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 Post subject: Sousaphones Vs Contras
PostPosted: Wed Oct 15, 2003 10:15 am 
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OK, so I'm not a "Tuba" major, but I must say that the group I work with use 12 brand new Sousaphones that DO NOT put out the sound that I think they should. Personally, I think if they would have purchased all over the shoulder Contras, they would have to ask the guys to turn it down a little. Not only that, but I think from a visual stand point, you can do a lot more with Contras. To me Sousaphones belong in parades or "traditional"/ "Big 10" style bands.

So, my question to all you "Tuba" specialist out there, what do you prefer for a marching band? I know, it's a drum corps forum, but I thought I would ask! :roll:

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 15, 2003 2:58 pm 
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I'm a french horn guy, but I did direct high school band for four years, and I agree with everything you just said.

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 Post subject: Contras over Sousaphones
PostPosted: Thu Oct 16, 2003 6:58 am 
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I have a real hard time understanding how or why anyone would buy a sousaphone over a convertable Tuba/Contra. As a player, I would rather play a contra when I march. In the inside concert season, I would pay to play an upright tuba rather than a sousaphone.

My suspicion is that who ever made that decision either got a deal, or is not a brass guy, or both. When I was in HS, we had a great director, but he was a percusion guy. He got a deal on some convertable tubas made in eastern europe, before the iron curtain fell. He would complain that we did not get enough sound from them. The problem was that they were real bad. The year after I left, they got a used Yamaha convertable that was way better. I wish I could have used it. Oh well.

I am still scratching my head over the sousaphones :?:

Doug Estes

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 16, 2003 7:28 am 
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Yeah Doug, I too am still scratching my head over why they wanted to spend so much money on such a worthless instrument.
I'm not sure what kind of a deal the director got......he is a brass major (French Horn) so I don't understand why he went that direction. The only thing I can figure is "someone" talked him into it.

Now, I am going to see if I can "talk him out of it." I'm sure he should be able to sell those and purchase Contras.

Before they bought the "ugly" Sousaphones (sorry, I think they are ugly for a drum corps style band) they used the Convertibal Tubas. He claimed they didn't put out the sound either.
They should buy those Contras like corps are using today....nice fat sound that looks good too!

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 16, 2003 5:49 pm 
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I'll bet the players couldn't play the way they're supposed to. The last few times I saw a high school contest, the sousa lines that ALWAYS made it to the press box had fiberglass (yes, fiberglass!) sousaphones.

For me, it depends on the style that the band does. For sideways-moving drill and running, I'll gladly take a contra any day. For "Big 10", parade, or Grambling-style marching, I'll go with the sousaphone.

Corps-style drill is immensely easier with contras only because the entire horn is above the rest of the body. With sousaphones, the arm position isn't that comfortable from one direction to the other, and the bottom bow resting against the hip just does not contribute to good carriage. It's possible to march that kind of drill with a sousie, but it's much, much easier on contra.

A contra, though, can't be used for those wild visuals and step-2 snap turns with nearly the ease that a sousaphone allows. I can't imagine doing those fast left-right swings during the fight song, up-down-left-right moves during the drums' street beat, or whip a quick to-the-rear with a contra's high moment of inertia. A sousaphone is usually heavier, but its mass is so close to its vertical axis that it's much easier to spin around than a contra.

As far as which plays better, it depends on the horn. There are some awesome sousas & some awesome contras, and there are some of each that are total crap (more marching tubas fall under the category of "crap", I'm ashamed to say).

Here's what I've posted elsewhere regarding this issue:
http://www.chisham.com/tips/bbs/nov1999 ... 17513.html
http://www.chisham.com/tips/bbs/jan1999 ... /8256.html
http://www.chisham.com/tips/bbs/sep2000 ... 33408.html
http://www.chisham.com/tips/bbs/jul1999 ... 14444.html
http://www.chisham.com/tips/bbs/jul1999 ... 14498.html

Oh, and don't bother going over there to instigate another sousa vs. contra debate. Most of the people there just aren't into the drum corps thing at all.


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 Post subject: Re: Sousaphones Vs Contras
PostPosted: Sat Oct 18, 2003 12:02 am 
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Malibu wrote:
So, my question to all you "Tuba" specialist out there, what do you prefer for a marching band? I know, it's a drum corps forum, but I thought I would ask! :roll:


Ok, here's a question right up my alley. Since I have played tuba for 35 years and had my first chance to march a contra last spring and summer. I also was a band director for almost 20 years. First I will go into a little history of the tuba and the desired sound over the past 70 years or so. Now that I have DirecTV, I have had a chance to see many of the old musicals made during the late 1930's and early 1940's. Many used orchestras on stage at some point during the filming as a back drop behind the singers. Watch many of the Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra movies of that time period to see what I mean. I was surprized to see that in those orchestras they had no tubas, but multiple sousaphones. Yes, sousaphones!!!!!

I have also been shopping for another concert tuba to buy and have been doing a little research. What happened was that Arnold Jacobs, the great tubist for the Chicago Symphony during the 1930's, played a custom made York Grand Master 6/4 bore tuba that created a bottom end that was awe inspiring. See this reference for large bore tubas - http://www.rickdenney.com/tubas_compared.htm. Well, everyone wanted to get that sound, but all the small bore horns that were available just couldn't do it. They found that the next best thing was the sound that a good quality brass sousaphone produced. Hence, the sousaphones used in the orchrestras. What did in the reputation of the trusty sousaphone was the use of "fiberglass" and plastic in the 1970's. These new "tuperware" tubas, although they were cheaper and easier to carry, just couldn't match the sound of the real thing.

In the 1960's drum corps slowly developed more instruments to widen the depth of their sound and soon, along came the contra bass bugle. The first ones were small bore horns so they were easy to carry and control physically. The sound they created was equally small and directional. Over the years designs have improved greatly and the new contras of today have very rich sounds, but are still not considered "large bore" in the sense of the grand orchestral horns like the York, Holton model 345, or the new Hinsbrunners. Now last summer I played on a King K-90, the first of the larger bore contras. I also got to test play some of the newer horns like the Kanstul and the DEG.

The K-90 did put out a lot of sound, but my days of playing sousaphone tell that a good Conn or King brass sousaphone can, on a football field, out project any contra or concert type horn. It is all in the design of the bell. The largest of the contras only have a 19" to 20" bell, while the sousaphone can have upto a 28" bell. It's kind of like bass speakers (woofers) for your stereo system, which will put out more bass, an 8" woofer or a 12" woofer? The radiant sound coming off of the larger sousaphone bell projects across a football field with more efficiency than a contra. Plus, sousaphones can radiate sound at a wider degree of dispersion. Heck, I have heard a good sousaphone section marching backfield be loud as all hell. Contras just can't match this angle of projection.

Now, with today's new styles of marching, where body angles are reduced and the goal is to maintain forward body position, or should I say "bells to the front side lines", some of the drawbacks with the projection of the contras are overcome. Contras do have some general effect advantages over a sousaphone, they can blend into the look of the rest of the horn line easier. So, if you buy really good quality contras, such as the 5/4 Kanstul, you can have a very good sounding tuba section on the field. But the main drawback now is cost. The Kanstul 5/4 bore horn goes for well over $4,000 while a good brass sousaphone sells for a little under $3,000.

OK, now for "MY" personal preference......... a Conn K-20 silver sousaphone, hands down!

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 19, 2003 1:01 am 
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Leland pretty much nails it. You'll notice my name in some of those Tubenet threads; that was back in my younger days. :lol: I don't think a Big-10 style band could do it with contras; you'd drop the dang things swinging back and forth that much. Corps-style though, give me a Kanstul 5/4 any day over a sousaphone; if you teach the kids right, you'll have a sweet-looking and sounding section.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 02, 2004 1:09 am 
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Heh, this is an old subject...but I figured I'll submit my first post on something I've spent alot of time talking about with friends and colleagues.

I feel that there are 2 things that contribute to sousaphones dominating the band scene. One is directors just not knowing the advantages of the contra, let alone what one is. The other, which is the defining factor, and probably the main reason is the price. If you want an absolutely fantastic contra, be ready to shelf out around $7,000. That's alot...and why spend any money on something that won't last or live up to your expectations? So if you are going to buy contras, you should spend some money. You get what you pay for.

In highschool bands, money is almost always a problem (at least out in my neck of the woods). Spending money on an expensive set of nice concert tubas as wells as a nice set of marching contras would dig deep into any school's budget. That's why sousaphones are the smarter, more cost effective choice. And honestly, if you do the research, they aren't all that bad. However, here's an even smarter choice, which would save lot's of money, as well as produce better tuba players within the concert/marching band setting: convertable tubas. Yamaha is the brand I am most familiar with; Cadet's marched with these same horns for years (as of 2001), although I'm not sure about the horns they play on now. Essentially, it's a top action tuba, that through some loosening of screws and slight adjustment, is turned into a contra.

Why is this so...well, awesome? From a tuba players' standpoint, you don't have to worry about getting 'marching band chops' from playing a sousaphone, because you are playing your concert tuba in regular band, as well as on the field. So, there is no 'chop' adjustment necessary. From the band director's standpoint, you save alot of money by only buying one set of horns that can be used in 2 settings, concert band and marching band. In my opinion, that's the way to go, espescially with Yamaha horns being so sturdy and consistent.

Well, that's quite a little rant for my first post, but take is as you will. I could talk about this subject for a long time :)

Thanks everyone, 'night


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 02, 2004 5:40 pm 
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I'm a little bit late to this topic, and far wiser people than myself have already spoken, but here's my two cents...

I played tuba for a little over ten years, and I pretty much agree with everything that Dave said. A good sousaphone in the hands of a capable player will out-project a good contra... there's just no comparison. I've heard thundering sousaphones from 200+ member parade bands (like Russ Campbell's Fairfield HS, CA bands) from BLOCKS away -- literally 1/2-mile or more -- with perfect clarity. Now, I've heard drum corps project that far (and farther) with contras, but not marching bands (parade OR field).

Visually, I think contras look ridiculous in a parade, and I'd go with sousaphones all the way. On the flip side, I think sousaphones look ridiculous in a corps-style marching band field show, and prefer to see contras on the grass.

In either event, you have to have uprights in the concert hall. HAVE TO. ;)

And, lastly, I think usage of fiberglass sousaphones should be a crime punishable by death. They project, but they sound terrible. Must go brass, all the way.

I doubt I've added anything new to this conversation, but there's my stance. :)

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 29, 2004 4:20 pm 
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Don't forget one major reason most high schools use sousaphones... most incoming freshman aren't strong enough to march an entire show with contra's. I had to work out like a madman the summer between my freshman and sophmore year to have the upper body strength to march corps the next summer. While the horns weight about the same, the sousaphone doesn't require much arm strength at all.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 01, 2004 2:03 am 
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hmmm I've always been of the belief that horn carrage is 95% mental.
I once marched with a girl 5 feet tall 98 pounds, who could WHIP a contra around.
I've also marched with football players 6 feet tall with 200 pounds of muscle who wouldn't have disrupted the flight of a passing mosquito with their horns up.

.....good to hear some praise for sausaphones on this site, I was beggining to think everyone here was bandaphobic... :P

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 01, 2004 12:58 pm 
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Brassmachine wrote:
.....good to hear some praise for sausaphones on this site, I was beggining to think everyone here was bandaphobic... :P


Hehehe...

I don't mind sousaphones at all -- I had a grand time playing on an old King sousaphone in college. There's all kinds of visual stuff you can do with a sousaphone, mainly in parades, that are either a hassle or impossible with a contra.

I just hate bands, that's all. Specifically the ones that are all hype and full of "spirit", yet can't play their way out of a wet paper bag. You'll spot them -- they usually have their shakos almost falling off the back of their heads, or walk around with their uniform tops hanging open, carrying on about how much they're gonna RULE, and then go out to blow chunks all over the field.

Or the ones who joined band so they could watch every football & basketball game for free, so they put the school logo on their face, memorize the stats of everyone on the team, jump up & cheer at every excuse for a not-that-horrible play, and hack through the school fight song playing only half of the right notes (never mind how much worse they represented themselves during the halftime show).

How's that for a quick rant? ;)


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 Post subject: I think I hit the jackpot on eBay!!!
PostPosted: Fri Feb 11, 2005 11:11 pm 
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I have been window shopping on eBay for a long time hoping to find a old sousaphone to buy so I could have something nice to play for special outdoor events with the community band I play with. Last month I saw an eBay listing that looked interesting. It said that the instrument had been in storage for several decades and recently sold as part of an estate sale in Pennsylvania. The seller was NOT a musician and didn't know much about the instrument (lucky for me). The way the light was hitting the sousaphone in the photos he posted, it looked like it was satin silver and in really nice condition (dirty but not many dents). I recognized the sousaphone as an old Conn 38K Grand Sousaphone (the big one) and the listed serial number was from 1927, so I was REALLY interested. For whatever reason hardly anyone else bid on it and I won the auction for only $690. So I thought that was VERY cool. :cool2:

Well, UPS delivered the horn a couple weeks ago I was I ever surprised. It came in a huge old original Conn packing case, it weights almost 85 pounds by itsself and is in fantastic condition. A collector's item all by itsself. When I opened the case I thought it didn't quite look right, something about the color of the horn just wasn't kosher. I did a little cleaning on the bell and suddenly it hit me... this sucker is satin GOLD plated. OH MY GOD!!!!! :shock: The seller didn't know! I have NEVER seen a gold plated sousaphone before, but I have found out that Conn did offer it as a special order option back in 1927. Well, I polished this thing up real good and it looks amazing (see photos below). The plating is 100% intact, no bare spots. Someone took exception care of this horn, there are no major dents and no bad scratches on it either. Someone told me that it should take about 4 oz. of gold to plate a big old sousaphone like this one, and gold this morning is $422 an oz. :shock: The tuba Gods were smiling on me for sure. Who knows how much this horn is really worth? I have put in a request to try the trace this horn's history, I would really like to know who ordered it way back then and where it was played.

I got it like this....

Image

After I cleaned it and now looks like this... remember this baby is 78 years old...

Image

Image

Image

Image

It plays better than it looks. It has to be one of the best, if not THE best sousaphone I have ever played. It also plays better than ANY GG or BBb contra I have ever tried. I tried all the new contras from Kanstul, DEG and Yamaha at the NAMM Show just two weeks ago, so I have a good reference to judge against.

Image
Yamaha - DEG/Dynasty - Kanstul BBb Marching Tubas

Oh, by the way... my choice among these contras... Yamaha hands down... DEG second and Kanstul a distant third.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 12, 2005 7:32 am 
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YOU OUT BID ME!!!!!

If I ever see you march that at a CORPS show though, I will throw rocks at you!

CONTRAS FOREVER......I have trouble sleeping at night knowing that convertables are sneeking in!.........

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 12, 2005 8:48 am 
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Great find! Congratulations!

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