Posted by Mark Heter on July 09, 2003 at 14:55:59:
In Reply to: 'raincatcher' question posted by Tim L. on June 29, 2003 at 13:23:23:
I had the opportunity to ask William J. Bell about the raincatcher sousaphones, since he played on in Sousa's band. My question:
"Mr. Bell, those old sousaphone look pretty huge. Were they a big pain to fill with air?"
"Well, yes, they were, but we did it for HIM..."
I know of few tubas players who had to play those things with Sousa who used them as their preferred instruments after they left the Sousa Band.
Sousa (Paul Bierley probably knows more about this than I do - he's the ultimate Sousa authority) complained about the violent tone of the helicons he had experienced, therefore the sousaphone with its upright bell to "spread the tones" around the band. Remember, Sousa did not use string basses, and didn't believe they belonged in his band - he used tubas AS basses.
The distortion in sousaphones emanates from two sources - the "bits", which are especially bad on Conns (jagged inside instead of smooth), and the bell front effect. The tone does "curl" around - the vibrations band into the back of the bell and, now distorted, come out of the front. I used to have a King with sequential "bits" (I got one set, the Navy Band got the other six, and they never went into production, sadly), which matched up inside as a smooth leadpipe, retaining the adjustment ability. Martin actually made an "S" shaped mouthpiece bit for their sousaphones which did the same thing - mellow out the tone, and make it play more like a TUBA. Some enterprising you person could make these things today out of mouthpiece receivers, a little bit of tubing, and a tapered ferrule to fit into the gooseneck. It would help a lot of musicians trying to make music with a sousaphone.