Maybe you heard the bass trumpet in Wagner or at a Dave Matthews Band concert. It’s easy to fall in love with the bass trumpet’s powerful yet surprisingly warm sound. But once you start shopping for a bass trumpet, you soon find that pickings are slim and prices are high.
Bass trumpets are still an uncommon horn with a reasonably small repertoire and few instrument makers. Until very recently, anybody who wanted a bass trumpet could expect to shell out thousands of dollars for an instrument with a reasonably slim repertoire. While a more inexpensive bass trumpet is now available, a bass trumpet is still a pretty big investment.
Luckily, I’ve done some research on the available bass trumpets and compiled a list of some of the best bass trumpets you can buy. There are still only a few bass trumpet manufacturers out there. Still, interest in this beautiful-sounding instrument has been increasing of late. When you’re done reading this article, you’ll know exactly what you need to play your part in the new bass trumpet revolution.
Bottom line up front: While the Bach B188 Stradivarius is probably the best bass trumpet for most serious trumpet professionals, there are bass trumpets out there to match every need and most pocketbooks.
How I Chose the Best Bass Trumpets
A few of the factors that weighed on my decisions included:
While there is some crossover between the two musical spheres, classical and jazz bass trumpeters may need different instruments. Most classical and symphonic music written for bass trumpet was written for rotary valve instruments (popular in Germany and Eastern Europe). In contrast, the overwhelming majority of jazz and popular players use instruments with piston valves. I have included trumpets with both configurations.
For most people, the bass trumpet will be a secondary instrument they play occasionally. Until recently, musicians had to shell out a lot of money to add a bass trumpet to their collection. As Chinese instrument manufacturing has improved, we are now seeing well-made uncommon instruments offered at very reasonable prices.
None of these bass trumpets are cheap, but each of them are worth their price tag. The selection of bass trumpets may be small, but the quality of bass trumpets on the market is very high. The trumpets I listed here will all serve you in a professional or amateur capacity and will provide you with a lifetime of musical enjoyment.
The Best Bass Trumpet Brands
Best Beginner Bass Trumpet: Wessex BT1 B♭ Bass Trumpet
At $700, the Wessex BT1 is by far the cheapest bass trumpet on our list. This Chinese/British firm has gained a great reputation for its reasonably priced but very playable versions of uncommon instruments. The BT1’s 0.46″ bore is a bit narrower for a bass trumpet, giving the instrument a clear, bright, and focused sound that is especially suited for jazz and concert bands.
The narrower bore also gives the BT1 a bit more resistance: musicians have compared the BT1 to a euphonium in terms of stuffiness and feedback. But that narrower bore also means the BT1 needs a bit less air to get a full sound and will be less taxing on a young student getting used to their new instrument’s wind demands.
For trumpet players who just want to add a bass trumpet to their collection or working musicians who just need a bass trumpet for one or two numbers, the Wessex BT1 lets you add a new instrument to your repertoire without breaking the bank.
- Wessex lets you own a very good bass trumpet for a fraction of the usual price.
- Lighter tone well suited for chamber or small venue settings
- Also comes with rotary valves for symphonic and classical trumpeters
- May not hold resale value as well as other bass trumpets on this list
- Key: B♭
- Bore: 0.46″ (11.66 mm)
- Leadpipe: Standard
- Leadpipe Material: Gold brass
- Bell: 6.1″ (155mm) yellow brass
- Valves: Monel
- Case: Foam body
- Mouthpiece: Wessex 6 ¾ C
- Finish: Lacquer, silver plate
Best Jazz Bass Trumpet: Bach B188 Stradivarius B♭ Bass Trumpet
Jazz musicians have become increasingly interested in the bass trumpet. If you’re a fan of the Dave Matthews band, you’ve heard trumpet player Rashawn Ross play a B188 Stradivarius. As part of Bach’s Stradivarius line of trumpets, the B188 has the same fast action and responsive play as its smaller cousins.
But while the B188 may be more popular with jazz musicians, it is also found in many orchestra pits. While it may not be precisely what Mahler or Wagner had in mind, the B188 will handle the orchestral repertoire just fine. The B188’s sound combines the famous Bach projection and power with warmth and clarity.
Although bass trumpets are notorious for poor slotting and intonation, with practice, the B188 will let you hit the right note every time. And while you will still need to get used to the B188’s larger mouthpiece and greater air demands, the instrument will feel familiar to a trumpeter who already plays a smaller Stradivarius.
- Repairmen around the world are familiar with Bach trumpets
- Freest-blowing bass trumpet on the market
- Popular with jazz and classical musicians
- Not period-authentic for 19th century German and Austrian music
- Key: B♭
- Bore: .485″ (12.3 mm)
- Leadpipe: Standard
- Leadpipe Material: Yellow brass
- Bell: 7″ one-piece, hand-hammered
- Bell Material: Yellow brass
- Valves: Monel
- 1st Valve Slide Adjustment: Fixed ring
- 3rd Valve Slide Adjustment: n/a
- Case: Wood shell case
- Mouthpiece: Bach 12C small shank trombone mouthpiece
- Finish: Lacquer
Best Baroque Bass Trumpet: Thein Low F Trumpet
Germany’s Thein brothers are widely respected as among the world’s leading brass instrument designers and are especially renowned for their work on period instruments. Their trumpet in low F is an heirloom instrument that hearkens back to the baroque but can be used in any setting where you need a trumpet with some extra oomph on the bottom end.
Today the overwhelming majority of trumpets are tuned in B♭. But that is a fairly recent development. Before the late 19th century, most trumpets were tuned a full fourth lower in low F. The “bass trumpet” line in Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and many trumpet parts by Elgar, Mahler, and others were actually written for low F trumpets.
Many Romantic compositions feature 2nd and 3rd trumpet parts that require lipping and tuning slide adjustments on a standard trumpet. Thein’s Low F Trumpet lets you play those notes as the composer intended. Thein’s Low F trumpet is available with rotary or piston valves. It can be transformed into a standard bass trumpet with Thein’s optional B♭-set tubing.
- A versatile trumpet well-suited for a great deal of music
- Made to order by one of the world’s leading suppliers of brass orchestral instruments
- Period-authentic for most 19th-century music
- An exceptional instrument but also exceptionally expensive
- Bell diameter: 135 mm
- Bell rim: French rim
- Bore: 11,50 mm
- Wall thickness: 0,45 mm
- Material: yellow brass
- Finish: lacquered, silver plated
- Mouthpiece recommendation: THEIN 1½C
Best Symphonic Bass Trumpet: Schagerl Bass Trumpet Wunderhorn V
Technically speaking, the Wunderhorn’s conical bore makes it a bass flugelhorn rather than a bass trumpet. The Wunderhorn’s 0.551″ bore is more commonly found on large bore trombones than its bass trumpets. And its enormous 9″ bell gives the Wunderhorn the power to be heard over a symphony orchestra or a cheering Oktoberfest crowd.
The Wunderhorn V can be held vertically like a regular trumpet. However, it still has the smooth legato and quicker action you get from rotary over piston valves. The Wunderhorn H has the valve paddles in the traditional position, and you hold it horizontally like you were grasping a big sandwich.
The Wunderhorn is a big, heavy instrument that is best suited for serious musicians with good-sized hands and lung power to spare. If you are up to the task and you have around $7,000 to invest in a Wunderhorn, you may find the Wunderhorn is the best bass trumpet available anywhere.
- A big bass trumpet with an even bigger sound
- Designed in conjunction with a member of the world-renowned Mnozil Brass
- Period-authentic for 19th century German and Austrian music
- Not a good choice for musicians with small hands or lungs
- Key: B♭
- Bore: .551″ (14 mm)
- Bell: 230mm ( 9″) gold brass, detachable
- Valves: Rotary
Best Bass Trumpet Alternative: Wessex B♭ Valve Trombone PB901
You should also consider a valve trombone if you’re thinking about a bass trumpet. Valve trombones use the same fingerings and have the same range as a bass trumpet. They also have a very similar sound, though most find the bass trumpet has a bit more penetrating edge while the valve trombone is stronger in the lowest register.
The Wessex PB901 is a solid student instrument that will meet the needs of most brass players looking for a second horn for around the price of the Wessex bass trumpet. If you want to add trombone to your repertoire, the PB901 lets you do so without mastering the slide or breaking your bank.
While the valve trombone is also in B♭, the trombone is a non-transposing instrument. If you switch from trumpet to valve trombone, you will have to relearn your fingerings and get used to reading music in bass clef.
- Shorter design makes the PB901 more manageable for marching and small stages.
- An inexpensive second instrument for any brass musician
- Much larger repertoire for valve trombone than bass trumpet
- Valves can be stiff at first and require regular lubrication.
- Bell: 8″ (202mm)
- Bore: 0.49″ (12.49 mm)
- Length overall assembled 28″ (71cm)
- Weight: 3.71 lbs (1.65kg)
- Gold brass bell
- Nickel inner and outer slides
- Stainless steel top sprung slides
- Lightweight foam body case
- 6 3/4 mouthpiece
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Answer: In 1828 German instrument maker featured a bass trumpet in his catalogue. Stölzel (1777-1844) invented the Stölzel valve, one of the first instrument valves, in 1818. Stölzel also designed trumpets in low F. The Thein Trumpet in Low F listed above is based on an original Stölzel design.
Answer: Bass trumpet music is written using a treble clef and transposed for a B♭ instrument. The note a regular trumpet plays is a full step lower than the note written on the musical score. Playing that same score, the bass trumpet sounds a ninth (an octave plus a full step) lower than the score.
Answer: The B♭ bass trumpet has a range between E2 – C5, an octave lower than a regular B♭ trumpet, while the low F trumpet has a range between B♭3 and F5. Through careful work with their embouchure, some trumpet players can produce pedal tones over an octave below those lowest notes, though only a very few are skilled enough to make pedal tones a regular part of their repertoire.
So what’s the best bass trumpet for you?
For most musicians, the Wessex BT1 Bass Trumpet will be the only bass trumpet they ever need. The Wessex BT1 is a solid and reliable instrument that will serve as a second instrument for professional use and a fun part of any amateur musician’s trumpet collection.
Serious professionals who play bass trumpet regularly on stage or in the studio should go with the Bach B188 Stradivarius Bass Trumpet. Bach Stradivarius trumpets are legendary, and the B188 will serve you well in almost any professional capacity.
Play a lot of period music and have over $10,000 to spend. The Thein Trumpet in Low F will be perfect for everything from solo and chamber music to orchestras and opera pits. With the Thein, you will be able to play anything from Mozart to Stravinsky and beyond the way the composer intended.
While it’s still a relatively obscure instrument, the bass trumpet gains new fans and followers every day. With a bass trumpet in your rehearsal room, you may become part of the next generation of bass trumpet pioneers. Or you may just have a lot of fun playing a cool new instrument. Whatever your musical journey, happy playing!
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