Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuba Concerts in (and around) Kansas - April

above: Kevin Sanders, Professor of Tuba, University of Memphis
 above: Dennis Nulty, Tuba, Detroit Symphony

April 4 -    7:30 pm - Joeseph Felton, Tuba                                              - UMKC
April 7 -    7:30 pm - Charles Hower, Tuba                                              - KSU
April 11 -  7:30 pm - UMKC Tuba/Euph Ensemble                                 - UMKC
April 12 -  11:30 am - Kevin Sanders and Dennis Nulty Master Class - KSU
April 12 -  5:45 pm - Kevin Sanders and Dennis Nulty Tuba                 - KSU
April 14 -  7:30 pm - Kevin Sanders, Tuba                                               - KU
April 15 -  7:30 pm - Laura Potter, Tuba                                                  - KU
April 22 -  7:30 pm - A.J. Beu, Tuba                                                        - Pitt State
April 27 -  5:45 pm - Tuba Studio Recital                                                - KSU

If you live in or around Kansas and I have forgotten you, please leave a comment and let me know! 


Sunday, March 27, 2011

WHOA - Howard Johnson rocks the Jimi Hendrix tune "Voodoo Chile"

I don't know the origin of this video but all I can say is WHOA. It is not every day that you get the opportunity to hear a Tuba being played like that. 

The player is jazz Tubist Howard Johnson, who is well known for his solo work and his low brass jazz ensemble Gravity. If you are unfamiliar with Howard Johnson pick up one of his records. It will not be money wasted. I recommend Gravity on the Verve record label, which can be found at Amazon.com
Howard Johnson's music is essential for anyone who wants to try Tuba in a jazz setting. Whether you want to play tunes out of the real book or try out for a jazz band or combo, Howard Johnson's music is a great tool for young Tubists.


Playing with yourself: Jon Sass

Tonight, as I had trouble sleeping, I stumbled across this really cool video of Jon Sass performing with... well, himself. He is performing with a visual aid, digital accompaniment and recording live loops of himself. This is a really cool video, and not an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination. Do yourself a favor and listen to this on a good set of speakers. It will be worth it.

What are our instruments made of? (part 1)

This is a more complicated topic than it seems, and it really does matter what kind of metal your instrument is composed of. Not all metals are created equally. Some are of inferior quality. Some metals change during the manufacturing process depending on how they are worked, annealed or handled. Because this is a Tuba/Sousaphone blog I am going to focus on Tuba and Sousaphone manufacturing and how each metal might effect the player. First, let us look at the composition of common metals used in brass instrument manufacturing.


  • Yellow Brass  --------------------------------- 70% Copper - 30% Zinc
  • Nickel Silver (or German Silver) -------- 70% Copper - 20% Zinc - 10% Nickel
  • Rose/Gold Brass ----------------------------  85% Copper - 15% Zinc
  • Red Brass ------------------------------------- 90% Copper - 10% Zinc
  • Monel------------------------------------------- 31.5% Copper - 66% Nickel - 2.5% Iron, Manganese and Silicon
  • Stainless Steel-------------------------------- 90% Iron - 10% Chromium 
source: http://www.co-bw.com/Articles%20The%20Metals%20Our%20Instruments%20are%20Made%20of.htm
 The pictures in order from top to bottom: Red Brass Cerveny, Yellow Brass Cerveny and a Gold Brass Mirafone. 

Once you see the composition of the metals, it is easy to see that as the copper content of the metal goes up the metal gets more and more red in color. The metal also changes in the way it plays (depending on the player and the player's aptitude). The answer you will get about the way one metal plays versus another may vary from player to player, so I will not attempt to define any concrete playing characteristics. 

In my opinion, the most important place the metal composition matters is in the mouth pipe. This is because of a common chemical reaction in brass instruments called dezincification or "red rot." 

Think of brass alloys as a woven mesh of copper and zinc. The acidity in your mouth will begin to corrode away the zinc, leaving only the copper behind rotting the pipe away from the inside out. The visual evidence of this on lacquered brass or raw brass instruments are pinkish red spots on the brass. The visual evidence of this on silver plating is blisters under the silver plate. Below is a picture of a Trumpet main tuning slide crook with red rot.
Here is how to avoid red rot in your musical instrument. According to www.BrassArts.com:

"You can help prevent it by reducing the acids you introduce into your instrument.  Avoid eating right before playing, and especially drinking acidic drinks such as coffee, tea, sodas, lemonade, and so forth.  Brush your teeth before playing if possible, or even simply rinse your mouth well before playing.  Empty the water out of your instrument right after playing and oil it before putting it away.  Periodically, remove the tuning slide and run a flexible cleaner, or snake, through the mouthpipe or leadpipe of your instrument, rinse the pipe with clean water, and let dry before reassembly.
Your technician can help, as well.  After a cleaning with any acidic solution your instrument should be acid-neutralized, rinsed thoroughly, and dried completely.  Further protection is offered by oiling critical parts.  Check with your technician to be sure that these protective steps are followed."

For Tuba players, you can get a snake that fits the bore of your horn, remove the first valve or rotor then snake the mouth pipe. Carefully rinse the mouth pipe and make sure the instrument is bone dry before you reassemble it. 

Other ways to prevent this are to have a mouth pipe installed that has a low zinc or non zinc alloy. The newer version of the King 2340/2341 Tuba has a detachable nickel-silver mouth pipe. Many new Tubas can be purchased with a nickel-silver mouth pipe. The red brass Cerveny above has a nickel-silver mouth pipe.

Next time...pistons and rotors

Links and resources:
What our instruments are made of 
About Red Rot at www.BrassArts.com

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Weekly Diversion: The Best Show on WFMU

There is a reason it is called The Best Show. Now running for over ten years on the public radio station WFMU in New Jersey,The Best Show on WFMU brings you three hours of mirth, music and mayhem every Tuesday night from 9pm to midnight (eastern time). 

The show is hosted by Tom Scharpling who was a writer for the show Monk. He is frequently joined on the show by drummer and walking music encyclopedia Jon Wurster, who portrays any number of different seedy characters from the fictional town of Newbridge, New Jersey.

Tom also has on many great guests which frequently include Paul F. Tompkins, Ted Leo, Aimee Mann, John Hodgman, Patton Oswalt, Ben Gibbard (of Deathcab For Cutie and The Postal Service), Aziz Ansari, Paul Scheer, Todd Barry and more. 

The Best Show on WFMU is my favorite entertainment throughout the week. I don't get excited or set aside any time to watch any broadcast television show, but I make time for The Best Show. I rarely get to listen live, but I haven't missed a podcast in years. 

Recent episodes can be downloaded for FREE on iTunes and at Best Show Podcasts. 
An almost complete archive of The Best Show can be streamed online at:
The Best Show Archives 

The best of The Best Show on WFMU can be found as a free bi-weekly podcast, which features some of my favorite Tom Scharpling/Jon Wurster comedy. Best Show Gems can be downloaded for FREE at: Best Show Gems Podcast

The Best Show on WFMU can be streamed live every Tuesday from 9pm to 12 eastern time at:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

After: F.E. Olds and Sons Sousaphone

This picture isn't stellar, but it's ok. I took it with phone and I think I may have smudged the lens when I pulled it from my pocket. It's too bad because I didn't realize the picture was a bit fuzzy until I got home. 

These horns are GREAT players. Even after patching all of the holes, this horn still plays great. It centers very well and is nimble in all registers. 

This horn is a hybrid of sorts. The valve section is basically a copy of an old King 1250. The body is similar to a 14K. The bell is similar in shape and size to a Conn. So with a bore size and valve design of a King, and body of a Conn you get the awesome centered sound of a King and the power and tone of a Conn. This particular horn has a 25" bell flare, but Olds made different bell flares available. 

This horn is also made with thick walled brass, which adds to the sound and durability of the instrument. Unfortunately it also adds to the weight, which is a bit of a downside but the great sound and playability make up for the extra weight you may have to carry. 

History of F.E. Olds at FEOlds.com
F. E. Olds on Wikipedia
The history of F.E.Olds and Son by Robb Stewart

Saturday, March 19, 2011

In Progress: F.E. Olds Sousaphone

The Olds is nearly complete. It is not yet lacquered. I want to burnish out some more dings in the bell before I do a final polish. 

In the picture above, the master shows us a proper embouchure. When I told her the bell not being on effects the pitch, she said, "Don't worry about it, I'll lip it down!" 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Weekly Diversion: Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica is by far one of my most favorite television shows of all time. I recently got into it at the recommendation of my wonderful little sister. It has everything you would ever want in a television show: drama, comedy, suspense, intrigue, romance and oh yeah space ships and robots. 
The story, as shown before the first episode of Battlestar Galactica is:
 "The Cylons were created by man. They were created to make life easier on the Twelve Colonies. And then the day came when The Cylons decided to kill their masters. After a long and bloody struggle, an armistice was declared. The Cylons left for another world to call their own. A remote space station was built......Where Cylon and Human could meet and maintain diplomatic relations. Every year the Colonials send an officer. The Cylons send no one. No one has seen or heard from the Cylons in over forty years."

I don't want to reveal too much, so watch this trailer. It does a good job of giving you an idea of what the show is about. I honestly believe it is one of the best shows of all time.

So say we all...

The full series is available on Netflix streaming and can be purchased on DVD or BluRay.
Here are a few links:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Musical Instruments and your health: Should you be worried?

above: The March/April 2011 issue of General Dentistry
NOTE: I am not a doctor or a medical professional. Below are my opinions as a repair tech. 

Before I start into my analysis of this, please read the article and watch this short video:

So let us review the article first. The impetus of this article is that musical instruments that have been played can be breeding grounds for bacteria and mold, to which I say "well... yeah." This shouldn't come as a surprise to those of us with the most basic science education. When a musical instrument is being played it is a chamber full of warm, damp air. This is the perfect breeding ground for such things. Should you have fear or chronically OVER clean your horn. I don't think so. Believe it or not, we are surrounded by bacteria and mold every day. This article appears in the Academy of General Dentistry Journal and as any dentist will tell you your mouth is TEEMING with bacteria. 

This is incredibly interesting, but I don't think that there is anything to worry about. If bacteria and mold in instruments were a real problem I would imagine we would see more band kids in particular getting sick. I have seen TRULY DANGEROUS mold in instrument cases, but never any that was currently in use, only in horns stored improperly for years and years. This might be different for an older repair man than I. I would like to see more data surrounding sickness and band instruments.

Now for the video. A professional Trombonist who has developed some form of lung disease from the gunk in his horn. There are some distinct differences that need to be remembered when comparing the two sets of data. First, the study from the Academy of General Dentistry focused on high school band instruments. The fellow from the video is a professional player. This means that he is (or at least should be) practicing for many hours every day, thus exposing him more to the potential yuck in his horn. 

If this is true and the stuff in our horns is dangerous and needs to be cleaned out daily, why aren't there more seriously ill professional players? Again we run up against the same problem where we don't have enough data to know the any real answers. One sick Trombone player isn't enough for me to cause panic. However, I would like to see some serious studies. If there is a correlation between the stuff in our horns and health problems, I want to know. 

As brass players we have the benefit of a silver plated mouthpiece (most of the time). Silver is a naturally anti septic surface. This is good. On the other hand, when we draw in a breath while playing, it is usually (at least for me) through the horn. This is why I want more data. 

I know many band teachers and many repair techs. I haven't heard of widespread sickness from musical instruments. I honestly think that there is nothing to worry about, but I still want to see a few serious studies around this topic. 

Stay tuned for tips on how to thoroughly clean your horn... 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tuba Pics: Before - King 4 valve

above: King 4 valve Tuba - buggered up 4th valve casing

This horn is a King 4 valve Tuba. I don't know the model number at the moment. It is either 1241 or 2341. It looks like it was literally dragged behind a truck. Don't believe me? Look at this mouth pipe and 4th piston:

 That piston was received with that damage. Yikes right? The bottom is crushed in, but not impossible to fix. The tricky part is that Kings of this era had sloppy seams on the inside of the bottom bow. This makes it tricky to do dent work with balls in that area. But I already have the bow off, so I should be able to knock it out rather easily. 

The valve section is pretty clean. Just need some pistons and one slide. Not to hard to build the slide and the pistons aren't expensive for Kings. 

  So what now? This horn will either be repaired or sold as-is. I will have an answer at the beginning of next week. Wish me luck!

Master at work: Guard Wire Installation

Here, the young master gives her father a lesson on how to install a new guard wire onto a Sousaphone. She watched me with the binding wire and pliers and would say, "Papa, here!"

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sousaphone discomfort: carrying one, aches, pains and the rest

above: Wenger Sousaphone Chair

When I attended college, the marching band Sousaphone section was not allowed to use shoulder pads because we wanted to maintain a uniform look. At first this was a major issue. Before the actual semester started a week or so of all day rehearsals. This hurt... a lot. I was sore for about a week then I was able to carry the horn without any problems for the rest of my college marching career. I don't necessarily think that this is the best route for everyone,  but it did work for me and I think that I am better for it. I think that I would have liked to have been prepared for this situation, so that is the impetus for this article. I just want to note that I don't think it is wrong to use a shoulder pad, I was just trained not to.

For Sousaphone players the left shoulder carries all of the weight and acts as a fulcrum. Your body overall should be as free from tension as possible so it is not difficult to make music. After some time of trying to wear the horn without a pad, you will (or I did, rather) develop strength in your shoulder and be fully mobile. 

This will be something that athletes will be familiar with. What you should try is to practice with your Sousaphone for at least 30 - 45 minutes WITHOUT the pad. You will have some discomfort and aches, but fight through it. After a while you will notice the discomfort go away as you get stronger. Then when you are comfortable with 45 minutes, work 45 - 60 and so on. If you wish to play in a college marching band there may be situations where you are wearing a Sousaphone for at least a few hours at a time and sometimes longer. If you are using a towel as a pad, you can also try progressing to a thinner towel, then to nothing. 
To deal with the aches and pains between marching sessions, I like to use a little icy-hot, an ice pack and a bit of ibuprofen to help with the soreness. 

If you are just a hobbyist who plays at home or in community bands, you might try a Sousaphone chair (pictured at the top). This item holds the horn for you while you sit comfortably and play. It is neat, but doesn't help you much with your marching or showmanship (yes these things are important). 

If you are the kind of person who plays a Jumbo, well then I can't help you. You are on your own. I am only kidding of course. The kind of people who play Jumbos tend to be well experienced in this field. More to come on Jumbos later...

Sousaphone stands exist, but they are mostly only for display. I haven't yet seen a standing Sousaphone performance stand, but that doesn't mean they don't exist, although I kind of fail to understand the fun in playing Sousaphone while standing still. 

Let me know if you have any technique of your own or if this information is useful!


Friday, March 11, 2011

Before and After: Early Conn 14K Sousaphone

above:DIY Conn 14K before pics

Oh boy. This one was a bit of a doozey. I bought the body parts from a friend and happened to have a set of caps, valves, stems, finger buttons and bell so I thought "why not?" The body is from around 1925 and the bell is from the late 1950's. I know this because the serial number on the body is 229XXX and the bell has the lady face engraving. 

So the first step is to clean up the pieces. Due to the quality of my camera, you can't really see the difference, except maybe in the valve cluster.
Then, hours of work which I didn't have the opportunity to photograph for quasi obvious reasons. Here are the final results. 
NOTE: The picture in the background of the blog is a Conn 14K valve cluster that I refinished in the past. 

Bell Flare Diameter: 24"
Bore Size: 0.734"
Bell Collar Diameter: 6"

The Conn 14K's fiberglass brother is the Conn 36K. It has the same specs, only with fiberglass and plastic construction to help with the weight. 

The Conn 14K remained in production until around 1986, when production moved to Eastlake, Ohio. At this point, UMI began producing a King 2350 stencil and labeling it Conn 14K.


Weekly Diversion - Ted Leo and The Pharmacists - "Bottled in Cork"

This has NOTHING to do with Tuba or Sousaphone. Once a week I am going to talk about something that entertains me that I would like to share with someone else. This weeks diversion is "Bottled in Cork" by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. It is from their most recent album The Brutalist Bricks.
 This is one of my favorite albums and one of my favorite songs. The video features Paul F Tompkins and was directed by Tom Scharpling, the host of The Best Show on WFMU. 

Ted Leo is an interesting mix of alternative rock with a punk sensibility. The songs on The Brutalist Bricks have excellent melodic hooks and well written lyrics. I have listened to this album dozens of times since I purchased it and I think that more people need to know about Ted Leo and the Pharmacists.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Not What They Are Known For...Mirafone Sousaphones

above: a recently finished Mirafone Sousaphone

Here is a rare piece for the United States market.  Mirafone (or Miraphone, depending on where and when your horn was originally purchased) is a well known, well respected brass instrument manufacturer, best known for it's Tubas. Mirafone has made a 3 valve and 4 valve Sousaphone. 

First, the dead give away for European construction on a Sousaphone is nickel silver inner and outer slide tubes. Second, the branches are typically smaller on European Sousas than on American made horns.  It should also be mentioned that the braces are all nickel silver and ornately cut like on most German made Tubas.

 You can see where I have added a yellow brass Conn brace for extra strength on the mouth pipe.
As you can see in the above images, the mouth pipe feeds into a tuning slide and through the 5th branch like a pretzel.

Mirafone puts the engraving on the underside of the horn on the bell spout, exactly where it would rub concrete:
The Mirafone is a nice, solid player but not like any American horn you have ever played. It is built with German quality materials and construction. This would be a nice horn for collectors!

Lastly here is a front and back shot:


Friday, March 4, 2011

F.E Olds and Sons Sousaphone - UPDATE - In Progress Photos!

So far I have stripped the lacquer (although some tarnish remains to be removed), removed most of the dents and patched the screw holes left by a previous owner. The next step is to finish the fine dent work, polish it up and spray it with a fresh coat of lacquer. For those with a keen eye, I am aware that the #3 slide doesn't have a water key. It is still a work in progress.