Buying a Tuba in the New Millennium

Music Support Features

Volume XCIX, No. 10November, 1999

Scott Mendoker

When I was in high school, back in the early seventies, my parents decided to purchase a tuba for me. (The daily trek to my high school to pick me up with the school’s instrument finally did the trick!) Back then, the only option was to purchase it. Renting was not possible and, with the cost of instruments at their all-time high, stores – to the best of my knowledge – wouldn’t dare rent you a tuba. The reason is simple: a tuba is a dent waiting to happen. By the way, the purchase price for my brand new tuba, in 1972, was $1,826.

In 1999, we have brass instrument mega super-stores, the manufacturers themselves, local retailers and the internet.

The mega super-stores offer quantity but not necessarily quality. They attempt to have an expert on every instrument – but he can only give his opinion based on what the manufacturer tells him, feedback from other players and his own play-testing ability. He is a salesmen, as are all people in the retail business, and as such makes a living by selling you a tuba.

Some manufacturers actually allow you to buy direct. Foreign manufacturers usually offer the greatest savings by doing so, but that ultimately depends on the strength of the dollar. In some instances, you actually do better by flying to Germany, picking out and buying a tuba, and bringing it back than by going to the local store to purchase it! And while still on the subject of manufacturers, some offer a purchasing plan, usually at the going interest rate . . . or above.

Local retailers will try to work with you because it’s in their best interest to do so. If you’re happy with your purchase you will tell your tuba-playing friends, etc. Another plus is that they usually have a reasonable repair person on staff, ready for your slip on the ice while your beloved tuba is on your back in your nice comfy gig bag! Most places will try to match mega-store pricing and some will be able to do so, but the majority will fail because of the mega-store advantage: the ability to buy in bulk.

The internet is interesting. Mega-stores, and even many local retailers, are up on the internet and if you are looking for a used tuba, there is no better source of information – with the many bulletin boards, chat rooms and tuba-related web pages. Knowledge is power, so your ability to research various brands and then find some people who actually play your top choice is very advantageous.

One more point on the subject of research: seek out local orchestral players, college professors and freelance players and ask for their advice. They will have opinions and experience and will usually be very willing to talk with you.

So, now that you have a relatively good idea as to what you want to buy – what’s next?

Most new professional model tubas will start at $4,000 and go up to $15,000. As I have said, there are a couple of manufacturers who have finance plans and even a couple of relatively small retailers offer some sort of time payment plan. Personal bank loans are also an option, as are things like home equity loans. Some universities offer student assistance when the instrument is proven to be part of the necessary equipment – in other words, if you are a tuba player majoring in your instrument and are in need of one.

A word of advice, here. If you are a student, ask your teacher for his/her opinion. This could save a lot of confusion and possibly even a lot of money. Most players are fairly knowledgeable as to where to get a good tuba for a reasonable amount of money. And some teachers/professionals are represented by manufacturers and have one or two extra tubas around because it’s part of their contract to do so. If you happen to be a player who is lucky enough to be a member of a symphony orchestra, check to see if they have an instrument purchase plan. Most do. As I write this, it seems apparent that the general rule threading its way through this article is to ask!

There is no easy way to buy a tuba – they are just too expensive! The “up-side” is that the quality of instruments has risen to the level of the best wind instruments, as it should. Be careful to get some sort of warranty and try to spend some time with an instrument similar to the one that you want to purchase. Because of their size tubas are fairly inconsistent, even within the same brand and model, so it’s important to know the general tendencies. Your new purchase, when properly cared for, should give you a lifetime of enjoyment. And when you’re ready to stop playing – they make very cool planters!

Local 802 member Scott Mendoker has performed throughout the United States, in recitals and as a guest soloist. He is a member of the BRASS group, the New Jersey Chamber Music Society and the Westfield Symphony, and has performed with many orchestras as a freelance tuba player. He is on the Performance Faculty of the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, where he teaches Tuba and Brass Performance, is Coordinator of the Brass Department, and was recently appointed Director of Chamber Music. He gives many lectures/master classes throughout the year, including an annual master class at Tanglewood.

Places to buy tubas:

    Woodbridge, N.J. – (732) 634-3399
    Huge selection of both new and used instruments and accessories. Great repair shop (custom work, too).

    Durham, N.C. – (919) 493-5196
    Good selection of new and used instruments and accessories.

    Baltimore, Md. – (410) 566-6146
    Good selection of new and used tubas. Owned by the Principal Tuba of the Baltimore Symphony, David Fedderly.

    Ferndale, Mich. – (248) 546-4135
    Importers of Hirsbrunner and Perantucci tubas, Perantucci mouthpieces. Some used instruments as well. Good repair shop.

    NYC and Indiana – (800) 348-5003
    Mega-Store. Large selection of tubas and accessories.