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Cornet - A Better fit for the Small Beginner

I’ve been asked many times to source inexpensive cornets for beginning student band programs. The cornet offers all the playability of a trumpet in a more compact, easier to handle package. This is a great advantage when you have a small child or a program that starts at a very young age, as many programs do here. The down side comes to cost. One can find a popular name brand trumpet for $700 to $800 but cornets from these manufacturers cost $1200 or more. There’s an understandable reluctance to handing over a more expensive instrument to a person who may not be all reliable with it.

JP071 in silver: The JP071 is the entry point of the John Packer cornet line. Priced at $599 in lacquer, $699 in silver plate  they offer a basic package. 

JP171SW in lacquer: The JP171SW is the next step up and priced at $849 in lacquer, $949 in silver plate. 

The two John Packer cornets showcased here are two possible solutions to this problem. These instruments are a great solution, offering competitive pricing to trumpets in a reliable package. These instruments are a great investment for a band program that provides beginning students with instruments. As the student grows over the next year or two and becomes more invested they can move on to (their own) trumpet and these cornets can be used to introduce the next class to the band. 

John Packer instruments are made in China. These are what are typically called “stencil” instruments, meaning these instruments are bought from Chinese factories, built to the specifications of the buyer and engraved with the buyers name. If you want the name brand cornet by a maker that operates their own factories - Yamaha, Jupiter, Eastman, Getzen for example*- it’ll cost 30-50% more. I’ve seen a HUGE variability in quality of stencil instruments so it pays to be diligent and look carefully. As a general rule, you get what you pay for. 

 

Build:  

Unlike many other stencil instruments, parts are readily available for John Packer. A very important thing when a broken or missing valve guide could cripple your instrument. 

Both instruments appear to be built off of the same valve block. The valves are advertised as Monel on the JP171SW, presumably stainless steel on the JP071. JP instruments have been available for some time now and I’ve not heard of the valves being problematic so expect decent reliability. 

The JP071 is constructed entirely yellow brass while the JP171SW has a gold brass bell and leadpipe along with nickel outer and inner slides and nickel ferrules. These alloys are more expensive materials typically found on higher quality instruments. While the three alloys, nickel, gold brass and yellow brass, make for a prettier instrument they do also have practical purposes as well. Nickel is more resistant to oxidation so stuck slides are less likely. Gold brass is more resistant to rot so a gold brass leadpipe will last longer. Gold brass bells offer a warmer sound than yellow brass (though this is purely subjective and many prefer the sound of a yellow brass bell).

The bracing looks decent on both instruments though note the JP171SW has double bracing from the valve casing: 

You can also see in the photos above and below that the plate of the bracing is larger, offering a stronger and more durable solder joint. For an instrument that will see some rough handling, the JP171SW is going to hold up better. 

The JP171SW has a fixed third slide finger ring while the JP071 is adjustable. A beginner is probably not going to correct intonation with the third slide so this is rather moot but the adjustable ring of the JP071 would be an advantage for the fussier student’s comfort or could simply be removed altogether. An adjustable third slide ring has parts that can be lost and played with so the fixed ring has advantages too.

 

The lacquer looks clear and the underlying polish is excellent. The silver on the new cornet looks fine but I’m always a bit suspect of silver plated stencil instruments, I’ve seen many examples that don’t age well. Couple that with the maintenance of keeping a silver plated instrument looking decent and I would definitely recommend the less expensive lacquer for school programs.

The construction is not flawless, one cornet came with a brace that was sloppily assembled and the other had a stuck slide from not being cleaned well before shipment. It won’t cause any issues, just being picky...

Beyond these things, the cornets look essentially the same when viewed side by side. 

 

Playability: 

The JP171SW has been designed in collaboration with Smith-Watkins, an industry leader in trumpet and cornet manufacture. What does that mean the JP071 is? I’m not sure. I suspect the JP071 is based on an off the shelf design from the stencil builder. 

Both instruments play well and are going to meet the needs of a beginning student. In a side-by-side comparison with a professional player testing, the JP171SW had better intonation and a warmer, more colourful tone. If this is of any significance to a first or second year player is debatable but the JP171SW will serve a single player longer in their development.  

 

Cases:

Both cornets come in extruded foam fitted cases with fabric covers and YKK zipper closures. Both cases have a hard shell between the outer fabric and moulded Styrofoam interior which provide stability and structure. I’m happy to see that the nylon cover on both cases is not glued to the inner part of the case but held together with screws. This is significant because when the zipper fails (and yes, it will fail) there is at least the possibility of getting it repaired (if you can find a cobbler that can do it). A glued case is worthless when the zipper fails.

These cases are typical of Chinese stencil instruments as well as with some name brand makers. While they have the advantage of being lightweight, durability is not great. These JP cases are better than many but still pale in comparison in durability and protection to a latched hard case.

 The JP171SW case (right in both photos) has an upgraded handle and larger exterior pocket. It also has better backpack straps that are permanently attached with a built in pocket to store them. The JP071 has 4 “D” rings and loose clip on straps.

The add-ons:

Both cornets came with silver plated mouthpieces that look decent. In the case is Ultra Pure valve oil, a wee little one in the JP071 and 30ml in the JP171SW, and a shoulder strap for the case. Lastly, there is a 2 year warranty. 

Conclusion:

Both cornets are worthy addition to my offerings and fill a much needed gap. The JP171SW is, as one might expect, superior to the JP071 in nearly all ways except initial price. In my opinion, based on the construction and slightly nicer case, the JP171SW is the better long term economical option in spite of the greater initial expense. If you would like any more information or want to try either of these cornets please contact us.

  
*These listed names to my knowledge don’t sell stencil instruments but other big name brands do. Arguably a necessary evil to remain price competitive in a tough market. Besson, Paxman, Bach, Conn, Schagerl are just some reputable makers of pro instruments that sell stencil beginner instruments. Every instrument, especially those in the entry level, should be researched and inspected carefully rather than depending on brand reputation.