G Bass Trombone

As alluded to in my post on the trombone family, Bass Trombones used to be very different instruments than they are today.  At one time, three different Bass Trombones existed, the G Bass, the F Bass, and the E-flat Bass.  The F Bass was the standard instrument throughout most of Europe up until the late 1800s or early 1900s.  The E-flat Bass was used primarily in German and Austrian military bands.  Schoenberg used the E-flat in his massive Gurrelieder where it has a famous glissandi passage in octaves with the E-flat Alto an octave higher that cannot be done accurately on any other trombone.  However, the British Empire used a very different instrument, the G Bass.  No one is quite sure why the Brits preferred their instrument in G, but it was the long-standing tradition until the 1960s and 1970s.  The use of an instrument in G meant that some of the lowest Bass Trombone passages, like the low C in the famous chorale in Brahms 1, could not be played on the British instrument.  However, sometime in the 1920s or so, instruments featuring a valve, pitched in D, were produced, which gave the G Bass Trombone the needed notes and an extended lower range.

G Bass Trombone Range

The G and F Bass Trombone have always been curious to me.  With the revitalization of authentic performances, it would make sense that players would take these instruments up once again, but it doesn’t seem to be happening.  There are plenty of good G Basses lying around, including some excellent instruments made in the 70s.

Were this instrument to be used, I would avoid notes that require the low D extension (notes below C#2).  Technique is necessarily slower than either the Tenor or the Bass because the slide requires a handle to reach 6th and 7th positions.

Look at what Holst does in his Planets to see exactly how he treats the G Bass.  The part lies perfectly on this instrument ranging down to its lowest note (in fact, it is the first note the part requires).  Remember, Holst was a trombonist who knew the instrument well.

A demonstration of the G Bass Trombone

While doing some research on this instrument today, something I had never thought of struck me – the G Bass Trombone is really a Baritone Trombone, not quite a Tenor and not quite a Bass.  Since this statement has been somewhat controversial, let me clarify what I mean.

The sound of brass instruments rely on two differing factors.

  1. The length of the tube
  2. The diameter and flare of the tube.

The length of the tube of the G Bass is clearly in the Bass range.  However, the bore is much closer to that of the Tenor Trombone (looking strictly at modern instruments).  This means that the sound of the instrument is bigger than the Tenor Trombone (modern) but smaller than the Bass Trombone (modern).  This is the reason that I would call the instrument a “Baritone” Trombone.  In an ensemble setting with modern instruments it would necessarily sit between the Tenor and the Bass.

And this leads me to all sorts of interesting ideas.

A group of four trombones:

  1. Tenor Trombone
  2. Tenor Trombone
  3. “Baritone” Trombone
  4. Bass Trombone

Or what about 6?

  1. Alto Trombone
  2. Tenor Trombone
  3. Tenor Trombone
  4. “Baritone” Trombone
  5. Bass Trombone
  6. Contrabass Trombone

Or what about a low quartet?

  1. “Baritone” Trombone
  2. Bass Trombone
  3. Bass Trombone
  4. Contrabass Trombone

Yes, the view is somewhat unorthodox, but why should we dismiss a tone color out of hand just because it isn’t common?