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5. How do you go about choosing a trombone?

With dozens of instrument manufacturers in the world and hundreds of different models of trombone from which to choose, I am often asked how one chould go about choosing an instrument. Here are a few ideas with which to start your search.

First of all, I would like to start with an absolute: There is no one horn that works best for everyone. There are so many trombones available today, that anyone should be able to find an instrument that works well for them.

We ought to be cautious, then, when we hear someone saying "You should play XXX trombone because it's the best one on the market." Every trombone has something to recommend it, and what works for one person may well not work for another. While every manufacturer has a right to think their instruments are the "best," I have little use for makers who insist that not only is their instrument the "best" but that no other instruments have any redeeming value. I make some recommendations of specif instruments in my comments below but they are only my recommendations - shop around and try everything you can before accepting any one person's recommendation. If you don't know anything about trombones yourself (if, for instance, you're a parent wanting to buy a trombone for your young child), enlist the help of a local trombone teacher or professional player who can help guide you through themyriad choices you will be facing.

When deciding to buy an instrument, you need to begin by answering some questions. Start with these:

As a former high school band director, I firmly believe that there is nothing like a new instrument to help keep a child motivated as a beginner. While many schools offer rental and "rent-to-buy" programs for beginners, the instruments that students often get are of poor quality; especially trombones. It is no wonder that the trombone has the highest drop-out rate among beginners - if the instrument doesn't work, the fun quickly goes out of playing.

When a child expresses an interest in an instrument, the parent and child should enter into a contract with each other. The parent, for their part, will support the child with encouragement and a new, entry level instrument; the child will commit to practicing 30 minutes a day and sticking with the instrument for at least three years. This kind of mutual support and commitment goes a long way toward keeping parents "in the picture" with their child's musical interest, and helps the child take seriously the discipline required to gain skill on an instrument. For more of my thoughts on this, see my FAQ on parenting musical children.

When people want advice from me on what trombone to purchase for a beginning player, I always recommend what I think to be the best instrument of its kind for young players, the Yamaha YSL-354 tenor trombone, which is the instrument my oldest daughter (now grown, and a music teacher and free lance player in the Chicago area) played when she started playing. While there are many fine student model trombones around, most teachers and players agree that Yamaha's workmanship is excellent and they make an extraordinarily fine and durable trombone for the beginner.

Spending more money on an instrument doesn't always mean you will get a "better" instrument. Sometimes trombones are expensive for the wrong reasons, and it is important to buy an instrument that has exactly what you want. Considering what you will use the instrument for is a big factor in how much you will spend. If you simply have aspirations to have fun with an instrument (but do not imagine pursuing a professional career), a good quality "student model" instrument would suffice for most people. Brass instruments are very durable and can last for decades with sensible care and cleaning.

That said, once a young player spends a few years with a student model trombone, the question often arises, "Where do we go from here?" While there are some "intermediate" level trombones on the market, I don't feel there is anything worth getting that's a next step between what most young players start on (small bore student model instrument) and what is the next sensible step - a full size .547 bore horn with f-attachment. Intermediate horns just aren't different enough than beginner instruments and in the long run you end up buying three horns when two is certainly enough.

If a young player shows interest and commitment to the trombone for several years, and has proven to be able to take care of the instrument, around 8th grade it might be time to start thinking of upgrading the trombone. This has several advantages. First of all, the new horn (with a new mouthpiece that will suit the larger bore horn better) will open a new world of playing to the young player. The f-attachment provides new flexibility and extends the range of the trombone. Also, when entering high school, other serious players will have instruments like this and there is an aspect of this which is associated with just "fitting in" with the other players. If you purchase a large bore tenor trombone in 8th grade, the student will have a year to get used to it before coming to high school. The student model trombone should be kept for use in marching band or even jazz band if the player plays lead trombone - the smaller bore trombone will work fine for first or second trombone in jazz band but will be out of place in concert band or orchestra. Using the smaller horn for marching band will ensure the new horn doesn't get banged up.

There are a lot of good instruments around; things like the Bach 42B or Conn 88H are long time players on the scene. My personal preference for a tenor trombone these days is the Yamaha YSL-882 which is their Xeno model (top line professional) instrument. Yamaha's workmanship is unparalleled. With a horn like this, the young player would be set for a lifetime - trombones wear well, if the student exercises good care he'll'll have the horn for 50 years. No kidding.

Some young players may feel intimidated by the f-attachment and want to hold onto a "straight" horn while in high school This is understandable as change isn't always easy. But the truth is that very few professional players play a tenor trombone without an f-attachment, and the f-attachment provides the most flexibility for a player who will encounter notes that require it even in high school. If a student is going to upgrade their trombone from a student model instrument, a trombone with f-attachment is truly the best an dmost useful, practical choice.

It's always best to try out horns before buying them if possible. For this reason, going to a local dealer is the first place to start, keeping in mind that instruments are usually retailed for 30 - 40% off the "list" price. If a dealer won't give you a discount off the "list" price, keep shopping around. In the Boston area, I always start at Osmun Music when looking for a new instrument or to have repairs made on my horn. If you don't live near a music shop, you can get good prices by mail order from The Woodwind and Brasswind; even having prices from them in your mind when shopping at a store can be helpful in getting the best price. Many dealers have used instruments that can be had for less than the full price of a new one. But examind used instruments carefully to be sure they are in excellent playing condition. I usually am reluctant to recommend purchasing a horn through online auction houses like ebay - you really don't know what you're getting and flaws can easily e hidden. There is plenty of "junk" for sale on ebay as well. The one online classifieds section I've had success with is the Classifieds section of the OnLine Trombone Journal where you are put in contact directly with the seller. But used instruments are just that - used, and you often don't know exactly what you're getting. If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is and some flaw is being disguised. There really is no substitute in my mind for a new instrument bought from a dealer. In that case you get a warranty with the instrument and you have a relationship with a store where you can get help if needed.

There is a trend today among many orchestral players to have instruments that are extremely heavy. While a heavy horn may offer some advantages, it has drawbacks as well, as heavier instruments tend to respond with less flexibility when played soft. There are popular custom makers such as Edwards and shires which make fine instruments but I have never been convinced their trombones provide enough flexibility in sound and enough ability for the player to ceate enough of their own "voice" on the trombone. Likewise there are many custom valves on the market which present players with choices: standard rotary valves, the axial-flow valve, the Hagmann valve, the Greenhoe valve and many others. Many look good on paper but over time fail to perform well, with valves binding up and springs losing tension. Over the years I have played bass trombones with a number of different valves and I keep coming back to the rotary valve as the best sounding and most reliable valve on the market. Keep this in mind: no matter what horn you play, you will still sound like YOU. What is important is that you try out many instruments and find something that fits YOU. Take along someone you trust when you try out a horn, someone who will tell you what they hear, and not just what you want them to hear. You will play better on a horn that you like, so be cautious when you feel tempted to get the horn that "everybody has" since that horn just might not fit you at all.

Finally, take your time. Many a poor purchase was made because a player made a hasty decision. A trombone can be a big investment, so be patient when making your selection.

In closing, a word about the trombones I use in my day-to-day playing:

The primary instrument I use is the YAMAHA YBL-822G bass trombone which I helped develop with YAMAHA. It is a double dependent valve (F and D) bass trombone with a 9.5 inch bell and a standard .563 symphonic bore. One interesting feature of the 822G is the fact that the second valve is removable and the horn can be used as a single valve bass trombone. I use this instrument in symphonic, chamber and solo playing. It has a rich, dark sound and capable of sustaining high volumes while remaining flexible in soft and legato playing. A photo of the YBL-822G appears on my Trombone Gallery page.

Because some orchestral literature calls for the trombones to produce an exceptionally warm, blended Germanic sound, when our trumpets use rotary trumpets, I use either my Yamaha YBL-601 (single valve small bore Vienna style bass trombone) or an old Schmidt bass trombone (often in literature of Mozart, Schubert, Schumann or even Haydn). This instrument produces a very warm, Germanic sound, but cannot be "pushed" beyond a reasonable forte volume. It works especially well when our fist and second trombone players scale down their equipment to an alto and small bore tenor trombone which blend better with the smaller bore bass trombone.

For many years I played a Schilke 60 mouthpiece but had always been dissatisfied with what I considered to be deficiencies in the high range and intonation in certain partials. I recently developed a new bass trombone mouthpiece with YAMAHA called the YAMAHA Douglas Yeo Signature Series Bass Trombone Mouthpiece (couldn't they just give it a number!?). While it has a rim similar to the Schilke 60, it is completely different in every way and I find it to be completly satisfying for both orchestral and solo playing. For more information about Yamaha trombones and music products, visit Yamaha Band and Orchestral Instruments Division Website

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