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Thinking outside the case

Horn modification

Do you remember when you first pulled your tuba out of the case?  Whether it was brand new, or new to you it is a thing of beauty.  All you can think about is playing it.  Then, after several hours of playing, you may notice that a particular part of your body is getting fatigued.  Perhaps your hand is cramping, or your neck is stiff or your back is getting sore?

My Yamaha YBB-641 Key Extension

When I inherited my tuba from my Dad I had already familiar with it.  I had played on this model of horn through high school and college and played on this particular horn many times. (As often as I could sneak it away from my Dad)  As I began practicing more and more, I started to notice that in order to use the fourth valve I had to move my whole hand because my pinky was too short to reach it.  I imagine that the designers of this horn probably didn’t have the female hand in mind.  After a rehearsal for our area Tuba ensemble, I was admiring my teacher’s horn.  He had a quarter soldered on the spatula of his fourth valve key.  What a GREAT idea!  It made his horn fit his hand perfectly.  I took my horn to my local music store and asked if they could do the same thing to my horn.  The owner sat me in a chair and told me to sit in a natural playing position with my fingers on the keys.  He then measured how much distance there was between the key and the pad of my pinky finger.  He told me that they could have it done in a week.  What I didn’t expect was how beautiful a job they would do!

The technician removed the tip of the key and placed an extension in the middle.  The result is a barely noticeable spatula that fits me perfectly.  (dare I say like a glove?)  No more tweaking my hand so that I can play pedal tones.  No more tuba induced carpel tunnel.  An added benefit is that if I should ever decide to sell this horn, the extension can be removed and put back together as it was originally.


If your tuba is uncomfortable in any way, think outside the case.  Take it to your trusted local music repair (or contact one online) and ask about a modification.  Instrument repair shops aren’t just limited to removing  dents.  I have heard of thumb rings being moved or installed,  and pegs or bumps on the bottom of the tuba being placed to make it sit taller on a chair.  I’ve also heard of additional valves being added, water keys being installed, bells being swapped out and slides being modified (turns added to make them easier to reach/move) and tubing added or removed to change the key of the horn.

Your tuba is a huge investment.  If you’re planning on playing it for many years, why not make it as comfortable to play as possible?  Just don’t go crazy!

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