Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sousaphone Rehearsal Joypad

above: Sousaphone rehearsal joypad controller
Here is an interesting idea. How do you get children who are very interested in video games more interested in practicing their instruments? Incorporate elements of video games into the practice with a rehearsal joypad! 

The concept is basically Guitar Hero. I am for this idea. While it isn't ACTUAL practice, it may generate interest and at the very least flex the part of the brain that does musical work. Another side effect could be a renaissance for brass instrument playing. That is just wishful thinking...

The creator of this made a Trumpet, French Horn, Euphonium, Trombone and Sousaphone controller. 

It is an interesting idea. Check it out at:
Irvine Brown - Rehearsal Joypads 

What's my horn worth?

This is a favorite topic of mine, as I deal with it on a daily basis. What is my horn worth? How do you determine value?

The first thing to remember when trying to figure out what anything is worth is that any collectible objects value is NOT concrete. The value of an instrument can change from day to day and from person to person. 

So how do you attempt to pin down a value? A good start for a ballpark figure is to search websites that sell used instruments to see what they are going for. This makes eBay an especially handy tool. If your horn is a popular model, you are likely to find a wide variety of values. This will give you a good place to start. 

Once you have a "ballpark" value there are other factors that can potentially add value to your instrument. Is the piece collectible or is it meant to be played or both? What is the condition of the instrument? If it is collectible, how much of the horn is original parts? Has the horn ever been overhauled? These factors can all add or DETRACT value. 

There are a few key items to remember that will help you buy and sell horns:
- Age doesn't automatically add value - Just because you have an antique Tuba or Sousaphone doesn't mean it's worth very much money.

- Rarity doesn't automatically add value - The rarity of an item can add value, but just because an item is rare doesn't make it more valuable. The value is ultimately based on demand. In the US, Besson Sousaphones are somewhat rare, but not that valuable (relatively). On the other hand, a 4 valve Conn 40K Sousaphone is rare and valuable for a vintage Sousaphone. 

- Authority DOES add value - When selling a used item, being a respected authority will help you sell an item. If you have a reputation for the items you are selling, it will be easier to sell. This is important to consider if you have something you wish to sell. It may be easier and potentially make you more money if you sell your item on consignment through a store or shop that is an authority on your particular item. 

This is just my opinion of course, your experience may vary.

What are your experiences buying and selling? Let me know! 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Pan American Sousaphones

above: a Pan American 52K Sousaphone from Conn's 1938 catalog.

The Pan American Company was formed in the early 1910's and was purchased by Conn shortly after. There is some debate as to the exact year the acquisition of Pan American happened. Pan American then became Conn's student line of instruments. They were geared towards school use. Sometime around 1955, Conn ceased production under the Pan American name and put out student instruments with the Conn label. 

above: list of Pan American Sousaphones from The Conn Loyalist (click to enlarge)

The Pan American Sousaphones bear a different model number, but each one has a corresponding Conn model. In all reality, in my opinion, the differences are minor at best. Here are the differences between the Pan American and Conn models:
Pistons - Bell Engraving - Serial Numbers - braces - 

The pistons on Pan American Sousas were NOT nickel plated like the Conns. They used raw nickel silver pistons. The braces were often decoratively different. Pictures to follow soon...

Since Pan American is supposed to be the "economy" version of C.G.Conn, you might expect there to be more differences, but there really aren't. The 52K Pan American is virtually identical to a Conn 14K. So if you see a Pan American in the future, don't turn your nose up at it. You might be surprised. 

This little article was inspired by finding an abandoned Pan American 52K hanging from the warehouse ceiling at the shop. 

Here is another image of the Pan American 52K Sousaphone pulled from the Pan American Band and Orchestra guide published in 1953.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Displaying some work...

At the shop, I work on MANY Sousaphones. While we find happy homes for them we need to store them somewhere. We currently hang them from rafters in the ceiling. We currently have so many completed that I had to hang one from the upper rafters! The Sousaphones, from left to right starting with the back row are:
Back: 2 Conn 36K's.
Front: King 2370 Fiber, Conn 22K, Conn 20K, and Reynolds Fiber
Upper: King 2370 Fiber
If you are curious, the Tubas from left to right are:
Miraphone 188-5U CC in gold brass, a demo Conn 5J and a Yamaha 641 BBb
On the top of the cabinet behind the Sousaphones (unvisible in this picture) is an Olds Euphonium made by Schinkelaars in Holland (Now Adams).

There is no real reason for this photo or this information, I just thought it was neat to see all of them cleaned up and together all in a row.

Have you ever seen any creative way to store Sousaphones for display? If so, let me know!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

King 2370 Fiberglass Patch - After

Last week I posted about a King 2370 Fiberglass Sousaphone that I was repairing. Above is a picture of the finished patch on the 2nd branch. I feathered in the edges and used epoxy to smooth the edges even more and plug a minor leak that I found. I think it came out rather well. The image below is the same horn, but from a slightly different angle. Click the image for a larger view. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Stuff Found in Sousaphones 2: Yamaha YSH-411 + Yamaha YSH-411 Review

above: 4th branch Yamaha YSH-411

Today I was dissecting a Yamaha YSH-411 brass Sousaphone for dent removal. I had a bit of trouble getting the 4th branch to come apart. After a little heating and gentle tapping with a rawhide mallet, it finally gave. What did I find inside? It looks like a tip to a cane, walker or chair. Here are a few more pictures of the item after I removed it.

 The Yamaha YSH-411 is Yamaha's only brass Sousaphone. It has only been production since 1990. Yamaha also produced this model for Bach until about 1997 under the model number 1111.  

The YSH-411 is essentially an attempt to copy a 20K, but with long action valves. The YSH-411 is unique from other Sousaphones because the branches are held together with hex head screws, so you can easily take it apart for repair. Amongst some it is debatable whether this is actually a good thing or not. In my opinion, it makes for a quicker, better repair and you can guarantee that there is actually a seal when you put it back together. 

The valve cluster is removable, which isn't unique to Yamaha but is convenient for annual cleanings and valve alignments.

What also separates Yamaha from most Sousaphone manufacturers is the high tolerances used with their pistons. They are always very tight and smooth. Yamaha also uses an excellent coated valve spring that has excellent tension and is whisper quiet because of the coating.

Some have criticized Yamaha Sousas for having softer metal than other Sousas. This is probably true when comparing the Yamaha to an old King or Conn, but I think that the softness in the metal contributes to the sweetness in sound you can get from a Yamaha Sousaphone, which is a good thing. However, I don't honestly think that a Yamaha is any more prone to damage than any other new Sousaphone. This is just my opinion of course.
Here are the specs for Yamaha YSH-411
Bell Flare: 26 1/8"
Bore Size: 0.728"
Bell Collar: 7.25"
Weight: 27.6 lbs


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Two Finished Projects - Fiber Sousas

First up, Conn 22K. The 22K is the Fiberglass version of the Conn 20K. These are great players for fiber horns, probably my favorite. Unfortunately they are no longer in production, but there are still plenty of used Conn 22K's around, and most parts are still available through band instrument repair suppliers.

The main difference between the Conn 36K and the Conn 22K besides the pistons and lower mouth pipe is the rate of taper throughout the bugle past the 4th branch. The Conn 22K opens up much faster than the Conn 36K. Compare the differences below:
                           Conn 36K - Conn 22K
Bell Diameter         24"             26"
Bell Collar               6"              7.25"
Bore Size             0.734"         0.734"
Weight               16 3/4lbs.       23lbs.

I think that the Conn 36K is a great all around instrument, but I think you can get a greater variety of colors out of the Conn 22K. This is just my opinion of course, your experience may vary.

Below are pictures of a recently finished Conn 36K.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

King Fiberglass Sousaphone Repair - branch patch

above: King 2370 Fiberglass Sousaphone - Breaks to the bottom branch

I think this is a bit of a neat repair. The shell over the fiberglass is broken in two places, making the branch significantly weaker leaving only a fiber mesh. In most cases I would apply a fiberglass patch kit over the area, but since this is a King and the damaged area is the bottom branch, I wanted to add a bit more strength and durability to the area. So a friend and colleague came up with a clever answer: a graft from ANOTHER Sousaphone.

To make this piece, I had to cannibalize another Sousaphone. Luckily we had an old Olds/Reynolds body around that was beyond repair. I used a pair of calipers to determine the size of tube I needed and then took the old body to the band saw. 

After fitting the piece so that it buts up against the ferrule and rounding off the opposite edges, I scored the inside of the patch and liberally applied epoxy to the surface and clamped it into place. The clamps are only to make sure the piece doesn't slip or move.

After the epoxy sets up, I will feather the sharp edges of the patch and have a strong, durable repair that should last the life of the horn. I will post after pictures next week after the horn is finished.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

NO!!! Why???

Ok, I get it. But it still makes me hurt. The horn being smashed by the steam roller is a Conn 36K.

Disclaimer: I don't work for this place. Would I get sued if I started instrumentcrusher.com?

DIY Sousaphone Time!!! LED Bell Displays

Sousaphone...in lights

I tripped across this gem today. It is instructions on how to wire an LED display for your bell flare.

Sousa Weirdness: Real or Fake?

Now time for everyone's favorite game:

Here's how it goes. I will present some weirdness I found and you will decide whether it is real or fake. The internet is lousy with fake non-sense, so some of this stuff should be a no brainer. Here goes...

Answer: REAL
Apparently, Godfrey-Willem Raes has invented a Sousaphone playing robot. I don't know if it plays plays ragtime like an old player piano, but it does function. This may seem funny now, but as the human race we must be careful! Soon Sousa robots will be able to march, then they become terminators! Isn't that how it happened in Terminator: Salvation?


Answer: REAL
Unfortunately the "Hog Collar" isn't real... sort of. This gem was distributed by Ed Strege at Badger State Repair. I think that it was going to be too expensive to mass produce. Ed Strege told me about this device last year sometime. Sounds neat but I predict damaged bells...and players. I would be interested in seeing one in action though.

3. Mythical "Dragon" Sousaphone
Answer: REAL
There is a guy in Indiana that does custom paint and bell work on fiberglass Sousaphones. If anybody know who this is please contact me. This person takes their time and applies great detail to these. I know he has made a few, but they don't turn up often. Here are a few links to a few of these horns in action:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Rotor Maintenance: quick and quiet

above: where to apply lubricants to your rotors (source: Hetman's Lubricants catalog)

If you do not know how to take apart and reassemble rotors, please do not attempt to. There are many small parts that can be lost and other parts that can be bent or damaged. If you have never done this before, ask your private Tuba teacher or repair tech to show you how. 

Rotors are relatively low maintenance...if they are cared for properly. Unlike pistons, which only require one variety of valve oil, proper rotor maintenance requires a few. The photo above is from the Hetman  Lubricants Company. The numbers in the photo correspond to the following lubricants:
10: Musical Instrument Grease
11: Light Rotor - tight clearance (newer rotors)
12: Rotor - average clearance
13: Light Bearing
13.5: (I don't know, it isn't listed on Hetman's website)
14: Bearing and Linkage

The picture seems to display an excessive amount of oiling, but it isn't. Every part that moves or might experience friction should be oiled. The reason we use different oils is because different areas require oils of different viscosity, or thickness. We use a thinner oil on the face of the rotor than we do on the linkages because a heavy or medium viscosity oil on the rotor face would cause sluggish action. 

You do not need to disassemble your rotors to oil them, but they should be disassembled and properly lubricated for bi-annual cleanings. 

Here is what I use. I will correspond what I use to Hetman numbering above, so you know exactly where I oil.
11/12: T2 valve oil
Spindle and back bearing: Paxman bearing oil
10/13/13.5/14: Kraus medium weight oil

You can use alternatives, but I prefer to stick to lubricants made specifically for musical instruments. Some alternatives I have seen used are 5W-30 motor oil, 3n1 oil and STP oil additive. When used in the proper areas, they work fine, but I prefer to use products made for musical instruments specifically.
Here is another useful illustration from the Yamaha Company:
If you keep your rotors and linkage properly oiled, it will keep your horn quiet and happy for many years to come. Here are a few useful links:


After Photos: Yamaha YBB-641 Tuba

above: Completed Yamaha YBB-641 Tuba, ca.1977
Before photos on the left:



The after picture above shows an installed #4 lever. This particular Yamaha Tuba is a 3 digit serial number which makes production between the late 1970s to the mid 1980s. The original #4 lever is obsolete. Luckily for me, I had all of the other parts; stop arm, linkage and various screws. I retrofit a modern YBB-641 lever using a french horn linkage ball socket to connect the new lever to the old style linkage. 
Due to the angle of the photo, the above after pictures may be hard to see. 


Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Brief History of the Sousaphone...and its predecessors

Conn 50th Anniversary Grand Jumbo Sousaphone

There is a minor amount of debate surrounding this topic. According to an early C.G.Conn catalog, "The first Sousaphone Bass ever made was built in the Conn factories more than a score of years ago. It was built as a 'to order' instrument, and several experiments were necessary to adjust the proportions to secure the desired quality of tone and accuracy of scale." C.G.Conn Catalog, p.36 ca. 1926. 
This isn't entirely true. The first instrument was actually developed by the J.W. Pepper Company of Philadelphia at the request of John Philip Sousa, who helped design it. The result is the first Sousaphone we know as a "rain catcher." 
above: J.W. Pepper "Raincatcher" ca. 1893
From an interview with John Philip Sousa in The Christian Science Monitor from May 30, 1922.
"...the Sousaphone received its name through a suggestion made by me to J.W. Pepper, the instrument manufacturer of Philadelphia, full 30 odd years ago. At that time, the United States Marine Band of Washington, D.C., of which I was conductor, used a BBb bass tuba of circular form known as a "Helicon". It was all right enough for street-parade work, but its tone was apt to shoot ahead too prominently and explosively to suite me for concert performances, so I spoke to Mr. Pepper relative to constructing a bass instrument in which the bell would turn upwards and be adjustable for concert purposes. He built one and, grateful to me for the suggestion, called it a Sousaphone. It was immediately taken up by other instrument makers, and is today manufactured in its greatest degree of perfection by the C.G. Conn Company..."

While the actual first horns produced were by the J.W. Pepper Company, Conn did invent and perfect the modern or recording bell Sousaphone in 1908, at the request of Sousa.
So there is the technical history, but where did the Sousaphone come from? The Sousaphone is in the low brass family, evolving from Tubas. The missing link between Sousaphones and Tubas in the evolutionary lineage is the Helicon.
above: an old H.N.White (King) catalog. The upper horn is a Helicon, the lower horn is a rain catcher.
A Helicon is very similar to a Sousaphone except that the bell is fixed on most horns, and only faces the one direction. American made Helicons are virtually identical in design to their Sousaphone counterparts, but European Helicons frequently had rotors in stead of pistons, nickel silver trim, and non adjustable necks. The Helicon was originally used in Europe in military bands. The Helicon evolved from the Tuba and Saxtuba which looks like this:
above: Adolphe Sax's drawings of the Saxtuba from his 1849 patent.
The Saxtuba was patented in 1849 by Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the Saxophone. They were designed with the military band in mind. From Cliffor Bevan's article The Saxtuba and Organological Vituperation in the Galpin Society Journal p. 135 "Sax claimed that the brass instruments which were the subject of the patent would confer greater unity on the sound of a military band, since all pitches faced the same direction. They would also enhance the pomp of public ceremonies by being based on instruments illustrated on Ancient Greek and Roman monuments." Don't get too excited about playing one of these in the near future. There are fewer than half a dozen of these known to exist today. Sax's claim seems to be what John Philip Sousa wanted for his band. Too bad Sousa wasn't the leader of a French military band.
Contrabass Saxtuba

Necks and Bits - the what and why

Now I am publishing photos of various necks and bits. Soon I will post measurements so if you own a vintage horn that is missing the neck and bits, you can find something that will fit and (hopefully) not alter the pitch of your instrument. The measurements I will include will be:

Connection diameter
What other bits will it accept


KING (PRE 1986)
KING (post 1986 - bits are the same as above)


There will be more pictures to follow and measurements. I will make a separate chart just for necks and bits. If you have any opinions or input, let me know!