Posted by Besson? No Thanks! on December 31, 2003 at 20:39:11:
In Reply to: Re: Conn - vs. Besson- sousaphone posted by Lew on December 31, 2003 at 14:51:17:
I've played a few Besson sousaphones, some Army owned, and most recently one owned by a local high school. The high school is an interesting comparison, because of their eclectic sousaphone collection (marching is a very tertiary thing with them): a besson, a Yamaha, a Conn 20K (pre-1969), three King 1250s (circa 1950-65), and (owned by the director) a King 1270 'Giant' (pre-WWII vintage).
The Besson and Yamaha are both less than 20 years old (I think the Yamaha is only 5 or so), so wins the "shiny" factor. Sound is a different matter. The Besson has a brassy sound that I would describe as unlike the characteristic sound of Besson upright tubas, with intonation that is bad enough to be annoying (just from trying to tune up the section). The Yamaha sounds bright and tends sharp, even with two bits. Hardly the imposing sound you'd like to hear from a row of sousaphones. In fact, both of them are fairly easily overblown, to the point I'd take a good fiberglass Conn over either of them.
The Conn 20K, even in its 40's, is true to breed and in good condition. It has all the virtues and faults you'd expect (e.g. the flat 3rd partial F Joe always complains about) and the rich, somewhat diffuse sound that characterizes all the Conn Sousaphone Grands: 20K, 38K, 40K(4valves) are the ones you might find. It's heavy, but the horn is usually the choice horn of the first chair player if a boy. The word often used to describe the Conn sousaphone sound is "organ-like" (which may be the characteristic that Joe refers to as a lack of focus, it's a matter of taste). I find a Conn 20K almost impossible to overblow.
The three Kings are in good shape for their age, which is to say some dents and dings all over, but nothing debilitating. One of them could use a valve job, but overall, they are good players. The smaller boys and girls like them best, but everyone agrees their sound is good, very typical of the 'sweet' sound traditionally associated with King upright tubas and sousaphones. Kings can be overblown and at high volumes the tone can 'crack' and break up into a blat.
The King Giant is the oldest and heaviest horn (with a massive 28" bell -- compared to the 26" bells on the Conn and Kings, I think the Yamaha has a 26" bell and the Besson a 24" bell). The horn isn't as 'sweet' as most Kings. It is capable of putting out more power than the 20K, but does take a bit of skill to do it. In expert hands, this is probably the best horn of the bunch, but it needs a King 26 mouthpiece (original equipment) and some practice to get its measure.
You should note that the newer UMI horns labelled as King 2350 (successor to 1250) have been report in the past year or so to look like Jupiters, not the traditional Kings. Beware.
Bottom Line: do what it takes to get a Conn or a King. There is nothing that has been made in the past 25 years that's even close.