My kingdom for a quality trombone …
I’ve been looking for a beginner trombone for my son. At the same time, I thought I’d check out a new trumpet for myself – maybe a pocket trumpet that I can take on the motorbike to work/rehearsal without having to worry about damaging it. Back when I was in the loop, brands like Jupiter and Yamaha were considered to be junk, and other brands like Conn, Shilke and Bach were top quality. I’ve had my Schilke trumpet for 30 years now, and never had an issue or complaint with it. I read everywhere that Jupiter and Yamaha are now quite good quality. Having looked at some new Jupiter trombones ( with an F-trigger ) and not being sure if I wanted to commit to their price, I started trawling through Ebay and Amazon looking mainly for 2nd-hand alternatives. I found a stunning plethora of cheap Chinese brands, and 1 or 2 2nd hand pieces ( which were pretty impressive value ). So I’ve spent a couple of days investigating the quality and reputation of these Chinese brands. What I found was interesting and depressing.
Complex web of affiliate ‘review’ sites
The 1st thing that struck me was that when I search for reviews for some of the Chinese brands, I found the same ‘review’ template ( and content ) across a myriad of sites that looked somewhat like music blogs. Looking closer, these aren’t music blogs. They’re just ‘affiliate’ sites, most likely owned by the respective brand owner. For example:
|Affiliate Site||Summary of ‘review’ content|
|“Best Trombone”||This site ranks the Mendini trombone as #1, followed by Yamaha and then Bach. This review site has product images identical to what I found on Ebay and Amazon, and has links to purchase on Amazon. The Yamaha and Bach reviews also have links to purchase on Amazon, and the difference in price is striking. It’s clear they’re comparing ‘cheap junk’ from China with intermediate music instruments from reputable brands. It’s ludicrous that they actually rank the Mendini above the reputable brands. The text of the review is bog-standard generic marketing BS; no actual serious content. They certainly don’t mention things like slides that don’t slide, an excess of black grit left over from the manufacturing process, and issues with tuning.|
|“MusicAdvisor”||This site only compares Chinese brands, and the only marginally technical talking point is regarding the ‘bore hole’ – I assume they just mean ‘bore’. There is no other content amongst the waffle, other than links to purchase.|
|“MusicStoreCentral”||Compares Bach ( reputable ), Flanger ( Chinese ), Mendini ( Chinese ), Selmer ( reputable ), Glory High Grade ( Chinese ), in the one ‘review’.|
I’m not going to send traffic to any more of these garbage sites, but there are plenty more, and they’re all shit, they all have the same product images, they all have links to purchase on Amazon. Navigating around the rest of the pages on these sites, they’re basically all the same – just reviews of various types of instruments from China that you can purchase on Amazon. I also have a hunch all these brands ( Mendini, Flanger, Ammoon, Cibaili, Sterling, … … … probably quite a long list I’ve ommitted ) are exactly the same instrument.Even without doing any further research, you can tell it’s pretty dodgy. But I did some more research …
The only other reviews I could find
Searching a LOT more, I found some people mentioning these instrument brands. I was careful to discard ones that openly admitted they’d never actually played the instrument in question – some people are brand snobs, and others are instrument retailers.
|Review Site||Summary of ‘review’ content|
|Ebay feedback||Ebay feedback for the a Sterling instument:
Curved Head Pink STERLING Student C FLUTE: “flute very expensive but its implementation as cheap. Waste my money”
|Amazon Reviews||Amazon reviews of Mendini instrument:
“Bought for school band after 1 week got a call from band teacher saying it was squeaking wouldn’t slide even after adding oil she thought something inside was broken”
“This instrument seemed like a great alternative to renting. Long story short. The instrument separated. I took pictures. Filed a claim with KK music. KK music had me send the pictures.. Had me pay 60+ dollars to ship it to them. Ultimately for them to say they can’t repair or replace it.”
“Yes, it’s a very cheap trombone, but as your child gets more advanced in playing, it becomes horrible. The metal is cheap, and is easy to dent. In fact, you can even flick in and give it a small dent. Also, the slide isn’t as good as it should be. Some professional slide oils don’t work at all on this trombone. My son first liked this instrument, but as he tried the conductor’s instruments, he saw how different the quality is. In the long run, people should buy a well-known brand such as Yamaha, Bach, or Conn. Also, since many buyers don’t actually know how to test the quality of instruments, I’ll help with that too. The tone quality of this trombone, to put it lightly, is trash. Honestly, the trombone sounds so airy compared to all of the other ones. Most people who buy this trombone will find that they’ll soon have to purchase a new one due to its lack of quality and durability.”
|Youtube Review||Youtube review, titled “The Pocket Trumpet of Woe”|
My own contact with an Ebay retailer
I asked some questions of an Ebay retailer. First – a pocket trumpet. After watching the Youtube review mentioning horribly machined valves, I asked the retailer if they could take a high quality photo of the valves and email me. The response:
“They are checked and pre-wrapped at the warehouse, ready for shipping (when they arrive to prevent any deterioration), so it’s a bit difficult to pull them and unwrap them.”
That’s pretty lame. I don’t know why a trumpet needs to be wrapped in plastic, and I’m sure no-one would be heart-broken if they opened their $200 pocket trumpet and it was missing plastic wrapping. Dodgy …
So then I asked for some links and info on the manufacturer ( strangely there doesn’t appear to be a website front for these brands – more alarm bells sounding … ). The response:
“Our instruments, like 99% of all instruments today, are made in China.”
. . . This is utter bullshit. Perhaps 99% of the instruments THEY sell come from China, but none of the reputable brands that actual musicians play do. Continuing …
“The CIBAILI instruments represent excellent value for entry-level instruments and are a quality level above most of the student instruments found on eBay – particularly those from general auction houses. The STERLINGs are of a superior level, and are equivalent to the Jupiter brand and lower-cost Yamahas – but at around half the price.”
So according to what I’ve discovered, the Sterling and Cibaili are IDENTICAL. Further, according to what I’ve discovered, none are in the same league as Jupiter – far from it. If they just said “Yeah they’re cheap, but will last at least 1 year”, it would be believable. Equivalent to Jupiter? I doubt it.
The Morale of the Story
Sadly, there don’t appear to be any ‘remarkably cheap’ trumpets or trombones on the market that are worth purchasing for any purpose. The old “you get what you pay for” still applies. I admit, the flashy pics you see on Ebay and Amazon do look enticing. I’d actually love to get my hands on some of these brands so I can see for myself. I was unable to convince any retailer to allow me to visit their warehouse and inspect anything before purchasing – but this is just because I’m naturally curious, and it would give me a sense of closure to finally touch one of these bargain-basement wonders I’ve been so keenly hunting on the internet for over a week.