Anyone who has met me in real life or read my articles here at Orchestra Ensemble will know that there aren’t many instruments that I haven’t sunk my teeth into. There’s no feeling I love more than beginning a new musical venture.
My most recent musical adventure has been learning the trombone – it was only three years ago that I first tried this instrument, and when I heard its first tones, I couldn’t believe that I’d been missing out on it for so many years. It was a magical moment, but trust me – it wasn’t easy.
Buying my first trombone was an absolute nightmare – I kept hearing about dodgy brands on the market that should be avoided at all costs, and this intimidated me. After weeks of research, I finally found a brand that I was happy with (King, more on that later…) but I don’t want you to have the same problems.
If you’re looking to purchase your first trombone, this is the guide for you as I’ve compiled a ton of information to ensure that you make the right purchasing decisions. Read on to find out more!
Bottom Line Up Front: Whilst Bundy and Jupiter trombones provide good options for beginners on a budget, they are generally known for inconsistent and compromising quality. For a high-quality budget alternative, King trombone has a much better reputation.
What to Look for in a Good Trombone
In a moment, I will be discussing the information that I found three years ago regarding trombone bands that you should avoid at all costs, in addition to providing my recommendations.
However, before we do this, I think it only makes sense to begin by outlining exactly what you should be looking for in your first trombone. Take notes, because this is going to be important!
There are many important things that you should look out for when purchasing a trombone, but perhaps the most essential is the quality of the trombone’s slide. You should be aware that the slide is the key mechanism behind playing the trombone, so you do not want to purchase a trombone with a dodgy slide!
The first thing that you should investigate is whether the slide tubing feels good to maneuver. It should slide smoothly without any requirement of lubricant, especially when it is brand new.
If it turns out that the slide is difficult to move, I would take this as a serious red flag. It could be a sign that the slide tubes are not aligned properly, or that the tubing has rusted.
Next, always make sure that the mouthpiece fits perfectly on the receiver of the trombone’s slide. This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised at how many trombones I was coming across that had unstable mouthpieces.
If the mouthpiece is rattling around or feeling unstable in any way, this is another red flag hinting towards poor trombone quality.
Finally, you will want to make sure that the trombone has suitable slide compression. This ultimately determines how airtight the trombone is, and it should be as airtight as possible. If it is not, the instrument will sound raspy and unusual when you slide between notes, and nobody needs that.
Most musicians don’t have to worry about responsiveness when they play their instruments. Instruments such as stringed and percussion instruments will sound every time, due to the nature of how they work.
However, trombones do not work in this because they are brass, and therefore you must ensure that your trombone is responsive.
From the instance that you blow through the horn of your trombone, the note should be immediately articulated. If you notice that this does not happen and there is resistance around your embouchure muscles (the muscles around your lips), then this is a sign of a dodgy trombone.
This not only makes it frustrating to play the instrument, but it will also cause fatigue in the long run.
Next, you should check that the intonation of your trombone is spot on – this essentially means that the tones are accurate, the partials are in tune, and that the horn is consistently toned across the entire pitch range.
This is incredibly important mainly as it is essentially impossible to even out the intonation of a trombone – there is no tuning mechanism or way to fix intonation like there is with guitars and other stringed instruments.
If the intonation is off, this is probably due to poor build quality. If the trombone is slightly out of tune overall, you can adjust the slide to fix this. However, if one tone is out of tune with the same tone in a different octave, this is irreversible and a serious red flag.
To check this, you should make sure that the partials of the trombone line up closely with the overtone series. You can use a tuner to check this, but I would recommend using spectral analysis software such as Audiosculpt or Soundforge if you want to make sure it’s OK.
Cost Vs Quality
The last thing that I wanted to mention is choosing a trombone that is of high quality to its cost. This might sound pretty obvious – of course, you want to buy a trombone that is made with good materials, meets the standards I previously mentioned, and that shimmers and shines in the light when you play it.
However, it’s worth mentioning that the highest quality trombones come at a seriously high cost, and this may not be justifiable if you are a beginner player.
It goes without saying that if you are an experienced trombone player and you are looking to upgrade to a seriously high-quality trombone for your new orchestra placement, you should save every penny you can get your hands on to buy something really special. This could cost you $1,000 to $2,000, or more if it’s a truly special piece of kit!
However, if you are a beginner who is testing the waters as to whether you will enjoy playing this instrument, I would recommend going for something between $500 and $1,000.
Anything lower than $500 would sound rather suspicious to me, and you can almost guarantee that there is going to be some form of compromise in terms of build quality.
This is where a second opinion from an expert comes in handy. Always check the online reviews of trombones, and most importantly of all, bring a professional trombone player along whenever you are checking out a new trombone. They will help you assess whether compromises in beginner trombones are acceptable or not.
Ultimately, not everyone has the same budget, and therefore it is important to find something that suits yours. Don’t splash out unnecessarily, but if you’re looking for high quality, the last thing you want to do is cheap out. It may seem like a lot of money at the time, but if you’re in it for the long hall, you’ll regret not spending more later down the line.
Testing a Trombone Out In a Music Store
I previously mentioned the importance of getting a second opinion on a trombone from a trombonist friend, and that brings me to my next point – always test a trombone out in a music store before you purchase it!
This is going to allow you to get hands-on with the trombone, test for all of the red flags that I mentioned earlier, and get a feel for the instrument.
It doesn’t matter how much research you do, how many reviews you read, or how many pictures you look at – nothing is going to provide you with an understanding of a trombone like holding it and testing it for yourself.
Bringing a friend along for a second opinion will only make this more worthwhile, as they may have the expertise to pick up on things that may go over your head.
You should be able to test trombones out at any music store near you that stocks the instrument. The store will have customer assistants that are also music experts, so don’t worry if you can’t find a trombonist friend to accompany you – the staff should help you out.
Just bear in mind that they may be biased as they will want to sell you the instrument. This is why it’s best to test in-store and then buy online!
2 Trombone Bands to Avoid
So, we’ve discussed the importance of doing your research and testing out every trombone you come across before purchasing, and more importantly, the individual red flags that you should look out for.
I learned the majority of this information from investigating dodgy trombone brands that are notorious for having such faults in their instruments, and I’m here to tell you which brands they are so that you can avoid them. There are two in particular that I’d like to mention – Jupiter and Bundy.
Before you add Bundy to your avoid list, stop and listen – Bundy is not necessarily a bad brand. They have been big players in the trombone industry for almost a century, rolling out their first trombones in 1948. Most trombonists will have heard of the brand, so why am I telling you to avoid them?
Well, essentially Bundy is known for building trombones that are cheap and cheerful for students. As I mentioned earlier, not everyone has the budget to buy a $1,000+ trombone, and Bundy recognized this gap in the market and filled it.
Their trombones should work fine and provide a beginner with everything they need for a stable learning experience, but it’s worth being aware that they are built with a compromise to the quality to reach their cheap prices.
I have often found Bundy’s trombones to be unbalanced within the counterweight which provides an uncomfortable playing experience, and the slide can become rough and stick if you have left the instrument unplayed for a while.
The materials used to make the instrument also feel a bit tacky and cheap, and the cases that they come with are similarly compromised.
So, does all of this mean that you should avoid Bundy trombones? Well, I would say that if you are an experienced trombonist then yes. However, if you are looking for your first trombone and don’t have much cash to spend on it, then I would say Bundy is a decent choice. It all depends on your budget at the end of the day.
- Cheap prices
- A decent reputation for making student trombones
- Counterweights are often unbalanced
- Slides become rough and sticky after a while
- Cases are of low quality
The second brand that I would suggest that you consider avoiding is Jupiter, another trombone producer that has the target audience of beginner trombonists. Much like Bundy, this means that you should still consider this as an option if you are a complete beginner or are on a low budget.
However, I would say that Jupiter has an overall lower and less consistent quality, and therefore Budny would be a better option regardless.
My biggest issue with this brand is how inconsistent they are. I remember the first time I played a Jupiter trombone and it was pretty decent – sure, the metal wasn’t the best quality, but it sounded pretty good.
However, when I played a different example of the same model, it was horrendous to play. It felt unstable, the intonation was bad, and something just didn’t feel right.
This isn’t always the case – I would say that the tonal qualities of Jupiter trombones are overall good, but I think it’s just how bad the metal is that can lead to instability and a lack of durability.
From my experience, the metal used is soft and prone to being damaged, the slide is fragile, and this combination can ultimately lead to all sorts of tonal inconsistencies.
Overall, Jupiter trombones are OK if you are a complete beginner or are on a budget – it’s quite likely that you won’t even notice anything wrong with it, but it does feel a little bit like rolling a dice.
If you do choose to purchase a Jupiter trombone, I would stress that you should be extremely careful when handling it and buy an excellent quality case, as they are prone to be damaged easily.
- Cheap and cheerful
- Decent reputation for student trombones
- Inconsistent quality
- Built with soft metals
- Malleable and fragile
- Fragile slides
2 Top Picks for Trombone Brands
OK – now that we’ve taken a look at the trombone brands to avoid, let’s balance things out with two trombone brands that I would happily recommend to anyone, whether they are a beginner or an expert. After all, I believe that all excellent trombone brands should provide something for everyone.
The first trombone brand that I would like to mention is King, a company that has been building trombones for over 120 years. If that doesn’t scream “good reputation” then I don’t know what does!
My first trombone was a King, and I was thrilled with the quality. It sounded beautiful, it had clearly been built and set up correctly, and despite having a few bumps and knocks here and there, it has stood up as a stable and highly durable trombone.
I think this all comes down to quality craftsmanship and consistency – you don’t have to worry about getting a dodgy trombone from this company, and if for whatever reason you did, I’d be confident that they would fix it up for you ASAP.
Perhaps my favorite thing about King trombones though is the price-to-quality ratio. When I decided to learn the trombone, I was pretty broke.
I had saved up a little bit of cash to put towards my new musical venture, but my friends consistently told me that it wouldn’t be enough to purchase a high-quality trombone. Well, King proved that wrong – it sounded fantastically in my first jazz band practice and it impressed all my bandmates.
Overall, I’ve always been impressed with King, and I’d be surprised if you had any trouble with them. They have a stellar reputation, their trombones are consistently built with high-quality materials and with excellent craftsmanship, and I doubt that this will ever change.
- King has a fantastic reputation for building high-quality trombones
- Always consistent in build quality
- A slide that feels smooth regardless of lubrication
- Excellent customer service
- Seriously good value for money
- Whilst the quality of King trombones is pretty high, it’s undeniable that they are still designed to be cheap and accessible to beginners, and therefore are not exactly of premium quality.
The last trombone brand that I wanted to mention is Edwards – I’d be pretty surprised if you haven’t heard of them, they have one heck of a reputation for producing some of the most premium quality trombones on the market.
When I was first looking for trombones, I had the privilege to try an Edwards trombone – it felt incredible to hold, it sounded gorgeous to play, and I didn’t have the slightest doubt that it was perfectly set up. It felt so good to play that I was completely set on purchasing it… until I looked at the price.
Unfortunately, whilst Edwards is perhaps one of the most critically acclaimed trombone brands due to fine handcraftsmanship, incredible precision, fantastic tone, and reliable customer service, this all comes at a very high price.
They are hugely expensive in comparison to other brands mentioned in this guide, and therefore I would only recommend it if you are either an intermediate player looking for an upgrade or if you have the cash to splash!
- The perfect trombone, you will not have any build problems with Edwards
- Built with metal that feels and looks great, and provides excellent durability
- Unbeatable tone and intonation stability
- It’s almost impossible to find a bad review for an Edwards trombone
- The only problem with Edwards trombones is the price, it’s a premium product and you pay for what you get, so it’s not ideal for beginner trombonists on a budget
We’re just about to finish things up here, but I thought I would round things off with a quick FAQ. Hopefully, I can answer any final questions that you may have!
Answer: Whilst Jupiter trombones can be a good option for beginners on a budget, their trombones are generally made with a low level of craftsmanship and care and therefore are not a particularly good trombone brand.
Answer: People often avoid Bundy trombones because whilst they can sometimes produce good quality beginner trombones, they are known for being inconsistent and using metals that are soft and prone to damage.
Answer: When choosing a trombone, you should look for something that has excellent responsiveness and intonation, perfect slide condition, high-quality metals, and a cost that meets your budget.
Answer: Whilst Edwards undeniably produces some of the best trombones out there, this comes at a very high cost, making King a better brand for beginner trombonists.
Well, there you have it – throughout this guide, we have covered the qualities that you should seek in a good trombone, the brands that provide this, and most importantly the brands that do not.
Whilst Bundy and Jupiter can be OK if you are on a budget, I would overall recommend that you investigate King trombones first – they provide some incredible value for money.
If you’re a beginner then I wish you the best of luck on your trombone journey, and if you’re already a seasoned trombonist, I hope you find the upgrade you are looking for. Regardless, always remember to test your trombones out in music stores, there is no better way to find a high-quality instrument than to do this!
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