Bass Trombone recommendations

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by B(r)assBone, Dec 12, 2010.

  1. B(r)assBone

    B(r)assBone Member


    recently, I joined a Brass Band (British-Style) in my city. Now, I am faced with the question, what kind of Bass Trombone Setup is recommendable for Brass Band playing. For instance, what bell size is recommendable (9.5"/10"/10.5"), what alloy (Yellow, Gold or Red Brass) and what bell thickness is best (Lightweight, Standard, Middle or Heavyweight)?

    At the moment, I play a S.E. Shires Basstrombone and could change Bells easily. When going to Bells section for Bass Trombones on the Shires Website (, I can see the different Bell options, but I am a bit confused about what sound characteristic is needed in a Brass Band and where to start from testing different bells.

    Listening to Brass Band music, I really like it when I hear the Bass Trombone with a lot of core in the sound (e.g. as in the video here

    What would you recommend for Brass Band playing? What's your advice?
  2. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member

    Welcome to the Mouthpiece :hi

    You'll get lots of advice on here, sadly most of it will be conflicting! No other reason apart from players' own personal taste and certainly not through ill intent.

    If I may give you a very vague idea, over here band players tend to go for the 'louder is better' approach! However, my own personal opinion is for you to use whatever you feel happy using and to ensure that you blend with your fellow section players.

    Good luck with your banding - once it gets into the blood, there's no hope for you, it's there for life!
  3. Vegasbound

    Vegasbound Active Member

    Welcome, Duncan is spot on with the advice you will get!

    Using a Shires already you have the ultimate boutique horn and so to quote NYC player Sam Burtis 'try everything, and then use what works for you!!'
  4. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    Interesting question ... what is the typical UK bass trombone sound in brass bands? Is there such a thing?
  5. B(r)assBone

    B(r)assBone Member

    Thanks a lot for the welcome! I hope, I'll enjoy it here and once I became more experienced in Brass Band playing, I can also help anybody else.

    I know, that I finally have to make up my mind on my own. But I think all replys can give me a good idea where to start my testing from.

    To be honest, I also tend to this approach. But what does it mean for my equipment? First of all, can we say that the bigger the bell the louder it tends to sound?

    Looking on the Shires Website they separate between BI (= compact flare: strong core and easy projection) and BII (= wide flare: very broad sound) bells. Then there are different thicknesses available

    • LW = Light Weight: Very resonant and brilliant with quick, easy response.
    • M = Medium Weight: Slightly lighter than standard.
    • HW= Heavy Weight: Holds together very well at loud dynamics, can require more effort to play.
    • T7 = Treatment 7: Thinned in flare, for some players provides easier response than standard.
    And finally also different alloys:

    • R = Red Brass: 90% Copper, 10% Zinc. Warm, rich sound with complex overtones, allows for a wide range of colors at different dynamics.
    • Y = Yellow Brass: 70% Copper, 30% Zinc. Clear, pure sound with strong fundamental, keeps a very consistent tone color and overtone structure throughout the range of dynamics.
    • G = Gold Brass: 85% Copper, 15% Zinc. Combines many of the characteristics of yellow and red brass for a very balanced and flexible sound.
    Then there is also Bells available with an soldered/unsoldered bead:

    • 1, 5, or 7 = soldered bead: favors pointed articulations and centered sound.
    • 2 or 8 = un soldered bead: favors broad, somewhat diffuse sound and softer, more covered articulations.
    What do you think, which combination would support the "louder is better" approach?

    To be honest, I don't understand how the different possibilites influence the sound in the direction that is needed for Brass Band.

    Example: Is it favoured to have a "warm" sound, or to have a "clear pure sound" or something in between? As a player, i would say having a horn that has "quick and easy response" is great but is the sound of a LW (leightweight) bell really what is favourable in Brass Bands or is it better to have a HW (heavyweight) bell that holds together at loud dynamics?

    Hope you can give me more information on what is preferrable for Brass Band playing.

    Do you mean an "infection with the Brass Band virus"? :D
  6. B(r)assBone

    B(r)assBone Member

    Hhm, good question ;)

    But for me typical about Brass Band Bass Trombones, in comparison to Symphonic Orchestras, is that you can hear them very clear and often with a very good core in the sound (like in the video link above). In Symphonic music the sound blends more with the Tubas. It is not the sometimes "edgy" sound. This is, what I would describe as "typical sound". I know there are also a lot of pieces that need a smoother Bass Trombone sound, but a specialty is the somewhat harsh or edgy sound, in my opinion.
  7. alangiff3

    alangiff3 Member

    I think you want a big orchestral sound that still cuts through the band, nothing to harsh, but big, round and well projected. Most brass band bass trombones I know have yellow bells, I am not to sure on size or thickness though. Hope someone else can help you there.
  8. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member

    When it comes down to such technicalities, I'm a little lost. My own trombone is an off-the-shelf Elkhart 88H. However, my good friend and colleague Moomindave will be lurking in the undergrowth and may well appear to shed some more light for you. What he doesn't know about bass troms isn't worth knowing.
  9. B(r)assBone

    B(r)assBone Member

    That would be great!! I appreciate that, really!
  10. B(r)assBone

    B(r)assBone Member

    Thanks so far for the information on the usage of Yellow Brass Bells. That's what I also tend to have a look on. From what I read about it this could really be something to take into consideration.

    I also tried a Yellow Brass Bell at my dealer, when I bought my horn. But back then when I played for my own and without having a Band around me, this sound was too colourless and so I decided for a Gold Brass Bell. But you might be absolutely right, that in Band playing a Yellow Brass bell with its pure and clinical sound would be better and the right option.
  11. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Blimey Duncan, now there's a recommendation I can't hope to live up to! Take it easy on the hyperbole...

    Some thoughts -
    1) You can make any kind of professional quality instrument work satisfactorily if you take the time to.
    2) A larger bell will make it easier to play extremely loudly. However, it will make it a lot harder to sound trombone-like when you're not playing extremely loudly. 9.5" is the historically favoured size, striking a nice balance between ease of heft and ease of nimbleness.
    3) Bell material - I am convinced by scientific experiment and personal experience that this makes zero difference to the sound that reaches the audience, and near-zero difference to the sound that feeds back to the player. A controversial opinion, maybe, but one shared and documentedly tested by Dr Richard Smith, ex-B&H lead physicist. Differences can be put down to small changes in weight balance of the instrument and/or the known effect whereby hammering metals of differing ductilities out on the same mandrel will result in slightly different flare shapes.
    4) Yes, you need to be able to roar like a beast on demand (or just when the mood takes you... :rolleyes:), but there is no reason why you cannot dominate a band (if that's what's wanted) on what some people would consider decidedly scrawny equipment. These days, I use an old Conn 73H, with an old-fashioned tight leadpipe, stuffy valves, and a late bell flare - and I don't believe I have any trouble in getting a big core in the sound or in blowing down walls. Indeed, the brighter, more colourful sound that this design makes when compared to modern bazookas means that I can cut through the band without having to play so loud as other players have to. This isn't currently a popular philosophy in bands, but I think it's got a lot more mileage than people give it credit for.
    5) You also need to be able to play the older repertoire with a more delicate touch - works written prior to the mid-60s were all written for the narrow-bore G bass trombone, an instrument of King 2B bore size, played with a 6-1/2 size mouthpiece. Brilliance was the order of the day with these instruments, not weight of sound; if you can't play this repertoire with a lighter but still trombonistic sound then you have an issue. This is an area where the older designs score many points.
    6) Speaking of the old G basses, the modern British bass trombone sound still owes a debt to them - we still prefer a degree of edge that is not so popular in places like the States and Germany, and not just in bands, but also in orchestras, in marked contradiction to the US fashion.
    7) In the linked video, Gaz Sykes gives a fine demo of how to muscle monster equipment into producing a focussed sound, with some of the rudest low Cs ever to part the hair of the baritone section from behind! His style very much typifies and exemplarises the fashion for huge amounts of both core and edge that has grown in bands, made possible by the size inflation of the bass trombone that has taken place since the 70s - correct me if I'm on wrong, Gaz, but as far as I'm aware, you play on pretty much the biggest and most open equipment available throughout the instrument - Griego .25 m/p, (dunno about leadpipe), dual bore slide (?), Thayers, big bell (?).
    8 )Which brings me to what I think is the most important component of it all - the mouthpiece. All of the players who are known for gigantic noises use big mouthpieces. Simple as that. Many players play excellently well (and with top bands) on Bach 1-1/2G-sized m/ps - but they aren't the ones known for big-style honkage. To get that huge sound style, a Bach 1G sized mouthpiece is where to start. But! Is it worth it for you? Personally, I find a shallower specimen of a Bach 1-1/4G does me just fine, and I don't lose the compactness of the smaller mouthpiece sound that I would if I went a size or two larger.

    I've talked a lot about what other people so far have suggested is the characteristic band sound - heavy, powerful, strident; lots of core but also lots of edge. As a philosophy, it concentrates on what happens at the fortissimo end of the dynamic spectrum, and pretty much ignores anything else. I prefer to make a more old-fashioned noise - by choosing equipment that makes it a little harder to destroy buildings but a lot easier to blend nicely with the tenor trombones at lower dynamics and in mid-to-upper registers. Different people make quite varying approaches work successfully on brass band bass trombone - there are the monster parpers, as discussed, but then there are also those who play less obtrusively, and those who, like myself, aim more for what might be described as an old-fashioned 'commercial' sound - I know Adrian Bird ("birdy" on here) at Wingates uses a King Duo Gravis, for example. An instrument that works well in a big band will also work well in a brass band.

    As for picking a Shires combination to work... I suggest you just pick something that makes a sound that you like, and then apply that to a brass band. There's no one unique take on the sound, and you might as well make yourself happy with it, rather than trying to fashion it to match something that's rather poorly defined! Whatever you pick, you'll end up making it sound like yourself anyway. Just make sure you don't make it too difficult to get a decent edge out of the thing...

    Right, I'm off to play Frosty for the good folks of Kidlington now...
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2010
  12. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    p.s. Which city? I'm assuming it's in the States. Fun times in another life sitting in with Chicago band at NABBA 2008...
  13. Bayerd

    Bayerd Active Member

    I was reading this, got about 1/2 way down and thought 'I'll +1 this'. Then I get named dropped....

    Anyway, if you've got the ability, you can play with core and focus on any equipment. Most of us haven't got the ability, so we compromise. I find that the Duo Gravis and a 1.5 sized piece gives me more control on colouring the sound than bigger equipment does. It's easier to concentrate on darkening smaller stuff than trying to get larger gear blending with the tenors in quieter passages.

    If it's core you're after, you'll find it easier on a 9.5" bell. Bigger than that and the sound spreads more and isn't as easy to control. Mouthpiece wise, go as big as you can until you're flat in the higher register (say above a middle C). Afte that, it's down to practice.

    Dave, it's good to know I'm not the only one getting Frosty at this time of year........
  14. B(r)assBone

    B(r)assBone Member

    First of all, thank you very much for all you comments, I really appreciate that!

    I understand what you mean. I think the bigger the bell the harder it is to get a good core in the sound. So when playing moderate you don't sound like a trombone, it tends to sound more like a tuba (it tends to).

    Maybe this is stupid, but one idea is to take a bigger size bell but a less thicker wall.

    Hm, I think this could be right due to the fact that the audience just recognizes a Trombone is playing. If the Trombone has a Yellow Brass, Gold Brass or Red Brass probably does not have any effect. As long as the sound has core and does not "blur" with the Tubas.

    But, what does it mean for us? Chose whatever plays best?
    I played on a Yellow Brass Bell for about a week when, but I missed the colour in my sound. Switching back to a Gold Brass Bell brought it back. But beside that, I am willing to try it again for Brass Band playing and use the Gold Brass Bell for all other kinds of playing.

    Do I understand you correctly and you would stay with a 9.5" Gold Brass Bell as it is a more "scrawny equipment" compared to a big 10.5" bell?

    Yes, you are right, I like to "roar like a beast" sometimes and cut through the Band if necessary. The question also was, is this easier with a bigger bell, but leightweight to have more sound or to better take a smaller bell but heavier to keep the sound more together.


    Symphonic Orchestras normally don't want to have Trombones with the degree of Edge. Unfortunately, I would say. Look at Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet (the London Symphony Orchestra), absolutely great with this kind of edge. So, I don't understand why some German or Austrian Orchestras block this kind of sound.

    This sound demo is awesome, really! I like that sound pretty much.
    Do you play a lighter bell as pople prefer for Big Band?

    What do you think about a Laskey 85D ??

    I would describe the sound Gaz Sykes has in this video as big and also "compact" as there is a lot of core in it. For me the core makes it sounding compact.

    Right, absolutely! I left out this part in my question that is also important. If I took a Big 10.5" bell it would blend automatically in lower dynamics as you don't get as much core as a you get with a smaller bell, normally.

    Okay, right now I play with a 9.5" gold brass bell (BII 7G), but sometimes have the impression not to be able to cut through for some reasons. With the Laskey mouthpiece the sound is huge. Could be wrong to chose a Bell described as "BII = wide flare: very broad sound" and then take a MP that also tends to be "huge sounding".
  15. Bayerd

    Bayerd Active Member

    It's easier to cut through on smaller equipment. My advice is to forget about equipment and concentrate on getting the sound you want out of the equipment you have. If you're playing on anything mainstream you'll be able to get close with practise. A couple of years ago I switched from a Courtois 10.5" beast with a 60 sized piece to the Dou Gravis with a 1.5 Rath. Only one person in the band (the top man, and I blow straight at him) noticed a difference from the other side of the bell. I noticed a major difference, for me it suddenly became alot easier to get the results I wanted.
  16. B(r)assBone

    B(r)assBone Member

    I am not sure if it is core I am after. I can only tell from what I hear whether I like it much or not. In the Shostakovich Video sample and the London Symphony Orchestra on Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet, the Bass Trombone sounds are awesome. Well, that's not the typical Brass Band repertoire or even Classical Music. But I chose them to explain the kind of sound I am after. Is it core that makes this sound what it is?

    I know, that it is not recommendable to cut through like this all the time, but sometimes it is really needed and I would say ask people from the audience and the majority will agree that this kind of sound made it really special.

    All right, what do I pick out of your answers? Maybe stay with my current smaller equipment? Maybe just for the hell of it also try a Yellow Brass Bell for a brighter sound? Maybe don't try it as the audience would not recognize it and as the sound of a Yellow Brass Bell was too bright and pure, when I tried it for about a week. Maybe try another bigger mouthpiece to be able to "roar" sometimes if needed. The question if a lighter material in combination with a bigger bell would help to get this done easier is this open. Other than that, I am asking myself why it is hard for me to sound through when playing in mid range and mid dynamics. This might be influenced by the darker sound color of a Gold Brass Bell and therefore my sound is pretty much mixed up with Tubas.
  17. Bayerd

    Bayerd Active Member

    Something I've learnt on my time on bass (I've spent far more years on tenor) is that you don't need to try to cut through when required, that'll just happen. It's best to concentrate on playing with as full a sound as you can and maintain balance between the tenor troms and the tubas. Then at the times when you need to cut through you will do without sounding raucous.
  18. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    I haven't really experimented with different bell gauges. I'd be inclined to think that the difference lay in changed weight distributions affecting facial comfort, etc. It ought to be the same principle as changing the bell material, really.

    And further, by 'audience' I also meant anyone listening, as opposed to someone playing.

    In my not-accepted-by-everyone opinion, it won't have been the change of bell metal that caused the changes.

    For me the material is immaterial. In general, I would prefer a 9.5" bell to a larger one, but there are few absolutes. The size of the bell throat (i.e. lateness of flare) also has an important effect on the coupling of the sound to the room.

    It's about compromises - do you want easy fffs and tubby mps or less easy fffs and focussed mps? Nothing that I've encountered yet successfully does both.

    I play my 73H in most settings that I am asked to play bass trombone - orchestral, brass band, big band, all the same.

    You mean the 85MD - there's no 85D. It's an interesting mouthpiece. If you started from a Schilke 59, then widened the inner diameter, narrowed and flattened the rim, and shut down the backbore a little to make it blow more efficiently, then you might produce something rather similar - which would make sense as Scott Laskey started out working for Schilke, and the 93D is supposedly a modified Schilke 60.

    I like it - but not enough for it to routinely displace my Bach 1-1/4G, a mouthpiece it is often compared to. The effect of using it is rather like a VB 1-1/4G on steroids - the feel is similar on the face, despite the notably larger inner diameter, and the sound is meatier, with more centre, but with a lot of available focus and edge on demand. It's nice... But made for a more modern vibe than I'm after - too much heft in the middle of the sound. If I find a need to play at 120 dB, then I plug it in, but otherwise I leave it on my mouthpiece shelf... It might be great for you though. But then anything might...

    I'd be very interested if Laskey ever got around to making a smaller bass trombone size - his pieces are pretty much XL (85MD), XXL (93D), and XXXL (95D). Something like an 80MD would be great. However, I'm told that this is not a priority for him.

    I think you are also playing quite a low-resistance set-up? This also makes it hard to cut. You might want to look at a tighter leadpipe if you are playing on an open one. Or maybe a shallower mouthpiece - something like the Marcinkiewicz EBT1 Reichenbach, which is wide but only medium deep. Using this mouthpiece gives me huge edge whenever I want it. Some playing around with the leadpipes that came with your instrument could be beneficial though. I'm not familiar with Shires leadpipes, but there's a world of difference in the Conn 62HCL I have between the responses using the various supplied pipes.

    Edit - Sorry Birdy, just realised I described you with the wrong username!
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2010
  19. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    There is no single perfect bass trombone sound (or any other instrument for that matter) in a brass band - make a sound you enjoy and that fits in with the players around you and call it a win.

    I 'm a believer that with practice it is possible to make more or less any type of sound on any build of trombone... but that certainly isn't to invalidate your question, if there is a general sound you're looking for, might as well have equipment to support that!

    I'm really happy to see brass bands gain in popularity outside of the UK and I hope that not too many of them get hung up on trying to imitate the 'British' sound. Variety is the spice of life after all!
  20. Independent Silver Band

    Independent Silver Band Active Member

    Some excellent discussion.

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