In the last post, we looked at a brand-new piano incorporating a carbon fiber soundboard. We explored the idea that material science will offer radical and high-quality improvements to basic acoustic instruments made of wood. In this post, we’ll explore how this same technology will be able to advance wind instrument manufacture as well.
Carbon fiber slides for trombones have been available for several years from a few manufacturers.
Several benefits come from using carbon fiber. First, the slides can be half the weight, allowing them to be moved and stopped faster than traditional metal slides. Second, the tolerances can be extremely fine, allowing for only fine layer of lubrication between inner and outer slides, making the whole mechanism more stable, secure and responsive. Also, because carbon fiber is so strong, the tubes will not dent with casual handling and knocks the way that thin-wall brass tubes do. The costs are high at the moment due to limited manufacture, but this is definitely a welcome development.
In late 2014, videos and pictures have started to emerge of new carbon fiber trombones where most of the instrument is constructed from carbon fiber. Here is a prototype made by trombonist David Butler:
The sound is certainly quite credible:
The Swiss company daCarbo has been manufacturing trumpets with carbon fiber bells for some time, and appear to be adding a carbon fiber trombone to the range shortly. Their website indicates that they are taking pre-orders. Their horn is interesting in that it incorporates a traditional F-trigger system made of brass – using carbon for the bell and outer slide.
If the blues are more your thing, here’s Trombone Shorty on a daCapo:
I know that I would welcome an instrument that weighs half of my Edwards and that was more responsive in every dimension! I know that I’ll be watching the developments in this space carefully. These initial instruments will be refined, improved, and perfected as time passes and create wonderful options for brass players. Unlike the cheap plastic trombones that can be had for just over $100, the instruments in this post are professional grade instruments – and are priced accordingly.
My trombone is an Edwards Allessi T-396. It is a very fine instrument, and less than a year old. I have handled it very carefully and cleaned it regularly as would befit a concert-level instrument. In return, it always yields a beautiful tone and consistent response. It is a joy to play. You can imagine my concern when I noticed what seemed to be damage to the lead pipe from my holding the instrument.
The lead pipe is where the slide connects to the bell of the trombone. It is also the primary point of contact with the left hand. The left hand wraps around half of the lead pipe and carries most of the weight of the instrument. Normally brass instruments are lacquered so that body oils and sweat do not tarnish the brass. I was thinking that it was quite early in the life of the instrument to be wearing through the lacquer.
It took a couple of days, and then the penny dropped – I remembered that on this trombone, the lead pipe is silver! It wasn’t a lacquer issue – it was just tarnish – tarnish that would come off with silver polish. So, I set in with the polishing paste and was soon making a dent in it. Apparently I should have caught this sooner as it was a fair bit of elbow grease, but I got it almost totally off. You can see in the picture that there is still some that didn’t polish out, but it is MUCH better than where I started. The small remainder will come off in a week when I clean the instrument again. I am happy that I know what is going on, and that I can maintain the instrument properly from here out. This wear will easily polish out with some more work.
To help reduce the maintenance I purchased a set of leather covers from Christian Greigo from his site. I purchased the Symphonic Slide Kit. This will keep direct hand contact off the silver lead pipe and reduce the time that I spend polishing. Christian is the designer of the Alessi model, and one of the leading brass instrument designers in the country. I happen to have one of his mouthpieces on my instrument as well, so it was an easy choice for $25. I’m sure I’ll still have some occasional work to do, but now I know how to keep my horn in like new condition. It is too large an investment not to care for it in an optimal way.