Chapter 5: Reproducing Historical Trombones

In my original submission for this study I proposed the following questions.

“Does the prevailing tendency within the so-called “Authentic” performance tradition to perform early nineteenth century Germanic trombone parts on narrow bore (classical or even baroque copies) or modern German trombones truly reflect the performance practice of the trombonists performing in orchestras within the time period of this study? What were the instruments used by these performers? Who were the builders of these instruments and what were their dimensions? Is it now possible to build a truly idiomatic mid nineteenth century German style trombone based upon traditional techniques that truly reflects the sound world of the early nineteenth century orchestra?

In the course of considering these issues this last question has become the significant philosophical issue of my study, and one that I have a had the privilege to discuss with three established brass instrument builders, Rainer Egger in Basel , Switzerland; Markus Leuchter in Herzogenrath, Germany; and Stephan Voigt in Markneukirchen, Germany. In addition I spent a very informative afternoon visiting the Technical High School for Instrument building in Ludwigsburg, and speaking to Dr. Hannes Vereecke, a respected organologist specializing in reproduction of historic brass instruments and instrument building in general.

In the present day, trombonists have a wide choice of finely built instruments produced by several leading manufacturers. These instruments have an unprecedented level of excellence in many ways. It is now possible to build slides that have extraordinarily tight tolerances between the slide tubes, or in moving valve parts. It is also possible to produce the individual parts to a high degree of similarity, whereby a present day trombonist can rely on a great deal of consistency in sound profile, intonation, response and reliability in any given model. Due to this high degree of technical consistency and excellence in design, an unprecedented range of louder dynamics is available to the modern orchestral trombonist. This may be considered by many (non-trombonists) as a mixed blessing. It is not unusual to see a wide array of Perspex screens and other noise reducing shields erected in front of many present day orchestral brass sections. This desire for ever increasing volume levels in large scale concert halls has certainly defined an era of exceptional quality in instrument design and building techniques, certainly in respect to brass instrument building.

It is very interesting to note however that the basic processes of building trombones has altered very little since the beginning of the nineteenth century. The technique of transforming brass sheet metal into a resonant trombone bell still requires the skills of a master craftsman. The brass sheet is drawn on a template, cut, folded, brazed together, repeatedly annealed, then hammered on the anvil, pressed onto a mandrel, filed, then finely polished in very much the same manner as the bell makers in 1840. There are more and various tools available to the present-day craftsman, but the basic technique of bell spinning remains unaltered. Even in the most highly automated brass instrument factories such as Yamaha in Japan or Conn-Selmer in the USA, bells are still produced mainly by hand, despite the highly advanced  production line situation.

Building a trombone: Basic principles

The trombone consists of two main sections, bell and slide, which are joined together at the point where the player grips the instrument. Trombones have always been built in this two part structure. The bell section consists of the bell flare, and a bow or curve of conical tubing, part of which is bent to join the bell section. This called the bell bow and is usually be produced in such a way as to form a movable tuning slide. The bell bow is then joined to the slide by a further piece of (usually) conical brass tubing, commonly called the  “gooseneck”. The various parts of the bell section are connected with ferrules and held together by one or more tubular braces and stays. The slide section consists of brass or (since the late 19th century) nickel silver tubing. Two parallel brass or nickel silver inner slide tubes (in modern times usually chromium plated) over which two outer tubes, joined by a bow and connected by ferrules, must slide smoothly and freely. In order for a trombone slide to function at all, the tubes need to be completely round, straight and parallel. This is often facilitated by the addition of brass “stockings” This is a slightly raised section of tubing at the bottom of the slide tubes over which most friction between the outer and inner tubes occurs. This is an invention usually credited to Christian Friedrich Sattler. The stockings also provide a better seal between the moving parts, which affects the response of the trombone to the players vibrating lips.

A trombone should be able to sound all tones in the harmonic series, within the normal stricures of its range. How well this series is in tune depends on the design of the conical (i.e. bell) section of the trombone and particularly the conicity of the bell bow and bell flare.

How a brass bell is formed

There are two basic method of producing a bell flare. A “one-piece” bell is obviously formed from a single sheet of brass. This is cut to the required shape then bent around an anvil or similar metal form. The two sides are brazed together by melting another metal to form a seam binding the edges to each other (this metal, often lead, tin or silver, must melt at a lower temperature than the brass). The raised seam is then flattened with a flat wooden hammer and filed down to the same plane as the bell proper. The raw form is softened by annealing (heating up to a very high temperature), cooled, then hammered into a recognisable bell shape. Annealing softens the brass while the hammering and all other processes applied serve to harden the brass. Once the brass is too hard to be “worked” by the craftsman, another round of annealing takes place. Lastly the raw bell is placed on a mandrel (form) and pressed onto this mandrel whilst spinning on a lathe.

It is also a common practice to form a bell from two pieces of brass. In this process, brass sheet is cut and the bell spout is formed around a conical iron or steel rod, seamed and brazed as described above. The bell flare is formed from a flat disc of brass sheet annealed, hammered and pressed onto the mandrel. A hole is punched or cut through the middle and the resulting flare then brazed onto the spout.

Once the bell is formed a wire is applied to the rim of the bell and the brass bent back over the wire to strengthen the structure and prevent deformation. It is essential for the acoustics and intonation of the instrument that the bell keeps its roundness. 

Brass tubing

The tubing for modern brass instruments is usually produced in foundries and delivered to the brass instrument builder already in tubular form. The traditional method of the craftsmen of the 19th century and earlier however was to bend brass sheet around a rod, then braze both sides together. The seam is then filed down as described above, and the tube pulled mechanically through an iron ring, stretching it to the required diameter. This practice has survived in certain workshops, particularly those specializing in historical brass instrument reproduction.

                                                 Bending brass tubing

In order to produce bent or circular tubing essential to any brass instrument it is necessary to fill the tube to prevent it losing its roundness. Traditionally tubing was filled with molten lead, a metal which possesses a certain degree of viscosity even when cold. Once the lead has cooled it is possible to bend the tubing slowly around a wooden form. With every small amount of bending is necessary to hammer or smooth out any wrinkles in the brass. The brass will also harden as it is worked, and must be repeatedly annealed in order to complete the process. Once the bend has been achieved the tubing is once again heated to the point where the lead melts and can be poured out. Because lead contracts slightly when cooled it is necessary for the craftsman to hammer out any inconsistencies. At present new ways of filling and bending tubing have been developed. Currently in some modern brass instrument assembly lines tubes are filled with soapy water and frozen, then bent quickly using mechanical means. Whereas a strong craftsman could bend tubing by hand around a wooden form, the frozen tubing must be bent mechanically. The soap lends a degree of elasticity to the ice which shatters as the tubing is bent. Because water expands when frozen the issues of lead shrinkage do not apply and more consistently round tubing can be produced. It stands to reason however that the acoustic properties of the brass are considerably different after freezing, compared to the heating and cooling processes of manual bending using lead filling.

How a Sattler trombone was built in 1840

From close examination of the 1841 dated set of three trombones for the Thomaskirche, now preserved in the Grassi museum in Leipzig, as well as my discussions with Dr. Hannes Vereecke in Ludwigsburg and Rainer Egger in Basel it is possible to discern the various techniques that Sattler used to build his trombones. The bell is made of a single piece of yellow brass. The brass has a particularly deep yellow colour. Rainer Egger[1] has had this metal analysed and discover a small amount of nickel and lead impurity. This impurity (particularly the nickel) adds a extra degree of hardness to the brass (compared to pure modern yellow brass) and an extra degree of resistance to corrosion. According to Egger this impure brass takes more time to “work” that modern brass. The bell mandrel was most probably formed from wood at this time. The lathes of the workshop were possibly driven by foot or even by horse power, and not by watermill since the Querstrasse in Leipzig where Sattler worked is not close the river (White Elster). The bells have been measured by Egger and Heyde[2]; the latter quotes a metal thickness of 0,25mm but according to Egger the metal is considerably thinner at the edge under the wide brass rim. The use of the wide bell rim or garland dates back to the earliest trombones. Often the master would hammer and file the bell flare to an almost paper-thin thickness which then required the addition of reinforcement in the form of a wide rim which was then placed on top of the flare and folded around the edge then secured by soldering, or sometimes simply pressed onto the bell. This wide rim (Ger. Kranz) is a feature of almost all nineteenth century German trombones. From the 1860’s onwards this rim was generally (but not always) made of nickel-silver, a harder and more durable metal than brass. The bell bow is conical and would have been formed from flat sheet brass around a mandrel, brazed together, filed down at the seam, filled with molten lead and carefully but firmly bent around a wooden form as described in the previous section. The bell diameter of the largest trombone of the set measures 23cm. This has remained a standard diameter for German style tenor trombones right to the present day. The ferrules used to connect the bell to the bow are brass tubing decorated with ribs which would have been turned on a lathe. This is a very typical decoration for German trombones which persists with some builders to the present day. (Heinrich Thein’s German models exhibit many of these characteristics).

On the bell bow a brass guard with decorated reinforcement has been attached which performs a dual role. In the first instance this must protect one of the most delicate parts of the trombone. Because of the action of bending the tubing under high heat the brass is stretched very thin at this point. The guard not only protects the bow from easily denting, but also performs the function of adding stability to the metal with the resultant acoustic effect of enriching the sound of the instrument.

The slide of the largest trombone consists of brass tubing for the inner slides, which measures 14.00 mm on the upper side and 14.[t1] 4 mm on the lower. These measurements are commensurate with the symphonic tenor trombone used ubiquitously today (typically 13.9mm or 0.547 inch). Once again this tubing was certainly formed from sheet brass rolled on an iron form and filed smooth, possibly on a lathe. The outer slides are produced from the same brass and the slide bow formed in the same way as described earlier. Once more a guard is attached the slide bow to for protection of the thinned brass tubing. 

                                  Is the Sattler set worthy of reproduction?

The 1841 set of Sattler trombones in the Grassi Museum in Leipzig[3] has enormous significance in the history of the instrument. At the time of writing only one other large tenor instrument built by Sattler seems to be extant (in Musikinstrumenten Museum Markneukirchen)[4]. An exhaustive list of trombones in museums provided to me by Professor Stewart Carter (a leading expert in trombone history) lists a handful of instruments that are lost or untraceable. That Carl Traugott Queisser, the leading virtuoso trombone soloist played upon and promoted Sattler’s instruments, seems to be generally accepted,[5] (although we only have Queisser’s enthusiastic recommendation of Sattler’s invention of the F valve as proof)[6]. Some writers go so far to credit Sattler with the invention of the large bore trombone. Elsewhere in this study I hope to have shown that this may not necessarily be so clear cut. In any case it seems clear from the surviving trombones from the 1850’s onwards that the large bore trombone very quickly gained a foothold in both the orchestral and military situations and probably also took it’s place in the other important German trombone tradition, namely that of the “Posaunenchor”. (Brass music in the Protestant church). If any trombones of small bore were produced anywhere in Germany after 1850 then I have as yet been able to find any. The so-called “German” ideal in sound had found its true home in the full, rich and mellow sound of the “tenor-bass”  trombone.

Considering the surge of interest in historical performance practice and the ever burgeoning influx of fine trombone students worldwide graduating into a world of diminishing resources for modern orchestras, one would have thought that a major instrument builder, especially respected figure and specialist in historic brass such as Rainer Egger would have attempted a reproduction of the Sattler trombones by now. But as Herr Egger graciously explained to me, there are many more factors involved than just the undeniable historical significance of these trombones. First and foremost is the very simple problem of the innate quality of the instruments themselves. In the case of the larger and finer of the two B flat instruments we have a significant problem in the response the instrument in the high register. In the case of the Grassi instrument Egger concluded both by measuring and acoustically analysing the instrument that it is not well in tune in its harmonic series. This conclusion was born out by the instrument being play tested by Prof. Ian Bousfield, former principal trombonist of both London Symphony and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras, who concluded that the instrument was not of sufficient playability to warrant exact reproduction[7]. What both Rainer Egger and Ian Bousfield were able to confirm however was that the instrument’s inherent sound quality was truly something special. Herr Egger described the moment of hearing the first full E flat of the Ferdinand David Concertino as an extraordinarily emotional moment. Ian Bousfield also confirmed this to me in a telephone conversation. Although the instrument is not well in tune and virtually unplayable the sound was truly glorious (a very subjective yet entirely understandable reaction). This brings us to the next problem in historical instrument reproduction.

                                                The issue of raw materials

An important aspect of Rainer Egger’s ongoing study of nineteenth century German trombones is the analysis of the metals used. As mentioned earlier, the brass available to instrument builders were not as pure as brass available to instrument makers today. Rainer Egger has been at the forefront of research into historical metals and has been able to find foundries to reproduce several old alloys based on analysis of the brass used by the famous Nuremburg builders, and the brass used in French instruments from the 19th century[8]. Herr Egger explained that these alloys required a much slower and careful working. They seemed to somewhat less malleable than modern brass. But the result of slow bending and considerable hammering resulted in an overtone-rich material, which has had considerable advantages over modern brass in the subjective area of sound quality. Egger likes to back up his aural impressions with scientific data so the quality of the instruments has also been subject to spectral analysis. I have not been able to review the results of  Egger’s research.

Other instrument builders who were to contribute to the Sattler style tradition in trombone design, namely his successor J.C.Penzel, and those that followed him, such as Hermann Robert Schopper, Gustav Erhard and Reinhold Oscar Ullmann, Otto Pollter, Ernst Petzold, and later the Ed. Kruspe firm, and the Heckel and Piering families at the turn of the twentieth century, were bring their own touches to the original Sattler design, also had access to brass from the same sources as Sattler. From a professional trombonists point of view instruments from these builders do provide the modern trombonist with an instrument that reproduces a more familiar playing experience. Good intonation through the harmonic series, especially in the upper register, where response and reliability are paramount in performance situations is something that the later builders were able to achieve more consistently than Sattler did on the evidence of the extant trombones. I have personally been able to test many more trombones from this later period and can confirm that they do provide a more satisfying playing experience than the few notes I was able to play on the Sattlers in Leipzig. 

Commercial considerations

Every instrument builder need to earn an income. To develop a new model or even a historical reproduction requires much more than a set of measurements. Firstly there is the time consuming task of designing the tooling to build the instrument. Once the design is finalised a bell mandrel needs to be made, as well as forms for bending the tubing for the bell bow/tuning slide and the slide bow. There are several sources for readymade bells available to the instrument builder if he does not have the experience or the space in the workshop to make bells. The act of making a bell from brass sheet is an extremely specialized skill that most modern instrument builders leave to specialists. Few companies are large enough to support a full time bell maker, and most modern builders, especially those who work alone, such as Markus Leuchter in Herzogenrath buy their bells from an outside source. These bell specialists make the bells on the form provided by the instrument builder, so the cost of having a steel form made still rests with the builder, and this cost needs to be recovered with the sale of the instrument to be built. Another labour intensive aspect is the manufacture of bent tubing. It is possible these days to purchase readymade production line tubing for instrument building but it is often of inferior quality in regard to resonance. So the cost of making a bell or slide bow according to historical practice is considerable. Once more, a mandrel needs to be made, the brass folded and seamed, brazed, filled with molten lead, cooled, bent on the form, heated again, smoothed out and rounded. According to Hannes Vereecke it would generally take a skilled craftsman half a day to complete an individual piece of tubing. It is obviously not economical to build a one off single instrument in the case of reproductions, unless the client is prepared to cover the cost of the entire project.

The “Market” for Historical Reproductions

As much as I would love to think that there is a large pool of trombonists standing in line waiting for a reproduction trombone upon which to play the music Brahms, Mendelssohn and Schumann in a historically representative and highly authentic style I must sadly admit that this is simply not the case. That said there still a significant number of passionate instrument builders in Germany who have a strong connection to the traditional ways of instrument building and also a great love for the traditional German trombone sound, as I do. Builders such as Markus Leuchter who is producing one of the finest alto trombones available today (and very much in the German tradition) as well as a fine and very playable (if not entirely authentic) line of baroque trombones. Since I have had a long and close association with Herr Leuchter I was very much hoping that he would like to collaborate with me in this project to build a representative mid 19th century trombone. But unfortunately he declined and it’s very understandable to me why he did so. He is a typical example of an artisan craftsman working alone in a very confined space trying to produce his own model instruments on individual order as well as continuously repairing and restoring instruments for local amateurs and professionals alike. Apart from the costs of tooling up for a very small and undefined market there are the costs of measuring original instruments and making designs and plans. It simply did not make sense to him as a commercial venture.

Rainer Egger on the other hand is running a considerably larger operation with a large team of instrument builders and apprentices. Herr Egger though, is also working developing his own model of German trombone, based in his case on the more playable later 19th century models of Ed. Kruspe and the Heckel firm of Dresden. He is also working on a complete analysis of the alloys and historical techniques and his research is also being underwritten by a significant grant. He also has the highly influential and enthusiastic trombone virtuoso Ian Bousfield by his side as instrument tester and advisor. One of the most enjoyable moments in my research so far was my short but animated conversation with Mr. Bousfield about the Kruspe and Heckel trombones in private hands in Leipzig and also in the Basel museum depot.  His enthusiasm for some of the instruments was boundless. In regard to Egger’s research I feel that we are luckily not following each other down the same path. Egger and Bousfield wish to produce a top quality but generic German trombone (in other words, not a reproduction of a particular historic instrument, but an inimical design of his own based on several historical models) with some modern characteristics which can be sold as an instrument for the modern orchestral trombonist. What I am aiming to do is come up with an instrument that can represent the sound ideals of the pioneer Sattler, which Schumann and Mendelssohn knew from the playing of Queisser in his many solo appearances at the Gewandhaus.

The third instrument builder I was able to consult, Stefan Voigt in Markneukirchen, took a different line to his colleagues. Herr Voigt produces a considerable number of trombones for orchestras (notably Staatskapelle Dresden) and comes from a long line of instrument builders in the Vogtland region of Germany, very close to the Czech border. The town of Markneukirchen is famous for musical instrument building to this day and the various branches of the Voigt family were among the leading names in trombone manufacture in the Eastern part of Germany during the post war (DDR) period, together with Mönnich, Pfretzschner, and Kruspe. Stefan Voigt is also well versed in all the traditional manufacturing techniques described in the earlier part of this chapter, including most importantly the production of seamed brass tubing. The Vogtland area around remains an important centre of brass instrument building despite a dwindling number of instrument makers. The fact that many workshops have closed down after the deaths or retirements of the older generation of builders, has resulted in enormous amounts of unused tooling becoming available, including bell mandrels and straight and tapered rods for making seamed tubing. There remains still a small number of precision part makers in the region as well. The availability of tooling is thus virtually unlimited in this area. Herr Voigt also owns and uses a bell mandrel that exactly matches the form of the Sattler and Penzel bells that I have examined. Another advantage to co-operation with Voigt is the close proximity of one the world’s most renowned bell manufacturers, Bernd Sandner in neighboring Erlbach, who provides bells for some of the most famous trombone manufacturers, both in Germany and abroad. Herr Voigt has access to the bell forms from a further former bell maker in Markneukirchen, and is also able to produce seamed tubing from sheet brass[9] in any bore size from 11 to 15 millimetres (in increments of 0.1 mm). This is enormous advantage since the slide tubing on Sattler’s instruments does not always correspond exactly to the standard bore sizes of modern manufacturers. Finally, Herr Voigt expressed a willingness to collaborate on the project of attempting to recreate a trombone, and at the time of writing we have agreed to begin our project with a thorough restoration of the Penzel trombone in my private collection.


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Click here for a link to a video about historical brass manufacture (in Dutch)

Click here for a short film demonstrating several techniques in instrument building (in German)


[1] Conversation with Rainer Egger in Basel. 21.10.2016

[2] Heyde,Herbert „Trompeten, Posaunen, Tuben, Musikinstrumenten-Museum der Karl-Marx-Universität Leipzig. Katalog Band 3 (Wiesbaden, Breitkopf, 1985)  178-180

[3] See my play test notes on these instruments in appendix 1

[4] Viewed twice by the author (14.11.2016 and 28.04.2017)

[5] See Chapter 4

[6] Allgemeine Musikalisches Zeitung no. 13, March 1839 pp 257-8

[7] Conversation with Ian Bousfield 18.10.2016


[9] See page 3


    Technical drawings for brass instrument building. Markneukirchen ca.1914. Private collection Mario Weller

Markus Leuchter Alto Trombone

Bernd Sandner bell for Voigt trombone. (Very similar to Sattler Penzel shape)

Garland (Kranz) with shell decoration and engraving

Sattler trombones at the Grassi Museum, Leipzig

Bell bow with decorated brass guard (Stoßbortel)

Slide  tubing from Sattler in Markneukirchen

Sattler trombones in Leipzig

Bell Bow Sattler 1841