My instruments

Welcome to my new blog! 

I thought I'd begin with a bit of a tuba nerd post. I promise it won't always be so tuba-centric, as there are many much more interesting things going on around me than tubas. But I thought some people might find it interesting to see the instruments on which I do the majority of my performing.

I've never been much of a gear-obsessed person to be honest. I only own two instruments, and 99% of the time use the same model mouthpiece on both. But, having said that, I realise that over the years I've owned quite a few interesting tubas.

I began studying on a small Yamaha Eb tuba, a YEB-321, which would actually have been built just up the road from where I now live. I loved this instrument. It was compact, but with a warm sound, and really sang. I think it got picked on unfairly in ensembles where we were expected to conform unquestioningly to the culture of British tuba playing, i.e. you must play a Besson Sovereign BE982. And so I did. It's interesting that I now play a Yamaha again.

I did love my Besson BE982 though. It was a gift from my grandparents, upon gaining a scholarship to study as a Junior Exhibitioner at The Royal Academy of Music. It was a great instrument on which to study orchestral and chamber repertoire, as the majority of the major repertoire of orchestras and brass ensembles is relatively unproblematic on this instrument. Also, as I began to get interested in playing other types of music, I found that it was really great for playing bass lines. Where I began to have problems with it was in the area of big bands, contemporary jazz orchestras, and basically any ensembles in which I played melodies or improvised. This model of tuba was developed and popularised by the late great John Fletcher, who I feel is unsurpassed in terms of what he achieved musically on the instrument. But I think it really took a genius to be able to play it so incredibly nimbly and with such an astonishing range of tone colour. And alas, I'm certainly not a genius! 

I was getting increasingly frustrated by the huge, "woofy" tone the instrument was displaying in the upper register, which was due to what I felt was a hugely over-sized bell. I was finding it hard to focus my sound, and blending with ensembles in anything other than a traditional bass role was really hard work. Luckily for me, just as I was beginning to feel discouraged, Besson began manufacturing the BE983, a front-facing EEb tuba with a much smaller bell. More of which later.

I've also owned a Conn sousaphone, an anonymous early 20th century Bohemian helicon and a 1923 Boosey & Co. F tuba, all of which had their uses and served me well in different ensembles. Upon making the move to Japan, I streamlined my increasingly ridiculous tuba collection, and now I play two tubas. 

Besson BE983 EEb Tuba


This was my main instrument for about 12 years. We've been through a lot together, from playing to 20,000 strong festival crowds, to playing ad hoc concerts in villages in Northern Mozambique. It's a bit of a Frankenstein instrument these days, with a new bottom bow after it got crushed at some point on the road. It's been repaired more times than I can remember. It's on its third hard case after getting repeatedly smashed up by airlines, in particular almost every time I've flown through Copenhagen airport with Scandinavian Airlines. On the plus side, the new bottom bow miraculously fixed the pitch issue this instrument tends to have, being very flat in general.

Although I purchased this instrument because its more compact sound suited the styles of music I was increasingly playing, strangely, over the years the more I've played it, the darker the sound has become. In fact these days I tend to use it mostly for bass line gigs and commercial recordings. It has also been the perfect instrument for playing Chicago The Musical, and we've now played the show together so many times that this instrument can actually play the entire score on its own.

Yamaha F Tuba YFB-821s


I've never been particularly interested in trying out a lot of different instruments. I've been very happy with my equipment, and usually get sick of playing another type of tuba after 5 minutes or so. But one day I came across a YFB-821 in a music shop in Tokyo, and I couldn't stop playing it for an hour. It did everything I asked it to do with minimal effort, had a huge open low range and a beautiful warm compact sound, with loads of scope for changing the colour of the sound, unlike most Yamahas I've played, which tend to be very well in tune, but kind of bland sounding.

The reason this instrument is different, is because it's custom made. Two makers made this instrument over a six-month period, and every part of the instrument is hand-built, and hand-hammered. As a result, it's incredibly responsive. 

A couple of years after I first played one, I joined Yoshigaki Yasuhiro's large group, Orquesta Libre, where I was asked to alternate between bass lines, providing the low end of the brass ensemble, but also very quiet high middle lines, sometimes blending with pianissimo clarinet or vibraphone. Basically, it was becoming exhausting to try to fit in all of these situations on my Besson. I knew that the Yamaha would be perfect. Finally I found an excellent deal on a "used" instrument (it was actually in better condition than the Besson I bought "new" from a well-known/notorious London brass dealer), and I bought it from a really fantastic tuba shop, Tuba 88. The owner Nakamura-san has been hugely supportive, and helped make the instrument suit me even better.

A good example of this is the other day, when I popped in to give Nakamura-san some flyers for an upcoming gig and happened to mention that a friend of mine, the accordionist Sato Yoshiaki, had mentioned that he'd noticed that my posture wasn't great when I was manipulating my first valve slide. 15 minutes later I walked out with a custom-built handle which fits me perfectly and has completely alleviated the problem! 


As I became more fluent playing an instrument pitched in F,  I realised that this instrument is just astonishingly versatile, and it has now become my main instrument. Without it, I couldn't play Orquesta Libre's challenging arrangements, and this instrument has opened up so many new possibilities and ideas for me in FU-CHING-GIDO, where I end up taking on the roles of bass line, harmony and melody, often all at the same time!



Mouthpiece-wise, there's really not much to tell. I play a Perantucci PT-84 for pretty much everything. The first was kindly given to me by the wonderful tuba-player/wonderful person Andy Grappy. Recently I've been asked to play some ridiculously high John Entwistle french horn solos from The Who's "Tommy", and I've found that using a Perantucci with a slightly wider rim gives me a slightly higher chance of success.

So those are my tubas. At some point in the future, I'll go through my effects rig for FU-CHING-GIDO, but I think I might lay off any more anorak-style blog posts for the time being!