The Bone Yard


What student quality trombone should I buy?



First off, letís start by shopping in the right place. J.C Penny or Wal-Mart is not the place to look for a band instrument, and neither is a store that primarily sells CDs and Videos. These will invariably be low-quality instruments that perform poorly and don't last.I'm a Band Director and I see it happen all the time.


†††† To buy a NEW instrument I recommend you find a music store that specializes in Band instruments. Your schoolís Band Director would be happy to point you in the right direction and he or she might even arrange for the store to visit your school. Find out if the store offers a warranty and if they do repairs at the store or send instruments somewhere else for repair. Letís hope you donít need repair service any time soon, but remember that repairs done at the store will take far less time than sending it out.


†††† You also have the option of mail order catalogs or internet dealers. For example, prices in Giardinelli start at $300.00 You will probably save money on the initial purchase, but if you need any warranty work (if itís even offered) your instrument will be gone for several weeks and someone's going to be sitting in Band class with nothing to do. You can always have repairs done at a local store, but if they're busy theyíre going to put their best customers at the front of the line. Itís quite possible to mail order a good trombone for a good price, but be aware that some (not all) of these internet and catalog dealers are pushing inexpensive off-brands that a reputable local dealer wonít touch. If you sell inferior products sooner or later your customers will realize it, and if the customer base is limited to your neighborhood you will eventually have no more customers. Local stores are less likely to carry and sell you a bad instrument. Read more about brand names below.


†††† There are also going to be USED trombones for sale which often make good student instruments for less than the cost of a brand new one. You may find these through want ads, yard sales, pawn shops, ebay and other web sources, or in the used inventory of your local music store. Many stores will warranty their used instruments as well as their new ones.


†††† Whether buying new or used, I recommend you first look at the brand name. Brands with a solid reputation include: Conn, King, Holton, Bach, Bundy, Buescher, Olds, Reynolds, Blessing and Yamaha. (Some of these are no longer in production or the company has been bought out and changed names.)Iím leaving out some good quality trombones just because I donít have any first-hand experience with them. Getzen and Besson, for example, make other high quality brass instruments and probably do so with trombones, but Iíve never actually used them and Iím not comfortable recommending them until I have. There are also some brands I can recommend you DONíT buy, which would include Amati and Winston and numerous others. Avoid anything made in China, Taiwan, or Eastern Europe, no matter how beautiful and shiny it looks. Also, if thereís no brand name marked on either the bell or the tuning slide itís not a very safe bet. Feel free to email me at if you want a recommendation on something not listed here.


†††† Why would the brand make a difference? Aside from the nameplate they look almost exactly the same donít they? One difference between the better brands and the poor ones is the quality of materials. I had a student who bought a clarinet stamped with ďmade in ChinaĒ, from JC Penney; although it sounded basically like a clarinet should, we soon found that the keys were bending under normal use.As the one-time owner of an Amati trumpet I found that the tuning slide tubes were not parallel and that the body would dent at the slightest impact.You may find softer metals that dent more easily than they should, lacquer that scratches or peels easily, or weak solder joints that break. Also, there is a difference in quality of assembly. The slide movement may be rough because the inside of the outer slide isnít as smooth as it should be or the inner slide tubes arenít quite straight and parallel. The tuning slide may be difficult to move because it doesnít fit right. Players and Band Directors alike can be frustrated by this. Finally, there is the tone itself. You may not notice this in the splats and moans of a new, young trombone player, but on the lips of a more experienced player youíll hear the difference between the bright, clear, resonant sound of a quality instrument, as opposed to the tubby, lifeless tone of a poor one.


†††† Now that weíve approved the nameplate, letís look at the rest of the trombone. If itís brand new it should be shiny and clean and bagged in clear plastic inside the case. Lubricate both the playing slide and tuning slide before playing.New trombones usually come with slide oil for the playing slide and petroleum jelly will work for the tuning slide, at least for the time being.Tuning slide grease is better.(If at all possible, wait for the first playing day of band class or make an appointment with an experienced trombone player to get started playing).


†††† Hereís what to look for while inspecting a used trombone.


  1. Pick up the bell section. Small dents the size of a nickel wonít really affect the playing but larger ones will. The tuning slide should move without a struggle and stay where you put it. If itís greased and still takes tremendous effort to move the tuning slide, donít buy the horn.
  2. Pick up the slide section.
    1. There should be a working slide lock, which is sort of a rotating cuff that you can turn to keep the slide from falling when youíre not holding it.
    2. If the slide is dry then youíll need to oil it before you test it. Slowly move the slide in and out and see if it catches at all while itís sliding. Gently rest the tip of the slide on the floor and lift just the brace of the inner slide so that itís moving in and out. If the slide is lubricated and thereís still enough friction to lift the outer slide off the floor then thereís a problem.
    3. Pull the inner and outer slide completely apart and examine the inner slide for rust or corrosion, especially near the end. It should be a silver color. If itís been sitting for a while there could be some dry oil residue which should scrape away with a fingernail. We can clean this off with a damp rag when you get it home. Rust is a major problem and canít be fixed.
    4. Check for dents around the bend of the slide and see that the water key is working and not damaged. Carefully put the slide together and lock it, put your thumb over the end that attaches to the bell and blow into the other end (where the mouthpiece goes). Check for leaks around the water key or anywhere else.
  3. Check the mouthpiece for dents and make sure the silver or nickel plating isnít wearing off. If you see raw brass around the rim where the lips go youíll need to replace it as this will cause blisters on the mouth.
  4. Check the case to make sure thereís a secure place for the mouthpiece where it canít bounce around and hit the instrument. Make sure the slide can securely fasten to the case and wonít be knocked around inside.


If you're internet shopping for a used trombone, insist on seeing several high quality pictures and check the sellers rating if possible.While considering this instrument keep in mind that a case can be replaced and dents can almost always be fixed, as can a leaky water key. If you buy a slightly dented up Conn trombone for $100 and fix it up for another $100, then Iíd say you got a real bargain.


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