BACH to the Future!

In many aspects of modern day life and engineering, plastic is capable of meeting the needs of any manufacturing task. It is strong, versatile, cheap and can be quickly moulded into any shape required.

Where metals were once the preferred material of choice, plastic is now the sensible option due to its lightness and strength. Cars, Boats, Planes, Bikes…………….and now musical instruments!

Since their introduction into the musical world, the pBone has caught the eye, and turned the heads, of many a musician. They have caused arguments and debates, but there is one aspect you can’t ignore; they have sold in their thousands and increased instrumental performance in schools across the globe. Especially in the UK.  Trombonists may take over the world!

pbone-colours

So, which is better? A traditional Brass Trombone, or a plastic pBone? You won’t get this debate on Newsnight!

Plastic better than YAMAHA….Ha..Ha?!

To have a fair and justifiable debate, I will split it into categories that every Trombonist will appreciate and strive for… Build. Tone. Articulation. Intonation. Cost.

Build

The pBone is extraordinarily strong. The ABS one-piece bell and fibre glass slide won’t dent if knocked or dropped like a traditional brass trombone, allowing beginners to play without the fear of damaging the instrument.  It is extremely lightweight, 1.75kg as opposed to the 7.9kg of the superb Yamaha YSL445GE. It’s very easy for younger players to support and play, and the slide is basically maintenance free. Finally, you can get pBones in a vast range of colours.

conn-tromboneA traditional Trombone, such as the Conn 88H takes many hours of hand-made expertise to manufacture, using only the finest of resonant brass alloys. Every aspect is carefully and meticulously combined, ensuring each joint and rotary valve connection will never let the player down. A slide so silky smooth it feels like an automatic! The lacquered finish enhances the beautiful gold-brass quality, and the weight distribution results in a perfectly balanced feel and performance.

You know that when you play this, you have an object of desire and musical perfection supporting you.

Tone

The ‘mighty’ Trombone is synonymous with tonal perfection. No valves (generally!) to hinder the sound production. No compressed tapered reeds to bite on. No equine hair to scrape across! Doesn’t need hitting!! Pure and simple. Majestic and resonant.

I will admit, I was sceptical of the pBone when I first set eyes on it. Plastic; could it ever get near to the sonorous, tonal depth I sought and practised for religiously?  Well actually, and surprisingly, it can! Get near, that is!!

The ability to get a full and rewarding sound across the registers can be achieved. Especially as it comes with two mouthpieces; an 11C and a 6.5AL. Made of plastic, of course. The tone is definitely better at mf-f as opposed to a subtle pp or ff dynamic marking. Plus, if you use a traditional small shank mouthpiece, it will also improve the tone.

beginner-sonata-tromboneAs you might imagine. The tone achieved from a brass Trombone is far, far superior and more consistent. This can also be enhanced by opting for a trombone made of different brass alloys; ratio of copper to zinc in its formulation. The more copper (red & gold brass) produces a naturally warmer tone, exhibited in the Conn 8H and Yamaha YSL445GE. Whereas more Zinc (yellow brass) has a brighter tone and projection, found in the Sonata Trombone and the Yamaha YSL354.

The result; a crispness, clarity, projection and depth not achievable on a ‘pInstrument’.

Articulation

purple-pboneWhether you use the plastic mouthpiece, or your regular, small shank brass mouthpiece on a pBone, you can produce a fluid and sufficient articulation during intricate passages of music. Due to the plastic bell resonance and fibre-glass slide however, it can be inconsistent and sometimes a hindrance in the most ‘tricky’ of passages.

The slide cannot compete with the precision engineered slide on a Conn, Sonata, or the Yamaha Trombone. These are much quieter, smoother and reassuring throughout any challenging works.  Yes, they need maintenance and care, but the rewards are worth every drop of Rapid Comfort Slide Oil!

Intonation

All of our excellent new Brass Trombones are perfect when it comes to intonation. More often than not, when I hear someone playing out of tune, it is always down to technique or fatigue, and never the actual trombone. Poor embouchure, too much pressure, overblowing, and not understanding slide positional alterations in the higher register are all possible causes. The design and production of even the cheapest brass Trombones we offer, allows players of all abilities to succeed.

trombone-and-music

The pBone however does have a slight deficiency over its brass counterpart in its intonation, especially at higher volumes and pitch. But generally speaking, unless you really overblow, intonation is secure.

Cost

The brass Sonata STB701 Trombone is under £200! Yet it is more than capable of taking a player up to the mid to high grades. It is also very adept at tackling 1st Trombone parts in a Big Band. Super ‘F’s’; no problem!

yamaha-tromboneMy favourite, due to its versatility and quality, is the Yamaha YSL445GE. Professional, consistent results from its gold brass construction produces a deep, warm sound. The small shank mouthpiece onto a medium/large bore offers a range and projection desired by most. And all this high-end quality for under £1k!

If a College of Music beckons and the possibility of an Orchestral professional career is on the horizon, the Conn 88H must be on your shortlist. Revered by many, played by most, wanted by all, the Conn (and its trigger-free cousin, the 8H) is the benchmark trombone that all others are judged.  Yes, they cost from £2k -£3k, depending on which model and configuration you wish for, but they will pay you back a hundred times over! A true investment.

best-deal-value-for-moneyNow, as you are reading this, I can only imagine that you have done a bit of research yourself, and know that the pBone costs a fraction over £100. Amazing value for money when you think that here is a fully competent instrument that can produce wonderful sounds. Agreed, it may look out of place on a Championship Brass Band stage, or within a Symphonic Orchestra. It would struggle with Ravel’s Bolero or Sibelius’ Finlandia. And, it can’t match the depth of tone or quality of those trombones costing 20 times more.

But that’s the point. The nail on the head. The Eureka moment. Bingo!

They are fun, capable, cheap, lightweight and almost indestructible!  And, did I mention, you can get them in lots of wonderful colours? They look brilliant on stage, in schools, in bands, outside, in photos, and we can offer them discounted if you buy ‘whole’ class sets. Kids ‘love em’!  Adults ‘prize them!  And I ‘have one’!  (in white, because when I’m on stage dressed as a ‘Blues Brother’, the lighting reflects wonderfully as I’m shaking my tail-feather!)

CONNclusion!

The pBone, as a first Trombone, or as an extra instrument for a ‘seasoned’ player, is a great and fun instrument. Looking great on stage, it can cope with the rigours of choreography and can produce a surprisingly great sound. Ideal for the younger player, the pBone provides a capable and enjoyable, lightweight instrument for their initial steps on their musical journey. And, if they happen to trip on those steps, rest assured, the pBone will be fine!!

Whereas, a superb Brass Trombone, looks professional, sounds outstanding, has an esteem of belonging, and projects to those who listen in awe. These objects of bespoke brass engineering are a long-term investment. Pristine in their appearance and sound. Slides of perfection allow the music to flow quietly and seamlessly.  Uninterrupted, immaculate tonal brilliance.

plastic-vs-brass

So, which is better?

Comparable to a debate in the Houses of Parliament. There will be a lot of hot air, ‘huffing & puffing’, and noisy gesticulation. Just like a conductor trying to get the Trombone section to play quieter!

I believe there is no definitive conclusion, other than to visit Normans Musical Instruments. The choice is here for you to make. Just make sure you make one!  #Buy a Trombone!

About the author

Nick joined the Normans Sales Team after a musical career spanning 35 years; firstly as a principal trombonist in Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Band Service for 24 years, performing around the UK and worldwide, including on the Royal Yacht Britannia, and then within the education sector teaching GCSE and A Level Music and Music Technology. He is a keen Big Band, Jazz performer and Hi-Fi enthusiast.

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