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There are many used trombones that are in excellent condition and extremely playable. If well cared for, a trombone can be used for many decades. Used trombones, especially those which are not technically vintage, but simply have had a prior owner, can be much less expensive than new trombones and play just as well.
Used trombones can be found in a variety of locations. Music instrument stores, of course, may carry some used instruments. Trombones can also be found at pawn shops or other resale stores and sometimes at estate or yard sales. You may also find used instruments through classified listings, such as those printed in a local newspaper or online on a classified advertisement website.
Although it is possible to purchase a used trombone online, this can be risky. Many individual sellers will not accept returns if the trombone turns out to be different than described. It is best to purchase a trombone only after you have thoroughly inspected it.
Some good brands to look for are Conn, Bach, Yamaha, King, Holten, and Bundy. Instruments which have no brand name should generally be avoided. A high quality used trombone made by a reputable manufacturer may even be worth repairing if it has some minor damage, but you may wish to get an instrument repair person to give you an estimate before purchasing the used trombone.
When looking at a used trombone, you need to inspect four areas in particular: the mouthpiece, the slide, the tuning slide, and the bell. The mouthpiece itself is removable and can be easily replaced, but if you are on a tight budget, you may need to find a trombone which includes a functioning mouthpiece. It should be silver or gold plated with miminal signs of wear. If the plating has worn away to the brass, the trombone needs a new mouthpiece.
The slide itself can be easily damaged if the previous musician was careless. Denting or bending the slide can cause serious damage that is expensive or even impossible to fix. Make sure that the slide operates smoothly. If it is dry, add a few drops of lubricant and try it again. It should move without catching, but if you do detect bumps, keep looking. Make sure the water valve at the end of the slide is also operational.
Take the slide completely off and check inside for rust and corrosion. You may need a small flashlight to accomplish this thoroughly. Although a silver colored corrosion is typically not a problem, and can be cleaned off, a rusty instrument should be avoided.
The tuning slide is found at the top of the trombone. It should move easily, but should stay wherever you place it. If it is still difficult to move after lubrication, the used trombone is not a good buy.
Finally, check the bell. Small dents, less than two-fifths of an inch (1 centimeter) in diameter, typically do not affect the overall sound. Larger dents can compromise the sound and typically have to be repaired.
If the used trombone appears to be in good condition, play it. You may wish to bring anti-bacterial wipes to clean the mouthpiece or even to bring your own mouthpiece to try out trombones. If you are a beginning trombone player, find a teacher who is willing to try out a used trombone before you buy it. He or she may be able to identify unseen problems simply by playing the instrument.