Thursday, December 30, 2010

Conn 20K - Sousa Review -

The Conn 20K Sousaphone is one of my favorite instruments ever produced. In the Tuba and Sousaphone world it is a bit of a rarity to exist basically unchanged for as long as the 20K has. During the lifetime of the 20K, many famous models have come and gone, and the 20K is still here...

While it is debatable who actually invented the Sousaphone, C.G. Conn was definitely a leader in development and innovation. In my opinion, the biggest contribution made by C.G.Conn is the Conn 20K. The Conn 20K has been in production since 1934. It has short action valves made possible by squeezing the bore and making the distance between ports on the pistons smaller as seen below:
The valve stems are unique because they are offset. This means they are not centered like most pistons. This allows the larger diameter piston to be used, while maintaining comfortable ergonomics. The valve guide is part of the cap, so the piston is held in position by a metal pin that leads from the cap to the piston. This system reduces the stroke of the piston by 33%! 

The 20K is one of the horns that hasn't changed much as Conn changed hands and production moved around the country. The brief history goes like this; early C.G.Conn Sousaphone production happened in Elkhart, Indiana until the late 1960's when production moved to Abilene, Texas. Then in 1986 production of Sousaphones moved to the Eastlake, Ohio facility as part of C.G. Conn becoming United Musical Instruments or UMI. 

During the UMI change, some models were phased out like the 22K, the short action fiberglass Sousa. Other models changed designs but maintained the same model number. The 14K and 36K became King 2350 and 2370 stencils, or copies of Kings with Conn's name engraved on them. This isn't a bad thing, King Sousaphones are excellent players. Conn's 20K model remained largely unchanged.

The few changes that happened are minor at best in my opinion. In fact, so little has changed that ALL of the parts are interchangeable between new and old production models, except the mouth pipe bracing listed below. They include a change to the bracing of the lower mouth pipe:
There was also a change to "peel - and - stick" guard molding that was used for some time. I think that the idea behind this was to be able to make repairs easier, which it would, but some people found them not to be so durable. Andy Smith, parts manager at Conn-Selmer stated on the Tubenet message board that Conn-Selmer has recently gone back to the metal guards.

Some people have said that the newer 20k's have thinner walls for the tubing. I don't know if this is true. I haven't had any problems with the newer models. In fact, I ordered a 2nd branch from Conn-Selmer and the thickness was perfectly fine. If this is true, I haven't noticed it. 

Overall, the Conn 20K is probably my favorite all metal Sousaphone. I like the way I can get the sound to open up at any dynamic. I can play a very loud fortissimo without splitting the sound or getting a nasty "blat." The last 20K I repaired and played was free blowing and did not require any effort to get a lush, beautiful tone. New or old, a 20K is the way to go.

Bell Diameter: 26"
Bore Size        : 0.734"
Weight            : 30.5 lbs.


Useful links:
C.G. Conn's Website - Conn 20K 
My most recent Conn 20K on eBay

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