EEb Tuba choice...

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by B.Portas, Mar 9, 2014.

  1. B.Portas

    B.Portas Member

    Hi there,

    I've been thinking of my options to upgrade my tuba from a 15" bell Imperial (that I have sold, to be collected for the 14th March), and am currently in two minds over its replacement (I need my own instrument as the band that I usually play for only have small, high pitch 3 valve tubas, and I need something to do university recitals on).

    So far, I have two choices, with a budget of anywhere from £1000 to £1400 - at an absolute push.

    At the mid point of my budget, I can buy a 19" bell Imperial (in silver plate - not a matte finish one) with a couple of dents and get it restored when I have the money. I am leaning towards this as my idea of a perfect medium between the focussed, orchestral sound that I need for my university orchestra, quintet and wind band and the large, hefty brass band sound. I am also used to the bore/receiver size and have a Denis Wick 2 that suits me perfectly - not to mention that I have only ever used Boosey and Hawkes and Besson brass instruments. Everyone I know with one of these basses sing their praises to me (at least 4 great musicians/Champ section players) and their resale value is excellent, in case I get into some financial difficulty.

    At a little more, a chap in Sheffield has a Courtois 181. These are a little rarer in the brass band world, and I'm not sure if this is even an option for me, but I hear they are fantastic - plus I wouldn't need to have any work done on it. I'd have to buy a 2L, or any other bigger shank mouthpiece, but would this be better for me? I prioritise the brass band sound over the orchestral sound, and most bands I have played with locally use Besson Sov's - perhaps it wouldn't blend?

    The leadpipe is also lower - almost as low as the 981 Fletcher style - and while not overly tall (bordering 5'11/6 feet), the high lead pipe fits me much much better, and would be unhappy if it was truly that low - it would mean me buying a stand. On a minor note, it's lacquered brass, and as well as personally disliking the gold look, I hear that the tonal qualities are brighter and harsher in the louder/higher register. I'm not claiming to be an expert in the tonal effects of different finishes, but I would prefer a warmer sound.

    In short, do I invest a little more and get a more modern instrument (one that I potentially won't like) or get the Imperial, that needs work but will cost less and I know I will love it in the long term?

    Seems a no brainer, but I'd like some sort of feedback on what a young bass player is to do.

  2. geo123

    geo123 New Member

    Well I've played 2 different Imperials and 2 Courtois 181's. The Imperials are better in every way, although not quite as good as a modern Sov/Neo. The Courtois lead pipe is awful, and even with the bass resting on your knee it is still far too low. The valves are spaced quite far apart as well which I don't like. Also spares are very difficult to get hold of as they are no longer made, whereas Besson/B&H parts are relatively easy to source.

    Sound wise the Courtois are a lot 'rounder' where as if you were to push the Imperials they will bark a bit - again this is personal preference but I prefer the Imperial. With regards to tuning, the Imperial will be flat in the very top register - it was common for a piece of tubing to be taken out of the back bow as many of the Imps had the bells changed from the 15" to the larger 19". The Courtois' that we have won't even play in tune with themselves - they were very early models though so newer ones may well be better. We got a full set in around 2000.... the BBbs were both completely different!
  3. Phil Green

    Phil Green Supporting Member


    The old Imperials are very much in vogue at the moment with some very good and knowledgable players stating their virtues. I've never played on one personally although I have a brand new 'version' that's as close as you can get to an instrument of this era.
    What one has to remember is that these, in the main, are well worn instruments and cosmetic damage is probably the least of your worries. The valves may be worn, ill-fitting and leak or stays may be loosening (or have gone and been replaced but AFTER causing damage to solder and seals). Both of these are (probably) fixable but expensive I would guess. I've played old instruments that looked great after a bit of tarting up that are, for want of a better phrase, blown-out. Don't ask me why but they didn't feel as 'tight' as an instrument should.
    The Courtois 181 is a fab tuba; I played one for 12 years and had a bit of success in bands in the late 90's. Regarding the ergonomics I'm afraid/pleased/embarrassed to say that I had a role in the valve spacing and the lead-pipe placement. At 6'1" I found the 981 a little too low but the 982 too distant in that I couldn't wrap myself around it. We decided the 181 should have a lead-pipe position between the two. Also the valve block is a little further from the bow because I (used to) play with my thumb on top of the bow, not under it.
    It does have a 'tubby' sound and is fantastic in the low register in a brass band or orchestra, if not a bit overtone rich for a smaller group unless you use the right mouthpiece. My mate Toby played one too and made it sound like a CC/BBb when required. He might have something to add.
    Just my opinion.
  4. B.Portas

    B.Portas Member

    I figured that the choice is between a better version of what I'm used to, or something totally different that I have no experience with - that has mixed reviews, though mostly positive. Ideally, I'd like to try them both, but being based in York with no car, trying the Imperial is a bit out of reach at the moment, being in Cornwall (with Jenny, at cash4brass) and although the Courtois is closer (in Sheffield), I still have to pay a hefty train fare.

    The Courtois to me sounds like Marmite - opinions seem to be very definite love or hate (being inexperienced with the brand, I'm not sure where I sit), while the Imp has a lot more about it that I like - though I take into account that being older, may have more problems with valve wear etc.

    Any more opinions would be great!
  5. pbirch

    pbirch Active Member

    one of the problems with the british brass scene is that if it isn't Boosey and Hawkes (or Besson), then we tend not to consider it, we like what we know and therefore know what we like. I own a Courtois, and love it, and if I had to replace it, It would not be with a Sovereign. That said, you need to be careful with peoples opinions about their own instruments, we are not going to invest a lot of money in a tuba and then say that it is not very good, are we? And we are all really good at spending other peoples money for them
    I think that your budget is probable £1000 short for your needs, that would take you into the better 2nd hand range for a sovereign or a yamaha (and there will be some good Maestro's around now that the Neo is in production) or a new instrument from someone like Wessex Tuba. You might be better advised to save up for another year and pursue those options.
    Other than that, normal consumer advice applies, try before you buy (in the shop and rehearsal if you can), and take someone with you who knows about tubas and can advise on the instrument, and don't be swayed by the badge, go for what it sounds and feels like in your hands.