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What the general public needs to know about TUBAS...

    1. Tubas are the latest addition to the modern symphony orchestra.

       The tuba was developed in the 1830s by a couple of men in Berlin, Germany.  There were wind bass instruments used prior to that time (the serpent and the ophicleide), but, except by the most capable players, these lacked something that was badly needed.  The first composer to specifically write for the tuba (it wasn't an ophicleide part redesignated "Tuba") was Hector Berlioz of France.

    2. Tubas are very expensive.

       For that reason, very few music stores are able to keep tubas stocked in their store.  The price of a tuba may range from about $3,000 for a student model to almost $20,000 for a Hirsbrunner.  I have links to companies which manufacture tubas.

    3. Most people who play the tuba are very serious about their playing...  EVEN IF THEY AREN'T PAID TO PLAY IT!

        By the way, a person who plays the tuba is called a tubist.  You might see some older materials in which a tuba player is referred to as a tubaist, but now we all pretty much agree on being called tubists.  Generally, being a tuba player is a very lonely, usually thankless, job.  Only one tuba player is assigned to a symphony orchestra although there are a few orchestral works which use more than one tuba player.

    4. Tubas come in many shapes...

Upright tubas (Jupiter from Taiwan, St. Petersburg from Russia, Besson from England).

        Upright tuba Your basic tuba which sits in the player's lap with the bell pointing up (or to the side, if he or
           she is lazy!)  May have 3 to 6 valves.  Pitched in  the basic four tuba keys: B flat, C, E flat, or F (I saw a
           Mirafone ad 20 years ago for aG tuba!)  Valves may be pistons or rotaries.

White Fiberglass Sousaphone (some metal ones are at the bottom of the page)

        Bell-front sousaphone May be made of metal or plastic (fiberglass; white or in colors).  May have 3 or 4
           valves.  Pitched in B flat, C, or E flat.  Valves are usually pistons.

Recording Bass

        Recording bass (like an upright tuba with the bell facing forward)  It gets its name from being a
           substitute for a string bass, hence, it should never be called a recording tuba (as some tuba players get
           ticked off by having their instruments referred to as basses, as many tuba parts are marked in band
           music).  Rumor has it that the idea came from Enrico Caruso.  Tubas had been replacements for string
           basses for years but the direction of the bell in the recording studio had been a problem.  It was remedied
           by aiming the sound of the tuba at the microphone.  Tubas continued being used as string bass substitutes
           until the invention of the electronic microphone in 1929.  The instrument was popular in old time radio (1928-
           1950s).  May be pitched in B flat, C, E flat, or F, with 4 or 5 valves.  Valves may be either pistons or

The tuba at the top is built to be played only when marching (made by Kanstul, which has a small factory about a mile east of Disneyland in Anaheim, California); the tuba down at the bottom is convertible and may be played either on the shoulder or in the player's lap.

        "Marching" tuba (an upright tuba with a mouthpipe coming out the side so that the tuba is placed on the
           player's shoulder)  Personally, I think these are hokey.  I've marched with an upright tuba (in normal upright
           position) with superior results!  Usually a B flat tuba with 3 or 4 piston valves.

The Three Marx Brothers try to figure how a helicon works.

        Helicon (forerunner to the sousaphone; like a raincatcher sousaphone without a bend in the shoulder)  I saw
           a recent entry on eBay about a sousaphone manufactured in 1869.  This piqued my curiosity.  I discovered the
           instrument to be a helicon.  I thought about e-mailing the seller because some younger and uninformed tubists
           might think they have uncovered the missing link!  Realizing the one selling the tuba is innocently trying to make
           a buck I don't think he or she really cares what is being sold.  Pitched in any of the four basic tuba keys, 3 or 4
           rotary or piston valves.

Actor portraying John Philip Sousa and an original sousaphone.

        Raincatcher sousaphone [upright bell]  This is the original sousaphone as originally suggested
          by  John Philip Sousa.  The recording bell came out later with the advent of making records.  According to
          Sousa (in his autobiography, Marching Along), the tuba bells pointing upward had the same effect as
          "the icing on a chocolate cake."  Again, do not confuse this with a helicon which came out about 25 years before
          the sousaphone.  (The sousaphone originated in the 1890s.) Pitched in B flat or E flat with 3 or 4 pistons.

eBay fans, take note: "Everything on the preceding list is a tuba!  SOUSAPHONES ARE TUBAS!  (We just wouldn't be caught dead playing one for a serious performance!)"

The powerful tuba section of the Mount Carmel High School Sun Devil Band from San Diego "getting together" in the parking lot of the Santa Anita Race Track just minutes prior to stepping off at the Arcadia Band Review in November 1998.  (No, this isn't trick photography; they marched with that many tuba players on the street!)

What about euphoniums and baritones?

        These instruments are part of the tuba family.  However, one should not refer to either a baritone or a
        euphonium as a tuba per se.  Let me cover the instruments below.

Links to tuba manufacturers.
Last updated August 11, 2001

Questions about tubas?  Ask!

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