S.E. Shires small bore trombone review

S.E. Shires, Hopedale, Massachusetts

I had the explicit pleasure of visiting the S.E. Shires factory and try out a wide range of their trombones. They are located in an humble industrial area in Hopedale, Massachusetts. It is about one hour drive from Boston, and four hours from New York. The factory building is very discreet, and you would not think that a world class brass instrument manufacturer is based within such a timid building, but do not let the appearance fool you, they are serious about their business, and really know what they are doing! And how to do it. And why. And probably when too. Great New York trombone player (and Shires artist) Michael Davis were kind enough to give me an introduction to Steve Shires himself and Ben Griffin (Shires sales rep and pro trombone player). Ben has a deep knowledge about trombones in all sizes, and was very helpful during my visit. He set me up in the Shires showroom, and kept feeding me with new trombone parts for several hours.

Since I knew I would be buying a small bore horn, this was where I started out. Unfortunately I never got around to try out their large bore trombones, which gives me a good reason to visit them again in the future! In this test, I will review both the parts I tried, as well as the Michael Davis Signature Model, and of course tell more about the model I settled for.

These are all the trombone parts I tried:

T00NLW My choice
T95NLW, YRC (from the Michael Davis model)

Lead pipes:
T0 2N (Nickel with #2 venturi, .500 bore) My choice
T0 2.5 (Brass, #2.5 venturi, .500 bore) My alternative choice

Tuning slides:
SY1.5 My choice

S.E. Shires Vintage 6 1/2 AL

S1YLW 8 (Light weight yellow brass, soldered bead 8″)
S1RGLW 8 (Light weight, dual alloy, red brass stem and gold brass flare, soldered bead 8”)
S1YLW 7.75 (Light weight yellow brass, soldered bead 7.75″) My choice
S1YLM 7.75  (Medium weight yellow brass, soldered bead, 7.75″)
Michael Davis signature bell (7.5” bell)

See all the Shires small bore trombone options here

Anders Larson in Shires Showroom

In Shires showroom

Click next page to read the full trombone test

    10 thoughts on “S.E. Shires small bore trombone review

    1. Hej, Anders. Jeg er utrolig glad for din artikel. Jeg undersøger netop mulighederne for at prøve Shires. Jeg har kontaktet Steve for evt. at besøge stedet; men vil i første omgang forsøge at prøve instrumentet i Freiburg. De har imidlertid ikke fået instrumentet til Tyskland endnu. Jeg tænker på Michael Davis udgaven. Men dejligt at høre, det er den kvalitet, jeg søger efter.
      All the best.

    2. Question:

      If you were to be totally scientific.

      Please describe your horn or horns you regularly used before visiting the Shires Factory and what makes your new Shires horn great…

      I have heard great things about Shires horns, but some aspects of trombones are in my opinion a placebo…

      Most trombone players (me included) have a box of mouthpieces and a few different horns all on a quest for a magic bullet…

      What tests did you execute when testing your Shires setup?
      Why did you choose one part over another?
      Lead pipe choice?
      Tuning slide Choice?
      Bell choice?

      Thank you for sharing this information

    3. Looks like I spoke too soon. I saw your other pages after my first post.

      In addition, I believe you are right in your assessment of missed opportunity of Shires.

      It is very possible that Steve Shires makes the best Trombones in the world, but I don’t believe there is any great marketing/selling being done to make them a household name…

      Perhaps, Steve is comfortable with it the way it is and he has enough work to keep his staff working, but IMHO we as trombone players are very bad about perception. As an example, as soon as the other guys, Getzen/Edwards announced their new Joe Alessi model a bunch guys went out and bought it. (We all know that Steve Shires made the first modular trombone for Getzen etc, but that is old history now…) However, I see two of them being sold on trombone.org classifieds. The truth is that a great player will sound good on anything…

      Thank you for giving us digital Trombone!

    4. Hi Pablito!

      Thanks for your comments! I would like to specify my view on custom / high quality small trombone manufacturers versus “standard” instruments as well as old vintage horns:

      Many old and standard pro horns (Bach, King, Conn etc.) have a great sound and feel very nice to play. But my experience when switching to the custom / high quality small trombone manufacturers is somewhat the same as going from a Ford Mondeo to a luxury line Mercedes. The Mondeo is great and does everything you a car to do with ease, with plenty of space, power and comfort. How could it possibly be much better? But then you get into the luxury Merc, and realize that everything could be improved, and by quite a lot!

      That´s how I feel about custom trombones such as Shires, Schmelzer, Rath and others like them. They add something to the feel and comfort of playing that I have not found in the “standard” horns. I like that. I have the opportunity to try several of the smaller luxury brands at the same occasion, and for me Shires was clearly a better fit than the rest of the bunch. But that´s my personal opinion.

      SOUND: I think some of the older vintage horns can have a more interesting sound than the new Mercedes-bones. Lighter and with more personality. But honestly, I don´t care! I believe that any instrument (especially a good one) will sound like me eventually, and whatever I might loose (but not necessary miss) in the sound, I will live happily without.

      All the best,

      (this comment is added to the end of the article as well)

    5. Jens, thanks for your comment! You should check out in advance if the music store you are visiting actually have any small bore horns available (Shires sell and produce mostly large bore horns), as well as what options they have available. Good luck with it!


    6. Great article Anders!
      Back in 2005, on a visit to NY from Melbourne, I also went to the factory, with my Bach 12 bell and a Bach 16 Mt Vernon slide – (I wore out my old 12 lightweight slide. The 16 slide was also showing the first signs of wearing out – brass showing thru the nickel plate in spots). The first question I was asked was:
      “Why are you here? That’s a good horn. What else could you want?” – and after …25 years playing that horn in both its versions, I had never played any horn I had liked better – until then. Suddenly, my beloved Bach felt like cardboard!
      All your comments about the differences between the new and old horns match my experience. In the factory, all I was concerned with was the sound – the feel of the horns was perfect, and the blowing more consistent than anything I’d tried before.
      I bought my Shires in Melbourne 3 years after that visit, having saved the specs of the horn I’d put together in the factory, and I love it!
      I started out trying to build a better version of the same horn, but found qualities in the search that I really liked. Each component changes so many things! Tone colour, whether the sound is out front or all around you…
      One thing though if you haven’t already picked out your parts: Really check out the balance of the horn’s intonation when you’re selecting your components… I got the standard SY tuning slide and have had to work hard to get used to a couple of intonation issues – the D harmonic was sharp and needed flattening, contrary to 25 years of sharpening on the Bach! – I had never heard about the 1.5 tuning slide that corrects those things on my horn. I’ve now tried and tested one, and it works well but I haven’t got one yet. I probably will do – it’ll smooth the swapping from large to small bore horns for me.
      I stayed off my Bach for 3 years to really zone in on my Shires – mainly for tuning, and then went back for a play recently and I found so much that I love about it – things missing from the Shires – but on balance, the Shires is still by far the better horn for all the small bore playing I do, and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

    7. Dave, thanks for your input! I too have to watch out with the D# on my Shires since it is too high. I believe this is one of the default problem notes with trombones in general. Is it more obvious on Shires? I don´t think so, had to adjust on my King as well. Maybe your Bach is more in tune than most trombones on this note?

      While being on third position – I love the response on the high Ab. This is usually a note that feels numb on many trombones, but on my new horn there is absolutely no difference in sound and feel between the Ab and the surrounding A and G!

      Still in love 🙂

    8. Thank you for your review. I am a returning trombone player, and wish to focus on jazz. I grew up playing a Bach 42B, and have been researching small bore horns. Shires has definitely been on my RADAR.

      I spoke with Ben at Shires and he suggested a set up similar to yours: LW1 Bell, Nickel .500 slide, but a 1.0 tuning slide.

      1. Do you still REALLY like your horn?
      2. What is the difference in a 1.0 vs. 1.5 tuning slide?
      3. How do Shires compare to Rath in small bore jazz horns?


    9. Dave, great comment and thanks for the input! I would think that coming from a Bach could make the leap to Shires a bit smaller. I have always admired Bach trombones for their precision, but their small bore horns never caught my heart.

      Going from a silver King, I lost some brilliance and liveliness in the sound, but I love the full, rich sound on the Shires. And since I tend to take quite a lot of chances while playing, it suits me fine with a horn that is actually trying to save my …! That Silversonic is one moody horn…but fantastic when the chops are great.

      Also have to get used to intonation, especially Eb on third is a bit further out than I am used to.


    10. Hi, ive been playing student Yamaha Bb tenor for 30 years, the slide is worn and pitted. I want to geta pro horn but have no idea what or how much i should spend. £2000, Seems a lot as im not a pro, but i do play every weekend in funk,soul or ska bands. Other players say i have a great sound so should put up with slide problems. I have the silver bell which is £3000 on a pro horn. Any advice?? Thanks Trevor

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