When it comes time for parents to buy their child their first tuba, things can quickly get complicated. What size does my child need? Why are tubas so expensive? Does the finish really matter? Is renting better than buying? Whether your child is upgrading from a rental to an owned instrument or has never even touched a tuba before, searching for (and finding!) the right tuba takes time and plenty of research. If the above questions sound familiar, we’ve put our heads together to bring you this guide- because, after all, making an informed decision is critical to any investment, and your child’s new tuba is no exception.
Bb and C Tubas: What’s the Difference?
Although there are a variety of different tuba types available on the market, Bb and C are the most common choices for younger players; therefore, they’re the ones we’ll focus on for the sake of this buying guide. Since Bb tubas have a broader sound with extra weight, they help bring balance to a band’s sound and are the preferred choice for most school marching bands. C tubas, on the other hand, have a clearer and more compact sound, making them the perfect choice for orchestras. The Bb tuba is tuned in the key of B-flat, while the C tuba is built a whole step up from the Bb tuba. Depending on the piece of music and ensemble your child will play with, they might have to transpose the music so it matches the key of their specific tuba.
What are the Different Materials?
When it comes to materials, tubas are usually manufactured from three different types of brass: gold brass, yellow brass, or rose brass. While many new tuba players assume that material is purely an aesthetic choice, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, each material has a different composition that has an effect on the type of tone your tuba will produce. Tubas manufactured from gold brass have a darker sound than yellow brass tubas, while those manufactured from rose brass have a very warm tone that can’t be reproduced by either of the other options. Although lacquer and silver-plated tubas are available, these labels actually refer to the finishes, which we’ll focus on in the next paragraph.
How Many Valves Do I Need?
Another important consideration is the number of valves. Since the valves allow a tuba player to vary the pitch of notes by depressing them, the more valves a tuba has the greater its range will be. Not unlike the euphonium, tubas come in 3, 4, or 5-valve versions. While tubas only need three valves to play all the notes on the scale, they need at least four valves to perform and produce all the low range notes in the daily life of a tubist. If your child is taking lessons on their own, they can probably get away with a 3-valve tuba for the time being but, if they’re performing in a marching band or as a part of a group, a 4-valve tuba is required.The addition of the fifth valve allows the tuba to be more functional and facilitates a wider array of finger patterns, but isn’t recommended for those who aren’t professionals- not only does it add extra weight to the tuba, but the additional valve comes with an extra cost.
When it comes to valve type, tubas come with a choice of rotary or piston valves. Similar to the valves of a trumpet, piston valves move up and down while rotary valves direct air into various paths by rotating. Piston valves come standard on most student tubas, while most intermediate and professional models are manufactured with rotary valves.
Is One Finish Better Than the Other?
Tubas have two common finishes: lacquer and silver-plate. If you’re purchasing a student-level tuba, lacquer will be your most popular option, as it’s the preferred choice for students who are just beginning their study. Not only is it very durable and affordable, but it gives the instrument a beautiful deep and dark sound in the lower registers. While lacquers can come in different colors, including gold and silver, clear lacquer is the most common type found in tubas. It’s transparent and complements the natural color of the instrument’s material. Note: the color of lacquer doesn’t affect the sound of the tuba, so a clear lacquered instrument will have the same sound quality as one that’s lacquered in a gold finish.
Silver-plate is another finish option, but it’s better suited for more advanced players who know how to properly maintain their instrument. It requires a lot of polishing to maintain its shiny appearance. Although it offers a warmer sound that many players prefer, it’s upkeep isn’t suitable for everyone.
Does the Manufacturer Really Matter?
As with virtually any other major purchase, the cost of a tuba has a lot to do with who manufactures it. If you don’t know anything about tubas, it’s a good idea to stick with recognized names in the industry that have a reputation for manufacturing high-quality instruments, such as Miraphone and Yamaha. Brand names become even more important when purchasing a used instrument, as better brands tend to hold up better over time. At the end of the day, better brands are going to cost more money so, if you’re on a tight budget, do your homework and find a lesser-known brand with great reviews to boot. Better yet, speak with your child’s music instructor for more information about which brand and price-point may be right for you.
New or Used- Which Should I Choose?
In some cases, purchasing a used tuba is acceptable, as long as the previous owner took good care of the instrument. When purchasing a refurbished or like-new tuba, make sure it’s in good condition. While there may be plenty of used tuba listings on sites like eBay, unless you can physically inspect the instrument yourself purchasing a brand new tuba is your best bet. If you aren’t sure about your child’s commitment to the instrument, renting a tuba is another viable option. In some cases, you can even participate in a rent-to-own program, where your monthly rental payment goes toward the cost of the tuba and, once the tuba is paid in full, it’s yours to own. Although there’s nothing wrong with purchasing a used tuba, experts recommend purchasing a brand new tuba mouthpiece for sanitary purposes.
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