Unlike other brass instruments, trombones are . . . well, simple (to shop for, not necessarily to play). Still, buying any instrument for the first time can be a horrifying experience, so most parents/musicians find themselves in a bit of trouble when trying to find their first trombone. There are a few things to work out and learn about, but once that's taken care of, shopping for a trombone can not only be an easier experience, but it can be a bit of fun too!
Types of Trombones
There are three members of the trombone family - the straight tenor, trigger-type tenor and the bass trombone.
What to look for
It's important to keep the level that you or the person you're buying for is playing at. Buying your 9 year old son an expensive professional trombone won't make his playing any better, and it could turn out to be a huge loss if he decides that it's not for him. Trombone manufacturers produce instruments based on standard classifications - student,intermediate, and professional. These generally reflect the quality of the instrument you are getting, but do not necessarily define which features you will or will not get at a certain level. Rather, the classifications are for general reference.
One term you'll have to get acquainted with is "'''bore'''," which is the inner diameter of the inner valve, not a description of the entertainment value of the instrument. These measurements are expressed in thousanths of an inch, with 481" being a student appropriate size, and 547' being appropriate for professionals. Smaller bores produce more resistance, which is ideal for students. More resistance makes it easier for the player to hold a tone.
Most schools offer trombones to students interested in playing. These, however, tend to have been used frequently without much care, so the condition of the instrument a student will end up with may be poor. If you're shopping for your child, it may be in your best interest to buy your own trombone.
If you're shopping for your child, an entry level trombone is your best bet. More expensive trombones do not guarantee the quality of the instrument, as the price may be higher for other reasons. Professional trombone player, Douglas Yeo, suggests the Yamaha YSL-354 tenor trombone for beginners, stating that Yamaha is noted for it's workmanship and produces a durable student model trombone.
A new trombone may excite a new player more than a slightly used one, but it's possible to find an excellent used trombone for a fraction of the price. Music stores allow their customers to come in and try out instruments for themselves, so take advantage of this! Naturally, the sales people will pressure you into buying something in the store, but if they can't give you a discount on the list price of something you liked, keep shopping. Do some research to see how they've priced the same or similar trombones to the one that you initially liked. Merely having these prices in mind, granted that they're lower than what the music store was asking, can help you get the best price.
Buying Used - Things to Inspect
If you've decided that buying a used trombone is the approach you're going to take, there are a few things to look out for while shopping. Here are a few suggestions.
* Check for dents on the bell section. Small dents (roughly the size of a nickel and smaller) won't affect the sound, but large dents will.
* The slide should move without needing much force and should stay where you leave it. If the slide is greased and doesn't move well, don't buy the horn.
* There are a handful of things to check for on the slide section.
** The slide should have a working slide-lock to keep it from moving when you're not holding it.
** Slowly move the slide in and out to see if it catches while sliding. Rest the the tip of the slide on the floor and lift the brace so that it's moving in and out. If the slide is well lubricated and is still catching, there's a problem.
** Pull the two parts of the slide apart to check for rust. You should find a silver color, though it's possible that it’s been sitting for a while and could be some dry oil residue. This can be scraped away with a fingernail. However, rust cannot be cleaned.
** Check for dents around the bend of the side and see that the water key is working.
* Raw brass around the rim of the mouthpiece will cause blisters, so check the mouthpiece to make sure that none of the plating is wearing away.
* Check the case for a secure place to keep the mouthpiece and a space where the slide can be fastened to keep it from moving.