Single and Double Basses

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by 2nd tenor, May 15, 2014.

  1. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Active Member

    Many decades ago I played an Eb Bass, it was a good experience and I’d definitely play one again. With the Eb Bass being both pitched just a little below the Euphonium and not that much larger it seemed to retain flexibility in how it played whilst still covering the bass line and beat. Whilst near ‘mine’ was neither too heavy or too big to transport on foot and public transport – wish I still had it ....

    Eb Basses were the norm in the lowly Brass Bands I played in then but when I returned to brass playing, towards four decades later, things seemed to have changed. Now it seems to be normal for Basses in Brass Bands to be double (EEb or BBb) rather than single (Eb or Bb). It might be counter intuitive but as I understand it double refers to dimensions only (see:, doubles and singles actually play at the same pitch but have different bores and bell sizes.

    I have two questions:

    # When and why did the change(s) happen?

    # Are there still roles for the single Bass and if so what?
  2. A double EEb is effectively that; two instruments in one with a 4th valve. The 4th valve allows the "gap" to be filled in below written F# but more importantly to give alternative fingerings for those out of tune notes such as written C#.
    Very few would use a single instrument now, with the exception of young beginners (and a few older players or those who have physical difficulties) for whom the weight of the single tuba is much more manageable.
    One or two use a single Bb Tuba for marching. I'm always in total admiration for those who march with a full sized BBb.
  3. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    There are two distinctions here, which I think aren't quite the same - that between 'single' and 'double', and that between one letter and two.

    The use of these have been around for a long time as related to brass band instruments (100+ years), and have been poorly understood for so long that one tends to get all sorts of theories when one asks for an answer, as can be seen from the linked previous thread. For what it's worth, my understanding is that CBOD has it right - compare with the much more commonly used notion of single and double French Horns, and also with the subnotion of full double and compensating double French Horns. A 4-valve compensating tuba has essentially the same tubing layout as a compensating double French horn, although the tubing intersections are slightly differently ordered and the 4th valve is turned the other way on the horn - but the important concepts are the same.
    Incidentally, for a brief period, full double brass band instruments were manufactured by Besson - in the early 20th century under the model name Enharmonic. These didn't last as a design, presumably due to weight problems.

    Regarding the doubling of letters, it is my understanding that this was originally an octave designation - Bb was BBb simply because it fell the other side of a low C from the Eb. With the addition of a 4th valve manufacturers wanted to draw attention to the low facility of the instrument, hence 'EEb', when that would more properly mean an instrument an octave lower.

    At least, that is my understanding.
  4. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Active Member

    Two very good responses so far, thank you :tup .

    If anyone else has some information to add, or support the existing comments, please do.
  5. Anglo Music Press

    Anglo Music Press Active Member

    This is purely speculative and off the top of my head, but.........

    In Sax's original range of saxhorns, what we now call the euphonium was called a Bb bass saxhorn. Is it possible 'BBb bass' is used for the real bass to distinguish between the two? This rather makes EEb redundant as a descriptor, as mentioned above.
  6. Anglo Music Press

    Anglo Music Press Active Member

  7. owain_s

    owain_s Member

    The euphonium retained the name 'tenor tuba' in Germany, too.
  8. pbirch

    pbirch Member

    I think it is a bit of macho nonsense, playing a "double E" or a "double B" requires more strength than playing the "single" versions. Our American friends talk about their tubas in terms of size and quarters, a full size tuba being a 4/4, and something like the old Regent tuba being a 3/4, a large tuba being a 5/4 and so on. It is more sensible than thinking about single, double or triple instruments.
  9. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Active Member

    I hadn't realised that the 4th valve, giving a full chromatic run to a lower octave of peddle notes, was what made an Eb into an EEb. It is what it is and the name change reasons (explained in posts above by MD and CBOD) don't apply to a Euphonium or BBb which have the same names whether or not they have a fourth valve - confusing but I sort of understand now ..... a bit more music theory for me to clarify in my head.

    'Macho nonsense', I tend to agree but sadly that's human nature. Less can be more but that's a confusing concept and difficult balance.
    It's perhaps not the traditional British way to size the instrument as 3/4, 4/4 or 5/4 but it does seem to have merit to me. I think mine was a Hawkes Bombardon (so many decades old) and I guess a 3/4 size or less by today's standards, it was probably considered 4/4 size when it was made. The question would be what dimensions should/does the 4/4 size, and the others, have?
  10. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    I don't think I've ever seen the 'quarter' system defined precisely. It's more a useful handwaving thing than anything else, widely used though it is.
  11. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    I always thought the double letter thing started when wider bore tubas were starting to become more widely used.
  12. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Active Member

    From what I can find on the web to date the Eb and EEb sizes where near the same in the 1930’s (EE being much the same as an E but with the fourth valve). There then came a taste for larger bells and so an increases in width, weight and height. The 3 valve B&H Regents had a 12” bell and an overall height of 31”, now and in so far as I can tell bells are commonly 19” and an overall height a bit over 34”.

    The change in height must be down to the bell change and associated effects as the open pipe length for the instrument must remain the same (EEb and Eb and the various sizes of are all at the same pitch). An old tubenet source gives the actual tube lengths as approximately:
    BBb Tuba 18 ft. open pipe
    Eb Tuba 13.5 ft. open pipe
    Bb Euphonium - 9 ft. open pipe
    These vary somewhat because of the end effect of the bell, and are with no valves pressed down.

    John Packer sell the JP077 Mkii and Wessex have a Junior Eb so there is a demand for the original (smaller) size. I guess that the JP, Wessex and Regent size and type instrument is fine for youth and passable non-contesting bands. Sounds fine for the older player too: less weight and easier to hold.
    There hasn’t been much said about where you could play these smaller instruments and whether the fourth valve is important – mostly I didn’t need one and on the rare times I did I played up an octave. What do people think?
  13. pbirch

    pbirch Member

    the problem with a 3 valved instrument is that your valves can only play so many notes of the chromatic scale below the stave, the 4th valve allows sufficient tubing to complete it, an added benefit is that it helps some of the tuning issues with the 1st and 3rd valve combinations, (1st and 3rd is often sharp, the 4th valve is slightly flatter), it also helps with different valve combinations in fast passage work, if you know the fingerings.
    It does take practice to get the notes in the lower octave sounding good and that is about breath and the position of the mouthpiece on your face (and, critically, not the size of your mouthpiece) and you will have to try it out for your self, so yes it is important.
    where to play a small tuba? it is an instrument for a learner, but i I would also say that if it is the only tuba you have access too, or if you have some health problems that restrict the weight of you can carry it would be appropriate, but aim for a big tuba when you are able.
    the fourth valve alone does not make the difference between a "single" or "double" instrument, euphoniums come in 3 and 4 valves, and no one plays a double euphonium
  14. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Hmm. That is just a matter of confused convention, I think, to be honest. The terms are so unclearly and inconsistently used in brass bands that I personally try to avoid using them - it only causes the kind of confusion that we can see going on here.
  15. pbirch

    pbirch Member

    I would have to agree with you, and all attempts to resolve the confusion appear only to lead to further obfuscation. A quick look on the besson site shows that they don't use double letters for their professional range of instruments, so perhaps we should stop at that as well.
  16. Aussie Tuba

    Aussie Tuba Member

    interesting thread. Just read it all. Glad I have the EE version but can see where the confusion comes in. My Sousaphone was described as double EE and only has 3 valves. Sounds nice though.
  17. Anglo Music Press

    Anglo Music Press Active Member

    I think the EE version was the first to offer 4G. Might be wrong.
  18. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Active Member

    Aussie Tuba. I'm please that you like the thread, I've learnt from it and am thankful to those who have answerd my questions.

    Anglo Music's joke might be lost on someone from outside the UK. EE is used by one of our (UK) mobile telephone companys called 'Everything Anywhere' and 4G, well you know that already I expect but it's to do with the (radio) operating frequency and bandwidth of mobile phones.
  19. kiwiinoz

    kiwiinoz Member


    Tell me aussie tuba, are we allowed to use a sousa on the street march at contest?? i was there in Brissie at Easter and saw alot of school bands etc with them and as i now play/carry (not sure which at times!) at EE flat, looked very envious at them
  20. Aussie Tuba

    Aussie Tuba Member

    I am not sure is the honest answer. I bought the sousa because I was unable to march with my Besson. I did 2 marches with it with The Salvation Army in Ipswich a few years ago. I haven't used it much since then. I must say it was the easiest Bass I had ever marched with and The Bass was well covered as a part. Even though I did not have a 4th valve. In fact the semi quaver runs were played easily with the valves in the front position.
    I did see some sousaphones in video of the contest at Easter but am not sure of the rules with contesting.
    I do tend towards using it in the outdoors on Anzac Day and Christmas playing.

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