A new alto trombone from a surprising source

I’ve been traveling pretty much solid since the ITF in Iowa City a few weeks ago. It feels like I’ve had a few birthdays since the event.

My son and I had a great time at our table where I got to meet some great people and sell a few books.

Staring me down, directly across from our table was a sterling silver alto trombone. It had a little bit of an odd look in the tuning slide but I was compelled to try it out. The table across from mine displaying this silver alto was a Netherlands company called Adams. They seem to be more well known for their percussion instruments than brass, certainly more than trombone. They have a large line of trumpets.

The alto I was eyeing was their very first. Miel Adams, their head of production and sales, said that he made this alto just to display at the festival. So I tried it.

I wandered back into the hotel’s service area where it was much quieter and played the horn for a while. I could tell right away that it was special. Tighter sound, not quite as bright as my Yamaha, and a much wider sweet spot–much of it due to the sterling silver bell. It’s less brassy than the Yamaha, which I like. My Neumann Mic accentuates the higher frequencies so it’s nice to have those tamed a bit. The sixth position top of the staff Bb sounds much better (more true to its first position relative) than that note on the Yamaha. Same with the fifth position Eb above it. False tones between low E and the Ab above it lock in better and sound rounder than on the Yamaha.

I tried again the next day along with every other alto in the hall. The altos ranged from unplayable to okay. The exception was the Shires, but the problem I have explain to Steve Shires every year is that I don’t like the tuning in the slide. It makes it too heavy and is distracting. I might get used to it in time but I’d rather play with a much lighter slide like that of the Adams.

Miel let me try it for a week or so at home and return it if I ended up not loving it. I played it in a big band last week and really liked the sound, attack, and overall tight sound. Tonight, I recorded it to hear its sound through my mic, and my Universal Audio interface. I recorded an A/B test between the Adams and my Yamaha. No reverb, compression or EQ. Just raw.

I won’t say which horn is which in the following test. I’d love to get your feedback.

 

Here are the horns from the above test without the strings. The order is reversed.

 

I’ve played the Yamaha YSL671 for 30 years and it has served me well, but I now play an Adams. The silver look is a really nice touch, but its solid tight sound sold me on making the switch!

13 Comments

  1. Jerry Gordon on August 2, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    Congratulations on the new horn. As my grandmother would have said, “Use it in good health!”

  2. Dave on August 5, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    Rather similar sound – differences are subtle, but audible.

    I preferred the first trombone in the second recording (without the distracting string background) – I guess that’s the second trombone in the track with “strings.”

    In any case, congratulations, Michael, on your purchase. Enjoy your new toy, and keep sharing your talents!

    • Michael Lake on August 5, 2018 at 3:05 pm

      You’re right. It is very subtle. Not so subtle live, though. And not so subtle from this player’s perspective. In both cases you preferred the Yamaha. Oh Oh… Probably not the most accurate way to test or demonstrate.

  3. Art Triggs on August 5, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    Hi, in the recordings, the first horn w/ strings sounds a bit heavier, with more lows in the sound, it is not as brittle a tone quality as the second instrument with strings, both are good just that the first one appeals more to my ear, which one feels better to play? , you will sound like you regardless – that’s a good thing 😉

    • Michael Lake on August 5, 2018 at 3:38 pm

      You nailed it Art. It’s subtle but the silver horn has slightly accentuated lower overtones. I put them both on the oscilloscope and the higher overtones of the Yamaha were there but not dramatically so. What I didn’t demonstrate or measure was the expanded sweet spot on the horn. My lower register is more solid as are my false tones and alternative positions.

  4. Kurt Godel on August 6, 2018 at 7:55 am

    First of all I’d like to say it was a pleasure to meet you at the ITF. We didn’t talk much I just introduced myself and had mentioned that I purchased your book. I think the first one is the better sound it seems more focused and a bit tighter and I actually like the string accompaniment and would like to hear The complete work.

  5. Rob Wren on August 7, 2018 at 9:09 am

    Yeah, Mike…sounds great! I feel like the first horn sounds more “pure”, like all the frequencies are present, It really rings. The second sounds good too, but it almost sounds like a mid-hi freq is notched out a little bit. It’s subtle. it’ll be interesting to hear how that will translate playing lead in a big band setting vs. recording solo.

    Two questions:

    1) How do you feel the lack of a support brace by the tuning slide effects the sound? Bell “rings” more, etc?

    2) All things being equal, how do you feel the silver plating figures into the difference in tone between the two instruments? IOW, would a silver-plated vs. lacquered Yamaha produce similar results?

    • Michael Lake on August 7, 2018 at 12:31 pm

      Rob, honestly, I don’t notice any difference in the lack of a tuning slide brace. The entire horn is different so it’s impossible for me to know how one aspect like the lack of a brace effects the overall sound and feel. I just think it adds to the unique look of the horn.

      Keep in mind that the bell is not plated but rather, it is solid sterling silver. The silver produces a slightly darker tone. Literally and acoustically less “brassy”. I would love to try an identical Yamaha with a silver bell, but I don’t think that’s possible. A few days into auditioning it, I sat in with a big band. I liked the response and how short notes (“DAAT”) were tight and accurate. I’ve been doing a lot of recording with it and do notice that I need to get more used to the pitch of the horn. It’s an in-tune horn but after playing the same Yamaha for 30 years, subtle changes like those of this Adams stand out. I’ll try not to suck when our band starts up in a few weeks!

  6. Hakan Bjorkman on August 8, 2018 at 3:02 pm

    Hello Mike! So you were also blown away from testing Adams? Happened to me last year at Slide Factory in Rotterdam. I was close to change my Bach 42 to the Adams just minutes before my recital. I didn’t though – 300 trombone players might have been slightly disturbed listening to a test drive in public… You sound great on the new horn. I spotted the darkness of the projection as well. Since they deal with brass in particular in their perc business, they do have the ability to feel and know the material well. If it wasn’t for Yamaha who has developed the 84X (0,525″) and the different lead pipes made specifically for me (with receivers) I would definitely have a good look at the Adams bones. They deserve that.
    Enjoy and have fun with your new “family member”

    All the best, Håkan Björkman

  7. Michael Lake on August 8, 2018 at 5:18 pm

    Hakan, I have little doubt that you would have expertly commanded that new horn! After playing the same horn for 30 years, I do notice some small intonation tendencies I’ll need to adjust. I played quartets last night with guys I’ve performed with for several years, and the intonation of the group was slightly different (off). It’s funny how players get used to hearing things a certain way and how subtle changes (in the first chair) can create a slight domino effect.

    I respect your loyalty to Yamaha. I’m curious, have you ever played a sterling silver bell? If so, how did your sound change?

  8. Paulo on August 9, 2018 at 7:25 am

    Hello Mike!
    I hope that you are well?
    I hear two record and like more the first!
    Seems to me very well, more direction and more natural. The 2º take is very good, but I like more the first.
    It’s only my opinion 🙂

    Congratulations with you great work.

    Bye,

    Paulo

  9. Bill on June 3, 2019 at 4:22 am

    Adams bought the tooling from Heribert Glassl when he retired. The reason why you like it so much is because this is essentially a Glassl alto.

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