trumpet, you’ll notice various tubes and valves all connected to each other. These turn your breath into music. One especially long tube practically swirls around the construction of your trumpet. It is the part you hold.
That is the tube we are interested in here. The diameter of that tube can differ from one instrument to the next. And that diameter is referred to as the bore size.
Bore size is another crucial component of your trumpet. It also has a tremendous influence on the overall sound that the instrument produces. In fact, the way it influences the tone is similar to impact of the bell size.
The typical bore size is between 0.459 and 0.460 inches. A bore size around 0.450 inches is considered on the smaller side and is mellower and softer in tone. You might even consider it “restrictive” in terms of your range and what you can play.
A bore size around 0.472″ is considered on the larger side. It will sound brighter and more aggressive, and produce a more pronounced tone. Larger bores give you an overall wider ‘tone’ or ‘range’.
Bore size also affects your breath. This is mainly due to the amount of air needed to “fill” the tube in order to produce a stable airflow that will produce a sound.
Beginners generally want to steer clear of trumpets with larger than average bore sizes, because these will require more airflow to produce any kind of sound. Intermediate and advanced trumpet players, on the other hand, could benefit more from larger bores.
A larger bore trumpets can produce a broader and wider sound and more advanced players are able to produce the larger airflow required to play them. Larger bore trumpets are ideal for live performances in larger venues or even for outdoor events. They are also great for the first chair.
Why Is Bore Size Important?
Just like bell size, bore size matters a lot when musicians are picking trumpets best suited for their level of prowess and the style of music they play. It’s an important characteristic you need to consider when looking at the overall features of a trumpet.
If you decide to go with a bore size that isn’t the standard sizes (0.459 and 0.460 inches), you’ll want to consider what bell type and size works best in conjunction that specific bore size, and what effect the combination will have on your sound.
What Bore Size Is Best?
Just as with the bell size, I generally advise going with the average bore size, since it gives you a nice blend of what a bigger and a smaller bore size can offer, in terms of sound. It’s a balanced option that allows you to be somewhat more flexible than if you were to choose either a larger or smaller bore. Again, the average bore size is between 0.459 and 0.460 inches.
If you’re a student, then it would be a smart move to go with a student trumpet, like the Eastar ETR-380, since trumpets like that are specifically made to help students learn how to play. If you’re a student looking to upgrade from your student trumpet, then medium-sized bores are still the way to go for most players.
The only reason you may want to opt for a small-bore or a large-bore comes down to your preference and your style. But you won’t know what you need if you’re just starting out as a trumpeter. That’s why I recommend the standard size for beginners.
Experience teaches a lot about your craft as a musician: about your skill level, your ambition, and especially, about yourself. As you progress as a musician, you’ll learn what you like and what you don’t like; what you need and what you don’t need.
Your trumpet should be the best extension of yourself and that means picking the right configuration to match your musical ability, musical style, and playing preference. It’s not always about the type of sound the trumpet makes, but also the way in which you must play it to make that sound.
Are you able to fill a larger bore with enough air to make it sound good? Or would you prefer something easier to push air through that’s a bit more articulate and aggressive? You’ll never quite know until you’ve run into issues or played music that requires something that your current trumpet can’t offer you.