Category Archives: Review

The pBone Mini

I got a pBone Mini in the mail on Friday and spent the weekend messing around with it. I’m not going to go into as much detail as I did with the first pBone. Much of the design is the same… only smaller. It’s essentially a plastic alto trombone, that is, a trombone pitched a fourth higher (in E flat) than a tenor or bass trombone. The slide is just as scratchy as the first pBone but this model comes with some tips for care that informs the user that the slide will break in with use.

pBone Care Card

tl;dr: Could be a fantastic horn for extra young, beginner trombonists though I have slight reservations about the lack of focus but that may be from my deficiencies playing alto.

Update: upon further messing around with the horn I’ve discovered it has a major leak.

Update 2: I’m working with the distributor and Conn-Selmer to get this resolved. I should have a replacement pBone Mini by Monday evening. I’ll do another assessment once I have that instrument.

Playing first impressions: the sound is difficult to focus. The first harmonic, especially, doesn’t “slot” comfortably. The ability to focus and move between the overtones is the first criteria I use to rate an instrument. A good horn will focus on each pitch, will allow an easy transition between the harmonics and will be relatively in tune. Unfortunately, pitch isn’t great on this instrument. I’ll confess, I’m not the world’s greatest alto player so I’d love to hear the impressions of someone who spends time on one each day. I’m hoping /expecting that as time goes by focus will become a bit better.

BUT… I didn’t buy this horn for me to play the “Rhenish” on. I bought it for my daughter. She’s almost three. When I heard about the horn the first thing I thought of was an article from the ITA Journal in 1996. It talked about a European teacher using alto trombones as beginner instruments.

Teaching beginners on alto trombone

I’d never trust my daughter with a metal instrument (she’d drop it in a second) but a plastic horn might be manageable.

I videotaped her first attempt on the pBone mini. She’s tried to play on the tenor before without success. This however was fantastic. She had a great time, and as I’m typing she’s asking if she can play again.

The pBone

…Just one word… Plastics: The pBone

I got a new trombone this week.  It was probably the easiest trombone purchase I’ve ever made.  New horns are typically huge, important investments: every horn I’ve ever bought (besides my first Bundy) has come with days/weeks/months of testing, debating and fretting.  This instrument, however, didn’t come with a huge price tag (just $150 from Hickey’s Music Online) and so wasn’t such a big deal.  In fact, I bought it sight unseen, having never heard or held one.

Why?  I direct the pep band at Dickinson College and don’t trust myself to bring anything I can dent into the stands.  So when I saw the plastic Jiggs Whigham pBone, in red (Dickinson’s colors are red and white) and for only $150, I thought it was a risk I could take.

After spending some time with the horn here are my thoughts:

tl;dr: The pBone is an extremely playable, durable instrument bound to find its way into elementary schools and ska bands around the world.

Design:

The pBone

The pBone is made of plastic with a carbon fiber inner slide (with metal stockings and a plastic outer slide) and a metal counterweight.  The instrument is extremely light.

pBone Slide

The slide lock is giant and actually has a visual aid on the horn to let you know when it’s locked and when it’s not.

pBone Lock

The spit valve (does anyone call it a water key?) is awkwardly placed on the outside of the slide.  It’s one piece with no cork, a design that I wonder if others will be implementing.

pBone Spit Valve

It comes with a matching plastic mouthpiece that reminds me of the Giardinelli I played on for a year during high school.  The mouthpiece is functional but I find it plays better with my Giddings & Webster.  Any small shank mouthpiece will fit in the instrument.

pBone Mouthpiece

The slide and bell section are held together by friction (not screwed together) like some older trombones and is very secure.  The giant grip feels oversized in my hands but is probably rather ergonomic.

pBone Parts

Playability:

A player can get a decent sound on the pBone.  The low register (B flat at the bottom of the bass clef staff and lower) sounds slightly more “plasticy,” for lack of a better word, than the upper register.  The overtones are pretty well in tune.  Overall the sound can be warm and pleasing and holds up through extreme dynamic ranges.

The slide action is my biggest issue with the instrument.  I’m not sure if it’s the particular horn I purchased or all the pBones but the slide sticks quite a bit and makes a scraping noise even after oiled.  Slide-o-Mix has been ineffective, I’ll try some Trombontine when I get a chance to order it to see if that helps.  The slide issue is pretty significant, it makes small tuning adjustments impossible (you hope the slide gets to the right place the first time, otherwise you’re out of luck) making subtle playing a real pain.

update: I’ve learned via Kessler Music (via redditor sillybear25) that the slide “scratchiness” is normal and will go away as the metal inner stockings wear away the plastic of the inner slide.  Excellent news, though with my once a week usage of the horn I expect it may take a few months before mine becomes truly playable.

The Bottom Line:

The pBone is a competent instrument.  I’ll happily spend my Saturdays playing “Sledge Hammer” on it.  The playability, durability and cost are right.  I foresee band programs having sets of these in their school colors for their youngest players to use, though I fear legions of trombonists learning on instruments with poor slide action.  If the slide issues can be worked out the pBone will be a phenomenal first instrument.  Until then it’s an alternative but those who can afford and be trusted with a more expensive and “dentable” metal instrument should seriously consider it.