Basie band order adds to firm’s worldwide acclaim

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FEW evenings go by these days without Michael Rath recognising one of his world-famous trombones being played by one leading musician or another on the television.

And now the managing director of Rath Trombones at Honley, near Huddersfield, has another reason to be delighted with all his hard work ever since his company began making hand-crafted trombones for some of the world’s top musicians.

In its latest major contract Rath has been commissioned to make five instruments for the prestigious Count Basie Orchestra in America.

Not that Michael, 49, is a man to rest on his laurels.

Today he flies out to China to finalise plans for a new mid-range product with something to appeal to every purse for student instruments. Other weeks he may be flying out to the US where he has a large client base or organising business from his workshop with customers from Japan, Australia, Venezuala, Columbia and Brazil.

Not bad for a boy who says he only excelled at metalwork while at school in his native Windsor.

That give him a very basic grounding in the skills he would need later when it came to making one of the world’s most beautiful instruments.

He also starting to develop his musical skills at school by learning to play the tuba thanks to music teacher Michelle Brock.

Michael says: “She wanted to know who wanted to play it and for some reason I stuck my hand up. I started playing at the age of 11 and it took over my life.”

Little did he know it but this action was to have invaluable consequences as it led to him playing gigs almost every night of the week, including on one memorable occasion for a production of Romeo and Juliet in the Rose Garden at Windsor Castle.

He was encouraged by a peripatetic music teacher Dave Edwards – an inspirational man who used to make natural trumpets, those that do not have valves, in his spare time.

Michael said: “He was a star, really. He set me on the way.”

After leaving school he joined Merton Technical College where he studied for two years obtaining a City and Guilds qualification before being taken on as an apprentice at Paxman Musical Instruments in Covent Garden opposite the world-famous Pineapple Dance Studios.

He wound up in Yorkshire eventually at a franchise of Woods Music Store in Manningham Lane, Bradford, along with other musically inclined friends where they took on instrument repairs.

However, his breakthrough came when his talent was recognised by one of this country’s most celebrated trombonists, Mark Nightingale, one of Michael’s early guinea pigs.

Michael said: “It had been at the back of my mind anyway but it was when he said: ‘when are you going to make your own trombone?’ that I seriously started thinking about it and I began making my own in 1995.

Since then he has not looked back with sales to many distinguished international clients including US army bands, Black Dyke Band, film and TV studies, orchestras and opera houses.

But success appears not to have altered him – he seems to have effortlessly retained the charm and down-to-earth qualities that customers find immediately engaging.

He says: “We are doing really well at the moment.

“I was looking at the figures the other day and last year was the best year we have ever had though this year we are up another 24 per cent.

“I have been doing it for nearly 35 years now and I don’t think twice about it (making these instruments). There are 12 of us working here and nine of us on the shopfloor. It’s a mucky job but the finished article is still amazing.

“To think you can create such a beautiful object from a sheet of brass and a raw stick of tube. It’s quite incredible.”

The workshop turns out between eight and 10 trombones a week with prices ranging from a few hundred pounds to £7,000.

All are made with the same meticulous precision that has led to a reputation for excellence that meant he was a natural target for the BBC last year when they decided to make a programme about the science of music.

The idea was to create music from rubbish for a high-profile performance. Charles Hazlewood led the challenge before conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra, playing only scrap instruments.