Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Jack E, Sep 27, 2017.
Thank you for that warning, Tom - I'll make a point of keeping it in mind.
With best regards,
Not sure whereabout's you're based, but Stockport Silver Band have a Wessex Baritone – you'd be more than welcome to come and have a toot on ours to see if you like it (if it saves you any travel distance?). We bought a Wessex Baritone and Tenor horn a couple of years ago – the guys from Wessex were really helpful, and tbf we're pretty impressed with the quality of instruments for the price. Also have an old imperial baritone you can compare with if you like.
Wessex Baritone Horn: I bought one of these and played it for about two years in two different brass bands, and passed my ABRSM Grade 5 on it. The rich sound was admired, and it "spoke" very easily. I even survived a "guest" appearance in Leyland Band one evening on 2nd bari. with it. They ARE made in China if that matters, but Wessex stipulate the quality etc. that the factory deploy and after two years use, with a regular application of Pro-Idees Silver Enhancer [recommend !] it still looked and played like new. The only difficulty I had was when playing first bari at the top of the range it didn't pitch quite right with my colleagues Besson Sov. Euphonium .... so I traded up for an old, but excellent condition Besson Sovereign 4 valve [you know the one - if you can lift it it plays superbly well]. Conclusion: as a personal instrument playing parts in other than the highest register it's an excellent purchase for anyone wanting a new instrument. If you are close enough to try one, recommend you do so. It's not going to be a Sovereign, but it isn't going to break the bank either. p.s. when the time came I had no trouble selling it and didn't lose much. Hope this helps.
Many thanks for your suggestion, Claire - Stockport is pretty close, and I'll PM you this evening.
With best regards,
Thank you, 2nd cornets - that's very helpful. I don't have a problem with instruments made in China, as long as someone over here is doing thorough checks on them when they arrive - and others have told me that Mr Wessex is quite pernickety about that!
As far as upper register is concerned, I'm still only at junior band level, though I've been told that I stand a fair chance of working up to main band by next summer, but the possibility of playing first bari is a long way off - if ever! As from what I've seen of the music, it's a pretty demanding position, with plenty of stuff above the stave. Second bari looks a much easier proposition, with few if any notes above the stave, so intonation errors at the top of the register shouldn't be a drawback.
Claire (above) has said Stockport Silver Band have one that I could try, so I will certainly arrange to do so.
From what I've been told, a Wessex is certainly good enough to take me a long way - and being a non-bank breaker is a prime consideration, too!
Many thanks for your detailed reply, and best regards,
My last band bought an Eb bass from Wessesx (for my missus) and a baritone (for me, 'cos I was doubling on bari tho' usually a euph player). The bass was excellent - not without its faults (thin brass, poor threading on the valves/caps) but a cracking instrument. As their website says, it's not just good at the price, it's good at any price. I was less certain about the bari, and although it was a competent instrument, it didn't have the wow factor the bass had. I ended up being rather frustrated with it, but it sounds as though I'm a little further on in my learning journey than you are, if that doesn't sound too patronising. At this price point I think the other contender is Packer, and if you can, I would check them out. FWIW, I agree with what everyone has said about 4 valve baris - the 4th valve creates more problems than it solves.
No, that doesn't sound patronising at all - I've still got my 'L' plates on!
Though I started playing about 2 years ago, I've had time out for quad bypass surgery, serious breathing problems last winter, and having to temporarily switch from Bb to Eb (baritone to tenor horn) for 5 months whilst the docs were sorting out my breathing problems, and have only just reverted to baritone in the last couple of weeks - all of which has put me back quite a bit. TBH, I'm pretty sure that a 'competent instrument' will take me quite a long way before I reach the limits of what it can do.
I'm currently playing with the juniors, and even aiming for 2nd baritone is going to be a big jump (as the main band is first section), and I may never be good enough to play 1st baritone with them.
Many thanks for your advice, and best regards,
Some interesting comment above.....
I think the key thing is to try as many options as possible. Nothing beats testing in person - could you travel somewhere (like Packers for instance) and spend a day trialing the options?
I know the 'cheaper' instruments fill an extremely important role in the market but I still think you're better off with a second-hand Sovereign. Please don't feel as if it is condescending but i think it'sa better investment. It would hold value better and, for all their faults, the Sovereign is a sturdy top class instrument.
Why not throw out a wanted request in the classifieds here? There are bound to be hands with examples sitting in cupboards ready to go to a living home!! Nothing to lose in my opinion......
How much would a 2nd hand sovereign normally be available for? I'd guess double that of the Wessex? I don't disagree with your argument, except if there is a maximum budget...
We need to be careful about what we are rating as desirable here. I've over the years heard (and advanced myself) several arguments regarding comparing the 'standard' model against modern Chinese reproductions of the same, which broadly separate into two categories:
- 1. Build quality - A. Quality of parts; B. Quality of assembly; C. Replacability of parts; D. Maintainability in case of developing structural problems
- 2. Playing quality - A. Tone quality; B. Accuracy of intonation; C. evenness of response
I've probably missed one or two important things, but that gives a strong flavour of what matters to be concerned about. It's easy when assessing a new instrument to concentrate solely on the (2) items, but the (1) items are also critically important.
Regarding the (1) items, Chinese brass instruments were once (20 years ago and more) synonymous with terrible build quality. I recall as a child being given a Lark baritone that even my novice lips could tell blew exceptionally badly. The mystery was solved when one day I put my arm down the bell (I forget why!) and found that when I pulled it out again, the whole bell section down to the bottom bow came with it... Things are different now, though not universally. If you purchase via somewhere that QAs in a sensible fashion (as Wessex or Packer's do), you pay more than if you just buy a £300 double trigger bass trombone on eBay, but you're also a great deal less likely to end up with the sort of problems that that shiny but fit-for-the-bin baritone had. One still can buy an obvious dud, but not if one is careful and resists the urge to dial the cheapskatery up to maximum. If you go to a place that has instruments made in China to their specifications and that has a showroom in this country (Wessex and Packer's both among the best examples, though not particularly geographically convenient for Jack) - and then perform your own QA in the showroom (test all the moving parts in addition to the standard musical things), then you can guarantee not falling foul of either (1A), (1B), or any of the (2) items.
Where one still can make a parts argument is regarding items (1C) and (1D). If you buy an instrument and play it for 10-20 years before needing a new part, can you guarantee that the company you bought it from will be able to supply you(r repairer) with the needed part after that span of time? I don't see Packer's ceasing to trade at any point in that span of time (they're a long-established family business with more strings to their bow than just selling their imported student-level instruments), but I wonder whether Wessex will outlast Jonathan, the proprietor. He's a healthy chap in middle age, but it is a one-man business built out of his personal interest in China and particular enthusiasm for odd tubas. When Besson fell over, those people that bought York instruments on the strength of their inheritance of the Besson/B&H designs/tooling and the major banding celebrity endorsements have been left rather exposed by York's subsequent disappearance - businesses can be surprisingly fragile things.
And then - one could always look to B&H/Besson as a giant universal constant, dominating the scene and guaranteeing continuance along with a ready supply of parts. No longer - mismanagement leading to collapse and then buyout sees them now manufactured in Germany, and while the instruments and parts are now of high quality, simple parts orders now take months if not years to arrive. There was formerly a huge inbuilt advantage here over the Chinese importers in item (1C), but that's been thrown away.
(1D) is perhaps the hardest important item to evaluate. Is my new trombone fitted with a leadpipe made of a cheap material (maybe even lead!) that will degrade more rapidly than it should? Are the joints put together in ways that will last and that will be repairable if they fail? The answer isn't available until you've played the instrument until it falls apart... This one must be taken on trust, and evaluated on the basis of past form. Here our standard instruments retain their advantage - we've been playing these models for decades, and know how they fail. The Chinese imported models are new enough to the scene that we don't know how the better examples fail. If you know more about brass manufacturing than I do (plenty of people do!), then you might know good questions to ask the importers on the subject.
You're absolutely right, but . . .
. . . which there is - and even the cheapest examples I've seen of Sovereigns are well above it. Nonetheless, I do appreciate the advice and constructive suggestions I've been offered.
With best regards,
This is a heck of an analysis, Dave, and has helped me a lot in weighing up the various pros and cons.
Quality assurance - yes, I can think of plenty of examples of manufacturing companies, ranging from the smallest to the giants, which were brought down because "Get 'em out by Friday!" held sway over "Get 'em RIGHT by Monday!" Frankly, I think that the rigor of quality assurance is far more important than where an instrument is built.
Not many people know that, up until 1900, "Made in Germany" meant "cheap and nasty" - exactly the way that "Made in Japan" was in the 1950s! Yet look how Japanese companies have improved their build quality - and their market share - out of all recognition since then. In the 19th century, German companies went all out for cheap, quantity production, and quality didn't get a look in. It was only from about 1900 onwards that they started to realise how much you could raise the selling price by making a quality product and convincing the customer that it was a quality product - and the key to that was rigorous quality assurance.
. . though still manageable . .
No, you can't - but how many people (including me!) bought British bikes in the early 1960s, rather than these new-fangled Japanese jobs, certain that long-established giants such as BSA, Triumph and Norton were going to be around when our bikes were 20 years old? And then saw those giants wiped out, not by Japanese competition, but by ignorant and incompetent management?
It's odd, though, the way things work out - and an utter indictment of the management of British motorcycle makers - that, decades after those makes went to the wall, all over Britain are small to medium size businesses, making replacement parts to keep those bikes on the road, and - in many cases - improve on the original designs. In fact, it's now possible to obtain all the new parts required to build many of those bikes from scratch! So it's clear that what wiped out BSA and the like wasn't a lack of skilled workers - but a lack of skilled bosses.
Not relevant? I'm not so sure. If there are lots of basically sound products being used, which start needing replacment parts, because they are too good to throw away, somebody somewhere will see that market opportunity, and start providing them - exactly as they have done with classic motorbikes and cars. So if Packer's and Wessex sell a goodly number of their instruments before they cease trading, I find it quite believeable that some specialist will move in to provide replacement parts - either made in Britain, or sourced from China! There are, of course, no guarantees that Packer's or Wessex will sell enough instruments to make it worth anyone's while to do so - but, as you rightly point out, if companies like Besson's can disappear, even buying from the biggest of big names is still no guarantee - especially when you consider that a well-built and well maintained instrument can last for 40 or 50 years.
Yes - and there's no getting away from that one. The only way of really being sure would be to dismantle one, and send the various bits off to a metallurgist for analysis - and I can't see the friendliest of suppliers wearing that! On the other hand, though a distant manufacturer may not be bothered about upsetting customers a few years down the road, companies like Packer's and Wessex have a very strong interest in not seeing their businesses go under the way that Besson did - and hence have powerful incentives to guard against selling rubbish products.
Thanks again, Dave; your post has proved very helpful! And best regards,
Off now to try out a Wessex and an Imperial this afternoon!
Let us know how they go! I'll be interested to hear what you make of them. The Imperial will give you the older sound that we were discussing above, in a notedly robust and sturdy build package, but that might not be what you want in a modern band. That said, within the last decade I once played a 50s Imperial baritone on the 2nd seat in the top section of the American national contest on two big modern 'blockbuster' type pieces for the 2nd-placed band, so the concept obviously still works... Even if I was honking it for all it was worth with a rather oversized mouthpiece...
I forgot to mention a third category of consideration that some will find urgent while others find it unimportant - the moral one of wages. Is it okay for our makers to be undercut by importers of makers from a country where living standards are lower, the cost of living is lower, workplace health and safety is rudimentary, workers rights are very undeveloped, and in consequence salaries undercut those of our local workers by a long way? That's one to which the answer will vary considerably person to person. I tend to take the view that this feels unfair, but is just the way of the world, things will equalise in time, the wheel always turns, yadda yadda, and buy local where I can afford to, safe in the knowledge that ultimately my small volume of transactions changes the balance of nothing.
Well, thanks to Claire, I had a chance to try three baritones this afternoon; a Wessex, a B & H Imperial, and a B & H Regent.
The Wessex looked relatively new; from looking through the available data on B & H, it looks like the Regent was built about 1973; I didn't note the serial number of the Imperial - but it could be about the same age as the Regent.
Very odd. Very, VERY odd. Though the Imp was well old, and cosmetically in poor shape, both that and the Wessex played nicely enough - but as soon as I started playing the Regent, I knew "THIS is the one I want!" Yet, if you were to ask me what made me feel like that about it; what did it have that the other two didn't - I honestly can't say; except that it just felt RIGHT. Everything about it; the sound; what it felt like to play; the ease of hitting those higher notes, right up to the high F. The nearest I can get to describing it is to say it was like the first suit I had made by an East End tailor, who started with bales of cloth and made it from scratch - as compared to an off-the-peg suit. That suit felt like it had just grown on me - and the Regent felt like that.
The Regent shows signs of some old repairs, and some of the plating has gone, showing the brass - but I've got a few battle scars myself (and a lot worse than those on the Regent! ). It was, however, well built to start with, and as far as I can see the only faults are cosmetic, and all of them are repairable. So Claire is going to take it up with her band's committee, and if they are agreeable I'll offer to buy it from them.
The way I see it, its playing qualities are good enough to stand me in good stead for quite a few years, and if I decide to spend some spare cash later on to deal with the cosmetics, it will be worth doing it. It's within my budget, too!
And my thanks to Claire for taking the time and trouble to help me out - I owe you a drink, Claire!
That's interesting, Jack. Regent was the student line to the top line Imperial back in the day, though I couldn't tell you what the differences are. If it works for you, it works for you! Glad you found something to your taste.
That's what I thought, Dave - it just felt like me, that mouthpiece, and that instrument - everything matched. And when I went for the high notes, it felt like I had to really concentrate, and hear the note very clearly in my head to know precisely what the pitch should be, and focus on getting my embouchure right and the air pressure - but it just felt as though I was working with a precision instrument, and once I started working with it precisely, everything fell into place.
It still feels very odd, though - I'm pretty sure that if I'd tried playing all three a few months ago, I'd have been hard-pressed to notice any difference. This afternoon, it was blindingly obvious.
And, d'you know; I'm not so sure, now, that I didn't actually go up to a top G, rather than an F . . .
I'm not sure now whether it was you or Mike Lyons who suggested that the four months or so I spent on tenor horn this year would make it easier for me to reach those high notes on baritone, but that could be part of it - whatever, it felt good playing it!
With best regards,
Yes indeed. That intuitive, can't -put your-finger-on-it response is worth its weight in gold. Enjoy it!
I'm sure I will, Euphfiend!
That's very valid and has made me think a lot. Maybe I am too blinkered in my thinking but possibly it is about perception. When I think of the 'cheaper' ranges I immediately think of the lowest quality stuff available on Ebay and the like. Undoubtedly the stuff produced by Wessex and Packer's is not like this and is a much higher step up in quality - materials/build etc.
Hands up....... I've never tried a Wessex instrument but I think I would like to now after this thread! My perception (again probably blinkered and wrong) is that it is on the fine details they fall a little short compared to higher priced instruments. My pet bug bear in this regard is the valves.... every budget instrument has had rubbish valves!! Sluggish, poor quality etc.
I should get myself to Packer's and try though rather than spouting off, so sorry Jack. Food for thought......
That's great Jack! I'm glad you've found something and should make no excuses. I loved my old Imperial horn, I learned to play on it and it certainly didn't hold me back - I used it for years and even prepared for my grade 8 exam on it. In some respects i've never felt as comfortable in my playing asI did in those days.
It's horses for courses but most important is what feels right for YOU! Hopefully you can strike a deal!
Also remember, as/when you do improve there may be the opportunity to play a band instrument one day too. Why spend 3 grand on a new instrument if there is one available owned by the band. Hypothetical I know but it is one advantage of the brass band world compared to most musical groups.
Separate names with a comma.