S.E. Shires small bore trombone review

Test: Shires bells

Shires trombone bellAll 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.

Shires trombone slide: 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

    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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