My first was a King model 2370 with a rickety, fiberglass bell, three finicky piston valves, and a leaky lead pipe.
Tubists, and most instrumentalists for the matter, remember the look, feel, and tonal characteristics of their first instrument.
These entry-level instruments, usually sized to fit the smaller frame of the child or preteen musician, provide the novice with ample opportunity to take the instrument “out for a spin” without overwhelming the operator with inappropriate size, awkward valve action, taunt stringing, and the like.
|Yamaha YBB-105M BBb TubaCheck Price on Amazon.com||Conn 12J 3-Valve 4/4 BBb TubaCheck Price on Amazon.com||Jupiter JTU1110 Concert Tuba|
As the musician grows in stature and instrument proficiency, the options for “bigger and better” instruments abound.
Most tubas are crafted of brass or nickel/silver. On the brass side of the family, a further distinction is often made between yellow or gold brass.
The latter, while more expensive than the yellow option, contains a higher copper content translating into a darker tone quality for the instrument.
Because they resonate differently than their brass counterparts, nickel/silver tubas produces a brighter and clearer sound.
Professional musicians often explore unique lacquer and plate finishes, seeking a particular tone quality to fit their unique musical contexts.
For the tubist, the size of the instrument is always a consideration. A tuba is typically sized as a 3/4, 4/4, or 5/4 instrument.
Obviously, the smaller the numerator the smaller the instrument. While band directors normally pair the aspiring tubist with a 3/4 size instrument, a professional musician will almost always use a larger instrument because of the rich, dark, and round tone quality produced by the bigger horn. Bore size, especially, provides a direct correlation to the instrument’s tone.
A wider airstream entering the valve section of the horn will obviously cultivate a different sound than the airstream produced by a smaller bore.
Here’s the rub. Tuba manufacturers all have different ideas of what constitutes a full size instrument versus a smaller, beginner instrument.
Yamaha’s 4/4 is not Besson’s 4/4. Inasmuch, when the aspiring or seasoned tubist is selecting an instrument, nothing compares to actually playing the instrument in the supplier’s studio.
Even lead pipe placement is a significant consideration. If the mouthpiece sits at the musician’s forehead or chest, the particular model, regardless of how gorgeous it looks and musically edifying it sounds, will not work for the particular musician.
Another consideration to remember when selecting a tuba centers on valve mechanisms. A traditional piston valve setup affords the musician a simple mechanical action that lowers the instrument’s initial and repair costs.
That said, the spring-loaded action of the piston valve often means resistance and a slower progression through a range of notes in a passage of literature.
However, the rotary valve’s more complex east/west motion makes movement between notes more fluid and rapid.
Again, the complexity of the rotary valve must be a consideration because of its fragility when compared to the piston valve, and the rotary’s heightened repair costs.
Similarly, the number of valves on a particular instrument is a vital component in the selection process. A beginner should always pair with a three valve instrument.
While the three valve horn limits low register production, it offers the new tubist a chance to learn the bulk of tuba fingerings even if the musician’s motor skills are still in formation.
With heightened competency, the tubist should move on to a four (or perhaps a five) valve instrument. In addition to extended low register production, the four and five valve horns afford the musician a bevy of alternate fingerings for some of the notes already in the musician’s vocabulary.
Alternate fingerings are especially helpful when the bass section of a composition calls for a rapid progression of notes throughout the tuba’s range.
A word about the key of the tuba. Because of its broad sound production, BBb tubas are preferred in symphonic and marching band settings.
In the absence of stringed instruments, the BBb provides a hearty, low register foundation for the rest of the ensemble.
In orchestral settings, in which the string bass is called upon to provide the foundational bass line for the ensemble, the tuba often provides a slightly more melodic contribution to the composition.
Inasmuch, the professional musician may prefer a tuba keyed in CC because of the brighter and tighter characteristics of its sound production.
On the downside, playing a CC tuba requires hearty transposition skills as most composers assume a BBb instrument when crafting the tuba score.
So how to choose the right tuba that are best for beginner, intermediate, and professional tubists?
In the beginner line, three valve Yamaha and Conn instruments provide the right combination of size, craftsmanship, ease of use, and tone quality.
Yamaha YBB-105M Convertible BBb Tuba
In the Yamaha family, the YBB-105M BBb offers a silver/nickel finish, 3/4 sizing, and a marching conversion kit, providing versatility for the school-age musician.
The 105’s low cost is especially attractive for school purchases.
Conn 12J 3-Valve 4/4 BBb Tuba Review
In the Conn family, the 12J BBb affords the musician a larger 4/4 size horn.
With a clear lacquer finish and an huge 18 inch bell, the 12j is an especially handsome instrument.
Intermediate musicians should look at 4 valve options.
Jupiter JTU1110 Concert Tuba Review
Among the intermediate options, the Jupiter 582 BBb concert horn is a gem.
With a robust .732 bore and a resonate nickel/silver finish, the 582 produces orchestra quality sound at an attractive price point.
In the intermediate market, Yamaha instruments, especially instruments in the 621 series, are worth a look.
With a more compact design than their Jupiter competitors, the 621s may be a good option for smaller musicians who desire a big sound from a manageably sized horn.
On the professional end of the tuba continuum, options abound. In piston models, Meini Weston horns are widely lauded. The 2145 CC option, with gold brass construction, creates magnificent sound at all points on the register.
Other favorites include rotary valve models from the Miraphone and Yamaha lines. The Miraphone 186 and Yamaha 641 tubas, especially, create exceptional sound at an exceptional price.
Miraphone 186 tuba
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Yamaha 641 tuba
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With lots of sizes, finishes, and tonal flourishes to choose from, tuba selection requires both patience and research. The best option always depends on the unique needs of the musician.
Do your homework when selecting an instrument, ask questions, and take the time to hold and play the tuba you are considering for your studio.
Good luck and enjoy the music!