The handslide presents a number of difficulties peculiar to trombonists. Besides the inherent difficulty of learning to operate the slide with skill and efficiency, maintaining optimum mechanical function also is a challenge that requires constant attention. For one thing, the protrusion of the slide from the rest of the instrument makes it prone to damage, and the tight tolerances with which good handslides are constructed (as little as .001 inches for some makes) mean that even a slight “ding” can cause a serious impediment to playing. Another challenge involves lubrication. The large surface area of metal-to-metal friction in a trombone slide makes the choice of the best possible lubricant perhaps a bit more important for trombones than for other brass instruments, whose valve casings are equally “tight” but do not have friction distributed over such a large area. Indeed, while I have found that just about any petroleum-based valve oil, applied with little care, will work fine on my euphonium (thought I have my preference), for the trombone one must not only find the particular lubricant that works best for his instrument and body chemistry (as saliva does mix with the lubricant somewhat), but also learn to apply that lubricant properly. In the end, this means that for a trombone slide lubricant I am looking for the greatest possible result with the simplest possible application.
One does not have to pursue trombone playing very long before he discovers that the petroleum-based slide oils supplied with most beginner-model trombones yield a very poor result. While similar oils work just fine on piston valve instruments, these oils provide uneven coverage and evaporate too quickly to serve as an effective trombone slide lubricant.
For many years, the best alternatives to such slide oils were creams applied by hand to the surface of the slide, sometimes with a thinner, silicone-based additive. The idea was to apply a very thin layer of cream and then spray with water; the water would then “bead up” and function as the actual lubricant. Some players still prefer these products, which include brand names such as Trombotine and Superslick, though the traditional “old school” trombone cream was none other than Pond’s cold cream. The difficulty with these products, especially for younger students, was to apply the right amount of cream. In order to get a good result, an extremely small amount of cream had to be applied, and younger students (including a twelve-year-old version of myself) often found the temptation to apply too much cream impossible to resist. Although I continued using Superslick until my first year in graduate school, because of the problems of over-application and consequent buildup, I usually grudgingly recommended petroleum-based slide oils for younger students, and continued to do so until relatively recently.
The introduction of Slide-O-Mix gave trombonists a viable alternative to slide creams applied directly by hand. The original formula came in two bottles. The larger bottle contained a liquid cream type of product, and the smaller something more like the silicone additives sometimes used along with earlier slide creams. While the application of this product was considerably easier than that of creams applied by hand, finding the right proportions of the larger to the smaller bottle was sometimes a challenge, and proper cleaning was extremely important, as Slide-O-Mix performs poorly if it is mixed with other lubricants, or even residue from earlier applications of Slide-O-Mix. The former of these challenges was removed by the introduction of Rapid Comfort, a Slide-O-Mix formulation that is essentially a blend of the two bottles found in the earlier formulation. Here was a liquid cream and silicone product that was easy enough to apply that even young students could get it right. I began using this product around the time I began teaching at the University of Louisiana at Monroe in 2005, and recommended it to all students—“Rapid Comfort” was even the answer to a test question in my brass methods class!
Unfortunately, Rapid Comfort suffers from two serious problems. The first is that all Slide-O-Mix products tend to “dry out” when there is a long period between applications and can leave a certain residue on the slide that is difficult to remove without a professional cleaning. I have personally found this to be a problem with my trombones that are played with less frequency than the others. The second is that the product in the bottle would lose consistency after a period of time, turning from a relatively viscous product into a useless and watery mess. In the ten years that I used Slide-O-Mix products—first with the two-bottle formula and then with Rapid Comfort—I never finished an entire bottle before this loss of consistency occurred, leading to wasted money and product.
This past summer (2012) I decided to try the new Yamaha Trombone Slide Oil, which had been released a few years previous but I had never tried. Functionally this product is quite similar to Rapid Comfort. It appears to be a liquid cream/silicone mix of some kind—the word “oil” in the name is misleading as there are no hydrocarbons in the product—and is applied in the same manner as Rapid Comfort. The advantage of the Yamaha product, both according to the company and to my personal experience with the product thus far, is that it does not dry out or leave permanent buildup on the slide, and does not seem to lose viscosity in the bottle over time.
Application of the Yamaha Trombone Slide Oil is relatively simple. Begin by cleaning old lubricant out of and off of the slide. Swab out the outer slide tubes with a cleaning rod wrapped in a soft cloth of some kind (I recommend the Slide-O-Mix toweling sheaths). You might also clean out the inner tubes using a bassoon or clarinet swab (or similar device), a suggestion from the S.E. Shires website which I have found helpful. Then, spray the inner tubes with water and wipe off old lubricant with a clean cloth or paper towel (I use Scott Shop Towels for this purpose). Next, apply an approximately four to six-inch “line” of Yamaha Trombone Slide Oil to either the top or the stocking (according to your preference) of each inner tube, then work each pair of tubes individually to spread the product before assembling the entire slide. Once the slide is assembled you might or might not wish to spray a bit of water on the slide—with some instruments I get a fine result with no water, and with others I need just a small amount. Each application should last for four to six hours of playing time.
Trombonists presently enjoy the happy situation of having a number of quality lubricants from which to choose. In addition to the ones mentioned here, a number of fine players use and recommend Reka Super-Slide, Ultra-Pure Trombone Slide Lube, and Hetman Hydro-Slide. I have only sampled the latter of these three products thus far and found that it did not work for me, possibly due to an incompatibility between my own body chemistry and synthetic lubricants, which I have experienced when sampling similar products in the past. Perhaps I will sample the Reka and Ultra-Pure products in the future, but for now I find the Yamaha Trombone Slide Oil to be an easily-applied, long-lasting product that retains the best properties of lubricants I have used in the past while eliminating some of the drawbacks of those products. I recommend this product to trombonists of all ages and ability levels.