Petestack Blog

22 November 2015

pBone mechanics

Filed under: Music — admin @ 12:07 pm

[Update, 31 December 2015: To be fair to the pBone…]

Three years ago I got a pBone (plastic trombone) after hearing about them from our school brass instructor and thinking that sounds like fun. Then blew it a few times before hardly touching it again till a YouTube video of Alison Balsom trying the pTrumpet recently had me digging it out for another go. And now I’m making real progress, completely sold on the trombone (yet another diluting diversion for an incorrigible jack of all trades!), but increasingly unhappy with the mechanics of my pBone…

Musically, it’s fine for now, and that ABS construction will undoubtedly take knocks a brass instrument won’t. But, mechanically, it’s just not good enough. Or, more specifically, no matter how well/badly other pBones work (and I’ve researched this extensively looking for cures), mine seems poor. While I have various minor gripes like the water key spring rusting and having to remove the slide lock to stop it unexpectedly rotating and reengaging, the real stoppers (which might or might not be related) are the bell-to-slide-section joint (aka bell, or slide, receiver) and the wretched glassfibre slide.

So let’s start with that main joint, where the two halves of the trombone plug together. And I mean plug because it’s just a push fit with no retaining ring. When I got the pBone it was very, very tight, but now it’s not. It’s still tight enough to work, but the outer (blue) housing is opening up. Which might not in itself be problematic because there’s an inner black housing forming the socket and apparently taking care of leaks, but it’s quite clearly stressing the plastic as shown by the photos below (clearest if you click through to the enlarged second pic, where you can see three little stress cracks where the socket ends, but there’s also another further to the right):

2015-11-22pbone-1 2015-11-22pbone-2

And what about that slide? Well, even the most cursory search will tell you that pBone slides start stiff, noisy, grabby, scratchy or whatever (take your pick!) but should ease up with use and regular cleaning. Except that some apparently just get worse, and mine seems to be one of them. I’ve done all the research on breaking it in, worked it in the bath and cleaned the bearing surfaces ad infinitum, but it remains at best usable and sometimes impossibly stiff and/or grabby. It was briefly falling under its own weight when not at its shortest, but has got much worse since and is typically spending as much time being cleaned and worked free as played (and that’s loads of time!). But perhaps it’s related to the stressed housing described above when it was briefly getting quite smooth before that opened up so much and started cracking. Why? Because you can still improve its operation (not while playing!) by easing the inner slide tubes outwards above the top of the hand slide as it goes, which suggests developing misalignment to me.

One more thing I’d guess might be contributing to the problem is the shape of the u-bend (slide bow), which is strangely square with rounded ‘corners’ on the pBone. And why? Because the cleaning/sticking problems are typically related to the build-up of deposits in the slides as they supposedly wear smooth (causing annoying black dribbles everywhere from the water key!) and you’ve surely got unreachable deposits landing in that ‘bend’ where no brush is going to get round those two tight corners but said deposits could find their own way back up the slide.


So where do I go from here? No doubt there’s a brass trombone in my future and it’s merely a question of when. It’s a great instrument for me to play and would, of course, have been a good choice for me in the first place with my nine fingers (on which note I did enquire about lessons at school some forty-odd years ago before taking up the flute). And, while there’s no way I’d want to give up my woodwinds now, it could yet be a useful standby in years to come if my arthritic fingers keep getting worse! While I so much want to like the pBone and get it going as both a cost-effective starter and longer-term ‘beater’, I’m so fed up of that slide and thinking that socket housing’s simply going to give one day even if I do miraculously get the slide going properly. :-/

1 Comment

  1. Sometimes that slide gets so stiff despite more-than-daily cleanings that I can support the pBone vertically by the extended slide without the bell section dropping! And, following several days puzzling over apparently worsening tone, struggling to nail higher notes and inability to sustain phrasing, I’ve realised that the main (bell/slide receiver) joint has started working itself apart in use, so maybe leaking there when not consciously monitored/held shut?

    Comment by admin — 28 November 2015 @ 9:48 am

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