GEAR

“What kind of mouthpiece do you use?”

The first tuba I ever owned was a beauty, a Hirsbrunner HB-2P, five-valve CC tuba. It arrived a week before I left for Arizona State. I had some learning to do, never having played anything but a B-flat horn, but it had the sound. I’ve never been so glassy-eyed in my life.

I played on a school-owned B&S F tuba while I was at ASU, but that horn and I, well, we never got along. It wasn’t until I had been in the Marine Band for a few years that I picked up a Yamaha YFB-621 F tuba. That horn was money in the bank. It became the default quintet horn with the Bayfield Brass.

I was using a borrowed sousaphone from the University of Maryland for my dixieland work until discovering the helicon. It’s a Buescher E-flat, with a 4th valve added on. Super portable, ugly as sin, plays really well, and has an old-school sound you just can’t find anymore. It’s my ¬†default dixieland and polka horn, and any gig outdoors or in a bar or a beer garden or strolling‚Ķ whatever. It also started me on the path of E-flat tubas.

That was the stable for many years: Hirsbrunner in the band, the USMC-owned King 2350 sousaphone for the marching jobs, Yamaha F for quintet, and the helicon for all the other gigs. Four keys of tubas. I’m still not sure how I kept it all sorted out, but it worked.

After joining the Buck Creek Jazz Band in 2004, I found myself needing to fly frequently to the West Coast with a tuba. I took the Yamaha once, but it was just too small for a dixie band. I needed more heft, but less than 50 pounds of it, according to most airline baggage policies. Thus I added the Besson 983 Eb tuba, and a new hard case, which totaled 48.5 pounds. Best part was that all my New Orleans chops were already on E-flat fingerings.

I found myself using the Besson more and more for quintet work, and then more and more in the Marine Band section alongside the bigger tubas. I wound up moving from the Hirsbrunner to a B&S PT-22, a five-valve E-flat tuba just a hair larger than my Besson 983. I began using my Besson for recording sessions with great success, and have rarely needed to use the big Hirsbrunner. I no longer have the Yamaha F, although I am still a big fan, and highly recommend them to anyone. My CC comes out once in a while, but I do pretty much all my gigs on E-flat horns now, and I doubt I’ll ever go back.

What mouthpiece do I use? I’ve got a drawer full of them. That’s a whole website in itself…

It's a helicon. It's like a tuba. Okay, it's a tuba.