Brass Band Rotary Tubists - Step Forward!

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Matthew, Feb 11, 2013.

  1. Matthew

    Matthew Active Member

    This is a question aimed at those special players who have dared to make the move from the traditional top piston valve tubas to the rotary valved variety - and play regularly in Brass Bands! :wink: (Gasp).

    I'm after buying my first ever rotary BBb. I bought a brand new BBb Sovereign a few years back and sold this on later as it was such a lemon.

    I hear good things about the York BBb, Yamaha and Wessex designs, although I've always wanted to play and own a rotary valve BBb or front piston valved model.

    I've had some great advice from Mark (over at already and will probably test drive a few over at his place first.

    So, rotary people - what are the pros and cons of owning and playing a rotary tuba in the band? Or how about if you own and use a front piston valved tuba instead of rotary?

    I'm told they are 'legal' to use for contesting, etc. Are there any compensation issues to deal with?

    What models do you play and recommend?

    They look more comfortable to hold and I'm told to play too, but keen to get insights into this mysterious new, but brave world!

    Thanks all. :D
  2. get an 80's sovereign if you want to stick to traditional banders BBb's, york has a major limit on what it can take! and i know loads of people love the neo but i really didnt like it, thought it was very thin sound, love my sov. pedal range is perfect and upper range is class.
  3. simonium

    simonium Member

    Simon Greswell makes a nice enough sound on a Neo... ;-)
  4. AndyCat

    AndyCat Active Member

    Neo all the way.

    I've owned, and used in Bands (briefly) both Rotary and front piston BBb. York Master and a St Pete.

    For me, the writing and use of 4th valve in modern band stuff made it almost impossible. My little finger wasn't strong, or independent, enough. And the lack of compensation is a problem too in a section. By all means, give it a go, but you'd be better getting a Neo if you're mainly doing band work. That works well in bands, but also for orchestra, 10 piece etc for me!
  5. Backrowdiva

    Backrowdiva Member

    I know AlastairG plays a rotary Bb, but he doesn't come on here very often, maybe a PM?
  6. cockaigne

    cockaigne Member

    Never quite sure if these instruments are 'legal' or not - instrument lists usually specify Eb and Bb tubas only should be used; they're not so specific as to the type of valves (as some lists are - still! - by specifying slide trombones...). Rotary tubas are traditionally pitched in F and C, as made by the continental manufacturers.

    "Compensation" has to be done manually, by use of the fourth and fifth valves, and manipulation of the valve slides with the right hand. Quite a knack to this, but it's fascinating to watch in orchestral and chamber music.
  7. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    It's funny, whenever this topic is raised on tMP, the same things get thrown into a mix that are better kept separated.

    - Valve type. Rotary vs piston for tubas, pretty much. A Thayer- or Hagmann-valved tuba would be interesting, but I've never heard of one. Just changing the valve type doesn't make much odds, playing-wise. IMO it's a bit more difficult to run around on rotary levers than on pistons - the actions tend to be slightly less wieldy.

    - Valve layout. Rotaries tend to be all under one hand. No reason why they couldn't be 3+1 though, for example. Front action vs top action, etc.

    - Valve tuning layout. 4V compensating vs 4V uncompensating vs 5V uncompensating, etc. Kicker slides or no kicker slides. Learning to operate an uncompensating tuba with kicker slides with the speed that band tuba parts demand is jolly tricky, I infer from observation of some really good tuba players. Although tempting, given that one loses the stuffiness of the compensating system. I think it was Phil Green who some time ago talked about a top band he'd played in (Britannia?) that had tried having all four tubas on a 5V + kicker slides scheme (I think? Open to correction.). The tuning issues killed the idea after an extended trial, apparently. Compensating rotary valve designs do not seem to exist on tubas, at least that I have noticed, although they are common on French horns.

    - Bore profile (not mentioned yet here, but vitally important). Rotary tubas tend to be either German or American made, for orchestral use, generalising somewhat. Both of these orchestral tuba traditions call for notably larger bores than we use on either our Eb or BBb British band tubas. Using such an instrument can result in the sound separating out very unblendingly from the rest at forte and above, particularly if the instrument in question has a bell that points in a different direction to the other tubas.

    So it tends to be difficult to find a tuba that has rotary valves that does either job (let alone both) of blending well at all dynamics and of being in tune with the rest of the band section once in the player's hands. Although in principle, one could build a tuba that differed from our existing band tubas in no detail but the valve type.
  8. Simes

    Simes Supporting Member

    I think my learned friend (Dave T) has summed it up rather nicely. I've had a tootle on AlistairG's (Ali-G?) rotary and quite liked it - playing alone. But I think it would be hard to blend in to a section containing 'traditional' tubas. The tuning issues alone when playing ensemble would give you another problem to solve, before you even got to the stage of hitting the right note!

    Having said that, I bought one of the very last York BBb's - and I loved it.
  9. Andrew Norman

    Andrew Norman Active Member

    This does not bear any comparison to the Compensating system on Brass Band instruments - what is refered to as a Compensating Horn is completely different.
  10. GordonH

    GordonH Member

    Have a look at this video 1 minute and 45 seconds in:

    I spot a rotary Bb and a piston Bb o it appears it has been done before.
    I also know someone who plays a rotary Bb in a non contesting brass band.
  11. Simes

    Simes Supporting Member

    Just because it's been done doesn't make it easy or the right thing to do!

    I'm sure that someone has been to the top of Everest while pushing a pea along with their nose. Doesn't mean that they are adding a lot to the well being of man-kind!
  12. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Beg to differ. The tuning on the F side is corrected from the tuning on the Bb side by passing the 4th valve loop in a second airway through the other three valves that then brings into play extra compensating loops of tubing for each engaged valve 1, 2 or 3. David Blaikley would have approved; it's not an accident that the same word is used for both instruments.

    See the tubing layout here, from these front and back views of an Alex, which you can trace all the way round, between the two pictures:
    This instrument has the following superficial differences in tubing layout from the classic compensating system as used on band instruments:
    - '4th' valve comes first in the tubing as one follows it from the front end (not all compensating double French horns do - this was the first clear pair of pictures I could find online).
    - There is an extra loop of tube on the '4th' valve which is actually 'borrowed' from the main tube, whose purpose is not to change the tuning, but simply to switch the airflow between the two levels of the valve when playing on the Bb side (and also to provide a handy location for a tuning slide that applies specifically to the Bb side main tube).
    But these differences don't change the fact that, when and only when the longest valve is engaged, the tubing passes through the other valves a second time in order to utilise compensating tuning loops - the defining characteristic of the compensating system.
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2013
  13. Andrew Norman

    Andrew Norman Active Member

    I beg to differ as well - as a horn player of nearly 40 years - the compensating or half double horn only refers to sharing the Bb tubing on both the F and Bb side of the horn. It is not there to correct tuning.
  14. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    It seems to me that we are still talking about the same physical layout, but using different words and descriptions due to coming at it from two different directions.

    Correct me if I'm wrong on any of these...
    1) A compensating double horn runs the airway through valves 1-3 once on the Bb side (equate to e.g. euph without 4th valve in use), twice on the F side (equate to e.g. euph with 4th valve in use).
    2) On the Bb side, the valve tubing loops are of the length one would find on a euphonium. On the F side, they are shorter than one would find on an F tuba, shortened by subtracting the length of the corresponding Bb tubing loops.
    3) When playing on the F side, the airway makes its two passes through the valves; on the first pass, it picks up the shortened F loops, on the second, it picks up the full length Bb loops (or vice versa, depending on the exact design). One could either think of this in the traditional French horn way as summing tubing to create F-length loops, or in the bandy manner that I am trying to describe: as adding the smaller compensating loops on the F side to the full length Bb loops to create compensated double loops that will be in tune as F loops (omitting the shortened F loops would result in identical intonation problems to those found on a 4V uncompensated euphonium).

    Alternatively, one could think of a euphonium in French horn terms, as having a Bb side and an F side. By historical accident, French horns have come to be thought of in terms of the F side, while euphoniums are thought of in terms of the Bb side (i.e. without 4th valve engaged) - indeed, it seems distinctly peculiar to consider a euphonium being played with the 4th valve down the whole time. But a compensating 4V euph and a compensating double French horn differ mostly in bore profile and mouthpiece choice - the topologies of the things are not significantly different.
  15. Andrew Norman

    Andrew Norman Active Member

    But if you omitted the extra tubing you just have a single Bb horn...

    True the idea is similar in the way that you describe but the method is different - surely it would've been in breach of the Boosey Patent if not. Sorry but I don't understand the technical details enough.

    I had always thought the big difference is that the compensating loops on low brass are really designed for use in the lower register - to compensate for the valve slides which cannot be made to be the correct length throughout the full range. As I say I don't pretend to understand the technical side.
  16. Fat_Bari

    Fat_Bari Member

    Found this on t'internet,

    [h=4]Compensating double horn[/h]The first design of the double horn did not have a separate set of slides pitched in F. Rather, the main key of the horn was B (the preference of German horn players) and it could be played in F by directing air through the B slides, an F extension, and another set of smaller slides. This "compensated" for the longer length of the F slides, producing a horn now called the compensating double. It was, and still is, widely used by European horn players because of its light weight and ease of playing, especially in the high register.

    Sounds to me that you and Dave are really saying the same thing, over 35 years ago I sat next to a horn player that had a horn in this configuration (which I believe is quite common). If we switched instruments (mine was a full double if F and B flat) I would spend all me time with the fourth valve pressed while he would use alternate fingering that had become second nature to him.
  17. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Not sure what the story would be with the patent conflict. Possibly news of the patent hadn't reached whoever built the first compensating double - I think it was a German idea? Or maybe UK patent jurisdiction didn't stretch that far? Or maybe they beat Blaikley to it?

    Not omitting the whole F side, just omitting the valve loops on the F side. The result would be a horn that would have F side tuning issues identical to those found when playing with the 4th valve on an uncompensated euph.

    The need for compensating loops isn't down to where you are in the range, it's down to how many valves are being held down. More valves = sharper. The way things work out, we need more valves in the low range, thus they get used down there. But if you play a top D on 1+3+4, you still need them.

    Thanks Jimmy.
  18. JDH

    JDH Member

    I used to play rotary valve BBb in brass band (a Cerveny Kaiser). It worked fine for me, but I was the only BBb bass, so there were no blend issues.

    I think for playing higher section test pieces a 5-valve non-compensated BBb would be required to move around fast enough in the low register without slide pulling. Yes, you would have to build up strength of the little finger and get familiar with the 5 valve fingerings, but that is just practice. It could be rotary valve, or front piston valve (5th valve rotary), if you just find the traditional band BBb bass uncomfortable to handle.

    I have sold a few Wessex rotary valve BBb tubas to brass band players, so they are out there - not many, but some
  19. Matthew

    Matthew Active Member

  20. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    A colleague owns the Miraphone EEb equivalent of the "Ambassador" BBb; I understand he actuallys prefers to play on it, and considers it a superior instrument, but uses a band-owned instrument to play in the section, because the Miraphone doesn't blend as well.

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