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You are here: Home > Trombones > Trombone Buying Guide & Tips

Welcome to our Product Knowledge Center!
Our team here at Instrumental Savings is excited to share with you all that we know about Trombones. Making an informed decision is critical to any investment and this is no exception. We will aim to answer the questions given below in order to give you insight and recommendations on flutes so that you can make a well-informed purchase.

What is a trombone and what are its parts?

What do you need to know before buying a trombone?

What are the different specifications?

What are the different trombones according to pitch?

How do I take care of my trombone?

  • What is a trombone and what are its parts?

  • The trombone is a musical instrument in the brass family. Like all brass instruments, sound is produced when the player’s vibrating lips (embouchure) cause the air column inside the instrument to vibrate. Nearly all trombones have a telescoping slide mechanism that varies the length of the instrument to change the pitch. Special variants like the valve trombone and superbone have three valves like those on the trumpet.

    The word trombone derives from Italian tromba (trumpet) and -one (a suffix meaning "large"), so the name means "large trumpet". The trombone has a predominantly cylindrical bore like its valved counterpart the baritone and in contrast to its conical valved counterparts, the euphonium and the horn. The most frequently encountered trombones are the tenor trombone and bass trombone. The most common variant, the tenor, is a non-transposing instrument pitched in B♭, an octave below the B♭ trumpet and an octave above the B♭ tuba. The once common E♭ alto trombone became less widely used as improvements in technique extended the upper range of the tenor, but it is now enjoying a resurgence due to its lighter sonority which is appreciated in many classical and early romantic works. Trombone music, along with music for euphonium and tuba, is typically written in concert pit ch, although exceptions do occur, notably in almost all brass-band music where tenor trombone is presented as a B♭ transposing instrument, written in treble clef.

    BellThe Trombone bells (and sometimes slides) may be constructed of different brass mixtures. Some say that materials affect tone quality and timbre . The most common material is yellow brass (70% copper, 30% zinc), but other materials include rose brass (85% copper, 15% zinc) and red brass (90% copper, 10% zinc). Some manufacturers offer interchangeable bells. Tenor trombone bells are usually between 7 and 9 inches in diameter, the most common being sizes from 7½ to 8½ inches. The smallest sizes are found in small jazz trombones and older narrow-bore instruments, while the larger sizes are common in orchestral models. Bass trombone bells can be as large as 10½" or more, though usually either 9½ in or 10 in diameter. The bell may be constructed out of two separate brass sheets or out of one single piece of metal and hammered on a mandrel until the part is shaped correctly. The edge of the bell may be finished with or without a piece of bell wire to secure it, which also affects the tone quality; most bells are built with bell wire. Occasionally, trombone bells are made from solid sterling silver.

    Tuning Some trombones are tuned through a mechanism in the slide section rather than via a separate tuning slide in the bell section. This method preserves a smoother expansion from the start of the bell section to the bell flare. The tuning slide in the bell section requires two portions of cylindrical tubing in an otherwise conical part of the instrument, which affects the tone quality. Tuning the trombone enables it to play with other instruments which is essential for the trombone.

    SlideCommon and popular bore sizes for trombone slides are 0.500", 0.508", 0.525" and 0.547" for tenor trombones, and 0.562" for bass trombones. The slide may also be built with a dual bore configuration, in which the bore of the second leg of the slide is slightly larger than the bore of the first leg, producing a step-wise conical effect. The most common dual bore combinations are 0.481"-0.491", 0.500"-0.508", 0.508"-0.525", 0.525"-0.547", 0.547"-0.562" for tenor trombones, and 0.562"-0.578" for bass trombones.

    MouthpieceThe mouthpiece is a separate part of the trombone and can be interchanged with similarly sized trombones from different manufacturers. Available mouthpieces for trombone (as with all brass instruments) vary in material composition, length, diameter, rim shape, cup depth, throat entrance, venturi aperture, venturi profile, outside design and other factors. Variations in mouthpiece construction affect the individual player's ability to make a lip seal and produce a reliable tone, the timbre of that tone, its volume, the player's subjective level of comfort, and the instrument's playability in a given pitch range.

    Mouthpiece selection is a highly personal decision. Thus, a symphonic trombonist might prefer a mouthpiece with a deeper cup and sharper inner rim shape in order to produce a rich symphonic tone quality, while a jazz trombonist might choose a shallower cup for brighter tone and easier production of higher notes. Further, for certain compositions, these choices between two such performers could easily be reversed.

    Water KeyA water key is a valve or tap used to allow the drainage of accumulated fluid from musical instruments such as trombones or trumpets. It is otherwise known as a spit valve.

    Balancer – It's a counterweight to the slide. The slide gets heavy, especially when extended into lower positions, so the balance puts extra weight on the opposite end of the instrument. It makes it easier to play by relieving pressure on the player's hands and arms.

    Mouthpiece Valve Trombones
    The standard trombone has two sections: the slide section and the bell section, with no extra pieces. Adding an F attachment adds a valve into the bell section which lets the trombonist add that length to the trombone to make reaching long slide positions in less time possible. All trombones will come with a mouthpiece from the manufacturer. Most of these will be standard size mouthpieces, even if it is not printed on the mouthpiece. If the trombonist wants a different size mouthpiece, they can be purchased separately.
    Valve trombones are an alternate for a regular trombone in some styles of music. The valves are used instead of using the slide , but these instruments are not used in schools or normal school ensembles. Valve trombones are pitched in Bb or C. Part of the fun of playing trombone is getting a slide! All trombones come with a case included as a protection for the instrument.

  • What are the different specifications?

  • Bore
    The bore size of Trombones vary dramatically – from a .485″ bore on a Bb jazz instrument to .562″ on a Bass Trombone (…this might not sound like a big difference but trust me it is!). Typically however, most Tenor Trombone players opt for either a Medium Large bore (.525″) for ease of control and tonal flexibility or a symphonic Large Bore (.547″) for greater projection and depth.

    Bell Shape, Diameter, Material and Thickness
    The shape of the bell flare (rate of taper), and type and thickness of bell material greatly affect the sound of a Trombone. As the bore size changes, so does the bell design. The shape of the tapered surface, or rate of flare determines the characteristic sound of the instrument. Slow tapers yield bright tones, while fast tapers produce dark, warm sounds. Smaller bore Trombones, having bells with slower rates of taper produce a brighter jazz sound. Larger bore Trombones having bells with faster rates of taper, yield darker symphonic tone qualities.

    Bell diameters also vary between 6 1/2″ and 10 1/2″ with some manufactures giving you the option of a larger bell diameter for greater dynamics. A wider bell produces a fatter/rounder sound as opposed to the more direct projection achieved when using a smaller one.

    The type of brass used in the bell also impacts on the sound produced. Gold brass, softer and redder than the standard yellow brass (due to a higher copper content – 85%), is claimed to offer a warm tone; yellow brass a clearer tone. Lightweight (thinwall) bells allow for a more immediate response.

    Key / Pitch
    Almost all Trombones are pitched principally in Bb (with the exception of Alto Trombones in Eb), however the addition of extra tubing sections (engaged using rotary valves) transpose the instrument into lower keys to extend the Trombones range lower, help tuning, and to create alternative slide positions to aid in playing fast passages. Tenor Trombones will often have an “F attachment” – so if you engage the rotor in first position (slide fully closed) it is as if you are playing an F in 6th position. Bass Trombones sometimes have two rotors which enable a number of permutations dependant on the valve configuration.

    Rotary Valves
    The type of rotor used on Bb/F and Bass Trombones also varies. Traditionally normal rotor valves (similar to those found on French Horns) have been used but are considered by some to constrict the airflow thus adding to the resistance of the instrument when played. In addition, there is often a small ‘pop’ when the rotor is engaged. Therefore, a number of new rotors have been developed over recent years and incorporated into Trombones to create a more free blowing and ‘pop free’ rotor. These include the CL2000 (Conn), Hagmann (Besson and Bach) and Thayer (Bach and Edwards). Whilst designs vary, the general theme is a bigger rotor with larger diameter internal airways and a straighter airflow, thus reducing the constriction of air which can lead to blowing resistance. All these rotors have their own pros and cons, but share the same characteristic of generally being more expensive than the standard option! Perhaps because of this, or due to the fact that some players prefer or are used to the resistance of a normal rotor means that the standard rotor is still the biggest seller, however all the rotors mentioned have their loyal fans.

    Open or Closed Wrap
    Traditionally the F section (or both sections of a Bass Trombone) have been wrapped within the body of the Trombone – offering compactness, protection and a secure blowing feel. Many manufacturers however also offer an ‘open wrap’ option. Open wrapping the rotor section(s) places fewer and larger bends in the tubing, resulting in a more free-blowing instrument. Usually an open wrap configuration is combined with a free blowing rotor.

    Bass Trombone Configurations
    Bass Trombones come in a variety of configurations which determine the range of keys the instrument can be played in – and consequently the notes which can be played and slide positional computations.

    Single rotor bass Trombones have one ‘F rotor’ like a Bb/F Tenor Trombone, but with a larger bore, slower bell taper and wider bell diameter for a more powerful broader tone.

    Double (non-independent) rotor systems have two rotors, but to engage the second the first must also be engaged. Thus the key variations are Bb (open), F (first valve engaged), and Eb (first and second valves engaged). This option is rarely used/sold these days but worth being aware of so you don’t buy one in error!

    Double in-line independent rotor system Bass Trombones allow both rotors to be engaged independently of each other. Thus the key variations are Bb (open), F (first valve engaged), Eb (first and second valves engaged) and G (second valve engaged). Most independent system instruments come with an additional slide for the second rotor section allowing the key combinations of Bb/F/ D/Gb to allow for greater flexibility and key permutations dependant on the players needs.

    The venturi (construction) and rate of taper in the mouthpipe affect the Trombone’s characteristic sound. Different leadpipes can vary the blowing resistance, flexibility of sound and focus of tone. Some instruments come with interchangeable leadpipes so players can choose the configuration that best suits their individual needs.

    Some musicians prefer the feel and quick response of a lightweight slide. The weight is reduced by using nickel silver tubing for the outer slide. In addition to saving weight, nickel silver also resists corrosion and helps produce a light clear tone.


  • What are the different trombones according to pitch?

  • Contrabass
    The contrabass trombone is usually pitched in 12' F a perfect fourth lower than the modern tenor or bass trombone and has been through a number of changes in its history. Its first incarnation during the Renaissance was in 18' B♭ as the "Octav-posaune". During this period it was built as an oversized bass trombone with a long slide and extension handle to reach the lower positions. The innovation of the double slide, in which the slide is wound back on itself to produce four tubes, each of which moves in tandem with its partner and halves the usual length of the slide shifts, took place towards the end of this period and was applied to the bass and contrabass trombones. During the nineteenth century, the contrabass trombone enjoyed a revival and it was constructed according to the double slide principle.
    The modern bass trombone is pitched in B♭. It is identical in length to the tenor trombone, but has a wider bore and a larger bell to aid in the production of a fuller, deeper tone in the lower register. It also has one or two valves which, when engaged, change the key of the instrument, allowing the player to bridge the gap between the first partial with the slide in first position and the second partial with the slide fully extended in seventh position. These valves may be configured in a dependent or independent system. In a dependent system, the first valve lowers the key of the trombone to F. The second valve can only be engaged in conjunction with the first valve, and commonly lowers the key of the trombone to E. With an independent system, the first valve still lowers the key to F, but the second valve commonly lowers the key to G♭ when engaged alone or D when engaged with the first valve.
    The tenor trombone has a fundamental note of B♭ and is usually treated as a non-transposing instrument. As the trombone in its simplest form has neither crooks, valves nor keys to lower the pitch by a specific interval, trombonists use seven chromatic slide positions. Each position progressively increases the length of the air column, thus lowering the pitch.

    Extending the slide from one position to the next lowers the pitch by one semitone. Thus, each note in the harmonic series can be lowered by an interval of up to a tritone. The lowest note of the standard instrument is therefore an E natural — a tritone below B♭. Most experienced trombonists can play lower "falset" notes and much lower pedal notes (first partials or fundamentals, which have a peculiar metallic rumbling sound). Slide positions are subject to adjustment, compensating for imperfections in the tuning of different harmonics.

    The alto trombone is pitched in E♭ (occasionally with a D or B♭ rotary valve attachment) or F, a perfect fourth or fifth higher than the tenor trombone and was commonly used from the 16th to the 18th centuries as the highest voice in the brass choir. It declined in popularity from the early 19th century, when the trumpet acquired valves and trombones became an established section in the symphony orchestra, and it was replaced by a tenor trombone as the range of the parts can usually be covered by the tenor instrument.

    As the slide is shorter, the positions are different from the tenor and bass trombone slide positions most players are familiar with. The tone of the alto is more brilliant than that of the tenor or bass trombone. The bore of an alto trombone is similar to that of a small tenor trombone - usually around 0.450"-0.500", with a 6.5" or 7" bell.
    The soprano trombone is usually pitched in B♭ an octave above the tenor and built with a bore size of between 0.450" and 0.470" and a trumpet-sized bell. It appears to have been created in the late 17th century, from which the earliest surviving examples date. It was used in German-speaking countries to play the treble part in chorales, and this tradition survives in Moravian trombone choirs. During the 20th century some soprano trombones—dubbed slide cornets—were made as novelties or for use by jazz cornet players, but the instrument has never been widely used. It is easily replaced by the cornet or woodwind instruments and it is difficult to play in tune. Soprano trombone slides are short and often have only six positions rather than seven. The soprano trombone's high pitch and narrow/tight embouchure usually prompt bandleaders to assign its playing to a trumpeter, albeit at the risk of detriment to intonation and/or note selection accuracy if the trumpeter is less than fully familiar with slide work.

    The range of the B♭ soprano trombone is E3 to C6, though it is not usually written higher than B♭5.


  • How do I take care of my trombone?

  • The trombone is a unique instrument in the band and orchestra. It is the only remaining instrument that uses a slide for finding the notes (pitches). The legendary Vincent Bach predicted that even the trombone would eventually become a "valve" instrument and the slide would be a forgotten relic of the past.

    Mr. Bach was wrong on that point. The trombone's versatility has helped it to become an important brass instrument. It is the only brass instrument that can do a long glissando (sliding from one note to another). The slide trombone has become a dynamic part of symphonic bands, orchestras, brass bands and jazz bands.

    But to play the trombone in tune, you must do routine maintenance. Even if you have a nice new horn, a slide and the trombone need to be cleaned. Perhaps you need some pointers or reminders. Well here they are! Remember, whether you plan on selling the horn in a few years or keeping it for 30, taking care of it makes it worth something later OR makes it last a long time!


    There are basically three types of products used to lubricate a slide: (1) oil, (2) a cream of some type, and (3) specialty products that combines two lubricants. Each is used separately and most people have a favorite one. Veteran players and teachers will tell you that choosing a slide lubricant is a lot like choosing a mouthpiece: if you find one that does what you want it to do, use it. Don't be afraid to experiment with other types of lubricants as you become more familiar with your instrument.

    Here's a rule that applies no matter what type of slide lubricant you use: Don't use too much. The key to fast action of a dent-free, well-aligned slide is to have a thin film of lubricant between your inner and outer slide tubes. After you've applied your choice of lubricant a few times, you'll develop a feel for how much to use.

    Caution! Here are a few points to remember when you disassemble any slide and wipe it down, no matter what lubricant you're using:

    • Never lean the entire slide or the separated parts against a wall or anywhere they might fall or be knocked over.
    • Never lay the entire slide or the separated parts on the floor or across a chair or couch, where someone may step or sit on them.
    • Always put the separate part on a flat, solid surface, even if you have to put the outer slide back in the case while you work on the inner slide.

    Slide Oil
    At one time slide oil was used by almost every beginner and even by some professionals, and it still comes packaged with many new trombones. Oil has the advantage of being easy to apply and less messy than slide cream, which is applied by rubbing it on the inner slide tubes with your fingers. Oil also doesn't require that you use water from a spray bottle to keep the slide slick.

    It's time to wipe the inner slide clean.

    Hold the tube you're going to wipe at the top of the slide brace, where it joins the tube. Using your other hand, wipe the tube from top to bottom with a non-abrasive cloth or towel. It's OK to squeeze the tube with your wiping hand to apply some pressure, but be careful not to twist or push the tube either toward or away from the opposite tube while you wipe: it doesn't take much pressure to put a slide out of alignment. Once you've wiped down the first tube, reverse the slide so that you're grasping the other tube at the top and again wipe from top to bottom.

    Now that your inner slide tubes are clean, it's time to apply new oil. Most of what is listed below also applies to putting on other lubricants, but there are differences in the steps, so don't skip any!

    1. Lay your inner slide across your lap or hold it parallel to the floor and apply just a couple of drops of oil to the slide stockings -- the raised part of the tube at the bottom. This will allow the oil to roll around to the other side of the stocking.
    2. Slide the inner slide into the outer slide, being careful not to twist or otherwise jam the inner slide into the outer slide. (Make sure your spit valve is on the bottom! Although some professional trombones have top and bottom tubes that are different sizes, most student trombones and many professional ones have tubes that are the same size. It's easy to reverse them.)
    3. Operate the slide a few times.
    4. Place the spit valve end of the slide on the floor and pull the inner slides up a few inches. Place a few more drops of oil on each inner tube and operate the slide again.
    5. Assemble your horn and play!

    NOTE: If your slide sounds or feels scratchy or if the slide drags slightly anywhere in its travel, it's probably a candidate for a thorough cleaning.

    Slide Creams
    Two of the most popular brands of slide creams are Trombotine, which comes in a small tube like toothpaste, and SuperSlick, which comes in a plastic jar. Slide cream takes slightly longer to apply and demands more attention to detail than oil does, and the process is messier than using oil. However, most players agree that cream last longer between applications than oil, and many also think it makes the slide work more smoothly. In addition to cream, you'll need a slide sprayer bottle, which costs just a few dollars. Some players recommend using distilled water, but tap water will do. When you're ready to apply cream, first go back and read the three steps under
    Caution!, above. Then proceed to step 1, below:

    1. Lay your inner slide across your lap or hold it parallel to the floor. Place a small amount of slide cream on the tip of your index finger. Dab the cream along the stocking of one of the tubes. Now, pinching the slide tube between your thumb and index finger, rub the cream around the tube, all the way to the top. Really stretch the cream out -- you should not be able to see any white residue on the tube when you are done.
    2. Repeat step 1 on the other tube.
    3. Slide the inner slide into the outer slide, being careful not to twist or otherwise jam the inner slide into the outer slide.
    4. Operate the slide a few times.
    5. Place the spit valve end of the slide on the floor and pull the inner slides up until you can see the stockings. Don't pull the inner slide out of the outer slide, and make sure you don't apply any pressure at the ends of the stockings! Spray the inner tubes at the stockings with the water from your bottle and work the slide again. You can respray your slide as often as is needed.
    6. Assemble your horn and play!