Re: Starting out & Confused

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Posted by Rob Perelli-Minetti on January 26, 2000 at 08:41:22:

In Reply to: Starting out & Confused posted by Dave on January 25, 2000 at 14:48:41:

Your situation is very much like mine was a few years ago when I started playing again after a 25+ year lay off. I would try to borrow a horn while you are getting your chops back and deciding just how serious you want to be.

I would suggest you begin with your local community band, if there is one. There is a good chance it will own one or two (probably 3 valve) BBb and/or Eb tubas and/or sousaphones. [Eg., The Sound Beach Volunteer Fire Department Band, my community band, owns two tubas (a 3v BBb York, and a 3v Eb Conn) and three sousaphones (a no name European built 3v BBb, a 4v York Eb and a 3v King Eb)] Unless there are a lot of new players, your community band might well have a horn you can use.

If your community band has no horns, or there is no community band, check around the local junior colleges, high schools and junior high schools. Especially if you have or had children in the band programs, you might be able to borrow something they're not using, such as an upright during marching season or a sousaphone during concert season, or an old beater they've got in the store room [Again a local example, one of the middle schools in my town has 3 quite decent King BBb sousaphones they don't use at all any more, and the director was happy to lend me my pick before I picked up a Conn 20K for myself.]

You probably learned to play on BBb horns and have noticed most everyone here plays and pumps for CC tubas. If you want to be a really serious player, you should consider a CC horn ultimately, as a result of your discussions with the teacher you will be finding. If you just want to have fun and play well in the community band or small groups (e.g. an oompah band or a dixie band), you may well find your budget and tastes best served by staying with BBb horns. The most important thing is to develop your ear and chops again so you can determine what you like and what works for you in the settings you want to play.

I can't emphasize enough the importance of getting a 4 valve (if BBb) or 5 valve (better if CC) horn when you ultimately buy. Decent used BBb horns with 4v can often be found for $2000 and under, while good CC horns (4 v or 5v) will usually run $3000 or more. It will make intonation and the low register much easier.

When you are ready to buy, go to a place with many horns and a good reputation, and plan to spend at least a day or so trying out horns with the advice of your teacher if possible but at least one honest set of ears other than you own in any event. My first choice is Dillon Music in Woodbridge, New Jersey, where the staff is scrupulously honest and fair. Matt Walters is my man (and da' man for a whole lot of really serious pros) there and a real guru of the tuba. I have no personal experience with Dave Fedderly in Baltimore, but his reputation is in the same league with Dillon's. For the sheer number of horns available, you should also think about going to the Woodwind and Brasswind in South Bend.

What you may remember from the past can also save you a lot of money in buying a BBb horn: in the old days in the US most high quality 4v BBb horns were Conns, Kings and Yorks. Those American BBb horns, interestingly, often have better intonation than the newer, more popular CC and even BBb European and Japanese horns currently in favor. (Some intonation problems exist in every horn, but much of the slide pulling you hear about but probably don't remember is a result of the change from BBb to CC instruments and to more 'modern designs. The newer horns are often less stuffy in the low register and easier to play, but have more quirks. Go Figure. It's true that the older European horns (e.g. the legendary Alexanders, especially the CCs) and Meinl Westons and Miraph(f)ones had more intonation problems than the newer ones, but I still think the American horns, on the whole, had better intonation.

Yorks are very sought after today, because they have a good sound and were popularized by the famous huge 5 vavle CC York (a custom made horn in the 30s) used by Arnold Jacobs in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for many many years. Hence, they command premium prices. Where you may find a good horn at a more reasonable price is in a big (what we'd now call 6/4 size) Conn 24J or 25J (4 short pistons like the ones on the 20K sousaphone, 24J has a forward recording bell (very out of fashion) and the 25J has an upright bell) or a slightly smaller full size (4/4) King 2341 (4 valves, either upright or recording bell -- new bells are available) or 1241 (almost the same horn, but older with slight differences in the branch tubing). The big Conns are no longer made, but the King is still in production and is a surprisingly good horn for the price. Also, the smaller bore Conn 5J (4v) can sometimes be found well priced used and is still in production.

Good Luck

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