Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone! Bookmark and Share

Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone!

Postby iiipopes » Wed Jul 02, 2014 11:35 pm

OK, first of all, I think for brass band and 99%+ of concert band usage, the original 3-valve compensating tuba, as perfected in the New Standard series with the 17-inch BBb bell, is the best tuba for tone, intonation and support of the ensemble.

The drawbacks: heavy as a tank, and nothing usable below F below open BBb. Modern tuba playing seems to be tolerant of the occasional intonation variance in return for lighter weight and near-pedal tone (Eb below open BBb down to at least CC, if not BB nat) range.

Next, the Miraphone 186. THE workhorse. There are those still who hold the opinion, and are justified, that if it can't be done on a 186, then it just can't be done. I understand that point of view.

The drawbacks: some folks, including me, don't like the "point-and-shoot" tone of the older 16 1/2 inch "stovepipe" bell, nor the "vanilla" tone of the newer 17 3/4 inch bell, nor the "bark" that can happen in the low range. That is all in addition to the elephant in the room: the "flat fifth partials." The postive in all this is that Miraphones are so consistent that we all know that, and if we have to play a gig with a tuba sight unseen, if it is a 186, we can all deal with it and adapt accordingly.

My 186 started life as a @1971 detachable recording bell variant, resurrected from a college write-off, retrofitted with a modified St Pete bell that served for upright, as well as keeping the stock recording bell.

Now, those who have read my previous posts have read how I really liked the St Pete bell, with its wide throat and small flare, as being really dark and leaning towards Alex in tone. The problem over the years is that the tenon and collar damped some of the tone and response, and 1st ledger line Eb 1st valve never centered properly. It was so noticable that I thought for awhile that I may have had a worn valve. No, it was the tenon. Moreover, I actually finally was able to hear that the inherent burble of this configuration actually dulled overall articulation, and I could not lock with the bass drum to keep the band in time as well as in tune.

Second, I really like a souzy for outdoors. As good as the recording bell is, I just never completely got to where I liked it. By definition, it made the tuba top-front heavy, and I could never find the magic balance point. Moreover, since this bell used the stock tuning slide instead of the extended tuning slide, the "flat fifth partials" were more evident with the recording bell, and I finally got to where I did not care to deal with that, either.

One last diversion: when I had my Besson, I had purchased a non-comp hulk so I could have "crash parts" in case something untowards happened. I never needed them, so the hulk resided peacefully in the morgue of my local tech, the bell waiting for its time.

When I traded for my Reynolds 'glass souzy, I decided it was time to do some custom tuba work. I missed the tone of my Besson bell. But I was not going to purchase a 4-valve 3+1. I am left handed playing a right handed tuba, and if I tried to play a 3+1, the left hand would want to take over. I didn't have the $$ for a 993, and I don't like the Besson 19 inch bell, anyway. So I had to think of another solution.

Because the St. Pete bell was effectively shorter than the recording bell, Dan Schultz had already made me an extended tuning slide to make up for it. Funny thing: the longer tuning slide, adding cylindrical tubing at a critical point, almost got rid of the flat fifth partials, while not affecting anything else. That's right: 2nd line B nat 1+2 is good; 2nd space C is right on; middle line Db is lippable, and middle line D can be played either open, lippable, or 1+2, depending on the key signature and which tempering of that note fits better.

Time to do the deed. I went to my tech. I explained what I wanted. We measured and figured. We pulled the old hulk out of the morgue. We measured and figured again. The bell would fit. I told him to go for it. He did. He smoothed out a couple of wrinkles on the flare, trimmed it to fit, and oh, did it fit. The length required for the bell to fit both in length for the existing tuning slide and in diameter to fit the bell stack ferrule on the bottom bow of the 186 was exactly right. We put it together. Wait for it....




TONE - INTONATION - PERFECTION

Well, as close to perfect as a player can have without the compensating valve block. The burble is gone. An extra pound of weight from the tenon was gone. Eb 1st valve centered. Response was immediate. Tone was broad and centered at the same time. Lock with the bass drum was complete. And I got a bonus - check this out: the throat of the Besson bell is a tad smaller than the Miraphone stack, so I got the advantage of having a suspended lead pipe. Burbles are gone. The same positive effect on the fifth partials is still there, if not even better. I can actually play middle line D as I desire without automatically resorting to 1+2. With the St Pete bell, the lowest register could be compressed and play sharp, requiring slide pulling to get the pitch down. No more. Pedal open BBBb is achievable. It is all there. And like bloke opined about the leadpipe on his R-M, I have a small bore, more conical profile lead pipe than a modern 186. It does the same for me as bloke's does for him: better air management, better dynamic control, better tone and intonation.

The only drawback: all my old mouthpieces are now on the shelf. I had to get new mouthpieces. For a smooth, slightly dark, legato tone, bloke's Imperial with a spacer (I was lucky to find a 2-piece model) is the choice. For solo and upper range, a Taku Lite has precise, even intonation. For the "cash register" of community band, I was lucky to find a Griego 325XD that sounds large and round, with even intonation.

EDIT - I have since come to prefer the smoother Imperial, as more "tuba" in tone that "bass bone" in tone. And I don't think I will play that much solo literature going forward. So the Griego and the Taku are out, in favor of the Imperial with the spacer, and a Kelly 18 for spare/backup/inclement weather.

I am very thankful that I have been able over the years to be able to discern what aspects of tubas fit my playing, both through the privilege of playing many instruments and mouthpeices, and a critical analysis of my strengths and weaknesses as a tuba player, in order to assemble what is essentially a custom tuba to fit my playing, the ensembles I support, the repertoire I play, and the tone and intonation characteristics I prefer.
Last edited by iiipopes on Sun Aug 17, 2014 9:20 pm, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone!

Postby iiipopes » Wed Jul 02, 2014 11:36 pm

And now the closeups on the bell and leadpipe:
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Re: Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone!

Postby k001k47 » Thu Jul 03, 2014 2:55 am

Cool tuba! (where's the 'like' button when you need it?)
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Re: Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone!

Postby dmmorris » Thu Jul 03, 2014 8:03 am

^+1
I miss my Besson! Nice concept and execution.
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Re: Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone!

Postby iiipopes » Thu Jul 03, 2014 8:05 am

Thanks.
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Re: Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone!

Postby Ben » Thu Jul 03, 2014 8:25 am

Fantastic work on this. The tuba looks great. I'd love to hear it, any chance you might volunteer up an auido sample, possibly a pre and post operation one?
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Re: Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone!

Postby chronolith » Thu Jul 03, 2014 8:40 am

She's a beauty. Very nice work!
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Re: Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone!

Postby iiipopes » Thu Jul 03, 2014 11:44 am

I don't think I have any pre- sound samples. I'll see what I can do for a post- sound sample, as I really don't have any software for such. All I can tell you is, as an example pertinent to the holiday, when I opened up on the low Ab for the counter-melody in "National Emblem," before hand, it either burbled or barked. Now it lays the foundation as large as the conductor wants.

I give all my credit to Dan for the long tuning slide, without which the project could not get off the ground, and my local tech who is not only an absolute stickler for doing things right, but has the ability to take a player's description and execute it.
Last edited by iiipopes on Thu Jul 03, 2014 1:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone!

Postby Tubajug » Thu Jul 03, 2014 12:37 pm

Very nice! I love me a good franken-tuba! And the casual observer probably wouldn't even notice that this a franken-tuba! It's always great to see people making the instrument they want to play and really going for it. Congrats!
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Re: Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone!

Postby iiipopes » Thu Jul 03, 2014 1:23 pm

My local tech did tell me that with his steady diet of school horn repairs, to have an actual "project" really helped him get through the spring concert/contest season with something to look forward to doing where he could apply himself as well. The bell had some significant wrinkles, and now it almost glistens, with no lacquer - all worn off through the years. I did a serial number search on the bell, and it seems to be @1959-60.
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Re: Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone!

Postby GC » Fri Jul 04, 2014 9:20 pm

This makes me wonder how many other modern designs are inspired by Frankentubas. The King 2341 current fixed-bell model comes to mind, and the upcoming Wessex BBb 5/4 horn with an American-style body and compensating valve set are another.
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Re: Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone!

Postby iiipopes » Sun Aug 10, 2014 2:28 pm

As I have been woodshedding these last couple of weeks to get back in shape for the next season of community bands, I have noticed some items:
1) Rotor alignment - as now configured, the tuba is very sensitive to having exact rotor alignment on the marks when trimming the bumpers. Just a hair off is the difference between good intonation and intolerable stuffiness. It did not seem to be that sensitive before. It may be that the entire tuba is now more "open" without the extra weight of the collar and tenon.
2) Pedal tones - the Besson 3-valve comp I used to own just would not intonate "privileged" tones, and when the detachable bell stack was on this tuba, it would not intonate pedal BBb with either bell, and near-pedal tones effectively gave out at @ 2+3+4 near-pedal D. Now the near-pedal tones and pedal BBb intone well.
3) The more I play the Greigo, the more "trombone-y" it sounds to me, and the more I am liking the Blokepiece Imperial with the spacer better and better. Thanks, bloke!
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Re: Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone!

Postby iiipopes » Tue Oct 07, 2014 3:26 pm

I had my first two concerts of the autumn season last Saturday and Monday. I played the outdoor Saturday concert with the Kelly 18 and the indoor Monday concert with the Imperial with the modified spacer.

Old habits die hard. Because of the wide throat and the damping of the resonance with the massive tenon on the detachable St. Pete bell and stack, I had always blown a little harder, and a lot harder when I was the only tuba. I forgot and did that, and cracked too many notes now that I have a bell that is more responsive, although not lightweight by any means (traditional Besson "tank-grade" brass). I also want to focus on one mouthpiece, so even though in my other thread I have extolled the virtues of the Kelly 18, and will continue to keep and use two of them, I'm going to get a blokepiece lexan rim to match the Modified Helleberg 32.6MM on my Imperial to reinforce my personal practice in again becoming familiar with a Besson bell.

Part of it may be the inherent characteristics of the lengthy 4th valve circuit of the same diameter tubing on the 186 valve block, part of it may be the characteristics of the bell, but on the 3-valve Besson comp I used to own, 1+3 C was a little stuffy, but low F was open, and everything else was relatively open. On the Bessophone, it is the same: 4th valve C is a little stuffy, low F is open, and everything else is relatively open. So on a descending scale I have to remember to lighten up going from C to open Bb, and be ready to push a little more air going from Bb up to C, just like I used to. It confirms the old proverb that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
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Re: Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone!

Postby Untersatz » Wed Oct 08, 2014 1:51 am

iiipopes wrote:I'm going to get a blokepiece lexan rim to match the Modified Helleberg 32.6MM on my Imperial to reinforce my personal practice in again becoming familiar with a Besson bell.

Hmm...........seems to me that a Blokepiece "Symphony" might be a better fit with this horn/player???
I use the Modified Helleberg 32.6MM rim on my Blokepiece "Symphony" and it has become my go to mouthpiece :wink:
Just a thought, have you tried one???
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Re: Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone!

Postby iiipopes » Wed Oct 08, 2014 3:51 am

TubaMusikMann wrote:
iiipopes wrote:I'm going to get a blokepiece lexan rim to match the Modified Helleberg 32.6MM on my Imperial to reinforce my personal practice in again becoming familiar with a Besson bell.

Hmm...........seems to me that a Blokepiece "Symphony" might be a better fit with this horn/player???
I use the Modified Helleberg 32.6MM rim on my Blokepiece "Symphony" and it has become my go to mouthpiece :wink:
Just a thought, have you tried one???
:tuba:

Yes. I prefer the Imperial, and the slightly darker "ah" as in "father" tone it brings out of the Besson bell. When I remember to not overblow, which I did ever since I got the tuba with the St. Pete upright bell on it and the large tenon, it does everything I could ask for with excellent tone and intonation. I just need to adjust to the different characteristics and slow down the air velocity and not get too tight on the mouthpiece which I tended to do previously. I've tried many mouthpieces on it. My thread of a couple of months ago for the mouthpieces I sold were just a few of what I have tried, having been able to borrow others, and sell even others privately not listed on the forum when they did not work out. I am down to my Imperial as my #1, the Kelly 18's I will keep for spares and inclement weather at least until I get the lexan rim, and one other mouthpiece I may also sell, but have not decided yet, depending if I get another sousaphone.

I had a Reynolds souzy, which as you know has the same bore through the valves as the King and many of the Gnagny creations. The Imperial did not sound good on it, so I used the Kelly 18, which is more like the Symphony in its cup shape, a deep bowl. I can see why with your particular instruments that the Symphony works well for you.
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Re: Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone!

Postby iiipopes » Wed Feb 18, 2015 12:48 am

Update: I don't know how it happened, but the Bessophone took a hard hit. I have a couple of minor dings on the first valve circuit, but that doesn't tell the whole story. I started hearing some rubbing in the first valve. I took it to my tech. We thought it was gunk. The valve was clean. But at the community band Christmas concert, I heard and felt the rubbing again. So I took it back to the tech. We popped the valve and saw a wear mark. Not good. So I left it with him.

My tech took the torch to the valve block to relax any tension, and he said he heard a loud "POP!" He removed the heat, and the rubbing noises in the valves went away. Whew! Nobody wants to replace a rotor valve and casing. I still have great compression on the 1st valve, and everything else in the valve linkage seems better overall.

There is one negative detail: the first valve tubes seem to have come out of alignment; pulling and pushing the 1st valve slide as necessary seems to be a little rougher than before. But I'm going to deal with it this season and have it looked at after the Memorial Day concert when I will not be playing any gigs in June, but will need it for any Independence Day (or the week or two before or after) gigs.

These last few rehearsals at community band I have noticed a few changes in the playing characteristics: 1) overall, the response is better; 2) slurs are easier. I had chalked the difficult slurs off to out-of-shape embouchure, but slurs are much better overall (this indicates to me there was a tight brace or valve casing that impeded anti-nodes); 3) a little bit of the "flat fifth partials" characteristic of a 186 bugle are back, but not bad. I will probably still use 1+2 on mid-line D for long notes, but runs and quick notes are not out of tune so bad that open mid line D is still usable.

I'm wondering if when the tuba was rehab'd before I got it, if the tubing was pulled into place to align the inner tubes, causing tension, as there seems to be a slight discontinuity in the angle of the outer/lower tube and elbow joint to the first valve circuit. I don't know if it is worth fixing, as little as I use the first valve slide.
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Re: Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone!

Postby iiipopes » Fri Apr 10, 2015 2:46 am

It's been awhile. Everything is doing great. I have re-joined another regional community band that was just too difficult logistically for the last couple of years until some other aspects I needed to sort out happened. The section consists of another person with a St. Pete BBb, which sound good like it should, a friend with a 1920's Conn bass saxophone, a bass guitarist who plays on a couple of songs, and me. I think we're all set for the summer schedule, which includes an Independence Day celebration concert.

But that's not why I posted. This evening, it's all about mouthpieces. As you know from my signature, I play a 2-piece blokepiece Imperial with a lexan 32.6 modified Helleberg rim, and a spacer cut down from .160 to .080. It is great.

But "All Those Years Ago," when I had the Besson 3-valve comp, I used a Wick 1. That combination is still my favorite for pitch, intonation and tone. It was just dead on. Period. So long as you don't need anything below low F 1+3. So I wondered what a Wick 1L would be like on the Bessophone. When I had the St. Pete bell, a Wick 1L was just so big and dark that I lost definition and needed a third lung because of the large throat. So I wondered if the Besson bell would bring back more definition of tone with that mouthpiece. Well, it did not. The other tuba player tonight had a Wick 1L which he let me borrow for the rehearsal. It was still big and dark, almost flabby in the low register. Worse, everything above 3rd space Eb 1st valve was flat. I don't mean a little bit flat like flat-fifth-partial flat. I mean FLAT - as in a quarter to a full half step flat!

Now, this was towards the end of rehearsal, so I wondered if it was fatigue instead. So I put the blokepiece Imperial back in, and pitch all came back as it should be.

Moral of the story: when you get a good combination of instrument and mouthpiece, it is very good. And when you get a bad one, it is horrid. There are so many variables, that generalities just do not work and cannot predict how a particular combination will intone or sound.

But when it is good it is [i]very[i] good. Thanks again, Bloke!
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Re: Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone!

Postby iiipopes » Sat Aug 01, 2015 12:16 pm

Update: recently a friend of mine borrowed The Bessophone to play a brass quintet concert. I attended the concert. That was the first time I had actually gotten to hear it out front. WOW! I will put its tone and intonation up against any tuba in the world, from a $100 garage sale find, to any of these $30,000+ "custom" tubas. Its core, breadth, intonation and foundation were even better than I had hoped for, and provided that warm, enveloping, but not overpowering, foundation that absolutely locked the rest of the quintet in for a great concert. It was quite a pleasure, because, of course, you can never tell sitting under the bell exactly what it does out front.
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Re: Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone!

Postby iiipopes » Tue Jan 19, 2016 11:05 am

I forgot to add in the initial post, which I was reminded of when I read the thread on soldering coins to the paddles, that my tech and I, a couple of years before we changed the bells, custom tailored each of the paddles. He took the paddles off, aligned the tangs for breadth and height, then we resoldered the paddles for length and finger fit.

Then we adjusted the angle of the leadpipe to accommodate my slight overbite.

Now, just as with tailored clothing, I do not have to "fiddle" with anything. I just play. And play. And play. Everything fits me perfectly. Yes, if I ever had to sell the horn, that might drop the price a couple hundred because the next player would need to have the paddles and receiver re-aligned for his/her personal ergonomics, but the return on gigs in the meantime is definitely worth it.
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Re: Ladies and Gentlemen - The Bessophone!

Postby Three Valves » Tue Jan 19, 2016 1:06 pm

I love it when a plan comes together!!
Who needs four valves??

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