Many low-brass musicians have a tendency to be collectors, and I am not an exception. Through the years, I’ve gathered quite a collection of instruments, and I now possess every model of trombone from soprano to bass. But I did not have a contrabass, so I set about looking for one. I’ve played both the Kanstul F and the Miraphone CC, but after my struggles with the Eb alto trombone, I preferred to stay with the BBb version, despite the many horror stories I had heard.
I spent some time looking around, and finally settled on a Chinese-built copy of the Miraphone BBb contrabone, manufactured by Jinbao for a company called Wessex Tubas. The price was reasonable and I finally broke down and ordered one in silver plate. It arrived a few months back and I have played it quite extensively. Here is my feedback.
- Sound: The horn has a very good sound, though it is neither quite trombone-like nor tuba-like. However, by varying the mouthpiece, it can produce a satisfactory trombone bark or a more mellow ‘tuba’ sound and it blends well with other low brass. So far, I’ve got about a two and a half octave range on the horn, which is better than I expected. A good professional would probably get more, but the working range of the horn is about three octaves, or so it seems. So I’m not too far off.
- Quality: The build is very good – Chinese instruments have vastly improved in quality and although they are not equivalent to a professional US or European (or Japanese) instrument, they are infinitely better than what they are only a few years ago. This particular instrument is well-made and the silver plate looks to be thick and even. We’ll see how it ages, but the initial impression is good.
- Price: Nothing else out there is anywhere near this price. These horns are going for around US $2500.00, and an instrument from Kanstul, Thein, or Miraphone is going to run you at least US $7500.00.
- Versatility: This horn can take either a tuba or a bass trombone mouthpiece, by using an adapter that Wessex sells. My horn did not come with the adapter, but Wessex has promised to get me one. Once it arrives, I’ll try a few of my bass trombone mouthpieces and update this post. The main point of interest is how each mouthpiece affects the sound of the horn. It is very mouthpiece-dependent. Kind of like my Conn Victor 80A in that respect.
- Weight. This horn is very heavy and carrying it for a long period is very wearing on the arm and the hand. The balance is good, but the weight is something to take into account. If weight is a problem, then get the Kanstul F contra – it is noticeably lighter.
- Tone: As previously noted, this horn is very mouthpiece-dependent for its sound. I have tried several different tuba mouthpieces, and the difference in sound is fascinating. I mainly use the one that came with it – a copy of the Miraphone contrabass mouthpiece. It gets a more trombone-like sound. When I want a more tuba-like sound, I put in the big Helleberg. But whichever mouthpiece you use, the horn does have a tendency to be somewhat foggy – you will need to work to produce a clear sound.
- Slide action: This horn, like the Miraphone on which it is based, has a double slide. This means the action is Not Good. Period. Experience and practice will improve your results, but the slide is sluggish. Be prepared to anticipate and play on the leading edge of the note, so that you won’t drag.
- Case: The horn comes with a hard case, which also is a copy of the Miraphone. While the case is acceptable, I recommend IMMEDIATELY getting a good leather gig bag – preferably the Glenn Cronkhite BBC. The hard case allows the horn to move around and mine already has two small dents – one of which was incurred in shipping. Miraphone cases have a reputation for allowing damage, and the Chinese copy is at least as prone to this as the original.
I like this horn. Yes, it has its idiosyncrasies and yes, it is a demanding instrument – it is not an easy horn to play and you should not expect to pick it up and promptly start blowing Dorsey’s ‘Trombonology’! Contrabass trombones – especially the double-slide varieties – are somewhat unique instruments and they require a great deal of practice in order to master them.
Having said that, I’m glad I got it, and I’m enjoying getting acquainted with the instrument. And of course, my trombone collection is now essentially complete! To close, if you’re a trombonist looking to get into playing the contrabass, this is a very good place to start. The price is unbeatable and the quality is definitely good enough for a casual contrabass player. I know a few pros who play this instrument as well and who like it.
As a final note, Wessex also sells a slightly more expensive F contrabass, which is copied from the Thein ‘van Dijk’ model.