Ackerson Music Lessons

Buying a Trombone

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A trombone is one of the most popular and versatile brass instruments, featuring prominently in genres as diverse as classical and jazz. It may be a relatively simple brass instrument, but people who are buying one for the first time may wish to consider which type is the most suitable for their needs and budget.

There are three major types of trombones: straight tenor, trigger-type tenor (also referred to as F-rotor or F-attachment), and bass trombones. The straight trombone is the simplest, with no tubing inside the main section. The F-rotor trombone has extra tubing within the main loop. It is the same as a straight trombone until the trigger is used which changes it's tuning from Bb to F. The bass trombone is a larger bore version of the F-rotor trombone that adds a second rotor to extend its low-end range even further.

Since the F-rotor trombone offers a wider variety of features, people who are learning for the first time may be better off starting with a straight trombone, this is the one usually favored by most students. However, the F-rotor can be played straight, as the trigger does not have to be pressed while it is being played.

Another of the main factors to look at when picking a trombone is the size of the bore. The bore of a trombone is the inner diameter of the inner slide and is expressed in thousandths of an inch. It ranges from .481" for students to .547" for symphonic use, up to .562" for bass trombone. Smaller bore horns have a brighter, more focused sound; while larger bores tend toward a warmer and bigger sound. A smaller bore creates more resistance, a larger bore less. More resistance is usually better for beginners because it takes less air to support a good tone. A good bore range for a beginner is between .481" and .525".

Another variation is the dual-bore trombone. This means that the slide is smaller on one side and expands to a larger diameter on the other. It gives the player more initial resistance from the narrower bore, but then opens up for a bigger sound.

An F-rotor on a trombone adds complexity and extends the trombone's capabilities. It adds notes to the horn's low range and provides alternative ways of playing certain passages, making them easier. There are two basic types of F-rotor. A traditional or standard wrap has more bends in it which makes it more compact but also increases resistance. The open wrap type has fewer bends for a freer-blowing trombone.

Trombone players will also have to think about the type of bell they opt for, as this can also be a big influence on the sound of their instrument. Most trombone bells are made of yellow brass, although rose brass gives a much warmer sound, and silver can be warmer still.

The finish can also be a consideration. Lacquer is the most common. Plated finishes are regarded as higher-quality because they have a less dampening effect on vibration. Silver plated may be flashier but will require more maintenance because they tarnish. Although a great looking horn may not sound significantly better than another, it can engender pride in the instrument, inspiring more devotion to practicing and caring for the trombone.

The biggest factor in which trombone you choose is the amount you can spend. Beyond that, your needs and level of musicianship should determine your choice. Choose a smaller bore horn for the beginning student. Consider a medium bore horn for the intermediate player, as well as such step-up features as an F-rotor, dual bore, rose brass or sterling bells, and plated finishes.