Finding a quality trombone for your beginning band member
A Step-by-step guide to purchasing a beginning trombone for the musically illiterate parent.
After working for over 13 years as a band director, I have gained much experience in starting and developing students on most instruments. I would often get frustrated by parents when they misguidedly bought a cheap instrument. As a result, their child had no chance of succeeding with their instrument.
Photo Courtesy of: You can find this Yamaha Trombone at Amazon.com
Low-quality Trombones to Avoid
WHAT IS A LOW-QUALITY TROMBONE?
Let me define what I mean by cheap or low quality trombone. If you buy a trombone from retail or wholesale stores brand new for $250 bucks or so, that is a low quality instrument. If you buy an instrument on-line "brand new, imported" for $200, that is a low quality instrument. They supposedly say "band director approved" but they don't say which band director or where they work or how many band directors approve.
There are many disadvantages to buying a low quality trombone:
1. They will break very easily.
--The metal used for these instruments are not thick enough to withstand the basic wear and tear that most young players put their instruments through. While most trombones will withstand some dents or dings, low quality trombones will have to be sent in for repair much more often than brand name trombones. This is especially true with trombones. If the slide gets a dent, it will freeze and not move. It also takes very little to move the slide out of alignment and cause it to not move properly. With the thin metal of cheap trombones, it's almost impossible to avoid slide damage. Dent removal would be a minimum shop charge of $30 and a "slide job" would be a minimum of $60. Two repairs and there goes the money you saved.
I had a student who had a no-name brass instrument. She would get her mouthpiece stuck occasionally. Normally, this is not a big deal--it takes me about 30 seconds to pull one. However, with her instrument, there was not enough of a lip on the leadpipe (where the mouthpiece goes in) to attach the mouthpiece puller. As a result, every time her mouthpiece got stuck, I had to send her instrument to the shop. Minimum shop charge is $20. By the time her parents paid $20 several times just to pull a mouthpiece AND she missed time playing in class, it was not worth it for them to buy a cheaper instrument.
2. Many times music stores cannot repair generic instruments.
--If a trombone is mass produced or imported from a third world country, many times music stores cannot even buy the parts to replace the instrument. So, when a part wears out, etc. you may have to buy a new instrument because the music store can't buy parts for your instrument. If the metal is so thin that it tears when they try to roll out a dent, you'll be in the same predicament. Not such a savings after all!
3. The higher quality of the instrument, the higher quality of the sound.
--Band is all about sound. Sounds obvious enough, I know, but sometime parents forget that when purchasing an instrument. The thin metal on the cheap instruments as well as the sub-standard craftsmanship used to make the instruments prohibits your child from sounding as good as their classmates. This is extremely frustrating for your student. Do you want your child to practice very hard, only to have them sit a lower chair than someone they play equal to or better than, just because they can't make nearly as good of a sound as their section-mates through no fault of their own?? Do you want them to not make an honor band when they've literally practiced months for the audition just because their instrument is handicapping their chance? I sure hope not.
BRANDS TO AVOID(this is by no means an all-inclusive list):
Etude, Infiniti, Besler, Maestro, Merano, Rossetti, Conductor, Palatino, First Act, Tristar, Sky, Cecilio, Simba, Hyundai, Schill, Selman, and Symphony.
Ask your band director. If they haven't heard of the brand, don't buy it.
Quality Trombones to Purchase
WHAT ARE QUALITY BRANDS OF TROMBONE TO PURCHASE??
Now that we've established some of the reasons to buy a quality trombone, let's discuss what quality trombones are.
I allow the following brands of trombone in my classroom, with varying degrees of enthusiasm:
Yamaha, Conn, King, Jupiter, Olds, Besson, Blessing, Selmer, Bundy, Getzen, and Holton.
Older Brands that I like. You won't find these new, but if you pick up an old one in good shape, it will be a good buy: Buescher, Reynolds, and Pan American.
My favorite brand of beginning trombone is the Yamaha YSL-354. It has a narrow bore (width of the pipe) yet it is wide enough to allow as nice of a dark, rich sound as a beginner can make. Highly recommended.
Before purchasing any trombone or accessory, please contact your child's band director, as they may have their own preferences regarding brand of instrument, mouthpiece size, etc.
Buying a Trombone for Your Child
How do I start the process of buying a trombone for my child??
1. Check with their band director to make sure it is okay for them to play trombone. Not everyone has the jaw structure or teeth and lip characteristics, or, quite frankly, musical aptitude, to play trombone successfully. Please, check with your child's teacher first.
2. Check with local music stores. Most schools have music stores come in and do an instrument display night. Representatives are on hand to answer questions and sell/rent instruments and accessories. Some schools invite more than one store to come in the same night to provide parents several choices.
Instruments can be purchased on a rent-to-own basis from the music store with payments normally lower than $30 a month.
The pros to this approach:
--If your child decides they don't want to continue in band, you lose only the money you paid to rent the instrument.
--Most of the time, you can purchase (for an additional monthly fee) a maintenance/insurance plan for the instrument that covers any or all repairs for the instrument while it is being rented.
--You will pay much more for the same instrument by renting to own. Most stores charge a small interest rate on the remaining balance on the instrument.
--Most stores will give a significant discount (one store I deal with gives a 25% discount) for purchasing an instrument outright.
3. You may choose to buy an instrument from someone other than a local music store. Please make sure that it is one of the brands I listed above. I have no problem with people buying instruments online on Ebay, at a pawn shop, or from an individual so long as they are quality instruments.
4. Consider buying used. I would rather a parent buy a used name brand instrument than a brand new generic instrument. In fact, many times, older instruments, so long as they have been maintained properly are superior to new instruments. Older instruments were heavier and made with more metal, giving them a darker, richer sound.
Note: with any used instrument, you will need to send it to the shop before use. At a minimum, the instrument will need to be professionally cleaned. It may also need to be adjusted, have parts replaced, new corks, etc. Check with a local music store, but I would allow an additional $100 for brass instruments to get it in ideal working condition.
Other Items You Need to Consider
--You need to purchase a regular or tenor trombone, NOT a bass trombone or alto trombone.
--DO NOT purchase a valve trombone. You might as well play euphonium. Chances are, your school has one and would let you use it cheap or free.
--Do not purchase a trombone with an F attachment for a beginning trombone player.
--Check with your band director regarding which mouthpiece they want your child to start with. The most common beginning trombone mouthpiece is a Bach 12 c. I personally start my kids on a 7 c mouthpiece, because I like to take a more aggressive approach. A beginning student should not start on a 6 1/2 AL mouthpiece. I start my players in 6th grade and normally switch players to a 6 1/2 AL in late 7th/early 8th grade.
Note: All beginning trombones use small shank, not large shank mouthpieces
--You need to purchase a Trombone Care Kit.
--I highly recommend purchasing a Music Stand so your child can have proper posture while practicing.
--I highly recommend purchasing a metronome to keep a steady beat for your child while they're learning music.
--A tuner is also a great help to players of all ages
--For a beginning trombone, it doesn't matter if the instrument is lacquer (gold) or silver.
--Please contact your child's band director or local music store for proper trombone care and maintenance procedures, as I don't have the space to go into that here.
Silent Brass System
Great for Parents! This system allows your child to practice into the mute which amplifies the sound through the headphone. You hear virtually no sound!
Congratulations on your child starting band. Whether it is a middle school activity or a lifelong passion (like it turned into for me), band is a rewarding experience.
Remember, no one will be a great player without regular practice. Regardless of how much money you spend on an instrument, it will be wasted if your child doesn't practice. Yes, you can make them practice just like you make them do their homework and go to bed at a decent hour.
Please keep in mind that everything I've written here is based on my experience. Your child's band director may have different opinions. Please, follow the wishes of your band director.
Thanks for taking the time to read my lense. I hope that it's been useful for you.