Choosing a TubaI have a very good friend, a major brass teacher, who has an excellent student who just went out and bought a new tuba without trying different instruments or asking advice from his teacher. He ended up buying an Instrument that was used, rebuilt, looked beautiful, but was stiff and stuffy, which frankly didn't sound nearly as good as the old horn that he was replacing and cost more than most of the new instruments that are available! My friend is agonizing as to what he should do about the poor student.
Let's take a look at the obvious; He can't say to the student that his new tuba is terrible, that he sounded much better on his school's old tuba, which he was using before. He can't say that the price he paid was extraordinarily inflated and he can't say that whoever it was that helped him choose that instrument was either ignorant or a crook, perhaps involved in collecting a commission from the dealership. Commissions should not necessarily be considered a bad thing; it's a very private consideration whether a person (a teacher) should accept a commission for an instrument sold to a student and I will not assume to criticize that as long as the price is reasonable, but when the instrument is obscenely overpriced, I think we all should take some responsibility. But the question still remains; what can be done for this unfortunate student?
I have heard this student, my friend, his teacher is very proud of him and we both deeply feel the frustration; this young player is at the high point of his learning capacity, we both agree that his progress will be severely retarded because of this purchase. Without a doubt the poor student will sooner or later come to realize that buying that instrument was a very sad mistake and that he will have to find a way to correct it. Buying a tuba at today's prices is a very scary thing and saying that we need to be careful is a huge understatement; how can we protect ourselves and be sure of making the correct decision?
Of course, that prevailing question of what type of tuba we might need will always be present. Should it be a BBb, CC, Eb or F, large, small, piston or rotary valves and all the many variables that we constantly discuss have to be decided. However, once those basic decisions are made and we are test-playing an instrument that we may consider buying, how to test-play is something we need to think about very seriously.
In the various venues where I have taught, whether permanent or just a master class of a few days, I have always tried to discuss and simulate the process of choosing (test-playing) an instrument. I would like to offer a few suggestions that might be the best and safest way to pick a horn that you will probably be using for a number of years.
Choosing the instrument you will probably be using for many years is a very important thing. We are blessed today with a market that's abundant with wonderful tubas; try as many of them as possible, educate yourself as to what is available, and avoid extremes. Be careful and take your time.
August 11, 2006, Kyoto, Japan