When you think of a trombone, you generally picture marching bands or the brass section of a large orchestra. However, this instrument is far more versatile and actually includes several different types.
Some of these types are rarer than others, and many are special adaptations to improve range or fit specific functions. Here are 13 different types of trombones to watch out for the next time you attend a performance.
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Types of Trombones
1. Alto Trombone
This rare trombone barely escaped extinction but is once again gaining popularity in orchestras due to its naturally higher tones. They’re usually tuned to E♭, but may also be found in F key. Some models also include a B♭ or D valve, allowing for a decent tonal range.
The alto trombone is smaller and lighter, resulting in a faster slide speed than the standard tenor trombone. However, they’re a lot more expensive, ranging from $2,000 to $4,000 and often have to be special ordered.
2. Bass Trombone
You might not spot the bass trombone at first, since it’s very similar to a straight tenor. However, these trombones have a larger bell and bore, and weigh a heftier 20 to 22 pounds. It’s sometimes referred to as a tenor-bass and is tuned to the key of B♭ with valves that allow it to switch to D, E, of F keys.
This trombone is popular in both symphonies and jazz bands, but is far more expensive than many other types, running $4,000 or more for a proper two-valve model. A much cheaper single valve model is available for a quarter of the price, but with a greatly reduced range.
3. Cimbasso Trombone
Boasting the lowest pitch of all trombones, the combasso has a bent bell measuring 11-12 inches across, which tends to rest above the player’s head like a tuba.
This valve trombone has three to six valves and is usually tuned to F, but may also be found in C and E♭. It’s faster to play than the contrabass trombone without losing its counterpart’s rich tones.
This instrument was originally popular in opera compositions but is gaining a following among the jazz community. However, it has one of the highest price tags, ranging from $5,000 to $10,000.
4. Contrabass Trombone
As with all contrabass instruments, the contrabass trombone is big, deep, and rich-sounding. The bell itself measures a respectable 10-11 inches and was originally bent similarly to a tuba.
They’re sometimes able to match a tuba in tone and are mostly tuned to F, with some models being tuned to B♭ or C.
Available in both single and double valve, some contrabass trombones also feature a double slide design for increased range. Due to its large size, these trombones may run between $2,500 and $5,000, although it’s often possible to rent one.
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Similar in appearance to the flugelhorn, a flugelbone (also known as a marching trombone) has a compact design that makes it easier to play on the go. They’re usually tuned to B♭ one full octave lower than a trumpet and uses a three-valve design instead of a slide.
It’s often used as a secondary instrument for trumpet players, much like the standard valve trombone but sounds a lot closer to a standard tenor trombone. At $300 to $1,500, they’re one of the cheapest types of trombone available.
6. Piccolo Trombone
As the name implies, this is the smallest member of the trombone family and the highest in pitch. It’s tuned to the key of B♭ and is one full octave above the alto trombone (or two full octaves above a straight tenor and 1/4 the size).
Used mostly for jazz, it’s usually difficult for a trombone player to use and is more often played by a trumpeter. While cheap, this is a specialty instrument and very difficult to find outside of an online store or manufacturer’s site.
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7. Plastic Trombone
Designed to resemble a straight tenor trombone, the plastic trombone is almost always a slide trombone tuned to B♭. They’re incredibly cheap at $80 to $200, and are perfect for students who can’t afford a straight tenor.
The material also means it weighs a mere two to four pounds, with a smaller model weighing 1.5 pounds. This lighter weight also makes it easier to train aspiring trombone players at a much younger age than the heavier brass version would allow.
Every instrument has a forerunner, and the trombone’s is a relic that first appeared in 1551 called a sackbut. This instrument was popular in choral or religious compositions, although it also gained some popularity in opera by 1800.
It was very similar to a modern standard tenor trombone, only it had a bell that was often four inches or less and included a telescoping slide. It’s usually tuned to B♭, but has a far more limited range than modern trombones.
The instrument is extremely rare today and is usually either special ordered directly from the manufacturer or jerry rigged from parts of other instruments. Modern sightings of this instrument are almost exclusively found in live performances of baroque and medieval chamber music.
9. Soprano Trombone
Boasting a small bell and bore, the soprano trombone is sometimes referred to as a slide coronet and is among the smallest members of the trombone family.
Despite being largely replaced by the coronet, it remains a popular instrument in both jazz and swing. It’s usually tuned to B♭ one full octave above the straight tenor trombone and was originally used to compliment sopranos in opera performances.
The smaller size can make them difficult for a trombone player to master, and its slide only has size positions. They also tend to use a trumpet mouthpiece. While inexpensive, the soprano trombone can be hard to find and may need to be special ordered.
10. Straight Tenor Trombone
When you think of a trombone, this is probably the one you picture. It’s tuned to B♭ and fairly easy to play. Usually just called the tenor trombone, this type only weights around 15 to 20 pounds and is used in a wide range of music genres from jazz to rock and even reggae.
There are seven different positions on the slide, each one decreasing the pitch by one semitone. It has a surprising upper range despite this fact, although only experienced players can bring out the instrument’s full potential.
The price ranges from $300 to $2,500 or more, making it also one of the more affordable types for beginners.
Despite sounding like an amazing dog toy, the superbone was invented for Maynard Fergusen in the 1970s and is mainly found in jazz circles. This trombone features a unique combination of slide and valves which allows it to be played as a slide, valve, or combination.
It’s one of the most difficult trombones to master, but has a massive tonal range and is most often keyed to B♭. Due to their complexity, they must be purchased as a specialty item, but are surprisingly cheap, ranging from $900 to $2,000.
12. Tenor Trombone with F Attachment
Sometimes referred to as the B♭/F trombone, this variant of the straight tenor trombone has a special F attachment (also called an F-rotor). This attachment adds up to an additional three feet, as well as a few extra pounds of weight.
This mechanism drops the trombone’s pitch to F when triggered. Like its sibling, this tenor trombone is used in a wide range of music, including pop and opera. It’s increased lower range makes it a great choice for those graduating from the straight tenor.
Depending on whether you choose a traditional wrap or open wrap design, the B♭/F tenor trombone will range between $500 and $3,000.
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13. Valve Trombone
One of the more unusual types of trombone, this model uses valves instead of the usual slide to produce notes. They come tuned to a number of different keys, with B♭ being the most popular.
While they may come with anywhere from one to seven valves, the three-valve version is most common. The three-valve version is sometimes used as a secondary instrument for trumpet players in school bands.
Used mainly in jazz and salsa, the valve trombone provides a much higher playing speed at the cost of tonal richness. One will usually cost between $500 and $2,500.