Edwards was the first to break through the Conn-Selmer trombone hegemony on a grand scale. Backed by Allied, their influence slowly spread to it’s current prominence. From Edwards (and Schilke), there emerged a second serious rival, who had built his reputation over several decades, the last two bringing trombones that bear his name-Shires. Others have made significant strides as well, but perhaps the third major contender to emerge is the most remarkable. The wide-spread use and notoriety of Rath trombones over the past ten years has been meteoric. In terms of tradition, Rath has not drawn upon the most vibrant trombone manufacturing traditions of the Americans, German and French, but has sprung from those of the rather modest British tradition as well as from his time with Paxman. The proliferation or Rath horns amongst jazz players in particular is impressive and his use of design and materials is inspired. davidbrubeck.com is pleased to present British Trombone Maker Michael (Mick) Rath as the fifth installment of The Craftsmen’s Bench tm.
1. What is your musical background?
I was born in Slough in 1963, and brought up in Royal Windsor, Berkshire, where the military musical presence inspired him not only to become a musician, but to embark on a career in music. Playing the tuba from the early age of eleven, I was involved with various bands in the Windsor and Maidenhead area, out rehearsing or playing concerts most nights of the week.
After leaving school, I went on to study Musical Instrument Technology, at Merton Technical College in south London, and then served an apprenticeship with the Paxman French horn company in London’s Covent garden, where I worked until 1990, when I moved to West Yorkshire.
2. What non-musical designs inspire you?
Seems stupid, but I suppose things with motion-pulleys, cogs, gears! (ie. a mechanism that presents a wire rack out of a kitchen cupboard when the door is opened!)
3. Have you been more inspired by European or American trombones? Which ones?
Over the years, talking in a repairman capacity, most instruments brought in to our workshops for repair or customising were of American origin, this I suppose must have been more of an inspiration than the small number of British/European made instruments thru the door in the early eighties. Most ‘pro’ players we were dealing with used Conn, Bach and King, with some Williams.
4. When you set out to build the best trombones available, what were the top three characteristics you hoped to achieve?
In both cases Classical and Jazz , we sought to achieve sound(relevant to the musical situation ), intonation, playability (i.e., making the players job easier), and of course-a slide that worked !!!
5. Your instruments are known for there tone and materials. Have you ever thought that you might have a special ability to perceive tone quality?
I have never thought that I have any special abilities, I just tried to be a good engineer. We have numerous combinations of tapers and materials and a many years experience. Listen to the players needs and requirements, and I think it all comes together very nicely!
6. Why Bronze? How would you describe it as compared to traditional brass?
Experiments were carried out years ago on slide materials, and bronze was the closest off-the-shelf material that resembled the characteristics we had in mind. Bronze gives a darker, richer sound than standard yellow brass.
7. What have been some of your most memorable moments with your trombone artists?
It Is fantastic to have such a great bunch of guys working with us. There are quite a few; listening to Mark Nightingale play with James Morrison in the UK; The Corpus Trombone Quartet performing in a 10-year anniversary concert in Budapest; getting a mention from Conrad Herwig at the Blue Note Club on my first visit to New York; hearing the Count Basie guys perform in the Blue note in Tokyo; Reggie watkins at the Albert hall with Beverley Knight. “The Rath Pack”-Dennis Rollins and Bad Bone and 35 Rath trombones playing the Mark Nightingale’s arrangement of “That’s What Friends Are For” at my 50th Birthday party last year! Fantastic! You just can’t mention them all and respect to all of our artists!
8. What has your geographic location brought to your instruments? What do you consider the most British aspects of your operation?
Living in Yorkshire, brings a more relaxed life style and I believe less stress to all of the guys that work here, allowing a little more love to be put into the instruments we make. A lot of the guys working here are involved in brass bands in one way or another, which are obviously very traditionally British!
9. Which characteristics have you admired of the historic US brands?
King…..This has always been a good lead trombone and generally well made!
Williams…..I have not seen too many, but have heard reports of quality.
Olds…..Some interesting ideas, nicely put together
Bach…..Well known for years as a standard, but I don’t see that many here for repair now!
Conn…..Well known for years as a standard.
Holton…..Known to me more for the Bass trombone! Which has been popular in the UK in the past.
10. Which lubricants do you recommend, and why?
We use Rapid Comfort with our slides-(seems to work for us).
We use Selmer tuning slide grease, and any of the thin piston oils on the valves: Al Cass, Blue Juice, or Hetman.
10. What qualities have others said Rath trombones possess?
Conrad Herwig, it allows me to be myself without restriction.
11. What do you consider your major breakthroughs or innovations?
I consider designing and introducing a full range of trombones over a relatively small period of time and seeing and hearing great players around the world using our trombones a great breakthrough.
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