Instrument Review: John Packer Bb Trumpets

John Packer Musical Instruments have been making brass and woodwind instruments for the educational market in the UK for a number of years now. With the range expanding to include upgrade instruments and with the JP brand gaining market share in many more countries, now seems like a good time to take a look at some of the Bb trumpets that are currently on offer.

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JP 051 Bb Trumpet

JP 051: This is the entry level Bb instrument from the John Packer range and on the face of it, looks like any of the other similar cheaper instruments coming out of Chinese factories. Yellow brass bell, red brass leadpipe, adjustable 3rd valve slide ring… However, looks can be deceiving, this is NOT the same as the countless other options on the market. The blow is really even across the range, and it is incredibly easy to make a very satisfying trumpet sound with minimal effort. The mouthpiece (a 7C equivalent as you would expect) is actually usable, comfortable and doesn’t slice your lip! The valves (certainly on the model that I had the chance to inspect) were completely flawless straight out of the box.

And wait for it… the price. It retails for less than £150 in the UK and is generally available for less than $250 in the USA. As a teacher, I have always encouraged students to try to get hold of a student Yamaha trumpet, and where family finances are tight and with Yamaha prices sky-rocketing, I have been tending to recommend good rental schemes. The JP 051 has been a popular model with music services and schools for a number of years, and now I can see why. This is by far the best and most reliable trumpet that I have encountered at this price point.

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JP 251SW Bb Trumpet

JP 251SWS: The model numbers for JP instruments are straightforward to work out. The first digit places it in the range, with ‘0’ at entry level and ‘3’ at the top of their intermediate ranges. This model sits in the JP upgrade range and is packed full of great features. It has a Bach-style valve block with 1st valve hook and fixed 3rd slide ring, double braced tuning slide and 123mm yellow brass, medium weight bell. This is one of several models that have been designed in collaboration with and approved by Richard Smith of Smith-Watkins instruments, and also has some nice aesthetic features that you would associate with a custom build trumpet: Nice decorative finger buttons and straight bell bracing including one right on the bell bow. This bracing is a feature on all of the JP models from 151 to 351.

A very common problem with upgrade instruments is that they are designed to take more air from an advancing player, however the quality of the materials and the lack of care in design and assembly often leads to an overly bright sound and a lack of centre. I am pleased to say that this is not the case with the JP251SW!  It can take a LOT of air, has a nice even blow across the range and has a brightness to the sound without becoming thin at the top. I had estimated the cost at around $1000 after reviewing it, and was amazed to discover that these sell from only $700 in the US and £400 in the UK!

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JP 351SW LT Bb Trumpet

JP 351SWLT: This horn is at the upper end of the JP intermediate range (as the ‘3’ prefix suggests), has large bore (11.73mm) valve section) and Smith-Watkins designed reverse leadpipe. It has a nice medium-heavyweight valve trim, and the look of a commercial trumpet. This LT model has a 123mm lightweight bell though, which gives a nice combination of ‘zing’ with some depth to the sound too. It has the open feel that you would expect from a large bore, reverse leadpipe instrument, however the cleverly-placed bracing (right on the bell bow as with the 251 model) helps to keep a great tonal core.

The price is a pleasant surprise too! From less than £800 in the UK, around $1400 in the US, you get a lot of trumpet for your money.

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JP 351SW HW Bb Trumpet

JP 351SWHW: This is a medium-large bore (11.65mm), heavyweight bell model, with stylish heavy valve trim and Smith-Watkins designed leadpipe. The leadpipe is a double-braced standard configuration, and it features the same straight bell bracing as the other 251 and 351 models.

I was immediately struck by the darkness of the sound. This is a remarkably responsive horn considering its weight, and creates a rich, dark sound that is easy to control across the range. Intonation is very good along with really nice harmonic slotting. The 351SWHW is the horn that I wanted to carry on playing after I had finished putting it through its paces for the review! The price is similar to the lightweight version and really does offer you a really interesting horn for the money.

John Packer

Looking at the range as a whole, I have never seen so many pro features and interesting characteristics put into a range of ‘student-priced’ instruments. Not reviewed here, but hopefully to come soon is the JP by Taylor trumpet, a collaboration with custom trumpet-maker Andy Taylor. Obviously, if you are looking for a custom-built top of the range horn, that is exactly what you should be buying. If you are looking for some great custom-horn features on a nice-blowing, incredible value instrument, then look no further than John Packer Musical Instruments!

17th April 2018 UPDATE: You can now read my review of the JP by Taylor Trumpet by clicking here.

4 thoughts on “Instrument Review: John Packer Bb Trumpets

  1. chris larsen says:

    Thanks for this.

    My follow up review is an attempt by a mid-high level community musician to write a review on the JP152S packer C Trumpet, another in the family. Hoping it relates and can be posted, thanks.

    As I have not found any appropriate, unbiased, realistic reviews on this horn and have purchased one myself, this essay is trying to fill that knowledge gap for others. The JP site is biased. I am not a member of other fora. There does not seem to be a place for this content on any major retailers, and the british site is just the outlet for these chinese horns.

    Buyers have likely screened the low end horns and this one is the best. Students and parents will need this info. For context on my review I have purchased a JP152S new last year, noodled on it and tweaked, had service done, and performed with it for a fill season as a community philharmonic principal in a major US metro area. In considering purchase, readers will need that, as well as certain other context on buying and playing so I write that as well. Here we go.

    First, this is a very strong entry level horn, for someone in high school or early college, who would just like to get a chance at orchestral or sacred literature. I am mostly happy with it. (But see below). Buyers here will most likely be looking at lower end horns in a new key and have not yet learned the idiosyncracies of this line. Most trumpets are in Bb because most players are in academic bands. However, in the last hundred years, classical music has moved a lot to the C trumpet. Our community orchestral season had about 10 Bb parts, 8 C parts, and 3 D parts. There were additional passages in Eb, F, and G, but these horns are rare enough that having a triple bag (Bb/C/D) is enough to play all the needed parts, and you need to learn transposition anyway for classical gigs, but the three horns are different beasts with darker (Bb) or brighter (D) tone. The C trumpet is uniquely treacherous however, and while also useful for sitting on on concert pitch church music, for some reason is slightly harder to play when you have learned your whole life on Bb. It is probably wise not to believe the maker of your Bb horn that their C is good too. They are different! There are fewer C makers than Bb makers as well, and the quality is not there on both fronts except with a few higher end makers (Adams, Schilke). All the Bach Strads I played had serious enough intonation problems especially on C and E that you have to fals finger them to get better in tune. I refuse to believe this is the way all C trumpets are.

    Overall this JP152 horn can be a good first attempt at playing in C. It is well built, well polished, good joints. Probably still a Bach Strad copy/mod but it plays differently for some reasons. The valves are responsive, better than any Bundy, Selmer, or Conn I have played. Not as nearly good as the Getzen or Schilke. They get the job done but need more frequent oiling because they are not quite as finely lapped in and polished. It’s ok. They will not be an issue if they are used and oiled with lighter, non-gap filling lubricant. Moving on.

    The tone is decent. There is some resistance and stuffiness at the top end, above the staff, that really shouldn’t be there. It is not easy to play high with good response and clarion on this horn. However, as it is deemed mid entry level, or maybe intermediate if you get a good one, that is forgivable. When one learns to play well above the staff a better horn will make itself known. This is your first C horn remember. A decent looker with good build and response within the staff.

    Now the bad bits. I love the look and price and feel of the horn. However, out of the bag it was immediately difficulty to slot notes. Never in my life have I played a horn that required such mental focus on *each* and *every* note to hit the dead center and not split as a stock instrument. It was a bright sound, but difficult to produce solid quick runs. The attack on larger intervals typical of more advanced or complex compositions is difficult. It is also made harder moreso by the mental effort of switching your thoughts to a new key. It takes effort to think a C when your brain is aiming for a Bb. This takes time. Hitting the right part of the “egg” shaped note target, right in the middle sweet spot, is something that takes at least 4-500 hours to get used to. So, picking up a new horn in C, it will be necessary to figure what issue is the horn, vs what issue is the key change. This is why I am writing to help. It has taken most of a year to become a facile C trumpeter on this thing. I played 20 other horns, mostly Bach Strads, for comparison, and they are all in the 1250-2500 price range. Clearly this one stands out at the low end. It is not obvious that I would have had a better time of it on the more expensive horns. I would say 70% of the issue is with switching key. Thats why this horn is a decent bargain. You will be able to spend 3k on a better horn, but most of the issue is with the mind. You can only buy so much improvement. Got 5k for a Pickett/Blackburn? Stop reading now.

    Scrutinizing the hardware resulted in the conclusion that this horn has serious issues in it’s stock front end. Everything past the spit valve is really quite good. New students of the C trumpet will learn that the lead pipe is not standard on this key of horn. Furthermore, it is a different than a Bb horn. If in fact you put a Bb lead pipe on the C trumpet. it will play like a band horn but not be what a director concertmaster or composer wants in tone and response. These lead pipes differ in length, conical shape, and diameter. For this reason, I went to a great brass shop and tried 30 different lead pipes, attached with adapter to the tuning slide with a bracket. Easily the best leap of them was a Bach 7. Using this leadpipe resulted in a COMPLETELY changed experience. The horn was transformed immediately into something worth 1200 not 500. We put this pipe in place. I am not good enough to play on the Bud Herseth 25H leadpipe which is too short to be a stable recipent of the mouthpiece buzz. He was the Chicago principal, I am not. Get a longer leadpipe if you can. Shop around.

    A second reason why the front end had issues was the mouthpiece receiver gap. I was astonished to measure the gap between mouthpiece and leadpipe as 9 mm. NINE. Why did they do this? Why?? All other horns I have played have a receiver gap of 2-5 mm. The Bach Strads use an almost-standard 3.2 mm gap for optimizing the tradeoff between slotting and flexibility. This thing at 9 mm was unplayable. It could not slot at all.

    Therefore when replacing the leadpipe we set the new raw brass Bach 7 to have a 3 mm gap with my Schilke 3M orchestral mouthpiece (22 throat which is also larger than the 26 or 27 gauge on Schilke Warburton and Bach Bb trumpet mouthpieces). This has been a really workable solution. After polishing the joint transitions, changing the receiver, and customizing the mouthpiece gap to leadpipe, this has been a really good horn. It took time and effort to find how to make it the best a C trumpet can be. I suspect that after 4-5 years I will grow to a higher end horn but right now this one is getting it done. I am in for 590 USD, and the horn is worth about 900 now.

    Thanks for reading. I have just wanted to add some light on this unique horn since going through the process was difficult. Likely there are for you few band friends to talk to who have been through this, and school directors may or may not be good at understanding the symphonic literature. Good luck on your horn search. Give this one a try if you are in the three figure budget category as I was. Be prepared to mod the front end and you will marry it to your physique and embouchure. Cheers – Reader CL

    • John Hutchinson says:

      Many thanks for your thoughts and in-depth review! I haven’t had a chance to play the John Packer C trumpets yet, but look forward to it.

      • chris larsen says:

        Thanks John. Appreciate you putting it up. I have not found any other relevant place that looks unbiased and went through this mostly alone with my brass shop, who has now switched from JZ to Packer horns for the low end. Your review is good. Hope others can find this all worthwhile and it helps drive you some traffic. Cheers

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