Trombone Buyers Guide

Makes to look out for:

  • Budget: John Packer, Windcraft, Jupiter, Yamaha, Elkhart, Phil Parker.
  • Intermediate: Yamaha, Jupiter, Conn, King, John Packer(Rath), Odyssey, Courtois, Rath, Phil Parker.
  • Professional: Rath, Edwards, Bach, Conn, Yamaha, Shires, King, Courtois, Getzen.
  • Vintage: Conn, King, Olds, Reynolds.

Priority features: In addition to a checked instrument, in a sturdy case, and some slide lubricant, you will need a good quality mouthpiece, often one with the size designation “6½AL” (or non-Bach equivalent) as a starting point. This should be supplied with any worthy starter instrument. The main mouthpiece brands are Bach, Wick, and Yamaha. There are many other makers too, and a mind bending rabbit hole of shapes, sizes, internal profiles and options which can, and do, fill millions of column inches of opinion and advice ranging from highly valuable to downright misleading. Start with something usable, and progress, with the advice of your teacher, in the years ahead, until you can afford to experiment once you know what you want a different mouthpiece to achieve – specialist NAMIR repairers should be able to advise you too, or point you in the direction of someone who can.

Whether the instrument is new or has been played before, you should expect the tuning slide(s) in the bell section bow to move freely. Even more importantly, the hand slide should operate smoothly and quietly with no dragging or jerkiness – this might indicate a lack of cleaning, or a dent or severe misalignment requiring the attention of a skilled NAMIR repairer.

Nice to have features: The most desirable extra feature, which will only become relevant at intermediate level, is an extra section of tubing wrapped inside the bell section which allows the player to use a thumb valve (or “plug”), to add in that section of tubing to reduce the need for using distant hand slide positions. This “trigger” mechanism is another item which should operate smoothly and quietly.

Some instruments may also feature a rose brass bell – rose brass has a higher copper content, which makes the alloy softer, and the tone produced by instruments with bells made from this material is generally slightly more mellow and rounded – it is also easier to dent.

Play test: If you are new to playing then ask an experienced player to play it for you or take advice from your local NAMIR repairer or teacher. Play the instrument with the mouthpiece supplied, or one with which you are familiar.

Common problems – things to look out for:
When considering which brand of instrument to buy, be aware that the cheaper brands may not provide a ready supply of spare parts, and may be more difficult to mend effectively when they break or wear out due to their inferior design, and materials.

If you are intending to buy second-hand, check for worn or damaged lacquer or plating, especially around hand hold areas – this does not necessarily indicate a fault, just that the finish has worn off, and the metal may start thinning over time as further erosion takes place in the exposed area – this may also cause green patches and result in a metallic smell left on the hand. Also be especially vigilant for dents in the hand slide, and for misalignment too – either may cause noisy action of the slide and dragging, lumpiness or scraping in the action. Misalignment can be sorted out by a reputable NAMIR repairer at a reasonable cost, but it is also wise to check for wear to the wider c10cm long “stocking” section in the nickel plated inner legs of the hand slide, as plating wear in this area which might be the cause of the scratching or the effect of an unresolved historical misalignment, can be expensive to mitigate.

Check the waterkey alignment, and seating – it should seal well, with a good spring action – again easily rectifed by a skilled repairer at modest cost.
Dent damage is another area of which to be aware. Significant dents to the gooseneck area (after the main joint, on the player’s left shoulder), might cause stuffiness or deadness to the playing experience, or tuning problems and would require prompt action; similarly, deep dents elsewhere around the instrument , often in the tuning slide behind the player’s head, will be detrimental. Most dents can be smoothed out by a skilled repairer, but will require patient work – their long-term effect will generally only be cosmetic. Occasionally a bad dent or crumple, or a very worn section may require a patch – if this has been done by a skilled repairer the result should be neat and robust, and should not affect the playing experience.
Be aware of the potential for broken solder joints too: these might be structural and easily visible (possibly causing a gentle click when manipulating the instrument), or more subtle leaks which may be more difficult to identify – commonly, the latter may be where the bell tube return joins the rear of the main central joint under the left hand hold.

Check the mouthpiece does not have scratches or dents around the rim of the mouthpiece and that the opposite shank end is round.
If you are purchasing a vintage instrument the costs of repair may be higher so take advice from a NAMIR repairer if in doubt.


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