Trombone Buying Guide

What is a trombone?

The trombone is a musical instrument in the brass family. The trombonist produces sound on the trombone when his or her vibrating lips (embouchure) cause the air column inside the instrument to vibrate. Most trombones have a telescoping slide mechanism, which varies the length of the instrument, that the player moves to change the pitch of the instrument. Many modern trombone models also use a valve attachment to lower the pitch of the instrument.

If you’re wondering what a trombone sounds like, it’s interesting to know that the trombone was built to approximate the range of the human voice. You may hear the trombone sound described as rich, buttery, smooth, silky, full and warm. It is possible for a trombonist to achieve perfect intonation at all times because the trombone is essentially a big tuning slide!

What key is the trombone in?

The most common variant, the tenor trombone, is a non-transposing instrument pitched in Bb and is in concert pitch.

While trombones may seem like a simple instrument compared to other horns, you may still need guidance in finding one that suits your budget and needs. To get a better idea of what kind of trombone is right for you, here is a quick rundown on the basics of the instrument.

Trombone scales

The trombone can play in any scale. The easiest and most common are the first few flatted keys. Bb, Eb, Ab, Db. You’ll find these keys in most beginning trombone music.

Scales are often learned in terms of slide position. For example, 2 octaves of the Bb scale would be: 1 6 4 3 1 4 2 1 3 1 3 1 2 #2 1. As the trombonist progresses, the player should know the notes of the scale as well understand what they are playing, not just how to play it.

Types of trombones

The 3 main types of trombones are straight tenor, trigger-type tenor (also known as F-rotor or F-attachment) and bass trombones. There are some specialty types but they aren’t in wide use.

  • The simplest of the three is the straight tenor trombone, which contains no tubing on the inside.
  • The trigger-type tenor has extra tubing within its main loop, but until this tubing is activated with a trigger, it’s basically a straight trombone. This also makes the horn longer in length, with its tuning changed from Bb to F.
  • The bass trombone is a bigger bore version of the F-rotor trombone, and contains an additional second rotor, which extends the horn’s low-end even more.

Normally, students begin with a straight tenor trombone, then later move on to a horn equipped with an F-rotor. But this isn’t a requirement by any means. Without the F-rotor, your horn will play no differently from a straight trombone. You can graduate to the F-rotor when you feel comfortable enough to do so. But in many cases even professional players will stick with a straight trombone.

An interesting modern trend in trombone manufacturing is the plastic trombone. Both novice players and experts use plastic trombones as a legitimate instrument, and it comes in a variety of stunning colors, including green, blue, red, purple, yellow, and more traditional finishes like black and white. A lot of purists will argue that a plastic trombone doesn’t qualify as a usable instrument. However, both teachers and even professional players have been equally blown away by the sound quality and sturdy craftsmanship of plastic instruments.

What are trombones made of?

Yellow Brass

In most brass instruments, this is the most common brass used. Most student horns are made of yellow brass, and the material makes for a rich, bold sound.

Rose Brass

Sometimes called gold brass or red brass, the majority of intermediate horns are made of rose brass. It creates a warm and dark tone, much more so than yellow brass.

Silver/Nickel or Sterling Silver

This is the primary material used in professional instruments, though you’ll find intermediate horns in this material. You’ll get extremely rich sound from these trombones.

What level of trombone should you buy?

Student Trombones

Manufactured to be durable yet affordable, these trombones are machine-made. Although they play great, they’re not as well-crafted as intermediate or professional models, nor do they contain high-end materials. Student models are typically tenor models with a small bore, usually made of yellow brass. You can, however, find student models that are manufactured from rose brass.

Here are some excellent student trombones:

Etude ETB-100 Series Student Trombone – a quality student trombone at a great price

Allora ATB-250 Student Series Trombone –  a great trombone with a quality build, solid warranty, and set up to play

Prelude by Conn-Selmer TB711 Series Student Trombone – a fantastic student horn from a top manufacturer

Intermediate Trombones

Consisting of a .525″ or .547″ medium large bore, intermediate horns are crafted with higher quality materials than student trombones, and are usually made from rose brass. There are also many intermediate models made with sliver/nickel plate, and occasionally even sterling silver.

Take a look at these intermediate trombone models:

Yamaha YSL-448G Intermediate Trombone – a well-balanced intermediate level horn that’s exceptionally comfortable to hold and play

Allora ATB-450 Vienna Series Intermediate Trombone – an affordable trombone for school programs or the advancing musician

Yamaha YSL-447G Intermediate Trombone – a Yamaha trombone with professional features at an intermediate price!

Professional Trombones

Only the finest craftsmanship and materials are used to craft a professional horn. For a guaranteed rich tone, they’re usually made of sterling silver or rose brass. Lighter than intermediate horns, professional trombones also contain lighter weight hand slides for a freer response, specifically in the upper register. The sound of a professional trombone is also brighter than an instrument of regular weight.

Browse these professional trombones:

Yamaha YSL-891Z Custom Series Trombone – an excellent trombone for jazz and commercial work

Bach 42BOF Stradivarius Centennial Series Professional F-Attachment Tenor Trombone – the ultimate in tonal response and ability to change the color of sound with this professional trombone

What trombone accessories do you need?

Every trombonist will need care & cleaning items to keep their instrument clean and maintained. A few necessary items to keep your trombone working properly include polish, slide oil, and a mouthpiece brush. A sturdy instrument case is also critical to keep your investment safe and sound when you’re not playing it.

You’ll also likely want to upgrade to a high quality mouthpiece, especially as you advance in your playing. And don’t forget to stock up on trombone music so you can continue to practice and get better at playing the trombone.

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