Buying a Trombone

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Buying a Trombone isn't always as easy as it would seem at first.  There are many things to think about - what kind of music are you going to use it for, how much to invest...and the list could go on.  I've been playing the trombone for 26 years now, from jazz to symphony orchestras, so I think I know what I'm on about!

My suggestions:
1) Always buy the best instrument that you can afford
2) Never buy a brand that isn't sold in a real Australian music shop
3) Know what you're looking for - don't just buy anything because its a bargain

If you're a beginner and your plan is to play in a school band or a jazz band, a small-bore student instrument will do although generally the more you pay, the better the instrument and the more satisfying the experience will be.  Sometimes you're better off buying a better quality second hand instrument, than a cheap new instrument.

If you're a medium standard player, you might want to consider a mid-range insutrument - possibly with a lage bore, and depending on the sound you want, you might choose the more mellow-toned 'red brass' bell, or stick with the standard bright 'gold brass bell.

If you're right up with the pros, or if you want to be...find out what they're playing and then go get one!

There's nothing wrong with a second-hand Trombone, but make sure you know a few things from the seller:

The condition:  Is the slide straight, with a smooth action...and are there any dings in it (both the inner slide and the outer slide)?  If there are dings...avoid this bone.  Also avoid it if there's any corrosion of the inner slide - occasionally on a cheap bone you'll find corrosion or even rust - all evidence of a poor manufacturing process - don't touch this instrument at all!

A few small dings to the rest of the instrument won't be tragic, nor will lacquer that's chipped or flaked off - those things happen with general wear and tear.  Avoid an instrument with a badly dented tuning slide (the bit that sits just behind your shoulder) - these things are strong and reinforced in a good instrument precisely because they do get knocked around occasionally.  If they're battered, then someone sure didn't take good care of the instrument, and you don't want to buy it!

Take a look at whether the bell (the flared-out bit where the sound comes out) seems straight - I once came across a bone that had been dropped, and when put together in the normal right-angled way, the bell touched the slide!!  Wrong!  It cost a couple of hundred to get it realigned.

In a second-hand bone, ask the seller if the inside tube of the mouthpiece is smooth - if it's got tiny lumps, you can bet your bones that someone was eating while they were playing - the lumps are tiny bits of food.  Yuck!  If the mouthpiece is like this, then the rest of the bone will be seriously gross inside too - and depending on how you feel about that, maybe don't go buying it.  If the owner loved their bone, then they will have cleaned it from time to time - and bits of meat-pie and chewing gum won't be stuck all over the inside.

Which reminds me...when you buy a new second hand bone, clean it!  I once got a nasty staph infection around my mouth and face from playing someone elses' trombone - you HAVE to be careful.  It's not worth having a scabby horrible face for a few weeks!

How do I clean it?  For the last 26 years I've done it this way and it works great:

Run a warm bath and throw in a couple of caps of Dettol (avoid Pine-o-clean).  Put an old towel on the bottom (yes, in the water) then carefully pull all the parts of the trombone apart and lay them on the towel.  Leave them to soak for a good 1/2 hour or so.  After a while, get them out, rinse them out and towel dry 'em (with a nice clean dry towel).

Find  fishing sinker about 1" (2.5cm) long - a narrow one will be best.  Tie it to one end of a piece of fishing line.  Tie a small piece of lint-free rag (maybe 4cm x 8cm) to the other end (a bit of old sheet or old t-shirt will do).  Drop the sinker carefully down the tube and wriggle it around until it comes out the other end.  Pull the fishing-line through until the rag comes out - you'll probably see anything from just clear water on the rag to full-gross green slime.  If slime aint your thing, then run a clean piece of rag through a few more times until it comes up clean (either that or give it another soak and repeat the whole process).

You can by flexible bristle-ended slide cleaners, and these are pretty good too, but always run a rag through after the bristles...they tend to leave bits of loose junk inside the instrument.

Go and buy a mouthpiece brush!  They look like a tiny bottle-brush, are shaped a bit like a christmas-tree, and cost only a couple of dollars...but they're great for getting out any fresh gunk or meat-pies that are stuck inside the mouthpiece.  Gotta keep things hygienic! 

Just a couple of other things...

Ever wondered what people with short arms do when they have to reach the 7th position?  They cheat, and buy a Bflat/F tenor trombone.  This one has some extra 'plumbing' around the area that sits on your shoulder, and a trigger the operates the plumbing.   Just so you get the picture, a trombone played with a closed slide in 1st position, can play notes from the 6th position if the trigger is depressed.  Likewise, roughly the 2nd position with the trigger depressed equates to notes from the 7th position.

There are a few advantages in a Bflat/F Tenor  for those who have ordinary length arms too - if you have to play a series of notes rapidly, sometimes it's much faster to hit the trigger than have the slide go all over the place just to get all the notes in.

Thinking about buying an Alto trombone?  Looks like a bargain?  Don't do it unless you've got your heart on Symphonic music - you'll never use the thing anywhere else.

Bass Trombone?  Bass trombone is for someone with a large lung capacity, and a passion for being at the bottom of the heap!  The bass underpins the whole bone section...and a great bass bone player can bring a bone section to life.

Finally...you might wonder what I play, and what I've played...

I started in a school band on an old matte-silver 'Besson' pea-shooter
I graduated to a lacquered gold 'Olds' pea-shooter
I saved up and in 1981 or so I bought a King 3B Bb/F which I still play today - and it plays as well now as it did when it was new.  It has a few minor dings, a bit of a scratch here and there, but it's a brilliant trombone and I will never ever part with it (so please don't ask!).  It has a bright tone, and I've used it for both Jazz and in orchestras.
I also play a Yamaha 682G professional trombone- a large-bore 'red brass' seamless bell, symphonic monster with the most mellow European style tone on earth.
For fun I bought a Jupiter Soprano trombone (similar in tone to a bugle, with a tenor-tuba sized mouthpiece) but I've never found a place to use it - it was more of a novelty purchase.

A lot of people will recommend the Conn 88H to you - and that's fine, but while I've played a few, I've always been disappointed by them (which is why I bought the Yamaha).  Some of my friends have picked up second-hand 88H's that they're happy with though, so don't be put off by my experiences.  I've never found a Bach trombone that played as well as either my King or my Yamaha...maybe avoid Bach trombones...and check Yamaha student or mid range models for a nice slick slide too - I've seen quite a few that don't glide as well as they should.

From my perspective...and yes, I am biased, a good second-hand King 3b or 4b or 5b will be an excellent investment for players of any standard.

Just don't touch the imported junk from China.  Stick to a reputable brand!  And whatever you do, unless you've got some weird valve-fetish, stay away from the valve trombones (the ones without slides).  They're inferior and useful only for marching bands and trumpet players that want to show off.

Good luck with your purchase, and if you have any questions I'm happy to recieve emails.


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