For a trombone to function and play properly, all of the various pieces of the instrument need to work together. Because of this, it’s not uncommon that one small problem can throw the whole instrument off and affect the sound or your ability to play. As with any instrument, it’s important to be aware of common issues you might experience and understand the causes and solutions to those issues. Fortunately, the problems which trombones have fall into a few simple categories: stuck mouthpieces, stuck slides, broken solder joints, and dents. Generally, these problems are easily addressed by an experienced repair technician. If you’re thinking about learning to play the trombone, or have just recently started, this guide will walk you through some of the most common issues and the repairs they require.
Because of the shape of the trombone’s mouthpiece, it’s easy to get them stuck. This is an issue that’s common not only for trombonists, but also for trumpet players, saxophonists, and any other musician that plays a brass instrument with a mouthpiece. Generally, you want the trombone’s mouthpiece to fit snugly enough that it prevents air from escaping. If it’s any looser than that, you run the risk of having the mouthpiece fall out when you’re playing. If it’s pushed or knocked in any further than necessary, it’s likely to get stuck. You need to be able to take the mouthpiece out in order to place the trombone in its case, and since it’s always important to properly store and protect any instrument, this can be a serious problem.
Inexperienced musicians who experience a stuck mouthpiece for the first time often believe they can just grab a pair of pliers and pull it out. It’s very important that you do not do this. Trombones are made of soft brass that bends easily. If you get your mouthpiece stuck, you should take your instrument to an experienced repair technician that has a special tool for removing stuck mouthpieces without damaging the instrument. If you’re in a situation where you can’t get to a repair technician, band directors or brass instrument music teachers often carry this tool as well.
Trombones have two slides that can occasionally get stuck. The first is the playing slide, which is made up of four tubes – two inner and two outer slides. These slides are made to fit together exactly with a gap so small that almost no air is able to leak through. Because of how closely these slides fit together, the smallest dent or amount of debris can cause the whole playing slide to function sluggishly. It’s relatively simple to figure out what’s causing the problem by how consistent the problem is. If something is bent, then the slide will stick every time. If there’s dirt or debris in the slide, then the slide will stick intermittently. If you think you’re dealing with just a little bit of dirt, you can take your trombone apart and give it a bath with warm water and mild soap. Use a slide brush to scrub the insides of the instrument, rinse thoroughly, and, once the trombone is dry, apply some slide oil to the playing slide. If this doesn’t solve your sticking problem, then you know you’re most likely dealing with a bent slide. In this case, it’s best to take the instrument straight to a repair technician.
The other slide which commonly gets stuck is the tuning slide. When tuning slides get stuck, it’s often caused by the chemical bonding of impurities left on it. If the tuning slide doesn’t come free with a little pressure, then you need to take it to a technician. Again, you must resist the temptation to use pliers to free the tuning slide. The risk of doing serious damage to the instrument is real. It’s always better to trust in the experience of a qualified technician rather than attempt serious repairs yourself. If you want to avoid getting your tuning slide stuck, wipe it clean and apply grease frequently.
Broken Solder Joints
In the case that you need your solder joints fixed because you’ve accidentally twisted or dropped your instrument, you should definitely head straight to a repair technician with experience. This repair involves heating the joint with a gas torch until the solder is melted then resoldering around the joint. After this, they’ll clean the instrument, leaving it good-as-new. If you want to avoid this repair, it’s important to remember to always keep your trombone safely stored in a sturdy trombone case where it can’t be twisted, dropped, kicked, or knocked over accidentally.
Because of the soft brass that trombones are made from, they are highly susceptible to dents even if you take every necessary precaution to protect them. This is another issue where you’d definitely do more harm than good trying to address it on your own. If your trombone has a dent, take it to a repair technician right away. Because this is a repair that must be done very carefully, make sure that the musical instrument repair technician has prior experience repairing brass instruments. These repairs may not be uncommon, but not every technician is qualified to handle them. For this reason, you should learn how to find a qualified repair technician. If you can’t, some general metalworkers are qualified to help you, you just need to be sure they’ll treat your instrument with the necessary care.
As mentioned, storing your trombone in a sturdy case can prevent much of this damage. Learn How to Choose the Best Trombone Case.