“Never look at the trombones, it only encourages them.” – Richard Wagner
The Trombone is possibly one of the purest, unaltered musical instruments since its inception in the 1500’s, known originally as the Sackbutt. Even the majestic violin evolved from the early days as part of the ‘viol’ family where it was played upright, resting on the knee or hip, not under the chin.
The trombone is simple in its design: 9 feet of brass tubing with a slide to lengthen the tubing and so lower the pitch. No valves to hinder the airflow of the pure sound, no keys to distract you, and a sound so deep and prominent that trombonists can stir audiences and petrify conductors!
All musical instruments have a fragility that can lead to accidental damage that can stop them working or impede the sound production. All instruments can be broken if you don’t look after them, maintain them and care after them…even a drum!
I have played the trombone for nearly 40 years now. In that time I have been responsible for 2 ‘incidents’ resulting in my trombone being rendered unplayable! Trust me, they are as good as they sound. You can get the all the details here.
…Back to cleaning
In case you are eating, I will not subject you further to the ‘nasties’ that can gather within the instrument. It’s obvious that there is a lot of warm, moist saliva constantly being blown into the depths of your instrument. On top of this there is the residue of anything you have been eating or drinking. This forms a breeding ground for bacteria to multiply. Can you imagine if sugars were added into this equation how quickly the bacteria would grow? So do not eat sweets or sugary gum when playing (it’s also very bad for your breathing and tone).
I recommend a full clean once a week. It only takes 10 minutes with the right equipment, but it can keep you fit and healthy. A bath is still a viable option. However, the disinfecting and internal cleansing can also be done over the sink with a jug, hot/warm water – a highly diluted non-scented disinfectant – and a Sonata Trombone Cleaning Brush.
Simply dilute a little of your disinfectant into the warm water jug, then pour it into the outer slide. Then feed the brush all the way down into the slide, around the bend and then push it repeatedly backwards and forwards to clean out any congealed residue. Repeat and rinse with clean warm water. You can do the same with the inner slides. Personally I repeat the brushing and water rinse 3 times, then wipe down with a cloth/paper towel to remove any stubborn slide cream excess. I follow this procedure similarly with the bell section, pouring the water into the bell and using the brilliant brush to get all the round the tuning slide bend.
Some people would say to remove the tuning slide, but to be honest, I have seen more people actually damage and slightly bend this slide when removing and replacing them. I would only do this once every 6 months. You can still re-grease the tuning slide without removing it every week.
Finally, don’t forget your mouthpiece, (I mean in the cleaning process, but it also applies on a gig!) It is important to use a brush inside the mouthpiece to thoroughly clean it, but don’t use the slide brush as it may get stuck. The best solution would be the inexpensive Superslick Mouthpiece Brush, which for under five pounds will last you a career.
So, your trombone is clean and hygienic inside. Now it is equally important to keep it ‘running’ smoothly to optimise performance!
The most crucial aspect of trombone performance, (after the player!) is the slide. If the slide doesn’t work, then all you’re left with is a big long Bb Post Horn! More Don Trump than Don Lusher!
A stuttering, stiff slide can ruin your concert and your day, let alone a rendition of ‘Getting Sentimental Over You’! It is the one fragile key element you must look after and treat with love and care. When I started playing, many trombonists used Ponds Cold Cream (if you’ve never heard of it, it was meant to be used as a facial cleanser?) or Trombotine, before better creams came onto the market such as Superslick Slide Cream, which is still very popular and available from us today.
Over the past couple of decades, newly developed oils and silicon based lubricants have been leading the market. This is due to their all-in-one bottle accessibility and the fact that they don’t leave a mass of residue in your slide. They are amazing! I use, and strongly recommend, the Slide-O-Mix Trombone Slide Oil Two Bottle Set and the Slide-O-Mix Rapid Comfort Trombone Lubricator. I cannot recommend them highly enough.
Your slide will run as smooth as you could ever wish for: Just don’t let go!
For the tuning slide, (remember, don’t take it all the way out, just extend it,) I use the Superslick SSTSG Tuning Slide Grease.
Again, this could last you a career, unless you lend it to someone and they keep it… or the conductor uses it as hair product by accident… but it certainly does make your tuning slide move without forcing it. This helps prevent any potential warping, and repels any damaging moisture.
Finally, in the maintenance of your trombone you need to look after the lacquer. Make it shine as much as you! Psychologically, if it looks good, it is good! Similar to diamonds… and Guinness, but a lot more tuneful!!
‘Brasso’ and ‘Silvo’ were the common options in 70’s & 80’s, but these were abrasive and slowly wore away the lacquer and thin the brass = not good! With modern instrument manufacturing techniques improving the lacquering and plating quality of trombones they are easy to clean. A simple, treated specialist cloth is all that is needed… and a bit of ‘huff & puff’ combined elbow grease, (we don’t sell elbow grease.) Again, under a fiver, I recommend the Superslick Silver Cloth or the Superslick Lacquer Cloth.
The Bone itself
The tiniest of dents in your slide from a music stand, dropped mute, or Mr Magoo on Bass trombone who wasn’t looking where he was going (and usually playing!) can wreak havoc on your slide. This can make music performance impossible and frustrating.
In an ideal world, when you set your chair and stand up, you would leave plenty of room for your slide to fully extend and to still be able to see the music and, if you must, the conductor. (Even though we all know the conductor has no option but to follow the trombone section!)
However, in reality, you arrive at a venue where the percussion section have taken up the equivalent of Wembley. They force in 2 Xylophones which have 4 notes to play in one piece, and a Gong that’s only playing two! We all have to just squeeze in where we can. I believe that giving yourself enough room to perform is paramount to your performance and the welfare of your trombone. I believe that a good quality trombone stand is important, offering a solid base and foundation when in use.
From A to B
The final aspect of preventing damage to your beloved trombone is the case. Sometimes you have no option but to package your instrument onto a lorry, a coach storage compartment… the dreaded Plane hold. It’s these times you really need a solid, well made case to protect it. In such a situation we recommend prayer. And the Tom & Will Padded Trombone Bag.
Or the value-for-money Champion Case.
One of the most common ways (mostly) students manage to damage their trombones, is when the mouthpiece isn’t stored securely. When left loose in the case inside the case it gets tossed around causing dents left, right and center. The simple solution is to put it in a side pocket and also to keep it in a dedicated pouch, such as the Sonata Mouthpiece Pouch which, at only £10, is approximately forty pounds cheaper than having dents removed and a slide over-hall!
You have chosen to play the finest instrument known to mankind, (biased opinion not open to debate!) You will find trombones in most musical groups and orchestras around the world. When they play, they can be as beautiful and pure sounding as Angels. On the flip side ‘demi-semi quaver’ can summon evil, (yes, that includes you with the baton?)… and drown out bagpipes, so it’s a win-win situation! They can bring the emotion of peace in Ravel’s Bolero, and the insanity of the ‘dark side’ of Mr Vader!! Trombonists use the force. It is our destiny!
Remember, “With great power, comes great responsibility…….look after it, treat it well……. oh, and apparently, PP is achievable”!!