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 Horn-U-Copia.net, 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:

20 comments:

  1. I just bought one of these horns, do you know where I could find a neck for it? It didn't come with one...

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  2. On my older Frank Holton Sousaphone BB Flat, silver with gold bell, I am wondering how did they do the engraving on the bell?

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    1. Those engravings were done by hand. It's a really beautiful art that is dying on most modern Tubas and Sousaphones because of (in my opinion) the labor cost involved.

      There are still folks doing excellent engraving work like Jason DuMars...
      http://dumarsengraving.com/

      He even has tutorial videos on how he does it!

      I also have a small piece on engravings somewhere in the archive...

      Delete
  3. How Much Do You Want For This Sousaphone

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  4. How would I get a set of original finger buttons for my 1951 Frank C. Holton sousaphone?

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    1. I can get compatible finger buttons easily, but ORIGINAL buttons are very difficult to come by (if I recall correctly).

      There are very talented people who can make those. If you contact me directly via email I can put you in touch with someone who might have some.

      Delete
  5. I have one of these with the original neckpieces. I believe that the silver plating on it is original as well.

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  6. I just purchased a Frank Holton Sousaphone. I think it is an E-flat from the size of the tubing. Serial number is 99115. It is missing the tubing from the tuning slide back including the neck. I am trying to restore it to play it. Can you tell me where I can find pictures or diagrams that would help me restore the proper tubing?

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    Replies
    1. I replied to your question in a comment below.

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  7. You can get spare parts I think thru E M LeBlanc, whom purchased Holton a while ago.

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  8. To James -
    Sure! We can reference instruments that are still in circulation, old photographs and catalogs. It shouldn't be too difficult. Send me some photos and we will get the ball rolling.

    Philip -
    I don't think this is correct. Both Holton and LeBlanc are owned by Conn-Selmer, a division of Steinway. Some Holton Sousaphone parts are available through parts wholesalers like Allied and Votaw but if I remember correctly there are virtually no parts available for an instrument from that era. This doesn't mean that it cannot be restored, it just takes a bit more work.

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  9. Mine, a BB Flat sousaphone; was able to order parts,and it is a 1943 Year model. I have misplaced my parts catalog that I received from the (LeBlanc nee Holton) but I see that the company has changed hands once more. I ordered valve caps, various stem parts, for the mouthpiece parts, and it was all silver coated and just like the original, I guess since that was several years ago, like 15 or 20 that may be the case. Nice to see folks making info available on this site.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the input Philip! For Models BB300 and BB310 you can find some parts at Votaw Tool Company:

      http://www.votawtool.com/zcom.asp?pg=products&grp=404

      You can get SOME parts but not much. Many of the parts on these instruments are considered by some to be "obsolete." Part of that reason in my opinion is that there just aren't very many of these around any more compared to Conn or King Sousas.

      If you find your parts catalog please let me know. I would love to scan it an make it available in the archive!

      Delete
  10. I own a silver 4-valve 1924 BBb Mammoth Holtonphone. Technically these are all "Holtonphones" as the Holton Sousaphone in the 1920's was a different product with a raincatcher bell. Mine has the optional 26" bell; the standard size at the time was 22". Mine also has the reversed bell tenon. I am told that these instruments might have been made by York for Holton.

    The neck on this instrument is like mine, which also did not come with bits. I contacted Holton to see about getting bits and the only ones they now provide are the later ones (which have screw collars on them). The earlier bits did not have these as I have seen pictures, though never actually held them.

    I believe that the short upper bow of the first valve might have allowed a slide pull. Mine also has a very flat third valve - so flat that I often tune is as a 2 step valve.

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    Replies
    1. Terrific! Do you have any photos you can share?

      How flat is your third valve? Is it only flat on certain pitches? It should be sharp instead of flat.

      I think I have some old Holton catalogs. I just have to take some time and scan them so I can post them to the site. There will be some Conn catalogs posted soon...

      Delete
  11. Hi From Alaska!

    I just bought a fiberglass Holton sousaphone - serial number 444894 - in need of new valves. Any idea how I can figure out what model this is and where to buy replacement valves? Thanks, DA

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  12. I have been searching the internet trying to figure out what kind of tuba we have. It says Holton on the bell and the serial number by the valves is 495856. It has 3 valves

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  14. Hi Well keep me posted as I also have a pretty old Frank Holton BB Flat Sousaphone, and want to be kept up on a blog about those horns etc.

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