Band & Orchestra Brass Instruments

The Top 6 Trombones

Trombones with blurred background

While there are hundreds of manufacturers and different models of trombones, there is no “best” trombone. It depends on the individual playing it.

However, our top recommendation is geared toward the beginner student (the Yamaha YSL-354). A durable, easy to handle instrument that emits a full sound is essential to the player’s initial musical experience. If the initial experience is not fun, the trombonist will most likely abandon the instrument and this one is hard to beat.

Top Pick: Yamaha YSL-354 Standard Series Trombone
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This horn is easy to play, has excellent sound and will last for generations. It is no wonder that it is recommended by so many music teachers and players.

Choosing a Trombone

The three most prevalent types of trombone are the straight tenor (beginner and student horns), the F-rotor or F-attachment (trigger-type) tenor, and bass. Valve, alto, soprano, and marching trombones are not as common but still enjoyed and appreciated.

Tenor – the most common and widely played. Their standard bell size, bore, and tubing are between that of an alto trombone and a bass trombone. Tenor trombones have a midrange tone which allows it to stand out when part of a jazz or brass band.

Bass – have a wider bell and increased bore that helps create a deeper and richer tone. Longer tubing and extra rotary triggers are standard on bass trombones. They also help the instrument reach lower pitches.

Orchestras and bigger jazz bands include bass trombones to enhance their low end. Bass trombones also pair well with the tubas.

Valve – add a distinct sound to arrangements. Valve trombones have no slide. They function like a trumpet.

The player does not have the ability to slowly move into notes since there is no slide. However, jazz musicians that like to hit notes more quickly readily adopt the valve option.

Alto and Soprano – attain higher octaves, which may be incorporated into trombone choirs or orchestras.

Dual-Bore – often preferred by more advanced musicians. The slide is smaller on one side and graduates to a larger diameter on the other. The player gains more initial resistance (from the narrow bore) and can then open up for a bigger sound.

Plastic – relatively new. They have easy slide motions and are colorful, lightweight, easy-care, and more affordable for beginners. The material does not compromise sound quality. The sound is, in fact, close to that of traditional brass trombones.

See the following link for information on the essentials of trombone anatomy.

Lacquer Finishes

Trombones are coated with varying types of lacquer finishes. Higher-quality plated finishes have a less-dampening effect on vibration. However, many consider silver-plated horns more outstanding. They are showy but tarnish and require more maintenance to keep them looking good.

While there is no significant difference in sound quality, a flashier-looking horn is a source of pride for the owner, and may prompt a beginner’s commitment to practice and instrument care.

Beginners and Students

Many schools offer rental instruments or have “rent-to-own” programs for beginner/student trombonists. However, these instruments are not generally the best quality. On the other hand, spending a lot of money on a trombone does not guarantee you are getting a superior instrument.

Trombones can be expensive. But brass instruments are very durable and can last for decades with sensible care and cleaning. How the instrument will be used (i.e.: marching band, orchestra, etc.) and especially how long the instrument will be used must be primary considerations.

For students or beginning players that have little desire to pursue a professional music career, there are many good quality student model trombones on the market. These cost-effectively provide the player a full music experience.

Before buying any instrument, parents of music students and beginner trombonists should ask:

  • What type of music (what genre?) will you play on the horn?
  • How big is your budget?
  • Do you plan to purchase a new or used instrument, or start out with a rental instrument?
  • How long do you intend to play this instrument? When will you be purchasing or upgrading to another horn?
  • What are your trombone goals? Do you intend to play professionally?
  • If a bass trombone is your choice, do you want in-line or dependent valves?

It is best to try out horns before buying them. Experience how the horn feels and sounds; how it is balanced; and how comfortable and fun it is to play. Visiting a local trombone dealer is the best place to start.

New instruments typically come with a warranty. However, many dealers also have used trombones that you can buy for less than the full price of a new one.

Buying instruments online does not give you the benefit of trying out or inspecting the horn’s overall condition before buying it. Many may not be sold with a case, or have a flimsy case that does not adequately protect the instrument from weather and damage.

Intermediate Horns

Intermediate-level trombones are distinguished from beginner/student instruments by their full sized (.547) bore, and mouthpiece to suit it, and the F-attachment that provides more note flexibility.

Students may consider upgrading their beginner model trombone if they are still interested in playing it when they are in the 8th-9th grade. The new horn provides the serious player an opportunity to more than just fit in with other players.

The student model trombone may still be used in marching band (so the new horn is not dinged or damaged) or for a jazz band. The smaller bore, student trombone works well for first or second trombone in a jazz band, but an intermediate, large bore horn plays better in an orchestra or concert band.

Professional Horns

Few professional tenor trombone players play without an F-attachment. A modern trend among many orchestral players is to play trombones that are extremely heavy. Heavy horns offer some advantages, but they and their sound are less flexible when they are played softly.

There are popular custom fine instrument makers, but many trombones lack the flexibility that allows the horn to create its unique voice. It is up to the more experienced trombonist to find the instrument whose sound reflects their personal musical nuance.

Custom valves also enhance the horn’s sound. There is a variety to choose from. The best choice is the valves that create a sound that sounds the best to you. It is equally important they are reliable and perform well for a reasonably long time.

Axial-flow valves, standard rotary valves, Hagmann and Greenhoe valves, and others may appear reliable. But they may bind up or lose tension over time. Common rotary valves seem to be the most reliable on the market and offer the best sound.

Frequently Asked Questions

Professionals, intermediate trombonists, beginners, and parents of student trombonists have questions they want answered before they invest in any trombone.

How do I choose the best trombone?

Answer: Cost, budget, and how long you intend to have/play the instrument play a big part in deciding the best instrument to buy. Secondly, is your skills level (i.e.: Beginner, Professional, or Intermediate). Also consider what type of music you want to play (i.e.: marching band, jazz/brass, symphonic, etc.).

A horn’s bore impacts the sound. For example, brass trombones (.562″ bore) tend to have an enhanced low end. Symphonic trombonists use the larger bore trombones (.547″ bore).

What is the best brand to buy?

Answer: Choosing the best brand of trombone also depends on your budget, what kind of music you are playing, and your level of experience/expertise.

Reviewers suggest King trombones are all right for beginners, a Bach Stradivarius (not regular Bachs) for concert/symphonic, marching, or gigs, or a Getzen or Edwards when cost is no object. Conns are popular, and Yamahas are considered reliable and consistent.

What is the best trombone for beginners?

Answer: Beginners and students may start small with a less expensive, more durable, smaller bore, straight tenor horn. A small bore trombone between .500″ and .525″ is recommended.

What is the difference between a small bore and large bore trombone?

Answer: Although a large bore instrument tends to have a full, resonant sound, it requires more air and work on the part of the trombonist. Student and beginner trombones are smaller bore instruments that require less air to produce a good sound.

What is the best trombone for a student that’s been playing several years?

Answer: Intermediate students typically (but not always) upgrade to a more flexible tone, fuller-sounding, medium bore F-rotor/F-attachment with step-up features (i.e.: plated finish, dual bore, sterling bell, etc.) when they reach high school age.

Before upgrading, consider how long you plan on keeping the instrument. (The F-rotor horn plays the same as a straight trombone if the trigger is not used.)

What is the best intermediate/professional horn for someone wanting to make it their profession?

Answer: Conn, Bach, and Yamaha are well-known and reputable trombone brands that will last quite a few years. For greatest satisfaction, consider a tenor or alto Bach and later upgrade to a brass, Bach or Conn F-attachment large bore, or a medium bore Yamaha.

Will removing the lacquer alter my horn’s sound?

Answer: This is a long-debated issue. New horns are lacquered when they are made. Yes, removing the horn’s lacquer will modify the sound. Some players contend that leaving the brass exposed ensures you get the most natural sound from the instrument.

Lacquer essentially coats the instrument in a non-resonant plastic, which helps protect the brass from tarnishing. The lacquer also helps make it easier to maintain and keep the horn clean. It is additionally used as a safety measure intended to prevent brass poisoning for those that may be sensitive or allergic to brass metal.

While the horn’s basic sound characteristics remain the same, the lacquer coating tends to mute the overtones. On the other hand, silver plating over the brass will also modify the sound, since silver plating over the brass makes it vibrate faster, resulting in a slightly perkier sound.

The Competition

After hours of testing and research, here's the final competition.

InstrumentRatingCurrent Pricing
The Yamaha YSL-354
Durable, easy to play, and excellent sound$1,069.98
Yamaha YSL-882O Xeno Series
features a narrow handslide$2,877.99
Bach 42BO Stradivarius
undistorted low/dark qualities and high vibrant and forceful sounds
Conn 88H
more sound with more clarity and quicker responseOut of stock
Conn-Selmer Prelude TB711 Series, Student
balanced design makes learning the instrument more comfortable$519.00
Getzen 1062FD Eterna Series Bass Trombone
plays very freely through the open wrap valve section

 

Our Top Recommendation: The Yamaha YSL-354

 

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It is a durable horn that can readily be used as a marching band horn when the trombonist is ready to upgrade to a more professional model. It can resist the dings and damages of outdoor use.

The Yamaha YSL-354 Tenor Trombone (for Beginners and Students) is a standard Bb tenor trombone (The Yamaha YSK-354VC model is in the key of C). This standard, clear-lacquered, Yamaha yellow brass, .500” bore, tenor model has most of the features and qualities of Yamaha professional models at a very affordable price.

It has a one-piece, 8-in., yellow brass bell. It has a 48 (medium shank) mouthpiece, gold brass leadpipe, and nickel-plated pistons (and rotors).

This horn is easy to play, has excellent sound, and is recommended by many music teachers and players because of its superior Yamaha workmanship. It is best used in school bands.

The horn has a chrome-plated nickel silver inner slide. The outer slide is a brass drawn one-piece slide unless you purchase a European model, in which case, the outer slide is made of nickel silver.

Even if the trombonist never elects to become a professional player, this instrument will last for generations.

Pros:

  • Affordable price
  • Durable
  • Lightweight
  • Good balance weight
  • Consistent (rich) tone quality
  • Quick tone production
  • Slide lock
  • Online Trombone Owner’s Manual
  • Yamaha Manufacturer’s Warranty

Cons:

  • N/A

Other Trombone Models to Consider:

Yamaha YSL-882O Xeno Series

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The Yamaha YSL-882O Xeno Series F Attachment Trombone is a well-respected, standard-weight, Bb/F symphonic style, Xeno Tenor trombone. It is designed with input from top professionals and features a standard open F-attachment wrap.

This clear, epoxy-lacquered, Yamaha yellow brass, medium .547” bore, tenor model offers professional features and options at an affordable price. It has a Peter Sullivan Replica Series (large shank) mouthpiece, fixed, yellow brass leadpipe, and hand-lapped pistons and adjustable rotors with mechanical linkage.

The larger, one-piece, 8-2/3”, hand-hammered, yellow brass bell produces a melodic, open sound with a solid resonating core. The bell features a lengthwise (axial) seam, which allows unrestricted vibrations to resonate through a continuous extension of the instrument’s material. (The Yamaha YSL-8820 model offers a gold brass bell option).

One of the horn’s outstanding features is its narrow handslide. It has a drawn, chrome-plated nickel silver inner slide. The outer slide is a yellow brass drawn one-piece slide, and the handslide crook is made of yellow brass material.

Reviewers report this professional horn has an overall clear tone and open sound and is easy to play. While the horn is little heavier, as some professional/symphonic horns tend to be, the balance is described as “impeccable,” it has incomparable slide movement, it plays well in every register, and has nice overtones and slotting.

Pros:

  • Well-balanced; counterbalance weight
  • Narrow handslide
  • Quick, open wrap, response
  • Slide lock
  • Compact, contoured case
  • Online Trombone Owner’s Manual
  • Yamaha Manufacturer’s Warranty

Cons:

  • on the heavier side

Bach 42BO Stradivarius

Credit: Amazon.com

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The Bach 42BO Stradivarius Series F is a professional Bb/F Bach Stradivarius symphonic model designed to project full, undistorted sounds. It features an open wrap, standard valve, F-attachment design that creates less resistance for the player.

The rotor section tubing design has larger and fewer bends that allow a truer sound due to less blowing resistance, and ball bearing rotor linkage.

This clear, epoxy-lacquered, yellow brass, gold brass, or sterling silver, medium .547” bore, Bach is a durable intermediate to professional upgrade instrument. It is recommended for seasoned high school students as well as professionals. It has a Bach 6.5A (large shank) mouthpiece and fixed, yellow brass leadpipe.

Bach’s larger, one-piece, 8-1/2”, hand-hammered, yellow brass, gold brass, or sterling silver bells produce an unrestricted full and projected sound due to the shape of its bell flare and material thickness, as well as its one-piece construction. Selecting a softer gold brass bell with a higher copper content produces a warmer tone.

Selecting a horn with a Sterling Plus bell will produce and project a large range of overtones or partials for any focused sound. Heavyweight gold or yellow brass bells may be special ordered. These will produce undistorted low/dark qualities or high vibrant and forceful sounds.

Bach offers a standard yellow brass handslide as well as a lightweight handslide made of corrosion-resistant nickel silver. The lightweight slide has nickel silver tubing on the outer slide tubes, which allows it to respond more quickly to the player.

Reviewers concur that this Bach 42BO professional horn has a uniform tone and less air resistance than a traditional wrap trombone and large bore, which makes it equally suitable for intermediate (high school students) as well as professionals.

The instrument emits a huge sound that can fill a hall as well as blend with other instruments, easily adapting to a wind band or orchestra. It also performs well at extreme dynamics.

Pros:

  • Lightweight handslide
  • Smooth, quick valve action
  • Quick response
  • Rich sound; excellent tone quality
  • 1867 deluxe wood shell case w/attached cover
  • Silver Plating finish is available by special order

Cons:

  • Rather expensive
  • May need to upgrade the mouthpiece

Conn 88H

Credit: Conn-Selmer

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The Conn 88H Symphony Series F Attachment Trombone is a standard Bb/F, low bass, tenor trombone that has rapidly gained popularity as a professional symphonic trombone due to its ability to sustain sound quality even at the most extreme dynamic levels.

It features standard wrap, standard rotor valve, F-attachment design. It has a Conn 5G (large shank) mouthpiece, fixed, yellow brass leadpipe, and adjustable thumb lever.

This clear or silver-lacquered, large .547” bore, tenor model incorporates new 8-1/2” Generation II thicker yellow brass/rose brass, or sterling silver, bells that add stability and clarify the tone even during loud playing. Rose brass offers warm and malleable tones. Yellow brass is harder and provides more sound projection.

Sterling silver bells are more expensive and provide more sound and clarity and quicker response. Conn also offers a lighter bell that has a smaller bell throat and medium taper that responds faster and allows the player to change tone (from bright to darker) effortlessly. It comes with both open and traditional F-attachments.

The standard weight hand slide (available with 3 removable leadpipes) is made of softer bronze/rose brass outside slide tubes with nickel trim and nickel silver end crook. This makes the Conn 88H a good solo or conservatory environment instrument. The horn has a chrome-plated nickel silver inner slide tubes. The outer slide is rose brass.

Reviewers like the Con 8H’s range and tone versatility. In a low register this horn produces a brassy, but powerfully rich, tone. When the mouthpiece is changed to a smaller shank one, and the horn played in high register, the tone is delicate and sweet-sounding. The slide action is smooth and quiet.

Pros

  • Versatility (interchangeable leadpipes)
  • Narrow slide
  • Smooth slide action
  • More responsive and better projection
  • Wood shell case

Cons:

  • brassy  tone in low register

Conn-Selmer Prelude TB711 Series, Student

Credit: Amazon.com

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The Prelude by Conn-Selmer TB711 Series Student Trombone (for Students and Beginners) is a standard Bb, tenor trombone built with the student and/or beginner in mind. The Prelude is a well-constructed, basic instrument.

It does not include F-attachment wrap or valve features. It has a balanced design that makes learning the instrument more comfortable.

The .509″ medium bore is designed for easy-play while compensating for embouchure development. The Prelude has student-friendly features for beginners to help them learn the instrument and process. It comes with a Bach 12C (small shank) mouthpiece, and fixed, yellow brass leadpipe.

The Prelude has a solid 8-in. yellow brass bell that produces quality tone, resonance, and projection. It has a lightweight brass outer slide and chrome plated nickel silver inside slide with sturdy bracing to withstand minor wear and tear.

Pros:

  • Beginner’s starter kit: instrument, mouthpiece, case
  • Affordable
  • Durable
  • Easy-to-play
  • Sturdy bracing
  • Quality sound
  • Lightweight handslide
  • Plastic/soft side case
  • Full warranty/5-yr. Limited warranty and service

Cons

  • no F-attachment wrap or valve

Getzen 1062FD Eterna Series Bass Trombone

Credit: Getzen Co.

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The Getzen 1062FD Eterna Series Bass Trombone (for Intermediate or Professionals) produces an extremely wide range of sound, from dark round sound to brassy, lively and bright music.

The Getzen 1062FD is a dual bore, .562″/.578″ bass trombone, with three interchangeable leadpipes, that responds well to genres ranging from, concert bands to symphony, to jazz bands. The dependent rotor system does not disappoint trombonists that desire a free-blowing valve section and quick-response.

The clear-lacquered, or silver plated, yellow brass, Getzen instrument has a 9-1/2”, 23 gauge yellow brass bell with a soldered rim. It has a 1-1/2G trombone mouthpiece and dependent, open wrap F- attachment with two rotary valves.

Reviewers indicate that the instrument plays very freely through the open wrap valve section, and that there is little difference in resistance from the open horn.

The horn has hand-straightened nickel silver inside tubes. They are chrome plated with barrel-shaped stockings. The outside tubes are made of lightweight yellow brass, with a nickel silver end crook and oversleeves. The outer slide is a brass drawn one-piece slide.

Reviewers impressed with the Getzen 1062FD cite the instrument’s affordability and smooth air flow. Its best-suggested uses are for concert and dance bands and church orchestras. They recommend it as a great professional instrument; not for middle or high school students.

Pros:

  • Fun and easy to play
  • Consistent
  • Quick tone production
  • Superior slide action
  • Responsive
  • Vibrant sound
  • Getzen Gold warranty

Cons

  • Minor air resistance
References
  • 8 notes.com (2003-2004). Retrieved from: https://www.8notes.com/f/30_12948.asp?spage=1
  • The Hub (2016). Trombone Buying Guide. Retrieved from: http://thehub.musiciansfriend.com/band-orchestra-buying-guides/trombone-buying-guide#types.
  • Wikipedia (2016). Trombone. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trombone.
  • Yeo, Douglas (2013). 5. How do you go about choosing a trombone? Retrieved from: http://www.yeodoug.com/resources/faq/faq_text/choosing.html.

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