Test: Shires bells
All bells tested where two-piece bells, meaning that they are made of two pieces of metal that are soldered together just before the point where the bell diameter expands drastically. When looking on the trombone on a stand, the soldering is made horizontal. The metal in the two piece bell gets a bit thicker towards the rim, and deliver a clear sound that does not crack easily.
I did not test any one-piece bells. Since the metal tend to get a bit thinner at the end of the bell, they usually feel a bit less stable and have a slightly more mellow sound. They can also deliver a more open feel, sometimes at the cost of precision. This does not mean that they are less good – that is purely a matter of taste – but these are not the characteristics I am looking for in a small bore trombone bell suited for jazz solo playing.
About soldered beads
The bead is the rounded rim on the bell, and a soldered bead means that there is a metal string inside the rim, and it is all soldered together. This is the most common way of producing bells, and gives the bell more stability which means that it is easier to control for the player. With an unsoldered bead, the metal ring within the rim is not soldered onto the trombone itself. (This could potentially result in a razzling sound during playing if the build quality isn´t high enough.) An unsoldered bead can result in a more complex, deeper sound. It does not project as good, and attack is not as clear. Old Conn trombones have unsoldered beads, while all Bach and King trombones (and newer Conn) have soldered beads.
Shires S1YLW 8
This 8” yellow brass bell has a great response and is very comfortable to play. It is a perfect size for 3rd trombone playing in big band, or commercial playing. I wouldn´t use it for a small group jazz gig though, here a smaller bell does a better job for me. The bell responds very well in all registers but is not as light and bouncy as the 7.75” bells when playing jazz solos.
Shires S1RGLW 8
Very similar to the S1YLW 8 bell, but this one is gold brass. It is a bit darker and more “serious” than its yellow brass sister, making it a great bell for light orchestral playing or church gigs. I wouldn´t mind having a 8” bell at my shelf at home as well as a smaller one, but the choice between yellow brass and gold brass is a bit tricky. I would personally go for the gold brass, just to make the leap from my smaller bell a bit larger.
Shires S1YLW 7.75
This is the bell I ended up buying. A great bell for jazz playing with an extraordinary response and an open, clear and projected sound. I tried it both with and without counterweight, and ended up with it on. This tightens everything up a bit, giving me even more control. Without the counterweight the horn feels a bit softer and less focused. Placing it on the lower bar gives a result somewhat in between with and without counterweight. All three options are useful, and I might end up switching between the settings for variation.
Shires S1YLM 7.75
This is also a nice bell, but not my first choice. It is a bit more mellow, and lacks some of the bouncy-ness which I fancied with the more lightweight S1YLW 7.75 bell.
Michael Davis signature trombone
This is a great horn with a very good response. The size matches the King 2B I was playing before pretty well. To me it felt a bit to narrow, and despite the smaller bell, it actually sounded a bit darker, probably due to the more light weight bell. I still think this horn is a great match for many players liking small horns, especially players who don´t tend to over blow their horns and have a good breathing technique.
Narrower tubing calls for more precision with the air while bigger tubes and large bore trombones tend to be a bit more forgiving (not that you should not have good breathing technique regardless the size of your trombone!). I tried the Michael Davis Signature bell with the slightly bigger T00NLW slide, but this was not a perfect match. This bell calls for the Michael Davis slide! (And the guys at Shires wont sell the parts from this trombone separate anyway.) The handle bar on the Michael Davis slide is very thin. This feels really nice and gives it a sports car feel. I want this on all my slides!
Michael Davis told me that he is so pleased with this trombone that he actually sold both his King 2B and 3B! Try it out – it might very well be your dream horn! I found this trombone to be clearly superior to my otherwise beloved King 2B (anniversary model with silver bell, a copy of their own legendary Silversonic from the sixties), but I also found out that my way of playing was better supported by a slightly bigger horn, and I therefor ended up with a .500 bore slide and 7 3/4” bell. The Michael Davis model has a .495 bore and 7,5” bell.
Lightweight or not?
I once tried a lightweight slide on my King 2B, and I found it to be a poor solution with a weaker, less defined sound and attack. That made me believe that lightweight is just not the way to go, unless you are very weak or never play louder than a whisper.
Shires lightweight products don not feel as lightweight as other low fat trombone parts from other manufacturers, so don´t be scared of this label if you like a big, fat sound. But you have to try it yourself, as it is a matter of taste and style of playing, rather than which is the best.
Steve Shires spinning bells in the factory