I've been teaching beginning band for over a decade now and I have seen a lot of instruments come through my band room. For many parents it seems that buying a trombone online or in a brick and mortar store winds up coming down to price and convenience. I'm here to tell you there is a whole lot more to it than that, or at least there should be, if you want your son or daughter to have a good chance at being successful. The quality and durability of the trombone you buy will be a very major factor in whether or not they have a positive experience when learning the instrument. Here are a few tips and things to consider when shopping for and buying a trombone online.
Stick With Traditional Brass Trombones When Buying Online
The music instrument industry has become incredibly competitive in recent years and prices are dropping drastically on student model trombones. The result is that now there are actually plastic trombones out there that are priced almost the same as some beginner brass models. I've played on a few of these which come in brand names like pBone and Allora. While I have actually been impressed that they sound as good as they do (considering they are made of plastic) I still do not recommend buying a plastic trombone of any kind for my beginners. Aside from the sound and resonance issues I will admit that the reason for this is partly cosmetic on my part.
Plastic trombones come in a wide variety of colors, and families will sometimes purchase an off color instrument that sticks out like a sore thumb when they play with the large group. If all of the trombones in the section have brass trombones and one student has a bright pink plastic one it's kind of distracting at the least, but from the student's point of view the novelty of having the pink trombone wears off quickly and they realize that maybe it wasn't the best way to express themselves. It should be noted as well that you can't really repair a plastic instrument... Just saying...
Where Is The Trombone Coming From?
If you buy a used trombone off of a site like eBay you need to be aware of who is selling it and pay careful attention to whether or not they will accept returns (as well as who pays for such a return). While trombones are really pretty safe to buy second hand there is one major issue that literally can make or break your child's ability to play it, the condition of the slide. Even the smallest of dents in the slide can make the slide slow and difficult to move. For a trombonist this is one of the most important mechanical issues that must work as cleanly and smoothly as possible. If you buy a used trombone through an eBay seller or through some other online retailer check it immediately or better yet have your child take it in to their band director and have them examine it before your ability to return the trombone expires.
Along the same vein of thought you should also consider the manufacturer of any used trombones that you might be thinking of purchasing. Major brands such as Bach, Blessing, Yamaha (yes, they make trombones...), Conn, and King are time tested, solid instruments. They tend to be more durable but also tend to be more expensive. Be aware of the brand name though and check to see if you can get it fixed locally (see the section below for more info on this).
What Are Options Other Than eBay and Amazon for Buying A Trombone Online?
For my students I always recommend that they go to the local music store first and see if they can get something in their price range. Many local stores now carry their own store brands of instruments that are much lower cost and are competively priced with those found online. If the student can't find one in their price range though I recommend checking websites like TaylorMusic.com or WWBW.com I've had good success with WWBW's Allora brass trombones and from over on Amazon I've seen a lot of Mendini trombones come through as well. They aren't bad quality and I'd rather have a student buy one of these new than take a chance on buying used from a garage sale or low reputation eBay seller.
If You Buy A Trombone Online Who Is Going To Repair It?
in recent years there have been a large increase in the number of manufacturers producing very low cost trombones. Just as China and other eastern countries have grown to supply the world with electronic gadgets they now also supply the world with low cost band instruments. The majority of these vendors do not sell in brick and mortar music stores but only sell online, usually via Amazon or eBay. While you can get a really good deal on trombones such as Mendini, Glory, and others in roughly the same price range you need to consider one major issue before clicking the Buy It Now button. If it breaks or the slide gets dented where you will get it repaired?
This is a double edged sword in many ways. For one, trombones can now be purchased brand new online for less than $200, but local music stores almost never provide service on those low end brands of trombone. Because of this it is most likely that you won't be able to get the trombone repaired at a local music store. Essentially, if you break it, you'll have to buy a new one, as Amazon isn't likely to take a return on something that has been damaged through normal use.
The Bottom Line: Think Before You Buy and Keep Your Options Open
Remember my mantra that the slide is the most important part of the trombone. If you are buying new then make sure your child knows that it needs to be protected and properly cared for. If you buy used, check the slide the first thing when you receive it and make sure it slides smooth and fast (add some slide oil to test properly). If a used (or a new) trombone is rough or if it slows down in one specific place then it probably needs to be looked at. Start with your band director and move up from there if needed. The trombone is a great instrument to learn and one that can pay great dividends for your student in pride and enjoyment. Consider raising your budget a little to get the best instrument you can afford and then watch as your student takes off on a really cool hobby that could follow him for the rest of his life.