Sunday, February 27, 2011

New Features!

Starting as soon as I have dates, I will post monthly low brass concerts in Kansas. These will include student recitals, university faculty recitals, low brass ensembles, guest artists and master classes. I will also have some interviews with performers and teachers. Also, the first of the educational articles is on it's way! 

What's the photo? A double Tuba valve cluster made by MeinlSchmidt. It is sort of impractical, but one can still dream, right?

Stay tuned for more in depth Tuba and Sousaphone news!

More Sousaphone in kids shows - Bubble Guppies on Nick Jr.

Sunday mornings I get up with my 21 month old daughter so my wife can sleep in once a week. We usually make breakfast than watch cartoons for a little bit before we wake up my wife for the days events. Today, Stella was watching a show called "Bubble Guppies." The second episode we watched was almost entirely about MARCHING BAND. There was a great deal of Tuba/Sousaphone references and humor. I was even amazed for once to see the instrument referred to as Sousaphone and not just Tuba. There was a scene where a fish was telling the guppies what the instruments are. "...and a Tuba you march with is called a Sousaphone."
There is then a scene where the guppies are having lunch. "What are you having?" "A TUBA-fish sandwich." (Full disclosure...this made me laugh very hard)

It is refreshing to see marching band cast in a positive light in popular culture, even if it is only just a kids show. Marching band is a tradition that I would like to see flourish, and while I doubt shows like this will have a big impact on that, it is nice to see marching band not represented as something nerdy. 

Here is a youtube clip of the show. The quality isn't stellar but you get the idea.
The episode title is "Ducks in a Row." You can watch the full episode on Or you can click here Bubble Guppies Videos at

Friday, February 25, 2011

The latest addition to my family - F.E. Olds and Sons brass Sousaphone

above: my new *ahem* F.E. Olds Sousaphone

I have recently purchased a used Sousaphone made the F.E. Olds & Sons Company. This particular model was manufactured in the Fullerton, California plant. These are before pictures. I plan on restoring it as much as possible, but this will be slow going as I only get to work on it on it during my lunch breaks at the shop. 

I really like the Olds brass Sousas. This model has a very cool engraving INSIDE the bell flare:
These horns are very similar in design to the old style King 1250 Sousas. They are the same bore (0.687") and the valve cluster layout is virtually identical, with the exception of the placement of the main tuning slide and the lower mouth pipe. I like the Olds better because I like the larger main tuning slide, which the King doesn't have. 

Another cool feature and detail that these old horns have that new ones don't is a set screw in the bell screw flange that would allow you to operate the bell screw, but would prevent it from accidentally falling out! See the picture of where the set screw would go below:

The downside is that some animal once hung this beautiful horn on a wall using MACHINE SCREWS, leaving many holes in my poor, poor horn. These can be fixed, but I haven't decided if I am going to patch them, or make flush patches...

 So, here goes. The first step is to remove the old funky lacquer and some kind of finish that someone else applied to it sometime in it's life. Then a thorough cleaning and dents. Then to patch or not to patch? 

So next is the big question: should it be finely polished and resprayed or should I finish it in a scratch brush finish then lacquer it? HELP!!!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Historical Piece - Holton BBb Sousaphone

above: the author with 1926 Frank Holton BBb Sousaphone

This is a very interesting piece, and in pretty good condition for it's age. It is a standard BBb Sousaphone made by Frank Holton in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. The finish is satin silver plate with a very nice gold washed bell. It has been restored at least once before, so it isn't the original silver or gold plate, but it is still gorgeous. The serial number is 90,171, which according to, has this horn manufactured in 1926. Let's see how good you look when you are 85!

There are a few features that are somewhat unique to time period of Sousaphone production. These features where used in commonly by Holton and Buescher. First is a reversed bell connection. This means that the "male" side of the bell connection is on the body and the "female" or socket side of the bell connection is on the bell. Another feature common to Holton and Buescher Sousaphones was the shorter upper 1st valve circuit tubing making the lower end of the tubing longer. Pictured below is a picture of the bell coupling.

Another feature common to this era NOT used by Conn or King is the VERY long lower mouth pipe tube. This means for proper playing position and proper intonation, the neck angle has to be a very short, sharp 90 degree angle. What I used is pictured below:
  I *THINK* it is original, but I am not 100% sure. The bits are not original, they are modern King bits. The reason I think that this design didn't stand the test of time is because it sticks out like a sore thumb which makes it very vulnerable. That being said, the bracing is very sturdy. 

The bell flare is 26 inches, a common flare for a horn of this size. The wrap is very similar to a Conn.

Another feature that was common on Sousas and Tubas of this era was beautiful, lavish engravings. It is rare these days to get any more than a name engraved on a bell out of the factory. Below are a few pictures of the beautiful engraving that this horn wears.
Here are a few more pictures of this piece.

Below is a picture of a Sousaphone from a 1920 brochure called, "A Trip Through The Holton Factory."
Frank Holton was a Trombonist in John Philip Sousa's band and worked for what became J.W. York and Sons before starting his own company. The Frank Holton Company was founded around 1896 in Chicago but was later moved in 1917 to Elkhorn, Wisconsin. The company was sold to G. Leblanc in 1964, and again sold to Conn-Selmer in 2004. Recently, Conn-Selmer moved production of Holton instruments from Elkhorn, Wisconsin to its Eastlake, Ohio factory. This is the same factory that currently produces Conn and King brasses. 
Holton Tubas were excellent in the 1960's and the model 345 is still highly sought after by many players. Holton hasn't made Sousaphones in many decades and the low brass that still bears the Holton name is imported, but still good. Holton has commissioned stencils from both Yamaha and Weril. Holton brasses that have an "R" following the model number where manufactured by Yamaha.

Listed below are some links to some information used in this article and other useful data:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Kelly Mouthpieces - The Argument for Plastic (okay... Lexan)

above: American Flag in Kelly Mouthpieces

Ok. I will be completely honest. I used to be one of those guys that said, "Plastic mouthpieces? How can they be any good?" Well, I was wrong. Completely wrong, and now I am (possibly) the biggest fan of Kelly Mouthpieces. 

Why? For the simple reason that a different job may require a different tool. Sousaphones are not particularly light, so when you have to carry one on your left shoulder for a five mile parade, any weight you can shed is beneficial. Kelly lexan mouthpieces also resist changes in temperature that brass or stainless steel mouthpieces suffer from. If you are in the stands during a football game in late October, it is nice to have the mouthpiece not freeze your chops.  I also personally find the lexan to be comfortable on my chops. This may vary from player to player.

There is the rare situation where some people have a silver allergy and a standard silver plated mouthpiece will irritate the players chops or even leave a rash. The Kelly mouthpiece is a good solution to that problem. I have yet to test the Kelly for chop endurance, but the mouthpiece is very comfortable, so I suspect that it will pass that test with flying colors (pun intended).

Another benefit is the price. A new Kelly mouthpiece retails for $32.00 on their website, which is half the price of a new brass mouthpiece.

Kelly offers their versions of Bach 18, 24AW, Helleberg and 25. According to their website the 25 is discontinued but you can still get it from them on closeout. Kelly even offers a clear lexan copy of a Perantucci PT-50 mouthpiece!

Does a plastic mouthpiece seem silly? Yes. Does it seem sillier in a strange color? Oh yeah. But don't let some people keep you from trying a mouthpiece that is really good. Pick one up and try it against it's brass cousin. I don't think you will be disappointed. 

I have a Kelly 18 glow in the dark (make all the jokes you want) Tuba mouthpiece. What mouthpiece do you play? Have you ever tried a Kelly? If so, what do you think?

above: Kelly KT-50. Their copy of the Perantucci PT-50

above: Kelly KELLYberg Tuba Mouthpieces

above: Standard Kelly Tuba Mouthpieces

For full disclosure, I don't work for Kelly and I am not being paid in any way to write this. I honestly like their gear.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Master at Work 2: Dent Work Master Class

Here, the young master works diligently, displaying proper dent hammer technique for GENTLY hollow tapping high spots on an old OLDS bell. You can see how gentle her technique is by how blurry the image is.

Here, the child prodigy further shows proper technique...and proper sitting position for the highest quality dent work.

Her non-official payment for the master class was her fathers chocolate banana smoothie. On a side note, the two sips I had of the beverage I purchased for myself were quite tasty.

Great Sousaphone Picture: University of Kansas 2006

The original caption from this photo is, "Framed by a Sousaphone, the Kansas University Marching Band plays in formation during a recent practice at west campus. The band will perform at tonight's game against Northwestern State University."(source: Lawrence Journal World, Lawrence, Kansas.)

The horn in the image is a King Sousaphone. The first thing I noticed is the gnarly damage to the right of the leather Sousa protector.

Adventures in Fiberglass Sousa Repair: Bell breaks

above: a Conn 36K bell with a chunk missing from the bell flare
I have seen Sousa bells hit the trash heap because of damage like this. It is true that this example isn't severe, it just happened to be the one I was working on. It is possible to give new life to bells missing material. The repair for this isn't the same every time. It changes depending the severity of the damage and the particular horn I am working on. Here is how I did it this time.
The first step I took was to use a dremel cut off wheel to cut channels into the flare. This is so I can lay down steel wire to add strength to the graft I will create later. A picture of the wire is below.
Next, I use epoxy putty to create the missing material. I form it on the bell and shape with a razor as it sets up. Due to the width of this missing material, the putty developed cracks because of the flex in the bell flare material. Because of this, I used an additional layer of bondo fiberglass strips to give strength to the new piece. The blue marker lines mark the small breaks in the original piece. They can be seen under the bondo patch.

After the bondo patch sets up, I sand down the high spots as much as I can to attempt to blend in the repair. I cannot make it perfect or completely disappear. This is because I don't want to lose the strength of the patch. Truth be told, I could have went further with the repair and made it look better, but for time reasons, I decided to stop.

Below are pictures of the bell after repainting it. Up close you can see the high spots from the fiber repair. It isn't perfect, but it is durable.

 The final product looks pretty good. What do you think? Let me know!

Finished Project: Yamaha YSH-411

Above is a Yamaha YSH-411 that I just finished last week. These play comfortably with one tuning bit. Yamaha uses two different tuning bits depending on which production run you have. Any Sousa made before serial number 100,00 uses two tuning bits, each bent at a 45 degree angle. Any Sousa made after serial number 100,00 uses two tuning bits, each bent at a 20 degree angle.  Like I said above, most of them play comfortably with one tuning bit. 

Yamaha has only been producing this model since around 1991.  They have also produced the same horn for Bach under model number 1111. 

Yamaha Sousas have very tight valves and play pretty well.