Rath Trombones turn 20

The iconic capital letter ‘R’ has become a symbol of great craftsmanship among the trombone world thanks to Michael Rath; the man behind Britain’s only trombone manufacturer.

Michael’s journey began at his childhood home in Windsor, in the garden shed that he and his father built together. It was here that he developed his skills, built his tools and began his career repairing instruments on a freelance basis. After leaving school, Michael served an apprenticeship for 10 years with the Paxman French Horn Company, where he further established himself as a fine instrument repairer.

In 1990 he moved North and set up shop in Bradford where his highly skilled repairs and coincidental network of trombone playing friends quickly earned him a reputation as a specialist in trombones.

An invitation then followed from a friend and leading British artist, Mark Nightingale, who asked Michael when he was going to make his own trombones. After many designs and a lot of trial and error, the first ever Rath went into production in 1996 and Mark Nightingale became the first ever customer of Rath trombones.

Word quickly spread and tenor trombones went in to steady production. Michael, with fellow technicians Andy Hutchinson and Adrian Davison began to develop the full trombone line up that is so popular today; the small bore jazz models, symphonic instruments, bass, contrabass and alto models. Sadly, in 2006 the company lost Adrian Davison, their highly respected slide specialist, in a motorcycle accident.

Today, the Rath shop and factory is proudly based in Honley, Huddersfield and is home to a small team of technicians that Michael has built up and mostly trained himself. Rath’s excellent reputation is now represented across the world, and in 2015 their success was highlighted when the site was selected for a royal visit by Princess Anne.

From day one, the company has existed to offer players bespoke instruments as well as providing top quality repairs and customization. Once a tuba player himself, Michael has a wonderful understanding of the needs of a musician, each artist’s individuality plus the technical understanding to make everything work. He is a true specialist.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the company and the Rath story continues to develop. The line of instruments now includes popular student models, developed in partnership with John Packer and Rath’s entire range of instruments continues to be sought after worldwide. To celebrate this 20-year milestone, an Anniversary edition is in production and is set for release later this year as an addition to the Pro Series.

In August, Michael held his own celebrations, which included an evening of entertainment from various Rath artists, including Dennis Rollins and his Velocity trio and the fantastic five-piece Soul Tubes. A sterling line up that echoed the high quality of his own work.

The British Trombone Society are delighted to have heard from so many musicians who are all keen to pass on their congratulations and thanks to Mick and his team at Michael Rath Trombones.

“I first got to know Michael Rath around 1994 whilst a student at Leeds College of Music and became aware of his intention and relationship with Mark Nightingale in developing the R1.

Upon graduating in 1997 I part exchanged my trusty Bach 16LTM to start my professional career with a hand-made R1 Rath Trombone! At that time there was only a small handful of trombonists playing them so there was always a lot of interest in the instrument whilst I was working in the USA and Europe.

Twenty years on, continuing a busy playing schedule and now a lecturer at Leeds College of Music I still continue to have a great relationship with Michael. I now play on his latest addition, model the R12 and R3F. Throughout the past twenty years I have seen his profile go global, and rightly so, his integrity and passion in producing a consistently high quality trombone has never changed.” – Kevin Holbrough

“I’ve had my R4 for over 5 years now. Still feels like new and still blows like a dream. Best trombone I have ever played.” – Kevin Morgan, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

“I got my Rath after a few years of fruitless searching for a new instrument. The standard mass produced instruments were ok, but I wanted to find something a bit more interesting. Hunting for a great vintage trombone was frustrating – the examples for sale weren’t living up to the hype and were probably being sold for a reason. I decided to give Rath a try and after a couple of hours of trying different setups I settled on an R4F that I’m still really happy with five years later. It’s beautifully made, works flawlessly and, most importantly, helps me play the way I want to. I still look forward to playing it every time I get it out of the case! Thanks to Mick and his team for making my instrument, and congratulations on 20 years in the business!” – Robb Tooley, 2nd trombone Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

“I am fortunate enough to be supported by this very generous man. He truly is a master craftsmen and to be able to visit him and chat about designs and developments over a pint or few is fantastic. My contrabass trombone in particular is one of the finest instruments I have ever played. Thank you Mick! And Nicola-they come as a pair!” – Simon Minshall

“I have only had my Rath R4 and R10 for around 6 months but I can say with confidence that they are the best trombones I’ve ever owned. Having blown a few of my friends’ and colleagues’ Rath trombones, I was never totally convinced. It wasn’t until I made the trip to Mick’s up in Holmfirth that I realized what all the fuss is about. Experimenting with all the different bits was fun and witnessing the level of care and craftsmanship from the whole team was amazing. Each trombone is different and very personal, many of those same Rath-playing colleagues don’t particularly like mine. They prefer their own. It’s always a pleasure visiting Mick and the Team, I feel like my trombones will be forever in safe hands (apart from mine).” – Jon Stokes

“I bought my first Rath 20 years ago, when Mick had not long been making Rath Trombones. That R1 has now toured the world several times with me, playing with artists from Sting to Amy Winehouse, from Queen to Ellie Goulding, and from MUSE to Rod Stewart. I now own a whole family of Rath trombones to cover all my classical work as well as my jazz, pop and session work, and with Mick and his team’s incredible skills at hand, I have them all custom made and tailored to my own needs. I think it’s wrong that there’s been a tradition in the UK for British orchestra trombone sections to play a certain American make of trombone, but I’m so glad that those traditions are slowly dying out, and now there are a few complete Rath trombone sections taking over! For me, I think the British sound should be produced on a British trombone, and I feel that Mick has perfected that down to a tee. Congratulations on an amazing twenty years, Mick! x” – Carol Jarvis

“Congratulations to Mick and the team on their 20th anniversary! It’s great to see a British instrument maker not just holding it’s own in the world market, but being a market leader. Not a week seems to go by without hearing of another prominent international player who’s decided to play a Rath, and with good reason.

I remember first going up to see Mick in 2001, at the behest of Ian Davies (former Opera North Bass Trombonist) to whom I will be eternally grateful for many reasons!

Ian’s playing career was curtailed at one time due to dystonia in his left arm, which meant he couldn’t hold the trombone for any length of time as his arm would shake. Mick and Ian devised and built a system, whereby the trombone clipped onto a harness and didn’t have to be held up with the left arm. Meaning Ian could go back to playing for a living. This made quite an impression on me as a young lad at music college.

I heard through Ian that Mick had a couple of second hand, part exchange trombones. I was looking for an instrument so decided to visit the workshop.

On the day I visited, Ian was trying out a couple of sackbuts that Mick had custom made for him. I was blown away (excuse the pun!) by the fact that Mick had handmade these instruments himself, and was busy taking measurements and discussing with Ian how he could alter them to make them just what Ian wanted. Instead of trying out the 2nd hand trombones I had originally gone there to look at, I knew I had to have a Rath.

I ordered an R9 Bass Trombone that day, and have since added another R9 Bass Trombone and an R90 Contra Bass Trombone to the collection, along with my favourite, a trombone custom made for me.

A few years ago, faced with a run of Rossini’s La Cenorentola, I was trying to find a large bore valve trombone. Having had no luck in my search I mentioned the problem to Mick, who’s reply was ‘Ok, I’ll make you one, when do you need it?’.

Thanks Mick, keep up the great work.” – Lyndon Meredith 

“I first met Mick at the regional ITA conference in New Orleans. He was kind enough to take a look at the instrument I was playing which has a fault and asked me to pop to the factory and try one of his models when back in the UK, since then I have been hooked. Mick is a fantastic manufacturer and repairer of instruments. His reputation for excellence is worldwide. I am fortunate that as well as being an ambassador for the company I can call Mick a good friend and supporter of the various projects that I get involved with as a performer and educationalist.” – Brett Baker

“Mick’s approach to any suggestions I make regarding changes or updates to instruments, particularly on the R4, have always been met with the same positive ‘If you think it’s worth trying, I will make it work somehow; give me a few weeks to design it and make it’ reply. Nothing is impossible. If it could work, it’s worth looking into. What I always notice, is that he isn’t the only one that cares about his product. I have had numerous phone calls and face to face chats with several of the team in the manufacturing side of Rath Trombones, and they have all shown the same care and willingness to make their instruments as best they can, inspired by Mick (and Nicola!). It really is a team effort, focusing on quality, bespoke design, and personal satisfaction, that makes Rath such a success story. Mick is always good company, and really enjoys the appreciation he deserves from trombone players globally!” – Roger Cutts

I’ve known Mick since about 1991 when he was working from underneath the woodwind shop on Bradford. I was introduced to him by Chris Houlding and Ian Davies of Opera North. From the start Mick was always very friendly, professional and treated me with respect. Naturally his workmanship on any repairs I needed doing was first class and over the years he has helped me a great deal.

As I work in theatres a fair bit my trombone gets bombarded with dust. When combined with the ‘hard water’ in my breath the Trombones get gunked up all too often. Mick has a magic ‘witches brew’ in which he gives my hooter a bath and it always comes back as good as new! I asked him the recipe once and tried it myself. Never again! My hooter ended up smelling like an old burnt out train set for a couple of weeks.

The last few years I’ve been playing on Mick’s Trombone’s as a Rath artist. I love the way the bass trombone plays and I love the sound that I get on it. In fact Mick looks after our whole section at WNO and I know Roger Cutts is extremely happy with the tenor trombones too. Mick is a delight to work with and I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank him for all he has done for me personally over the years and for the continuing, outstanding support he gives our section at the Opera.” Alan Swain, Principal Bass Trombone, Welsh National Opera.

I love playing Mick’s trombones, and it’s a real privilege to be a Rath artist. His hard work and dedication shows in the quality of his instruments, and his success is truly deserved. Thanks Mick!” – Dave Whitehouse, LPO

“In my opinion, Rath are the best. I’ve had my Rath R10 trombone for 3 years now. It’s perfect. I always feel a great a warmth when visiting Mick and the team at the Rath factory; they have an unparalleled passion for making top notch bespoke trombones. Whatever you want, they’ll have it. If you don’t know what you want, they’ll point you in the right direction. I am very proud to be endorsed by Michael Rath Trombones!” – Rory Ingham

Featured in The Trombonist, Winter 2016.