One of the more frustrating things for trombonists and music educators is a poor-working trombone slide, which can cause technical and tonal difficulties and inhibit proper development of slide technique. If a slide is not working it can be assumed that the slide is misaligned or the slide is not properly lubricated.
If the trombone is misaligned, it is necessary to take the instrument to a certified repair technician for realignment. If it’s aligned and in good condition then the appropriate lubricant needs to be considered.
There are three different categories of slide lubricants currently available: slide oil, slide cream and liquid slide lubricants. While each has pros and cons, slide cream and liquid lubricants have emerged as the primary choices for most performers and educators.
“slide cream and liquid lubricants have emerged as the primary choices for most performers and educators.” – Keith Hilson
Slide oil refers to petroleum-based oil that is applied to the slide. Slide oils work well for piston and rotary valves, which are enclosed and have a relatively small mechanical area. The slide of the trombone, though, is continuously exposed to air and oil tends to evaporate from the inner slide. Without continuous reapplication, the oil will evaporate and create friction and a poor-working slide.
Cream based slide lubricants have been a popular choice for decades; before commercial slide creams were readily available many trombonists used cold cream (I still run across this on occasion; the biggest drawback is the pea green color the cold cream turns over time!). Among the most popular slide creams are brands such as Superslick, Trombotine, and Yamaha. In addition to the main cream lubricant different brands use silicone to increase slide speed and performance; for example, Superslick has a separate silicone formula the player can add to the cream while Trombone has the silicone included in the formula. Slide creams tend to last longer in usage then liquid lubricants but may not work as well with newer slides with less wear or tighter tolerances.
Liquid slide lubricants have become increasingly popular over the past 25+ years. Many performers and educators find liquid lubricants provide faster slide response and higher overall performance when compared to other lubricants. Currently, Slide-O-Mix, Yamaha and Ultra-Pure are among the most popular liquid lubricants and, like cream lubricants, come in different formulations. For example, Slide-O-Mix comes in standard or light-weight, two-part or combined forms. While some trombonists feel liquid lubricants don’t last as long as cream lubricants, it is easy to quickly re-apply as needed.
Keith Hilson, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a bachelors degree in music education and the University of Minnesota with a masters in trombone performance, has been performing for over 15 years as a freelance musician & music educator.
Now based in Minneapolis, MN with his wife and two children, Keith has completed his doctorate (ABD) at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities under Tom Ashworth and currently performs with a number of groups based in the Twin Cities. Recently, Keith has recorded albums with the Compass Rose Brass Ensemble and Adam Meckler Orchestra and is pursuing other side projects. Keith is currently the manager of the Trombone Shop at Schmitt Music in Brooklyn Center, MN.