Monday, June 27, 2011

Sousaphone designs that didn't make it - U.S. Patents

above: a design for a reinforced Sousaphone bell.

There was once a point in history in the United States when there were many wind instrument manufacturers and a great deal of competition. To stay on the cutting edge of design, companies had to patent ideas to prevent their competition from being able to use them. Some ideas made it but many didn't. Many designs were patented and never used. It is easy to understand why once you see the drawings. I will link to the FULL patent information at the end of this blog post.

I - Sousaphone bell reinforcement.  

Date - September 18, 1928
Company - C.G. Conn
Applicant - E.J. Gulick
The basic idea here is to dampen the "after ring" that follows certain notes by applying reinforcing strips on the bell flare that are permanently fixed. My opinion as to why this was never implemented is because it was probably impractical and costly. The other factor why I think it wasn't used is because once the bell truly became damaged it would be nearly impossible to repair with those rings in place. The true reason it was never fully implemented is because it was intended for Jumbo Sousaphone bells and Conn discontinued those models. Below is an image from the patent application:

II - Sousaphone / Helicon shoulder rest 
Date - February 15, 1929
Company - C.G. Conn
Applicant - E.J. Gulick

Next is a shoulder rest. It isn't a bad idea, but it could present a problem once the horn receives some damage. It is a good idea to displace the weight over the strap a bit. I would actually like to try this one to see how it actually feels. In college marching band we did "horn moves" with our Sousaphones. If we used Sousas with this design I would have been scared that I would have jabbed my shoulder with the ends of the strap brackets. Why didn't they use this? It's my opinion that it was cheaper and easier to use the Conn metal shoulder piece. Below is an image from the patent.
III - Light weight composite Sousaphone 

Date applied for - May 6, 1930
Company - C.G. Conn
Applicant - E.J. Gulick
The idea of a lighter Sousaphone is something that Conn had attempted to tackle for years. In the early years of Sousaphone production, Conn could substitute the 32K for the 38K. Later, you could substitute the 10K "artist" model for the 14K. Neither instrument in either case was close enough to be an actual substitute, but that is an article to come in the future.

This is an idea that finally came to fruition later after Conn invented the fiber glass Sousaphone. This particular patent though is for a whole Sousaphone made out of an "aluminum composite." The entire instrument would be held together with threaded brace couplings and tensioned joints. Yet again we have another horn that I wish was sitting in a closet somewhere that made it beyond the design stages. I would love to try something like this, although I would be very skeptical about the sound quality. Below is an image from the patent.

Special thanks to for providing the inspiration for this article!


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