Afternoon at Brook Mays

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Posted by Steve Dedman on December 31, 2001 at 03:23:53:

After a holiday visit with my brother in Ft. Worth, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend the afternoon of the 29th with Mark Finley at Brook Mays Tuba Store in Dallas. I tried a number of tubas, and wanted to share my thoughts, for what they're worth.

-MW2000 - very nice sounding horn. It has a very "German" sound in a piston horn. Very responsive, with a bigger sound than the Miraphone 188. The problem, for me, was ergonomics. It wasn't real comfortable to hold, mainly because the leadpipe didn't wrap around the bell far enough to hold the horn squarely on my lap. It was at an angle (on the vertical axis) so it felt like it was going to the floor if I didn't hold it just right. Also, the access to the valve slides was too open, if you can picture that. Instead of being able to rest my wrist on something, I had to either use my entire arm to move the slide, or reach over the top bow. Both choices were uncomfortable. Someone like Mark, who is 6'-8", would no doubt have an easier time reaching over the top. But I'm a little closer to the small side of average.

Miraphone 188 - classic "German" sounding tuba. Although it's a CC horn, the sound reminds me of a BBb 186 in terms of depth. The CC 186 has always seemed a little thin to me, since I grew up playing the BBb version. The 188 didn't sound as thin as the 186. It was the sound I was always used to. Absolutely the fastest rotary valves I've ever seen. One feature that they need to re-think is the tuning trigger on the first valve slide. I think I'd rather have it on the second. Not a deal-breaker, since it's removable. The only problem was that I tried it after the 56J. More on that in a minute.

Conn 52J - Great sounding horn. Easily in a class with the 188 in terms of projection, volume, and all around usability. Very nice high register, and a very comfortable horn to hold. This is a very good choice for someone that can only have one do-it-all instrument. The downside for me was that the pitches didn't center immediately. But that may have been the particular 52J that I tried, or the mpc. I was using, or what I ate for lunch. It just didn't work as well for me as its bigger brother.

VMI 4098 Rotary Culbertson - I can't say a lot about this horn, since I only played it briefly. But it does have a wonderful sound, and a lot of it. Valves were average rotaries, but more than sufficient. The only other 6/4 I can compare it to is the big Cerveny, and it stands head and shoulders over the 601 that I tried (elsewhere). But, you can't judge Cervenys by only one example. The VMI is a great 6/4 for the money.

Mir 191 - again, I only played this horn briefly, but it was a pretty good BBb. It can sound as big as any horn just about. It had a really nice "German" Miraphone sound. If you're used to a 186 sound, it's like that, only on steroids and a bit darker.

Mir 181 - The only F that I played, but I really liked it. The low C was a little hard to center, but I was able to make it work with a minimum of effort. Everything else was very smooth. If you're looking for an F, this is definitely a horn to check.

The horn that I chose (and am working on getting) was the 56J. This is the sound that grabbed me by the neck and made me want it. This is the sound that said "I am the one you want." A very "American" sound. Lots of breadth to it. This is the sound that I had in my mind's ear when I went into the store. It also projcts like crazy. I felt like it was effortless to get the sound that I want. It has a fabulous dynamic range, as well.

King 2341 - The biggest surprise of the day. This horn was the one that made me say "WOW" after the first note. A BBb that plays like a CC. Fabulous response, HUGE sound, great intonation. I can't say enough great things about this horn. If you are a high school or middle school band director, then you owe it to your students to buy these horns. It is far and away the best BBb horn I have ever played. A BBb 186 isn't in the same league with these new Kings. This horn has a low register that is best observed on a Richter scale, and a more than satisfactory high register. It was easy up to an F above the staff. I tried to break the sound, and couldn't do it. This horn can move walls. The best part is that you don't even have to try to make a good sound. As long as you have a decent sound to begin with, the King magnifies it. Professors, mark my words. You are going to start seeing performance majors and master's candidates playing on this horn. There is no longer a reason for a BBb player to switch to CC using response as a reason. I almost re-joined the ranks of BBb players. If you are a band director, and considering spending $3000 on a St. Pete or a Cerveny or a VMI, you're crazy. The King is under $4000, and will deliver the sound you want your tuba section to have. If you West Coast players haven't gotten a chance to play one of thse, then you need to grab your local UMI dealer's ear and don't let go until you get to try one.

The only reason that I picked the 56J over the 2341 is that I couldn't choose myself. So I asked my parents (who were with me) into the room and played the same two excerpts back-to-back on the two horns. Then I asked which sound they liked better. Even though they couldn't say why, they liked the 56J better. I liked it a little better as well, and I don't feel like changing back to BBb. The 56J felt like it had a tighter sound for me. Both projected equally as well. The 56J had exactly the sound that I want, and the 2341 had very nearly the sound that I want. That was the only difference.

If you get a chance to visit Brook Mays and Mark, you'll have a very good afternoon. I know I did.


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