Like its smaller, higher-pitched cousins, the modern valved tuba became a practical possibility in the early 19th century, when metal-cutting lathes were able to turn out pistons and cylinders to precise and reproducible dimensions. Tubas pitched in E-flat and B-flat were adopted by brass bands in Britain, where they are known as EEb and BBb basses.
Some tubas (including the euphonium — a tenor tuba) have a compensating system to allow accurate tuning when using several valves in combination, simplifying fingering and removing the need to constantly adjust slide positions. When the fourth valve is used, the air is sent back through a second set of branches in the first three valves to compensate for the combination of valves. This makes the instrument heavier and significantly more ‘stuffy’ or resistant to air flow when compared to a non-compensating tuba, because of the need for the air to flow through the valves twice. Subcontrabass tubas of even lower pitch exist but are extremely rare. Two BBBb instruments, one octave below BBb, were built by Besson at the suggestion of the great American bandmaster and composer J P Sousa, but were not completed until after Sousa’s death in 1932. In the 1950s, British musician Gerard Hoffnung commissioned the London firm of Paxman to create an EEEb subcontrabass tuba for use in his comedic music festivals. Two players are needed; one to operate the valves and one to blow into the mouthpiece.
Bill Cleghorn (Bb Bass)
Ivor Knott (Bb Bass)
Colin Riggs (Eb Bass)
Jenny Langley (Eb bass)