Table of Contents

Types of Trombones
The anatomy of a trombone
What is the best choice for beginners?
Which trombone is best for me?
Should I rent or buy that trombone?
Buy with confidence from us
We’ll be happy to help

Trombones are relatively simple brass instruments, filling the range between the trumpet and the tuba. In fact, the name “trombone” translates from Italian as “large trumpet.” From the precision of American military bands, to the wild brass bands that improvise on the streets of New Orleans , the trombone is a powerful instrument that turns up in a diverse range of music genres.

Aspiring to the school marching band, or something funkier? Either way, many parents and beginning adults need help in selecting an instrument suitable for their needs and budget. Our staff has provided this short course in trombone basics to help you choose the right horn.

Types of Trombones

The three most common types of trombone are straight tenor, trigger-type tenor (also referred to as F-rotor or F-attachment), and bass trombones. Valve trombones, alto trombones, soprano trombones, and marching trombones are less common (but well loved) trombone types. Tenor and bass are by far the most common trombone voicings.

Tenor trombones

The straight tenor trombone is the simplest, with no tubing inside the main section. The F-rotor trombone has extra tubing within the main loop. It's a straight trombone until this tubing is activated with a trigger. This effectively makes the horn longer, changing its tuning from Bb to F. More about the advantages of this later.

Etude ETB-100 Student Trombone

The Etude ETB-100 Series Student Trombone is an affordable choice for beginners of any age.

Bass trombones

The bass trombone has a larger bell while having the same length as the tenor trombone. It is a larger bore version of the F-rotor trombone that adds a second rotor to extend its low end even further.

Holton TR181 Bass Trombone

With its rich tone that’s at home in any music genre, the Holton TR181 Series Bass Trombone is a high quality instrument that you will enjoy for years to come.

Valve trombones

The valve trombone comes in many sizes, though tenor is the most common. In many parts of Europe, South America, and India, it is more popular than the slide trombone. The valves allow it to play fast tempos with more ease and precision than the slide trombone.

King 2166 3B Valve Trombone

The King 2166 3B Valve Trombone is precise and responsive, with wonderful tone.

Alto trombones

Today, the alto trombone is found primarily in orchestral settings and is often used for soloing. Though pitched higher than the tenor trombone, much of its range can be covered by the the tenor instrument.

Bach LT39G Stradivarius Series Alto Trombone

In the key of Eb, the Bach LT39G Stradivarius Series Alto Trombone has a lightweight slide for fast response during complex passages.

Soprano trombones

The small soprano trombone looks a lot like its alternate name—the slide trumpet. It has German origins, and is sometimes used in jazz settings. It is less common today, with its musical functions often performed by woodwind instruments or the trumpet.

Miraphone 63 Soprano Trombone

The Miraphone 63 Soprano Trombone is in the key of Bb and features high quality European construction.

Marching trombones

The marching trombone, or flugelbone, might look like a large cornet, but it produces true trombone sounds. This innovative, compact design is easier to carry and march with than a traditional trombone.

Tama KTN Marching Bb Trombone

The Tama by Kanstul KTN Series Marching Bb Trombone is a great solution for marching bands that want a traditional trombone sound from a more portable instrument.

The anatomy of a trombone

The trombone, at its most basic, is a metal tube bent into an S shape. Pressure on the column of air within this tube is what creates the unique sounds that are at home in genres from classical to reggae. The distinctive slide allows the musician to extend the column of air, lowering the tone. Variations on the tube diameter, length, and air pressure all allow the trombone to create a wide range of sounds. The major components of the trombone to consider before purchasing are the bell type and the bore style. Some trombones also include a piece of specialized hardware call the F-attachment. Read on to learn more.

Trombone bells

Trombone bells are a major part of the easily identifiable look and sound of this instrument. They can be be made of yellow brass, gold brass, red brass, or sterling silver. Yellow brass is most common, and is made of a mixture of 70% copper and 30% zinc. The other metals color the sound in subtle ways. Yellow brass tends to be brighter and red brass (or rose brass) tends to be darker due to its higher copper content. Jazz trombone bells are often the smallest, and orchestral trombone bells are the largest.

Bell Sizes and construction

Trombone bell size is equally as important as the bore size when comparing the various types of trombones. Different sizes and thickness can impact sound, and more advanced musicians may have preferences for bells with certain features. Bass trombones usually have larger bells than tenor trombones. There is also a difference between a two-piece bell and a one-piece hand-hammered bell. The latter is considered to be a higher-quality feature that produces an equally high quality sound.

Allora Student Bb Trombone Model AATB-102

With an 8” brass bell, the Allora Student Series Bb Trombone Model AATB-102 is an affordable student instrument with high quality features.

Large bore, small bore

The bore of a trombone is the inner diameter of the inner slide, and is expressed in thousandths of an inch. The range is from about .500" (for students) to .547" (for symphonic use), on up to .562" (for bass trombones). Smaller bore horns have a brighter, more focused sound while larger bores tend toward a darker or warmer and bigger sound.

Bore size also affects a horn's resistance, or back pressure. A smaller bore creates more resistance, a larger bore less. More resistance is usually better for student players because it makes it easier to produce good tone. The amount of resistance is also a matter of taste, and the dynamics you are looking for in your chosen genre of music. Some players prefer more resistance, some less.

Prelude TB-711 Student Trombon

The small bore Prelude by Conn-Selmer TB711 Series Student Trombone produces a quality sound, and has student-friendly features that make it easy for beginners to learn and progress.

Dual-bore trombones

Another variation is the dual-bore trombone. This simply means that the slide is smaller on one side, and graduates to a larger diameter on the other. It gives the player more initial resistance from the narrower bore, but then opens up for a bigger sound. Student level trombones will seldom if ever have a double bore. Dual bores are found mainly in certain large bore and bass trombones. This feature is of value to more advanced musicians.

Getzen 1062FD Eterna Series Bass Trombone

The responsive dual bore Getzen 1062FD Eterna Series Bass Trombone can produce an amazingly wide range of sound

The F-attachment factor

An F-attachment adds complexity and extends the trombone's capabilities. Most importantly it adds notes to the horn's low range. It also provides alternative ways of playing certain passages, making them easier to perform.

Yamaha YSL-882O Xeno Series F Attachment Trombone

The Yamaha YSL-882O Xeno Series F Attachment Trombone features an open F attachment wrap.

There are two basic types of F-attachments. A traditional or standard wrap has more bends in it which makes it more compact but also increases resistance. The open wrap type has fewer bends for a freer-blowing trombone. Again, resistance can be a matter of personal preference. The same mechanical ease that may be great for beginners might not appeal to more advanced musicians seeking a specific sound.

Trombone Straight Wrap Chart Trombone F-Rotor Standard Wrap Chart

Cosmetic considerations

Lacquer finishes are the most common. Plated finishes are regarded as higher-quality finishes because they have less dampening effect on vibration. Most consider silver-plated horns to be flashier, but they require more maintenance because they are prone to tarnish. And though a snazzier-looking horn may not sound significantly better than another, good looks can encourage a student to take pride in the instrument, inspiring more devotion to practice and care of the instrument.

Plastic trombones are a relatively new innovation that can make learning this instrument much more affordable (and lighter to carry). They are simple to care for, lightweight, and have easy slide motions. The sound is very close to traditional brass trombones.

Allora ATB100M Aere Custom Plastic Trombone

The Allora ATB100M Aere Custom Series Plastic Trombone is built from toughened ABS plastic and makes an excellent wallet-friendly choice for the new trombonist.

What is the best choice for beginners?

Typically, students start with a straight tenor trombone and later graduate to a horn with the F-rotor, but this isn't a hard and fast rule. If you don't use the trigger, the F-rotor horn plays exactly the same as a straight trombone. Consider how long you plan to keep the instrument when considering this decision.

You can wait to learn the F-rotor when you're ready. A typical time to upgrade to an F-rotor is at high school age. Most advanced trombone players use this type of instrument as it provides more flexibility in tones. On the other hand, for many applications, even advanced players stay with a straight trombone.

Start small

For the beginning player—especially young players—it is best to choose a smaller bore horn, somewhere in the range from .500" to .525" because it takes less air to support a usable tone. Intermediate players may want a medium or larger bore instrument for a fuller and potentially more forceful sound, but this isn't a hard and fast rule.

The type of music that you want to play will also influence your choice, as bore size greatly impacts sound. Symphonic trombonists tend to use the larger bore trombones, typically around .547". Bass trombones usually have a bore up around .562".

Student, intermediate and professional

These manufacturers designations often appear in our trombone collection as part of the model name. While they do refer to the overall quality and feature sets of the instruments, they don’t reference specific features and will vary from brand to brand. Use these classifications for general guidance.

Which trombone is best for me?

The biggest factor in which trombone you choose is, of course, the amount you can appropriately spend. Beyond that, your needs and level of musicianship should determine your choice. Consider your musical interests, and how quickly you may need or want to upgrade your horn. A good overall rule is to choose a smaller bore horn for the beginning student. One that is designated as a student model will likely be a more durable instrument.

Consider a medium bore horn for the intermediate player, as well as such step-up features as an F-rotor, dual bore, rose brass or sterling bells, and plated finishes. A student who has had several years of practice and demonstrated responsibility is a good candidate for exploring these step-up options.

Should I rent or buy that trombone?

If you’re shopping for a beginning student, you may be tempted to rent a trombone since your student’s commitment is unproven. There are some good reasons to consider a purchase instead. These include:

  • Long-term rental fees can add up quickly. A very playable student-level trombone can often be purchased for less than the cost of a year’s rental.
  • A well-chosen student trombone that is well cared for will retain its value and usually return a substantial part of its purchase price when sold used or traded in for an intermediate trombone.
  • Rental instruments may be a bit worse for wear with nicks, dents, and scratches. You’re also liable for any damage on a rented trombone.


Buy with confidence from us

We take the risk out of purchasing an instrument with our Double Guarantees. Our Lowest Price Guarantee ensures you’ll get the best deal anywhere . If within 45 days you find the same instrument for a lower price, we'll refund the difference. Our 45-Day Complete Satisfaction Guarantee assures that you won't get stuck with an instrument that isn't right for you.

We’ll be happy to help

If you have read through this buying guide but still can’t decide which type of trombone is best for you or your student, give one of our friendly, knowledgeable Gear Heads a call at (800) 449-9128. They’ll help you choose the right trombone for your individual needs.