In the Rotary (tuba) club

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Phil Green, Nov 15, 2010.

  1. Phil Green

    Phil Green Supporting Member

    As a kid, when I started learning brass as a 1st year senior, my first instrument was a Weltklang 3 valve euphonium. Sitting next to a 4th year with a frosted 4v B&H Imperial made me so jealous. However when said 4th year upgraded to a Sovereign I thought I'd die if I didn't get one of those; I can still remember the shine of the new instrument, the smell of the valve oil and the feel of the blue case lining........mmmm......anyway, I digress. When I left school and had to give back the Weltklang my Dad bought me a secondhand Sovereign and despite changing instruments (I now play EEb bass/tuba) and a brief flirtation with Mr Antoine Courtois I've always known that the "Sov" was the instrument to play.

    Similarly with tubas, the only 'real' tuba is an upright, 3+1 piston valve with the bell on the right hand side. A bore of 17mm is a minimum as is a 19" bell. Clearly a John Fletcher style lead-pipe is best if possible also. So I've never given any thought what-so-ever to those funny foreign tubas with the bell in the wrong place and strange valves. The only opinion I did have is that as they're 'non-compensating', whatever that means, they must be out of tune.

    However - there is an opportunity for me to play the aforementioned ******* child of the real tuba and so after a bit of research on the web I gave Mr Tuba a call. I've seen his adverts from time to time and even visited his website once but was put off straight away by strange instruments with 5, yes 5 valves. We arranged an afternoon when I could visit the shop/showroom for me to have a look and blow of a few instruments.
    Mark, his name isn't really Tuba I discovered, runs the place and it seems that if he doesn't know about it it's not worth knowing where tubas are concerned. Not only the physics of the instruments but also how they sound and how to make them sound better with different mouthpieces or alterations.
    After making sure that my jabs were up to date I headed for the English border, crossed into Wales and spent a great afternoon talking and playing tuba.

    What did I learn? Well, for a start the non-compensating instruments are actually more in tune in the normal range than my normal instrument which has all sorts of Besson vagaries in the upper register. Also the funny valves are quick - perhaps even quicker than my pistons (although timing is different in a strange way). Finally they make a great noise with the big ones being as big or bigger sounding as the Sov I normally play.

    So I'm now the proud temporary owner of a B&S Eb tuba, with 4 rotary valves. I have no idea on the bore size, the bell size or who designed the lead-pipe (I've probably never heard of him/her anyway). But it plays beautifully and is just what I need. Would it blend with the rest of the Flowers' bass section - possibly not. Will it help with any solos or solo passages I have - absolutely.

    So bass players of the (brass band) world - If you fancy living dangerously try to rid yourself of the preconceived ideas of what a tuba should look / sound like and give Mark Carter a call and ask for a blow on one of those funny foreign* tubas. He'll know what you mean and chances are you'll be taking one home too (just for a trial of course!)

    I'm interested to hear other players experiences with these instuments - I notice that AndyCat has a **** on his FB profile - good or bad.

    * I do realise that Besson are in fact now made in Germany so my reference to "foreign" is firmly tongue-in-cheek.
  2. jennyt125

    jennyt125 Member

    Great post Phil ;)
    Although not as extreme as your B&S I bought a Besson 983 EEb last year which retains the 4 compensating piston valve arrangement (however 4 in line on the front) but has a smaller 17 inch bell facing the WRONG way!
    It is much sweeter to play than my 981 (which is pretty good anyway) and once you get over the inital 'odd' positioning a great tuba and something I would have never considered.
    It hasn't been taken anywhere near a brass band room yet but I await the comments with interest when it does! :)
  3. on_castors

    on_castors Member

    I've been there and tried them... only I was lucky, I didn't have to spend any money, someone else I know did it, and instead I spent a good bit of time some years back playing with his collection of instruments, including sousaphones (YUK! Painful on my shoulder too even though I am build for comfort, not for speed!) and the one I liked most was a Miraphone 4 rotary valve BB flat - as free blowing as they come and not even vaguely like a BBflat Besson or Yamaha compensator sort which is like playing a Dralon upholstered 3-piece suite by comparison, and far less gurgly too!

    Still, I could never get my head around the concept of playing 4 + 2 without needing surgery first, - reminds me of that Star Trek Vulcan thing, (Live Long and Prosper!) my fingers just don't do that, and the way they are laid out means the option of reaching round with the other hand isn't very practical! Why couldn't the 4th Valve have been put on the THUMB instead?

    Now that means 5 valve instruments which I haven't tried.... nor the waggly tuning slide to keep your left hand busy :)
  4. AndyCat

    AndyCat Active Member


    I've had several Rotaries now. The current one is from Mr Tuba but is an old Amati 3 valve BBb as a toy really. I've tried several times to use them in bands but with no result (including a big Miraphone).
    They don't blend well, and BBb parts are almost impossible low down because of tuning/speed/4th valve issues. I can see them possibly working well on EEb parts, but I'm happy to play around on them for beer band/youth band etc. and am always willing to try anything new!
    Interestingly, when a visiting US band came over this year, they were blown away by my BBb and it's ease of playing for their band repertoire compared to their instruments. They all had Rotaries, including a very nice Hirsbrunner, 2 Yamaha's and an F of some flavour.
    Hope you have more success with yours, but for me they don't work, technically, as BBb's in a brass band, although the sound and volume is great!
  5. defnotsimon

    defnotsimon Member

    Rotary valves arent for everyone. Yes they are different and require a whole new set of maintenance procedures.

    Front action piston valves are way better than anything else actually. The instruments are so much more free blowing than any top action will ever be.

    As far as being non-compensating I would have said the opposite. Compensating instruments are intentionally out of tune! They take a good medium of where the notes sit and then run with that, which means that most of the notes arent where they are meant to be.

    But thats just my opinion.
  6. Phil Green

    Phil Green Supporting Member

    I wonder why you believe that is the case - mechanically a piston valve is a piston valve - perhaps it's the wrap??

    Also, as for compensating systems, they only actually affect notes lower than a bottom G in brass band parlance, so aiming for an average tuning would be completely wrong in any manufacturer or system. I do remember sitting in the Meinl factory in Geretsried for a whole day tuning up the prototype Courtois 181 tuba, so I know that they took tuning extremely seriously. The compensating system had no bearing on the tuning in 90% of the notes.

    Thanks for your thoughts though
  7. defnotsimon

    defnotsimon Member

    Completly the wrap of the instrument. I didnt really say it but what I meant was a front action instrument with piston valves is the best. Less stuff to go wrong with the valves and a more open wrap for the ease of blowing.

    As for the tuning systems I know that all manufacturers take the tuning of their instruments seriously and that the compensating system only changes things when the 4th valve is down but why does that mean that everyone complains about the intonation on non compensating systems? I dont see anyone here saying anything when someone says that a non compensating system has bad intonation. When you push a 1st valve down you get what you get whether it is compensating or not.

    Also 5 valves arent really that bad and I have never had any trouble with the dexterity when the 4th valve is on the pinky. But that might be just because I started on a Besson Soverign but the first tuba I bought was a massive B & S C tuba with 5 valves and no compensating system in sight.
  8. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Not strictly true as far as I know. On besson's systems the compensating system cuts in on any note where the fourth valve is used, so a C sharp on 1+2+3 is not compensated (so tends to sharpness) whereas a C sharp on 2+4 is fully compensated and comes out flatter.

    This is sometimes useful in other ways too. When playing very quietly I've often found that using the naturally flatter harmonic induced by the compensation stops the note riding sharp and provides a softer attack. OK, it involves playing everything in F, rather than Bb, but helps you learn alternate fingerings too!

    Never tried a rotary myself, although I did try a top-action piston valve tuba in NZ which had all four valves in a line - and found that playing C sharp with that configuration was excruciating, thanks to the weak and vestigial nature of the last finger on my right hand! They seemed pretty popular with the bands out there though, albeit I was at a loss to see the advantage of them as opposed to 3+1 in a brass band context. To my mind, it just made life more difficult, because rightly or wrongly BB players often tend to use the fourth as a sort of on/off switch - so having it separate from the other three makes sense.

    It might make more sense in other ensembles though?
  9. Phil Green

    Phil Green Supporting Member


    Agreed that's how the compensating system works but in my experience it's most effective from bottom G down. On most Ebs I find I can play the C sharp equally in tune on 1+2+3 as 4+2 but F sharps need the extra bit at the back of the second valve which is part of the compensating system. You are right :)
  10. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    It's probably just more pronounced on a BB then. I do remember in my earlier days on 'Soprano Tuba' that it was less of an issue. Personally I've completely given up on 1+2+3, because I've found that on any BB if I put the first and third slides so my Fnat/Bflat and my Eflat/Aflat are in tune, a C# on 1+2+3 is almost a quarter sharp!

    Are the less brass bandy ones better in this respect? Or do they just give you more valve combinations to choose from so you can find one that works?
  11. on_castors

    on_castors Member

    That simply doesn't make sense, there would be NO reason why they would be any different, size for size, if made from the same materials, with the same engineering tolerances with the same strength springs
    Gravity is going to make a tiny difference, but that is only in one direction with vertically mounted valves, as it opposes movement; mount it on it's side, and even then gravity is going to pull down on one side of the valve, and be dependent on riding on a film of oil! Tilt the instrument from perfectly horizontal, and that tiny effect is going to go out of the window!

    Remember that we British-style Euphonium and 4 valve Tuba players have one horizontally mounted valve already (in playing position), and as that has no compensating pipework attached, it is a lighter action, although usually fitted with exactly the same spring, but no reason it needs be quite so strong!)

    There is splitting hairs, and then this!

    The reason front action valves feel better is surely down to the fact that they are smaller so less surface area, so less friction - more significantly, invariably front action piston valve Tubas are non-compensating, and non-compensating instruments have smaller, less complicated valves, same reason why upright valves on non compensating instruments feel light and easy too. The sousaphones I have played have short non- compensating vales, and to confirm that, yes, they are light as feathers compared to B flat and E flat British style Tubas.

    The reason why non-compensating instruments are free blowing, there is less pipe and fewer bends and joins to blow against!
  12. on_castors

    on_castors Member

    Must be... as an example of how awkward it is do play 4+2 on a 4 valve in-line instrument, for those who haven't one handy to try it on: move your fingers along one to the left.... let your index finger hang over so it is not able to play it's valve or any other at all, so that the first valve is pressed with the second finger, second valve with the third finger and so on... then try playing notes singly, then with 1+3 combination smoothly and easily without it dragging down on the middle valve too! :-(
  13. jennyt125

    jennyt125 Member

    The Besson 983 I have has exactly the same valve block as a 981 or 982 with the fourth valve attached as part of it so no less surface area there and for some reason the valves are alot smoother than any upright Besson compensating tuba I have played. On the other hand alot of people confuse 'hard' valves with the pistons being heavy or worn out when actually changing the springs is what makes the difference.
  14. on_castors

    on_castors Member

    Dead right, although I haven't replaced any springs in recent times, I have done that before, and the effect can be dramatic.

    The thing is with Bessons, though, no two are alike, eg. I am playing an absolute cracker at the moment, (well the valves are, maybe a few dents!) but the previous one wasn't much cop at all, despite being in far better near perfect condition!

    One other variable, with front or top valves, the angle of the wrist is different, so the pressure needed is different - which explains why so many players (Euph more than Tuba) do such exaggerated contortions (looking like a chicken!) - so they can play with a very straight wrist - whereas a front action valve, rotary or piston gives this angel automatically!
  15. simonium

    simonium Member

    The second thing you learn as a euphonium player is to get the elbow pumping! The bellows technique is vital. (The first thing you learn of course is the two dynamics - mf and fff. We call this sound.)
  16. on_castors

    on_castors Member

    Must make moving to bagpipes a doddle then!? ;-)
  17. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    . . . or even a doodle ;):):oops:
  18. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Sorry, this thread's about proper Tubas, not childrens toys..... ;)
  19. Aussie Tuba

    Aussie Tuba Member

    I must say I find semi quaver runs a lot easier on my 3 valve sousa because of the angle of my wrist when playing compared to my normal sov. Definatly great when marching. I used my sousa at band practice while my sov was in for a service and noticeced a difference with some of the semi quaver work when I changed back to my sov. I have noticed a tendancey tohave my right arm up almost horizontal when I have a fast passage . I have had some rather less than complimentary comments about it to. But if it helps why not.
  20. on_castors

    on_castors Member

    That's OK Chuck! ;-)