Thursday, October 11, 2012

Introducing the Monster Sousaphone

This may very well be the earliest image of Conn's first Sousaphone - built in 1898, as noted in the post below (although this image and testimony appear in the April 1900 edition of C. G. Conn's Truth, vol. 4, no. 8, p. 17). The horn is referred to by Sousa's "Primo Basso," Herman Conrad, as the "Monster Sousaphone."

Image courtesy of Mark Overton at
A few observations about this important notice:
  • Conrad clearly loved this horn, calling it "the most perfect instrument I ever played on." He also states that Conn is "the only manufacturer in America who can ably supply the demands of a professional musician." Both of these comments imply his dissatisfaction with Pepper's Sousaphone - a horn which, as I noted in the post below, seemed to escape the notice of the music industry.
  • This "Monster Sousaphone" appears to have four valves, but the tubes and tuning slides seem strangely laid out - especially the angle of the largest tuning slide, which appears crooked, and the location of the mouthpipe, which follows the curve of the main coil of the horn.
  • Finally, you'll notice some sort of engraving just above the band on the lower part of the bell. As the photos below reveal more clearly, what is engraved, in large letters, is the word "Sousa" (or perhaps "Sousaphone"), as it wraps around the bell.
We see this horn in the only photo of which I am aware that shows Sousa's Band in 1898:

Photo courtesy of the Sousa Archives
Here's an enlargement of Conrad holding the Sousaphone in that photo, which reveals the same mouthpipe that follows the main coil of the horn, as well as the "Sousa" engraving on the bell (along with what appear to be more engravings above that):

But in an undated photo that shows Conrad with what appears to be the very same horn, you'll notice that the valve section is different (and there are straps that seem to be holding it on - is this perhaps at the Conn factory where the change had just been made?):

Photo courtesy of Ian Church
Here the four valves are clearly seen, but now the mouthpipe location has changed, as have the tubes emerging from the valves - especially the fourth valve. Years later, Conn did explain that, in crafting this instrument, "several experiments were necessary to adjust the proportions to secure the desired quality of tone and accuracy of scale" (Conn General Catalog, 1921, p. 27). Perhaps this horn, at least at first, was not as "perfect" as Conrad claimed!

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