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Variations on the Trombone - p.2

Trombones of today

First of all, one needs to recognize the many varieties of the modern trombone.

Only 21 inches in length, the Soprano Trombone--or slide trumpet--is not used regularly for orchestral or band music.  Though having the appearance of a trombone, this instrument is usually played by a trumpet player as the mouthpiece and playing range is the same as a trumpet, pitched in Bb, an octave above the tenor trombone.
There are trombones pitched even higher than the soprano--the sopranino, and the highest, the piccolo--but these are rarely seen and are only used in large trombone choirs.

Below are descriptions of modern trombones.  There will be slight variations among different manufacturers and some will not offer as many bore (tubing diameter) size options, but most will follow these basic designs:

Alto Trombone
Pitched a perfect fourth higher, in Eb, and smaller than the tenor trombone, it has a small bore and is used often in church brass music and in brass ensembles to provide the top voice.
Tenor Trombone (small bore)
This is the most common type of trombone used today.  It is, as the remaining trombones are, pitched in Bb.  The bore size is anywhere from  .468" - .490".  Small bore horns have the brightest sound and are often preferred in jazz groups to cut through when soloing.
Medium bore Tenor Trombone
The bore size is typically .500" - .509".   As bore size increases, the timbre of the horn becomes "rounder or darker", less brilliant.  This is a sound sought after in orchestral work.
Medium-large bore Tenor Trombone (with "traditional wrap" F attachment)
Bore size typically .525"
The F attachment adds a wrap of tubing activated by a trigger and rotor valve which lowers the fundamental pitch from Bb to F.  This allows the player to reach lower notes than would otherwise be possible.  Horns of this size and larger are available in "traditional" or "open" wraps or without the F attachment.
Large Bore Tenor (with "open wrap" F attachment)
Bore size typically .547"
The "open wrap" eliminates the tight turns of the traditional wrap, improving airflow through the F tubing, and is preferred by many professionals.
Bass Trombone
The largest bore measuring at typically .562" and also the largest bell (10-10.5")
Although there are single-rotor bass trombones, many now include a second valve with can work independently of the first--or may be "dependent" and used in combination with the first.  The extra valve allows more pitch changing and flexibility to the professional player.
Valve Trombone
This model is typical of most valve trombones you will find today.  They usually have a small to medium bore.  The valve fingering is the same as a trumpet.  Many are sold with a conventional slide section as well for the player who wants both options.  Not used in orchestras or most bands, this style is popular in some jazz ensembles and for trumpet and euphonium players who want to "double" on trombone.

That certainly would be enough to keep most people confused.  The different bore sizes are the most common innovation of trombone development in the twentieth century with the tendency toward larger bore horns being more popular in the second half of the century.  Many brass makers take specifications from players and turn out custom horns.  It is from these innovations during the 1900's that we can now not only specify bore size and finish, but also specify different valves for the F attachment, interchangeable bells and leadpipes, and slides.  Today, we have many choices in selecting a trombone.

Now, for the more unusual versions of the trombone you might see today.

above: Jim Self's custom 'Minick Super Bass Trombone'
What do you get when you cross a valve trombone with a slide trombone?

The answer is Holton's "Superbone".

Both the slide and the valves can be used simultaneously using the left hand to operate the valves.

The horn was made somewhat famous by trumpeter Maynard Ferguson (shown above, left).

Conn also made a similar type trombone.

As radical as this may seem, this is not a modern idea.  Combining the valve and slide trombone was considered many years earlier.

The last photo is of a turn-of-the-century combination valve/slide trombone made by Lehland.

How about creating a valved trumpet with a trombone-like slide?

The "Zephyros" was invented by composer and trumpeter Kiyonori Sokabe.  More information is available on this unusual instrument.

While not found in all orchestras, if you attend a Verdi opera you might see the Cimbasso ("chim-BOSS-o") in the low brass section.

Pictured on the left, looking like a big bass trombone that got bent somehow, this is actually an instrument for the tuba player to use.  It is a valved instrument, usually found with rotor valves.  It has the range of a tuba with the sonic properties of a trombone--brassy rather than full and mellow.  Note the rubber-tipped rod at the bottom to support the instrument.

On the right, an older tuba-style cimbasso.

There are other variations made to play in different keys as well.

The contrabass trombone is not a new instrument.  Like the cimbasso, it is pitched an octave lower than the tenor trombone.  Due to its low range, most modern versions have a doubled slide.  The instrument pictured is a Mirafone Contrabass Trombone.

With the popularity of Drum and Bugle Corps organizations starting in the 1950's and 60's, many manufacturers came up with a line of instruments collectively called Marching Brass.

This is the King "Flugabone".  It is what you would have if you took a valve trombone and wrapped up the tubing like a flugelhorn, hence the name.  Pitched in Bb and using a trombone mouthpiece, it has an 8½" bell and .500" bore.

Similarly styled (and named), the "Flugelbone" made by Kanstul Music Northwest is designed for marching.  It has a 9½" bell and a .509" bore.
Here is the "JazzBone" from DEG Music Products.  Produced around 1985, this instrument couples a traditional bell section with a tightly wrapped valve section.  DEG was established in 1964 by Donald E. Getzen, son of Getzen Company founder T.J. Getzen.
This is a a "jazz model" valve trombone by Amati.  It has a .488" bore and 7" bell.  It resembles a traditional valve trombone but the front end is considerably shorter due to its wrap design.

Okay, it's not a trombone--but it's played by a trombone player.

This is a Bb bass trumpet.  Attend a performance of Wagner's The Ring and you might see one in the orchestra.  It has the same range as a trombone, pitched an octave below the standard Bb trumpet.

In the middle photo, a size comparison with a standard trumpet above; a Holton bass trumpet below.

The bottom photo is of a German-style bass trumpet with three rotary valves.

If you've ever seen the long, straight Herald Trumpet, you'll note the similarity in styling of this octave-lower Bb Tenor Fanfare Trumpet made by Besson.  It has a .487" bore and 5.75" bell.  There is also a slightly larger Bass Fanfare Trumpet in Bb with a .580" bore.  It can accommodate a flag or banner hanging from its bell!
Musical Note:
"Trombonium" is also the title of an early 1900's ragtime march by Lathrop Withrow featuring lots of trombone glissandos and similar in style to the popular "Lassus Trombone" by Fillmore.  Recommended playing for any fun-loving trombone player.

Cross a trombone with a euphonium and you get the Trombonium.

Made by King starting in the late 1930's (originally, the "Trumbonium"), this was an instrument originally designed for marching and mounted bands which could deliver a trombone sound without an ungainly slide.  Note the narrow bore.

In the 1950's, it was popularized in jazz circles by J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding (pictured at left).  King continued production of this horn into the 1970's.

Popup showing the Trombonium's eventual change to a "bell-up" design similar to the Conn model (below)

The two "bell-up" models shown are trombonium-style horns for marching made by (left) the F.E. Olds & Son Co. of Los Angeles and (right) C.G. Conn, model 90G.

The Quadro® Slide.  It's a full length slide folded over so each slide position is half the distance of a regular slide.

Stated benefits include: easier to play more complicated passages; small players and beginners can reach seventh position; ideal for marching band maneuvers; available in .508", .547" and .562" bore; slide available separately to use with an existing bell.

Made by DEG Music Products.

If the Quadro is still too big, try a "ShortBone".  It has a shorter bell section married to the Quadro slide OR a short valve section!  The valve model is 29 inches long and the Quadro slide model is only 27 inches long!

Also available is a short Eb slide trombone, a C valve trombone, and a ShortBone Bb Soprano Trombone/Slide Trumpet at 18½ inches long!

Brand new and made by DEG as well!

Some real bizarre variations and non-horns
This is a Tromboon.  An invention of P.D.Q. Bach (read "Peter Schickele") and required instrument in the playing of P.D.Q. Bach's Serenude for devious instruments (S. 36-24-36)
A definite "one-off" insturment is this SaxOBone which was custom made using a trombone slide, a trumpet bell, and a baritone sax mouthpiece.  It was seen on eBay and the new "lucky" owner, with much practice, can probably create sounds such as the following sample from its creator.  (267K .wav file)
The Golden Trombone is a toy which was made in the 1950's.  It is technically not a horn, but rather a harmonica-type toy.  As you blow air in and pull the slide, the notes descend through a major scale.  It comes with a music lyre and a songbook so you can play familiar tunes.  The Emenee Company made an entire line of musical toys so you and your friends could form your own band!
The Trombone Kazoo is simply a kazoo with a bell and slide (which does work, although not affecting the sound).  You play it like any kazoo--by humming the tune into the mouthpiece.

Well, that's a look at the many variations on the trombone.  If you have questions or you know of a trombone (or something close!) that you haven't seen here, contact me and I'll add it to the page.

Take a similar look at the Baritone Horn and the Euphonium:
Variations on the Baritone and Euphonium

List of Instruments in my Collection


All material ©2000-2010 Bob Beecher
Certain names are the trade property of their respective makers


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