For serious trumpeters one of the early investments that they make is to purchase a C trumpet.  The C trumpet has been very popular in the orchestra for nearly a century and is also utilized frequently for solo and chamber music performance. Many amateur performers also like to have a C instrument for church service melody playing and in some cultures C instruments are utilized for beginning players.


In my experience and observation only a few brands of C trumpets are considered to be suitable for orchestral performance. Those that are popular are recognized to have a darker sound than the Bb trumpet with more projection and a bit of “zing.”  Orchestral performers that play in major orchestras have the advantage of auditioning lots of instruments of the same brand and usually further “tweak” the instruments to ensure excellent intonation and response. While there are some custom trumpet builders that assemble instruments much more consistently than factory produced horns, there are still very few orchestra sections that stray from those few brands that are considered to be successful in the orchestra trumpet section. Most trumpeters that plan to audition for orchestras usually feel that they have to have one of the popular brands to be competitive. This logic doesn’t work well in reality simply because the player that wins the audition will be the one that plays the most musical performance, the best in tune, and with the best sound. Once selected for an orchestra position then the section members will make sure the new member gets an instrument that matches the sound that they want the section to have.


When first playing a C trumpet most players find that there is a period of time that it takes to master the instrument and to play it as well as their Bb trumpet.  This is true of all higher keyed trumpets and players that can alternate between various keyed trumpets fluently on a concert program usually have at least several years of experience in changing from instrument to instrument. Many players also find that it is necessary to use different mouthpieces on these instruments than they use on their Bb trumpet. The biggest problem that new players encounter is playing the C trumpet in tune.


Certain notes are not going to be in tune on all trumpets without making adjustments with the first and/or third valve slides. Low C# (123) and D (1-3) always require adjustment on all trumpets. On most trumpets 1-2 valve combinations are usually sharp and require adjustment with the first slide or the use of the alternate 3rd valve fingering which is permissible in certain musical settings (usually solo or chamber music). On most trumpets the written D (1st valve), Eb (2nd valve), and E (open) can be anywhere from a bit flat to very flat. Seasoned players are used to making adjustments on these notes to correct the intonation of the instrument.


It can be expected that a really fine C trumpet will have many of the problems mentioned above. Some players also feel that it is acceptable to use alternate fingerings for the Eb and E at the top of the staff which is not generally acceptable on a Bb trumpet. Alternate fingerings also change the timbre of a note and the performer has to make sure that that timbre is desirable and acceptable within the context of the music. Unfortunately many, if not most C trumpets coming off the assembly line have other problems. Many times the open C in the middle of the staff is very sharp and the only way to lower the pitch is to use the alternate 2-3 fingering combination. This produces a very dark timbre that can be out of context with other notes within a given phrase. Sometimes the G in the middle of the staff is sharp or flat. Sometimes the Bb first valve is sharp and/or can have a strange timbre. These types of problems combined with the fact that usually the D, Eb, and E may be flat can create a real dilemma for players that are new to the instrument.


Once we look at all of these potential problems it is no wonder that players get frustrated with C trumpets. Finding a C trumpet that plays really well can take a bit of time and most serious professionals end up owning several C trumpets over a career in the quest to find one that plays better. Professional players understand that you have to audition a lot of instruments to find one off the factory assembly line that will perform well.


I have often wondered why it is more difficult to produce a C trumpet that is easy to play in tune than the trumpets that play in higher keys.  I think the issue may be that most models of C trumpets are basically shortened Bb trumpets with a few modifications usually made in the bell design and leadpipe design. In the quest to produce a C trumpet that feels more like a Bb trumpet the more popular instruments are usually a larger bore size than the same manufacturers standard Bb trumpet. Manufacturers also produced some really poor D and Eb trumpets that were based on shortened Bb or C trumpet designs and these fell out of popularity quickly when D and Eb trumpets started being manufactured that had different pipe and bell length ratios. It is rare that a D or Eb trumpet with a standard tuning system (ala Bb/C trumpets) plays very well in tune.


Many of the successful C trumpet projects I have been involved with to date are non-standard designs. For my new C trumpet designs I utilize a bell that has what I consider to be a very superb sound for a C trumpet and it also plays well in tune with many different types of pipes/crooks. From my perspective building a new instrument is a more satisfying route to obtain a really fine instrument rather than trying to tweak existing instruments. This is much more cost effective through TDS and has many fewer headaches for a trumpeter that wants to have a really fine instrument.