King trombones have been made in the USA for over 100 years, mostly in the Cleveland, Ohio area. The Eastlake, Ohio King factory opened in 1965 and is still owned by Conn-Selmer, Inc. Eastlake specializes in building marching brass and double horns, and also builds components for King and Conn trombones.
Since 2016, those trombones parts have been shipped to Elkhart, Indiana and assembled there in the Bach Pro Shop. It has been a somewhat long road from questionable quality to the very good professional trombones they are building now. Today we received a new King 3BLG (lightweight, gold brass) . The slide is light and fast with only a little cleaning needed and some roughness at seventh position, the bell section bracing is perfectly aligned and it's a very nice player. This slide end bow has a leak, so we'll send it out for repair. It's not an Eastlake slide, but we'll go with it. The price is fair for a US-made professional trombone with this much attention to detail. Check for leaks before you buy. :-)
Below is a review of a new King 3B trombone after the redesign in 2015. I had written to the product manager for King trombones, asking, "What do you have that will excite us?"
Apparently it's a King 3B that will excite us.
It Starts with a Case
This case is beautiful and is a work of art in itself. It's a sleek, futuristic molded plastic type material, clear coated over the black "carbon fiber" weave pattern. If you know and appreciate the sleekness of carbon fiber bicycles, you'll appreciate this case. It's also compact and lightweight, perfect for the busy commuting musician.
A horn is much more than its case, but this is a really fine presentation. The handles are plush, 3 latches keep it closed, a rubber strip around the edge seals the interior, and rubber feet on the end and bottom protect the case finish from rough surface abrasion. A brass KING emblem adorns the side.
The case interior is a very plush black velour, and the trombone components fit perfectly. The slide goes underneath a door in the lid, French style, and two snap closures keep it secure. The slide fits exactly and perfectly with no movement. There ought not be any undress stress placed on the slide in this case if treated with care.
The bell section fits into a molded trough. Besides the fabric, it is not at all plush. But the molded shape of the case fits the bell almost perfectly like a Yamaha case. There is some additional space in the trough which may hold soft items, or perhaps a King trombone with F-attachment will also fit, though the 4BF has a larger case. There is a slight bit of motion allowed in the bell's fit, so a polishing cloth or two might be added to tighten things up. You'll see where to put it, right outside the bell flare near an accessory pocket. To the designer's credit, the bell section movement is halted by a block near the slide connector joint, so the bell flare will never impact the end of the case. In addition, the slide door has very thick foam, adding some downward pressure onto the bell section to prevent movement. The interior has two small storage compartments. Inside one is a pair of backpack straps. Inside the other is a sleek King 7C mouthpiece and a jar of Conn Formula 3 slide cream. It's all very smart.
The King 3B case weighs 9 lbs (4.1kg) and is 36x10x10" (91x25x25cm).
The .508" bore hand slide is beautifully assembled with not a blemish visible. It's all nickel except for the traditional round brass end crook and water key. The action of the hand slide is simply outstanding. It's very nearly silent right out of the box and dry, with no dragging or scratchiness. King slides have always been well regarded, but this is as good as any I've ever seen. In fact, [an Eastlake slide] it's as good as any slide on any trombone in this store, including much more expensive models. The receiver and leadpipe is the two-piece design, with a machined receiver and a tapered tube is soldered inside approximately 1.22" (31mm) down the tube. The 7C mouthpiece inserts 1.02" (25.8mm), leaving a gap of 0.20" (5.2mm).
The 8" bell is brass with beautiful engraving over an area of the bell about 4x7" (100x18cm). It's done by machine, but is stunning with its traditional style leaf patterns. The engraving reads KING Legend 3B MADE IN EASTLAKE, OHIO USA. The bell construction is a traditional King two-piece design, with the bell tail and flare made from two sheets of brass. The seam is now plaza welded, which improves consistency and also makes the seam invisible. The traditional round tuning slide bow and the neckpipe are also brass. Except for these three components, the bell is made of all nickel parts. The tuning slide sleeves, bracing, and connector tubes are all nickel, adding strength and projection. The traditional curved bell brace is distinctive. The distinctive connector style, with the tightening nut on the slide rather than the bell , allows the bell brace to be very low, increasing comfort for many people. The grip is more moderate on this trombone than on many others. The bell section assembly is very good, with only very minor alignment issues at neckpipe joints. They are hardly noticeable. Beyond that it's a very clean build, perfectly hand spun, buffed and lacquered. On a brace hangs a small tag. JS in Eastlake inspected this one.
The Balance Weight: For Adults
The King balance weight on this horn is distinctive and stunning. It's nickel plated brass and is machined of three pieces. It's also engraved KING with some further adornment. The weight halves gently surround a brace tube, and easily install or remove with a threaded cap. No tools are required. This is the classic King style, and it has been sorely missed from King trombones for a generation. Why would King ever move away from this beautifully machined part to the atrocity they have been using? We think is has to do with institutional sales. If you hand a trombone with a removable balance weight to middle school children (gems that they are), you may find that they remove the weight and lose it.
King 7C Mouthpiece
We tend to ignore the mouthpieces included with new instruments, as they do not often inspire. This King 7C mouthpiece is worthy of your consideration. It's smaller than a Bach 7C, but in width and depth. The inner edge of the rim is a bit sharper like a Wick mouthpiece, so it feels sort of small, but you can back off on the power and pressure, as the rim offers decent support. The King 7C size compares very well with the Wick 12CS actually, the King being slightly more resistant with more center and projection, and the Wick being slightly more airy. The King 7C is a good mouthpiece for this horn. It promotes a good centered high range and projection and a good vintage style brightness. The tone can be made warmer with other 7C style mouthpieces, but the presence and center in the high range is lessened.
How Does It Play
The King 3B is a gem to play. The grip is comfortable, the slide moves effortlessly, and the balance is good. I played this slide dry for 10 minutes before I felt the need to wipe everything and apply lubricant. The King's response is very quick, the tone is centered and clear and there's some body of tone behind the attack. This is a horn that will very easily be heard whether live or close to a microphone. Compared to several other horns here, this King is a winner. As I write this, I compared it to a Bach LT16M Watrous model, a Kanstul 1606 Williams model, and a Yamaha 891Z. These are all very good horns, with similar dimensions all around. The Bach sounds a bit larger, warmer, foggier, nice for a ballad close to a microphone as you might imagine. The Bach is very velvety and smooth at low volumes, but is not as centered or projecting as the King. It takes more volume of air to power the Bach. The Kanstul has the clarity of attack of the King, but less stability and less full tone behind the attack. The Kanstul's light weight is enticing, but it doesn't quite have the full intensity and broadness tone that the King does. The Yamaha is very close with its NY leadpipe installed, but the Yamaha's sound goes sub-tone when you play very softly. At those low volumes, the King still responds with a projection and clarity of tone that the Yamaha does not.
The pitch of the King is right on, with little adjustment needed between harmonics. Except one: when playing F above middle C, kick the slide out an extra centimeter at least and you'll be right on. Tip: If you tune the horn so that your first position notes are a centimeter or two out from the bumpers, you'll have better flow and pitch in very short order.
Rarely mentioned is that the King's tone is very mouthpiece dependent. The tone is really malleable depending upon what size mouthpiece you decide to drop in. Several local trombonists recommend the King 3B to their students as an all around horn, not just one that is relegated to jazz band. That's because the mouthpiece makes all the difference. Though less commonly found, their are a myriad of small shank trombone mouthpieces in larger sizes, including those from Bach, Schilke, Wick, Ferguson, and others. When you play this King with a larger mouthpiece like a Bach 5G, Wick 5BS, Ferguson 1S, or Schilike 51, you can get a beautiful, warm, very classical tone. As part of a trombone choir, concert band, chamber orchestra, or for use in recitals, the King 3B with a larger mouthpiece can certainly blend with the large bore trombones that are prevalent today. That make it a very versatile instrument.
The new King 3B trombone not only competes against these and other brands for your consumer investment, it competes with 60 years of King 3B production. There are a lot of used King trombones floating around. Sometimes players ask, "Why buy new?" I'm finally very glad to say that this modern reincarnation of the classic model is worth buying new. Combine a flawless hand slide, beautiful vintage touches, a responsive design that's fun to play and has as captivating a tone as any era of King, then add a sleek case to bring along, and you've got an investment that may last a lifetime. This is American craftsmanship and heritage at its finest. And this is the kind of domestic manufacturing that we want to support. For this quality of horn, it's also one of the most reasonably priced professional model trombones available today.
The King 3B is also available in all silver plate by request. It is also available with choice of bronze (gold brass) or solid Sterling silver bell flare. The gold brass is softer than the standard brass, and tends to give a warmer, broader, prettier sound at the expense of a little less power and projection. The Sterling silver bell gives a slightly colder, more centered attack and more projection for less effort. It's just more efficient. We try to keep a selection of these in stock. King can build a trombone to your specifications in 6-8 weeks.
This popular King 3B trombone has been in production since 1951. It was first sold as the Concert Model to contrast with the smaller King 2B jazz trombone. The 3B developed its own following and its sound is especially famous in the jazz world, mostly because of the great J.J. Johnson, who played a King 3B throughout much of his career.
Marketed for many years also as the model 2103, this year has seen King offer a vintage version of this trombone. Now again known as the 3B, this model has ornate bell engraving and a classic 3-piece removable engraved balance weight.
The all new King 3-B Concert model was designed to meet the special requirements of the professional dance, recording and symphony artist. The special large bore and 8 inch bell were adopted only after exhaustive tests convinced us that this combination of bore and bell would produce the full, rich-bodied tonal characteristics we were seeking. The instant acclaim received by the 3-B from those who have already been introduced to it indicates that it’s destined to play a big favorite with musicians everywhere.
-1954 King Catalog
King Model Numbers
King 3B Salient Features