Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Story of a Trombone (the wonders of steel wool)

Twelve years ago my sister-in-law Brenda, knowing that I was very interested in musical instruments of all sorts, gave me a trombone that she had played in high school. This trombone was in a fire and had suffered major cosmetic damage in addition to the case being destroyed and the mouthpiece lost; the thing was ugly.

In an attempt to make it more presentable, I put it in the bathtub and tried to scrub the scum off; soap and water did nothing. After giving up on making it look better, I turned my focus to how it sounds. I got a mouthpiece for it and I even lucked out by getting a free case. The case, while a little bit used and shabby, looked like a dream compared to what it protected. After just a little bit of maintenance the instrument worked just fine and I proceeded to learn how to play it for a few months as a curiosity.

After a little while, it got tucked away in a corner and there it waited for many years until this year because Shule has decided to join the middle school band. Over the summer, Shule and his band director decided that he would start on the trombone. Marisa overruled my idea to send him off to school with something that looked like it was just pulled out of a landfill. She's totally right too, I fell in line quickly because in those awkward times of middle school, it may be best to not create extra opportunities for ridicule.

There was talk of renting or buying an instrument but I was developing an idea to avoid that if possible. When I came home with steel wool and a smile on my face Marisa gave me a look as if to say: "I'll humor you for a little while, but if this doesn't work we're going back to the original plan".

The finish on that trombone was cooked and in many places it was charred not just on the surface but deep into it. I worked on it for 3 days and my hands ended up sore and discolored but it worked. While I was at it I smoothed out some of the dings.

This shot was taken halfway through the process for comparison. Notice how good the bell looks next to the unfinished slide.

I can't say it looks new, but it looks like an instrument that's been used and cared for. This definitely beats buying or renting one, most rentals probably don't look this good. Since I've invested some toil, I've developed a new attachment to it and Shule is even happy to announce: "my trombone has survived a fire!".