Rotary BBb bass

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Jonathantuba, Feb 15, 2009.

  1. Jonathantuba

    Jonathantuba New Member

    As a result of a shoulder injury, I get pain from using the normal Besson style piston valve bass and am playing a rotary Cerveny Kaiser BBb tuba which I think produces a real broad foundation under the band.

    I was just wondered if anyone else in the UK is playing a rotary tuba with their brass band? If so, how are you getting on?
  2. Despot

    Despot Member

    I doubt you'll get many replies to this from anyone in the UK...maybe farther afield perhaps? Most of the main suppliers don't even sell them!

    An even better question is how go YOU find it? I always thought the valved BBb to be a very uncomfortable instrument to play. The lead pipe is usually too high, and just generally not designed for "normal" :) people to play! I often wondered would a rotary instrument be different, better ergonomics, etc...
  3. Jonathantuba

    Jonathantuba New Member

    I also doubt I will get many replies! I have never met anyone else playing one in a band, so just wondered if there are any other players lurking out there.

    I find my rotary BBb really GREAT! The Besson style BBb I find an ergonomic nightmare - I have to stretch to reach the 4th valve and get neck ache trying to reach the mouthpiece. But with a rotary, one can choose the model which you find comfortable for your physic - there is such a big choice of models from small to really enormous (like mine). With my Cerveny my right arm is in a comfortable position and my left hand is free to make any tuning adjustments while playing as the 4th valve slide can be moved at the flick of the wrist. Mind you, although not compensated, I find that is rarely required. Most of the low register can still be played in tune by using alternative fingering such as 2+3+4 for low E instead of 1+2+4. Only the low D and C# need some slide pulling to get in tune. In actual fact I only bother for longer notes as not noticeable in quaver runs.

    The rotary valves I find super reliable in that I've not once suffered a valve stick in 2 years playing the Cerveny, while the finger movement to depress the valves is half of a piston.

    For sound, with 0.8 inch diameter bore, the Cerveny can produce an incredible broad wall shaking low register - puts a real foundation under the band.

    I would never consider going back to a piston tuba! :D


    PS In the UK is probibly the best place for rotary tubas
  4. 007ish

    007ish Member

    I believe Peter Denton (tMP "petedenton") BBb Player, NYBBW , Point of Ayr, Pennine Brass, uses/ed a rotary valved instument that caused some controversy with the local assosiation as to the legality of its use, when he played down south with BTM.
  5. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Surely you mean 3+4? 2+3+4 is low Eb.

    There's probably a number of reasons why rotary tubas have never really made it into Brass band circles. The first and most obvious being that every other instrument (except those pesky trombones) by it's nature uses piston valves - the Eb tenor horn being preferred to the french horn, for example.

    The reason for this is probably the same reason for transposing pitch - to make it as easy to move from one instrument to another as possible. All the valves are the same, and all the instruments play with the same type of valve.

    Secondly, a large part of brass banding over the years has been devoted to march and hymn tune contests - and rotary valve tubas tend to be more concert models I believe? I have seen a chap play a rotary-valve tuba at a march contest a few years back, but he seemed to be having a bit of trouble holding it and didn't do the road march at all. The other thing was he had to stand on the wrong end of the line as the other three basses all pointed right, and his pointed left.

    (Thinks... that would have made the ol' "pennine bass pivot" interesting if rotaries were more widespread. ;) )

    Maybe it's just because I've nearly always played a compensating bass, but I do find any lack of a compensating system to be a real hinderance to tuning - particularly when playing alongside players on compensating instruments. But if your ear is in tune, your instrument will follow. Non-compensators just make it harder.

    I also can't stand the oft-used four-finger valve position, as it makes C# on 2+4 very awkward. (Plus, that's the point of a fourth valve on a non-compensator anyway?) I much prefer a 3+1 layout - but I suppose a lot is down to what you're used to.

    If it suits you, keep playing it. Just make sure you're always on the left file when marching. ;)
  6. carlwoodman

    carlwoodman Member

    I think it was Desford and Britannia Building Society Bands who used Mirafone Kaiser BBbs when Howard Snell was conducting them.

    I tried a secondhand Mirafone Kaiser at Phil Parkers once (they told me it used to belong to Jim Gourlay). It was so big even the mouthpiece receiver was larger than the standard Sovereign size we are used to!
  7. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    I think you missed: "not compensated". 2+3+4 is very good for low E on an uncompensated instrument. However, except for the E, none of the notes that would normally employ compensation are really acceptable without pulling of slides on the fly.

    The rotary nature of the valves is a red herring - a symptom, not a cause. Other makes of tubas have not caught on in the band because we have all got very used to the sound that B&H / Besson designs make, and because B&H had a monopoly for a long time in this country - and B&H / Besson have always stuck with pistons.

    Eb vs French horns - again, the rotaries are nothing to do with this. The French horn is twice the length of the tenor horn, and plays on its higher harmonics. People used to make French horns with piston valves, you know...

    Continental makers have tended to favour rotaries, which have been used for a very wide range of tuba designs. The British brass band take on the tuba is a relatively narrow-bore one, even today, and so instruments that happen to be built with rotary valves often don't blend well with existing band instruments due to their different bore profiles.

    This instrument has a .8" bore - that's massively bigger than the BBbs that everyone else plays, and I daresay that it sticks out a bit in the blend at higher dynamics, no matter how well played it is.

    Some American bands play with all big-bore tubas in their bass sections - and there the effect really works; if everybody is doing it, the blend is okay.

    I wonder why nobody has yet built a tuba that employs some of the valve innovations that have come out of the trombone design world in recent years? Thayer valves, Hagmann valves, Lindberg valves, Greenhoe valves, Shires 'Trubore' valves - all offer airflow benefits over the usual suspects of rotaries and pistons.
  8. Jonathantuba

    Jonathantuba New Member

    I agree that ease of moving from one instrument to another is a big reason why rotary tubas have not caught on. But I am a dedicated tuba player so that does not worry me :p

    It depends on the model of tuba as to if they are fitted up for marching. My Cerveny does have the hooks, but I would not fancy marching with it, so have moved onto playing Eb for those rare occasions.

    Regarding the 4th valve being on the 4th finger. It is all a matter of getting used to that layout and strengthening that finger. The last time I tried a 3+1 tuba I had trouble coordinating both hands - all about what one gets used to doing.

    I have tried one those old Britannia Building Society Miraphone Kaiser. Not a very good tuba in my opinion with poor tone and bad intonation.
  9. AndyCat

    AndyCat Active Member

    I've played (rather tried) a rotary BBb in Championship section bands quite a bit. It doesn't work.
    You need an independent 4th valve for top section contest pieces, preferably not on a little finger, and you need to blend, not dominate, a section in a brass band.

    They're great for other stuff though. But I like the cleanliness of a piston instrument for the stuff I have to play.
  10. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    This, I was aware of...

    This, I was not! Every day is a schoolday....

    I appreciate your point, but, if the french horn were to be used to fill the same gap in a brass band, it would mean using different valves - due to the first of your points highlighted above. This may well have been a contributing factor in it's continued absence - although not the only factor I will certainly concede.

    I guess this is the key - it's been easier and cheaper for british brass bands to buy another single besson to fill a gap, (which will definitely blend in,) than replace all four tubas with a different manufacturer's basses - regardless of which is better.

    It always utterly defeats me why piston valves are invariable constructed as cylindrical, with a valve-guide that sticks, rattles, wears out and causes nothing but trouble. I've often thought that employing oval or flat-sided valves, similar to the piston design on some of honda's experimental 750cc motorcycless, (the NR750 for example) could counteract the ever-present problem of distance between valves for bass players with smallish hands (which I have encountered myself) as well as eliminating the need for any valve-guide. And there would be no need to change the bore of the instrument away from being cylindrical, so the effect on sound should be minimal.

    Wasn't there also a better system for making instruments easier to play in tune than compensating slides as well?
  11. steve butler

    steve butler Active Member

    Just on the 4th valve thing Andy, My Sousa is a 4 valve job with the 4th on little finger, at first I still used my left hand for the 4th valve but eventually got used to using my little finger until it became habit.
    Now I'm playing a lot of tuba again I sometimes get a bit confused when I go back on the sousa and end up using the left hand occasionally.
  12. Jonathantuba

    Jonathantuba New Member

    I know it is quite a change, so understand them not working for you. However, are there not Championship bands in other countries (Norway comes to mind) which are successfully using rotary tubas?
  13. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member
    Bonus points for anyone who can identify the player...

    Eh? I don't quite follow...

    Some of the early piston valves were square - see fig. 3 in, the box valve. Square seems to have lost out evolutionarily to circular very early on, for reasons that I'm not clear on - perhaps ease of manufacture, perhaps ease of maintenance / reliability / longevity.

    I'm sure circular is a lot easier to produce than elliptical.

    You need sufficient width to the valve to divert the windway to a different tube without bending the tubing too sharply. This might become a concern if this were done.

    Back to French horns... You have double and triple horns, which have two or three full sets of valve slides, not just the extra bits that compensating tubes add. You could implement a double scheme on your tuba by sending the leadpipe to the 4th valve, and then sending it via the other valves along two possible paths dependent on whether the valve was depressed (rather as in the compensating system); the other valves would have as much tubing on the back as the total front and back compensating tubing combined, and the windway would only pass through valves 1-3 once (but twice through the 4th). It would have a much more consistent blow.

    Boosey & Co manufactured band instruments according to this scheme under the name of 'Enharmonic' in the early years of the 20th century, but the compensating range won out - presumably on weight grounds.
    Here's a picture of an enharmonic euphonium from Charley Brighton's web page:
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2009
  14. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    See my quote above - yes, I've heard US bands do this, it works fine if everybody uses matched big bores. Indeed, to quote a specific example, the Chicago Brass Band bass section, who I think all play on 5/4 CC instruments of big bore sizes, make a rather better sound for it in my opinion.

    Is it possible for us to avoid referring to instruments whose main difference from Bessons is their bore profile as 'rotaries'? It makes it look as if the valve design is the important point, when the bore profile plays a much greater role.

    A stab in the dark based on your username - is that Jonathan Hodgetts?
  15. on_castors

    on_castors Member

    Dennis Brain

    Just working my way through his work on EMI Icon label 1943 to 1954 recordings!
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2009
  16. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    (at age 17)

  17. TubaPete

    TubaPete Member

    *waves* I have a different username these days!

    I used to play a Miraphone model 90 BBb with 5 rotors and played it for a while with BTM. I regret selling that one and may buy one back from Mr Tuba (I think he has one in stock - may even be my old one).

    More recently I have been playing a Courtois BBb which is closer to Eb in shape. It's not bad to hold except you need a very long left arm!

    I also have a huuuuuuuuge Conn BBb with a 24" recording bell...

    I'm playing BBb for a local band to me at the Areas and that will be on a 992 Sovereign.

    I'm off out to take a rehearsal shortly so may add more to this thread later!

  18. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    The famous "Catastrophone," Pete?
  19. Jan H

    Jan H Moderator Staff Member

    They used to be quite common here in the Low Countries. I think my band used them until the late eighties (looking back at old pictures - I joined in 1991). They were called "cor" (like the french word for horn) and were tuned in Eb and the played with the right hand, like all "normal" brass instruments, and not left like the F-horn.
  20. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    I take it that's Eb a tone below a froghorn, not Eb the same as a tenor horn?