Eb Tubas! Sov v Maesto v Courtois


New Member
Having been lurking on the site for a long time I thought it was about time I started to post , and what better way to start than with my thoughts on tubas. Or, more specifically, my experiences of buying a tuba fairly recently (October 2003).

I don't pretend to be a tuba expert but I would like to think I have a pretty good ear and, like many people, I know what I like. I HIGHLY recommend anyone contemplating buying a tuba to get as much time on each model they're considering to get one that suits them.

The tubas were tested and played over a 2 week period and, in the case of the Courtois and Sovereign for at least 10 hours each. Each was in the £3,400-£3,800 price range.

<U>Yamaha Maestro YEB632SUKC </U>
Played approx 3 hours

The Yamaha Maestro concert model is the top of the range "professional" model that Yamaha produce.

3 top action, 1 side piston valves
Compensating system
Bell: 480mm (19")
Bore: 17.5-18.5mm (0.689-.728")
Finish: Clear lacquer
Silver-plate YEB-632SUK
Mouthpiece: 66D4

My first impression on picking it up was that it was somewhat light. The metal gave the impression of being "thin" and it just didn't feel that substantial (well for a tuba anyway!) The valves seemed sensibly placed and spaced and the mouthpiece pipe seemed to be at the right height and angle for comfortable "on the lap" play. On playing the instrument the first thing that struck me was how free blowing it was. Initially (like you do) you think this is a good thing and I was zooming up and down the octives with ease. The problem was that the transition from note to note was SO easy that it became very difficult not to split or mis-pitch the notes. This was especially true as you went from C -&gt; top C where I was having real difficulty pitching my jumps. It just didn't sound definite, clear or distinct from note to note.

I then tested the intonation with my lip. The instrument was absolutely spot on in tune until you went to top e-f-g and then it became noticeably flat. The Imperial (circa mid 70's) I had been playing on, which was a superb instrument for it's level, suffered the same issue. Without lipping it in a lot it just didn't stay in tune. There is always a certain amount of intonation adjustment needed on the tuba but this was a little too much for my liking.

The actual sound of the instrument was quite sweet. I didn't, unfortunately, get a chance to try this in a band but I'm guessing it would have had a real problem cutting through. There was power there, certainly, but not that edgy smack you in the face type "oomph" I managed to get out of the other tubas I tested. Quite a mellow sound but it also lacked a certain "brilliance". Perhaps with perseverance I might have figured it out but there was just "something" missing.

My overall impression was that the Yamaha was a damn good tuba with a couple of things that let it down which the cost didn't reflect. 14/20

<U>Courtois Symphonie II- 181</U>
Played approx 10 hours

The next tuba "in the dock" was the Courtois.

4 valves (3+1) with compensating system.
Bore 19 mm, compensation: 20 mm.
Bell: 475 mm, 5 waterkeys

The Courtois was an altogether much more "weighty" instrument and on first looks the build was superior to the Maesto. The Courtois is only available lacquered and this will have an audible difference in the tone so baring this in mind I started to play. The first thing that hit me was the valves. The valve caps are huge feeling compared to a Sov and are very noticeably further apart under the fingers than either the Sov or the Maestro. This was a little offputting at first - it's (almost) purely a "feel" thing but it took a few hours to get used to. I can imagine smaller bass players (are there such a thing?!) would find this to be a problem and any youngsters would find this positively awkward.

While on the subject of the valves a lot has been said about the quality of the Courtois valves. Certainly, on my wifes cornet, they are VERY noisy to the point of being unacceptable - which is a shame as the instrument as a whole is superb. The Eb was no different. The valves were very noisy when you were banging out fast passages in both directions - the clanking was so loud at times that it could be heard by almost everyone in the band! Nothing a little TLC and working on the felts wouldn't help but annoying all the same.

The other thing with the "feel" of the instrument was that after about 2 or 3 hours play my left arm was getting very painful. The tuning slides/pipes for the first valve and some of the other tubing were digging into my left arm as it reached around for the 4th valve. I completely accept that this may have been the way I was holding it but it seemed to be the result of the mouthpipe position which necessitated holding the instrument at a slight angle. Whatever the reason it would max my playing to about 2-3 hours before I had to rest.

Despite all this, the instrument actually played very nicely. It was a dream to blow and noticeably more free than the Sov and arguably more so than the Maestro. It didn't suffer quite so bad as Maestro from "closeness" of notes so that gave me plenty of confidence to bang the notes out when needed. They were also clean and tight. There was a minor intonation problem again up above f but this wasn't so bad that it couldn't be comfortably lipped in.

I had the opportunity to play this in a full band practice and it didn't fare too badly. I still felt that it didn't cut through as I'd like (not a problem the cornet has incidentally) and again didn't quite have the edge the Sov had. Don't misunderstand, it was certainly better than what I'd imagine the Maestro to be but still not quite there. The tone of the instrument was again markedly different to both the Maestro and the Silver Sov (though closer to the Laq Sov) and I certainly wouldn't have been disappointed being given one of these to play in a band.

The last minor blip was the case. It felt cheap and the hinges were flimsy to say the least (having said that I think the same of the Sov cases ;)) and, for me, a cardinal sin of not including a compartment/box to store your mouthpiece/cloth/oil etc. It was IMMENSLEY annoying not to have somewhere to put all that! Yes, there was a mouthpiece holder, but this just isn't enough.

Overall a fine instrument with some minor issues that when you're paying 3.5k just tipped the balance. 17/20

N/B I'd like to make a little side note here to commend, thank and praise Glyn Williams (yes, he of Fodens fame) for the exceptional service both Fred Rhodes as a company and more specifically he gave me during my testing. He is proof that good customer service still exists and that, despite my not buying a tuba from him in the end he was still keen to receive feedback so that he could filter through comments direct to Courtois for consideration. I hope the bottle of single malt I sent him as way of thanks hit the right mark...

<U>Besson Sovereign 981S </U>
Played at the time for approx 10 hours, now many 100!

Bore: 17.51mm (.689")
Bell Diameter: 483mm (19")
Weight: 9.3kg (20lb 8oz)
Valves: 4 bottom sprung stainless steel
Water keys: 4
Patented spring damper set
2nd valve finger ring

I have to admit to a bit of snobbery where Sovereign Eb's are concerned. I've been in enough bands to play enough of these to know pretty much what to expect. I've always liked the Sov's and always marveled at the various pro's who play them and get what I consider to be the ultimate tuba tone. It's subjective, of course, but theres just something about a sov with a Bach 18 or 24 I just love. However, when you're laying down £3.5k I was absolutely fanatical in wanting to be completely unbiased in my decision.

The silver Sov is a wonderful looking instrument. There's just something about one that when you pick it up it just feels "right". It's weighty and has all the right bits in the right place. After playing the other 2 tubas the difference was noticeable. No matter what the current consensus is on the build quality of the Sov's is, all I can say is that the one I have was superior to both the Maestro and the Courtois in just about every department. As anyone who's played a sov knows, the mouthpipe is in the right place and it sits very comfortably on the lap with no noticeable pain after 3-4 hours (other than a dead lip of course!)

As I said earlier, I do love the sound of a silver Sov with a Bach 24 and this instrument certainly didn't disappoint. Perfectly in tune through the standard 3 octives even with my dodgy lip and and absolute definate distance between each note giving you 100% confidence. The break from g-&gt;a is a little nasty and takes a little getting used to compared to the much easier blowing Courtois or Maestro but then I guess thats the penalty you pay. Once you've come to live with it and expect it theres not too much of an issue. The instrument takes a lot more out of you to get where you want to go too. As I mentioned, it's no where near as easy to blow as either of the other 2 instruments. Getting up to your top C requires a lot more work and to make it sound stable and safe requires more again. However once you're there it sounds as sweet as a nut.

Can you tell I like the Sov yet? ;)

In an actual band practice the Sov performed as you'd expect. It REALLY hit home when you filled it with air - far more than even the Courtois. It blends nicely with just about any other instrument and the SP version really had a lovely brilliant edge to it especially in the upper register. If you like it gave a more authentic traditional brass band tone - and is there anything wrong in that?

The case had a cubbyhole for my oil/mouthpiece/lyre - enough said ;)

Overall the Sov is still the best out there - certainly of the ones I managed to have a play on anyway. It's a quality instrument that has met my requirements and is a joy to play. 19/20

So there you have it, a rather lengthy writeup of tubas for my first post but I like to start as I mean to go on ;) Hopefully someone will find this interesting if not even useful! Again though, I re-iterate you really HAVE to get along and try them all out first so that you're satisfied in your own head. I don't think, in all honesty, you'd go wrong with any of them but I've been blissfully happy with my Sov since buying it and I don't regret it one bit.

Incidentally, I did also try the Lacquered Sov's (which give a smoother less brilliant tone) and a B&amp;S professional model both for about 30 mins each. The B&amp;S was so similar to the Courtois (I was told they actually make the Courtois for Courtois but I have no idea how much truth there is in that) and neither came into it.

Gary Hopkins


Staff member
Great first post Gary - a solid opinion, with plenty of info to help people to make up their own minds. Good stuff...
GBH said:
The B&S was so similar to the Courtois (I was told they actually make the Courtois for Courtois but I have no idea how much truth there is in that)

A fellow tMP member told me a year ago that B&S do make Courtois for Courtois.


GBH said:
<U>Courtois Symphonie II- 181</U>


The first thing that hit me was the valves. The valve caps are huge feeling compared to a Sov and are very noticeably further apart under the fingers than either the Sov or the Maestro. This was a little offputting at first - it's (almost) purely a "feel" thing but it took a few hours to get used to. I can imagine smaller bass players (are there such a thing?!) would find this to be a problem and any youngsters would find this positively awkward.

This was a complaint one of our (PBB's) euphonium players had about a Courtois euphonium that was shipped over to the U.S. Open by Fred Rhodes for their display booth. She found the valves to be spaced very far apart and uncomfortable to play, to the extent that her whole forearm was sore after only an hour of rehearsal. Just for kicks, I sat down with it for a few minutes and also found it awkward, which was surprising since I am actually a tuba player and should be used to wider valve spacing. If this has been carried over to their tuba line, I can imagine that it was uncomfortable.


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