EUPHONIUM REVIEW OCTOBER 2007:
INCLUDING- PRESTIGE, EMINENCE & VIRTUOSO
Instrument Bells Bores Lead pipes Other
Boosey Imperial 279mm (11”) 14.73mm (2v) Medium (late model)
Boosey Sovereign 966 ? ? Medium
Besson Sovereign 968282mm 15mm(1v)-16mm(4v) Medium New model
Besson Sovereign 967 304 14.73mm Large New model
Besson Prestige 2052 304mm 15mm(1v)-16mm(4v) Large New model
Besson Prestige 2051 282mm 15mm(1v)-16mm(4v) Medium New model
York Preference 3068 ? ? Medium
York Preference 3067 305 14.75mm Medium/ Large
York Eminence 4052 305 14.75mm Large
Stirling Virtuoso 300mm 15mm(1v)-17mm(4v) Large Custom built
Courtois 167 II 310mm 15mm-16mm(comp) Large Red bell option
LMI Royal 305mm “Large bore” Large
Yamaha Maestro 642 300mm 15-16.8mm Large
Yamaha Custom 842 300mm 15-16.8mm Large
Mienl Weston 451 300mm 14.99mm-16.98mm (4v) Large
Mienl Weston 551 300mm 14.99mm-16.98mm (4v) Large
Wilson 2900 292mm 15mm-16(comp)-17mm (4v) Large
Wilson 2950 310mm 15mm-16(comp)-17mm (4v) Large
Hirsbruner HBS 378 305mm 15/16 mm Large
Hirsbruner HBS 479 305 mm 15/17 mm Large
Miraphone M5000 310mm 15.50mm-16.20mm Medium/Large
(Specs mostly taken/ transcribed from Company websites)
The following is a brief over view of the main Euphs to me as a British Brass Band Euphonium player. They are my own personal views together with opinions I have sought directly from well known British Euph players. I have omitted most of their names to avoid any embarrassing situation for those who are affiliated with particular companies.
I have looked at the 2052, Eminence & Virtuoso models in more depth as I am currently looking at these to decide which new euph to buy. I have gone into ‘anorak’ detail as I thought it may be interesting/ of use to others. All notation referred to is in Bb Treble clef……
Boosey Imperial Early 2007 I added a late Imperial to my old instrument collection its younger than my Sovereign!
I prefer the singing voice type of sound to my two modern euphs! But for me it just can’t compete with the large bores for volume, so it seems lost in the band. I would have preferred brass instruments had not increased in size from this era. They have a lovely sound but you just can’t play them as loud as the large bores. I believe the 1970s instruments were best, followed by the 1960s versions. Trevor Groom still uses his 30yr old imperial (Long stay GUS Band solo euphonium, & you can’t argue with his sound!). Charley Brighton: Sung better than any modern instrument.
Boosey Sov. 966 Medium lead pipe smaller bell precursor to 968. Morgan Griffiths still swears by them but getting increasingly hard to come by one not ravaged by time! 2005 & 2007- Nice but not as mellow as 551, It sings into the top register but the pedals are difficult. Well known player No.1 (medium bore player): Has its limitations. Not many play medium bores now.
Besson Sov. 968Medium lead pipe smaller bell. The 1990’s versions I have tried generally sound a bit light for me.
Well known player No.2: didn’t like the older ones, newer ones were great. Well known player No.3: I love the sound of the 'old' sovereign euphoniums and regularly use my old medium bore sovereign. I can put loads of fast wide vib on notes. Its a lighter more ‘Morgan Griffiths’ sound.
Besson Sov 967 Well known player No.4: said the old round stamps had the best sound ever, but lacked an edge to the sound. I’ve tried two of the new 2007 versions, both blew very well, exceptional flexibility, but I thought the sound had gone a little light for my taste. Build quality was very good. A lot lighter in weight than the Prestige. The normal tuning issues in upper register were still there. 2006 Well known player No.5: Large bore & bell Bessons came about in 1974 designed by Dennis Wick. The Imperial was the best Euphonium ever made, the Large bore / belled instruments are tenor tubas. Even the original sovereigns were poor! As an experiment a medium shortened leadpipe (with Large receiver) was put onto some of the 1st Large bore Sovereigns at ?Renolds (£40 each). They were absolute crackers!!!! But not many were done. For big blokes with lots of air the big bore, big belled “tenor tubas” are fantastic, but not for us mortals! 2005 Well known repairer/ player No.6: Stay with an early round stamp, add new bottom caps to darken the sound (trumpets have done it for years, top caps don’t make much difference). This is what a very famous euph player did (& added a trigger) when he was supposed to be playing the newer version! Other euphs are trying to imitate the besson sound & compromising other things to get there. All euphs now have thinner metal than my 1980 round stamp. 2005 Well known player No.2: Didn’t like the newer 967 & 2052s.
Besson Prestige 2052 2005-6 I tried three. I really wanted to like this but found it to be the disappointment of the bunch! I know they had big quality control issues, but only one sounded as good as my 1980 Sovereign but with twice the effort to do so! Well known repairer/ player No.6: If you want a new euph go for a 2052 & get Stephen Mead to help choose one at the factory.
September 2007 I tried two of the new prestige’s at Harrogate, trade stand (large hall) in a direct comparison to my 1980 Sovereign & 2006 167 II:
Sound/ Lyrical: A better & much more flexible sound than either my round stamp or the 167 II.
Top end: Above top C the 167 seemed a little more open, 2052 still very good though! & far better than my 1980 round stamp. It had an amazing top C that sang out much better than the other instruments.
Pedals: Below G under the stave pedals were not as open as 167.
Flexibility: Very flexible G below stave to top C.
Slotting: Very, very good, just had to think of the note.
Valves: Very good valves, best I’ve used. These are completely new, the old design was known for some unreliability.
Intonation: Nothing outstandingly sharp above the stave, but I would have needed longer, & had to get the tuner out. The Trigger was amazing, I just needed to put the slightest bit of pressure on the lever to operate it. It was amazing, my 167 II was put to shame.
Finish: Faultless, very bonny euph. Well known player No.7: Has play tested a few hundred now & says the build quality is consistent.
Other: Nice & heavy still (but not as heavy as old 2052). But did not feel like it had too much resistance- a good balance. Shop No.1: Very similar to Eminence, but not as flexible, selling a lot of Eminence. Instrument Manufactuer Oct 2007: Prestige do have new valves, they are assembled by B&S in Germany & are very good. Many of the parts used are the same as the Virtuoso but Sterling then modifies them. Oct 2007 Well known player No.7: Prefers the new prestige overall. He feels the Besson performs better than the Sterling overall. It will sing over the band better than the Sterling (but you have to work harder at it), the sound is a little brighter, the valves are amazing. He prefers it as he does a lot of technical playing. Euph player from Shop No.2: Has his own new prestige, best instrument he has ever played! Much freer/ easier blow than previous prestige! & valves are amazing! Well known player No.8 (Sterling player): The new Prestige is much better, but still has a lot of resistance, feels like there’s something stuffed down it! Nothing like as good as sterling. Oct. 2007 Mike Dodd: (Now a Besson clinician). Says the following on Stephen Meads Web site: “After years of playing various makes of Euphonium, the Besson Prestige stands head and shoulders above the rest. The mellow yet powerful tone (providing its commanding status in any brass band) is complemented by its handsome good looks. The silky smooth valves and the immaculate trigger system are proof of the fine craftsmanship that has gone into producing this superb piece of German engineering. Well known player No.9: Didn’t like New Prestige because the large trigger stopped him holding the euph as he likes to! Well known player No.2: Pre. 2006 examples are fine if you get a good one, in which case there’s no limits. 2005 Well known player No.10: Best for sound, harder to blow, Fs & Gs are out, get a good one. Shop No.3: Best sound for brass band but quality control very poor (pre 2006).
Besson Prestige 2051 Smaller bell & lead pipe version. I have yet to track a 2007 version down.
Oct. 2007: Instrument Manufactuer: The 2051 is too light a sound for the modern British brass band, more Imperial like.
York Preference 3068 The smaller belled & lead pipe version.Not been able to have a blow. But Well known player No.4: Said that he & colleague wanted to keep them when they tried them. Better sound than any thing, but unfortunately was far too light when played with the band, perhaps similar to a 2900? He said it would appeal to the American market.
York Preference 3067 The Larger bell & lead pipe version. Tried a new one in early 2007 & in September 2007, very similar to a new 967 that I was trying at the same time. Well known player No.8: Preference nothing special not tried Eminence yet. Well known player No.9: Preference is a good instrument but he hadn’t tried the Eminence.
York Eminence 4052 October 2007 tried Dave Thornton’s at Dyke, direct comparison to my 1980 Sovereign & 2006 167 II, then played a virtuoso 30 min after:
Sound/ Lyrical: Very Good but not as dark as1980 Sovereign & 2006 167 II. But it sang!
Articulation: Very good, clear.
Top end: Very easy, sings. More in tune than 2006 167 II.
Pedals: Good, more open than I remember 2007 Prestige being.
Flexibility: Very good, much better than 1980 Sovereign & 2006 167 II.
Slotting: Played itself! Effortless compared to 1980 Sovereign & 2006 167 II.
Valves: Very light & fast (small trad. Besson size), the 1st valve kept sticking for me, but it didn’t seem to for Dave.
Intonation: Sounded good, Trigger very light & fast, similar to Prestige.
Finish: Very good, black trim looked good.
Other: Heavy, from memory- similar to new Prestige. Well known player No.11: Prestige & Eminence are the best. Well known player No. 4 & 11: Preferred the Eminence as they believe it is darker (this doesn’t ring true to my control instruments) & keeps the sound as it is blown hard. They both thought the Prestige had got a little too big. Instrument Manufactuer: York instruments use the old Besson valves! Not as well engineered as the Prestige. Well known player No.4: A lot of time went into leadpipe & bell selection. The Factory in Germany sounds very impressive- size, precision, cleanliness & quality.
Stirling Virtuoso 2005: tried Michael Dodds & a raw brass one: Very good many options including red brass bell, sounded similar to old sovs (good) but bigger sound. October 2007: tried Michael Howley’s (Brighouse & Rastrick) Standard heavy red brass bell, direct comparison to my 1980 Sovereign & 2006 167 II, having played an Eminence 30 min before:
Sound/ Lyrical: Very good, a big focused sound, should sing over the band, easy on air, I think a better sound to the New prestige & the Eminence, made my 1980 Sovereign sound dead it sang out much better, As dark as my 2006 167 II but focused- perfect. The Bell is just a few mm smaller than the ones I tried two yrs ago, this seems to have made a great difference.
Top end: Very Good, better than my 1980 Sovereign, not as good as 167II, did not sing out like I recall the 2007 Prestige or Eminence. (In a few weeks I will corner all three back to back & a decision will be made!)
Flexibility: Better than 1980 Sovereign & 2006 167 II, ? not as flexible as 2007 Prestige or Eminence.
Slotting: Good, much better than 1980 Sovereign & 2006 167 II.
Valves: Larger than new Prestige/ Eminence (trad. Besson size) valves, smaller than 2007 167 II but with longer stems (so further to travel). Didn’t feel as slick as 2007 Prestige or Eminence, seemed a little ‘stiff’ but I like light springs & these were fitted with very heavy ones. Also it had just been replated from an accident so the valves may need time to re-bed. Sterling say they are the best money can buy!
Intonation: Seemed very good & from all I have also read on them this seems born out. The newly fitted trigger was stiff, but hopefully a clean up would sort this out. Paul Riggett of Sterling likes the trigger to go out with thick grease on them, give it time to bed in & then can use trom. slide cream, then it is slick. It also has a strong spring in it, perhaps a weaker one could be used?
Finish: Good, can still see the two piece bell joint through the silver, apparently this is because it is braised together, as it was on the old round stamps. Paul Riggett thinks this makes a better sound than the plasma welding of his competitors. You certainly can’t argue with the sound it gives you!
Other: A solid instrument heavier than my 1980 Sovereign but ? I think a little lighter (in weight) than the 2007 Prestige & Eminence. October 2007 Well known players No.1, 10 & 11: Were negative about it, but there may well have been some bias. 2005 Well known player No.2: Check the new one out (Virtuoso) but predecessor wasn’t great. Well known player No.8: It should need less air, but then it takes some air to make the heavy Red brass bell sing! It is easier up top than the Prestige & Eminence. Paul Riggett said that skilled hand assembly at Sterling is far preferable to the semi skilled assembly at some other firms. You can go to his factory & try different stay placing etc whilst it is in its raw brass state before plating, this costs nothing extra. In the UK Paul is only selling through Glyn Williams at the moment. Sept 2007 Well known player No.9: Paul asked him to try one in rehearsal, afterwards he was told he was obviously doing a lot of practice at the moment!! He sounded like he did in his prime. He said it was the best Euph he had ever played. A beautiful sound & the trigger is smaller so it was comfortable to hold. Oct 2007 Well known player No.7: It is easier to play in general, high notes & flexibility included. Has known a trigger to snap but this may have been as it was retro fitted. However he did say you have a much easier time playing on the Sterling… it is easier to play (than the Prestige). Well known player No.8: After playing a Courtoir for 12yrs he didn’t want to try it but when he did he wouldn’t give it back. His playing has been born again!! He found he has kept his Courtois Sound but its more focused & flexible. The intonation is more secure, its upper reg. is easier / more secure & slots better. After sale service second to non, five years free servicing, have any thing changed to where you want it while in raw brass. Valve block is slightly wider but the best he’s seen, like glass, very easy blowing, great sound, very flexible, ease of production. Euph player from Shop No.2: Not many people going for them, doesn’t quite feel right, but some like them (they don’t sell them!). 2005: Well known repairer/ player No.6: The plating was suspect (the plating is now done at Lamberts! a very good firm). Well known player No.1:His second euph uses a virtuoso. 2005 Well known player No.2: Older Sterlings- the F was sharp and there was a long valve travel which isn’t good. Armado water valves can stick so oil them regularly if you go for this option.
Courtois 167 II 2005: Well known player No.8: Very good, especially the sound. Well known player No.10: Not good screwed together & vibrates! Well known player No.1:No! Well known player No.2: The bell is screwed to the body! 2007: It did vibrate but only when new. Easier for me to get the top register than any of the other Euphs! But top intonation not as good as some. Lighter in weight than 2052. Darkest sound as well (red brass bell), but not focused, possibly at the expense of a more flexible sound, downside is that you need to put a massive amount of air in (it has a very large leadpipe) and the valves although slick don't seem as fast as my 1980 round stamp this could be down to their longer travel. In summary after a year with it as my main euph- its has a fantastic upper reg. but is too 'tubby sounding', I feel its not flexible enough a sound.
LMI Royal From what I’ve read I believe it is similar to a 967, but I have not managed to get to grips with one. Web site doesn’t give you much spec. at the moment so I enquired & was told the following (early 2007). Our euphonium is exactly the same size as the Besson 967. The dimensions are as follows:- Bell size/Material: - 12” Brass bell (Wide Flare as with the 967). Mouthpipe: - Soldered Mouthpipe (Not floating) to reduce vibration. Single stay brace. Bore sizes: - Large bore valve group and 4th valve. Large bore Mouthpipe.
Yamaha 642 2005 extensive use on a band instrument: Exceptional intonation and ease of playing but a very bright sound; Sept 2007 Yamaha trade stand said, & I agreed, that the new Maestro is darker than the custom, but the Custom has more “zing”. They are trying to combine the two for the Xeno when it comes out….. For me though they are both still too bright. The 642 is darkest, the 842 sings more. Well known repairer/ player No.6: Yamaha uses thin metal. 2005 Well known player No.5: Morgan Griffiths now has a standard Maestro with a medium lead pipe & large receiver, this is the best modern Euph. Well known player No.2: Yamahas are the most consistent & easiest horn, but they just can’t get the sound right.
Yamaha 842 2005: Not quite so easy to play as 642 but sounds darker. Well known player No.1:A heavier better sound to the 642 may have one if they get it as he wants, helping to develop the xeno- main difference is the smaller lead pipe (tapers more) due out 2006…obviously its not happened yet! They aren’t bright- its just a different sound. Yamahas are between a medium & a large bore. Well known player No.10: Focused easy blow, thin sound. September 2007: Euph player from Shop No.2: Poor ergonomics, seem to have to hold it too upright, the lead pipe is too short so your face is very close to bell (I didn’t find this). Still not dark enough for a British sound, too light in sound & weight. Custom is an even easier to blow (to 2052) better in every way but sound! You only need the slightest effort to make it do as you want. September 2007 at a trade stand: See above under Yamaha 642. Well known player No.8: Not suited with the Custom. Compared to the 642, Yamaha say: “…featuring some changes in leadpipe, braces, tubing and particularly a thinner bell”. 2005 Well known player No.12: Sounds too bright. Shop No.3: Hand finished - it does make a difference.
Mienl Weston 451 2005- similar to 2900 not quite as good. 2005 Well known player No.2: Good Horn but poor tuning.
Mienl Weston 551 2005- Very good across the board beautiful big dark sound. I didn't have my own Euph to compare to the 551 when I tried it. Also tried the new 551 Elite, a bit broader sound, took a fair bit of air. I didn’t like its frosted 70’s look appearance. I haven’t heard of the Elite since. 2005 Shop No.4: Bigger freer sound to 451. Very popular. Adjustable hand rest.
Wilson 2900 2005 tried 4: Quality instrument, focussed sound but a bit bright. Well known player No.2: plays a standard 2900. The leadpipe is now nickel to stop corrosion as the leadpipe gets the worst hammer. Centers well, free blowing. It’s a different sound from the 2950, a more singing tone. Most people buy the 2900 as it is not too big & not too small. Made in Switzerland and its Charley Brighton’s Rolls-Royce of euphoniums. “….the perfect combination of large bore tubing, gradual bell taper and slightly smaller bell flare, retaining the singing qualities of earlier instruments alongside the volume required for today’s music.” (Charley Brighton). Willson Euphs have a consistently high level of engineering. Shop No.3: Very good workmanship, best euph there is for other playing outside of brass banding. Well known player No.10: Very good workmanship, spot on intonation but B is flat so will clash with Bessons. Lovely compact focused sound. Well known player No.5: Never had any good players on a Wilson. If anyone got one they soon got shot of them! Shop No.4: The Best seller in the States.
Wilson 2950 2005: Larger bell version, good instrument but still a little bright. But about as Dark as my Round stamp & easier to play. Well known player No.1 & 10: Only know one current top British Brass Band player on one & he doesn’t blend well but perhaps this is him not the euph. Well known player No.2: Easier to get a more powerful sound, projects a deeper sound. Just too big & tubby sounding for soloists. Can be dull sounding & have intonation problems up top.
Hirsbruner HBS 378 Brighter sounding version.Never tracked one down. 2005: Well known player No.2: Similar to Wilsons but a smaller bore on the valves. (perhaps this was a previous model?). Well known player No.10: Not great. Well known player No.1:Never heard of it!
Hirsbruner HBS 479Darker sounding version.Never tracked one down. 2005: Well known player No.2: Similar to Wilsons. For projection, dark & powerful playing. Well known player No.10: Not great. Well known player No.1:Never heard of it! In defence they are not readily available in the UK.
Miraphone M5000 'Ambassador': 2005: Had one on trial for a week, comparisons made to my 1980 Round Stamp. General slotting much easier. Top end a little easier especially top C#. Pedals more open. Jim Shepard picked it consistently on a slow melody blind test over mine, but not a significant difference. Valves great, silent without spring dampers, had rubber instead of felts. The slides were more open on their bends & generally the tubing seemed bigger consequently it blew with a lot less resistances. Intonation was good. Main valve block reservoir was excellent … I want one! . Leadpipe was the same length. A little more air needed. Heavy & big feeling, with the 4th valve a bit of a stretch but the 4th valve ‘holder’ was good. Bell 2mm wider & flared earlier. It didn’t feel as centred especially bottom C to G in the stave (this may have been as I was so used to my own euph as others said it sounded fine). Semi soft case seemed moderate. It had a gold brass mouthpipe & was manufactured in Germany. Felt unwieldy I wasn’t at home with it. I believe it was produced in liaison with Rosehill music (Beaconsfield) as a Dark Brass Band euphonium.
I spent a year and a half trying out Euphs so I could retire my old round stamp Sovereign (I'll never sell it though!).
By 2006 the two I ended up liking were the Stirling Virtuoso and the Mienl Weston 551. I eventually got a 167 II partly as it was a good deal for the band but mostly because an embouchure change had nearly wrecked my playing and I was fighting to get my top notes back, and I liked the sound. Otherwise it would have been a Virtuoso or a 551.
I now have a solid range up to F above the stave & find the 167 II too unfocused & Tuba like. So its time to get a new Euph of my own….. New Prestige, York Eminence or Sterling Virtuoso……
For other folk my advice is to try a few examples of each one as they can vary. Unfortunately I believe its trial and error to find what suits you, were all different & I hope I haven’t offended anyone by saying anything they could construe as negative about their pride & joy, these are mostly just my opinions, sometimes after a relatively short time with an instrument, but other times after years!
It does make better reading with the Euph players names in, but I wouldn’t be very popular with them if I did that!!
All the best