Travel with tuba, the solution?

Date: 09/04/2013

As all tuba players know, travelling with our piece of metal is a challenge. Damages like dents in the bell, twisted bell, damaged valve section and a broken case are just a few. At the airport we need to pay extra, wait in line to check the special luggage, wait for the oversized luggage to arrive etc etc.

I was tired of all of the above, so I asked Miraphone to make some adjustments. Well, re-builds is a better word.
Generally I had two ideas for the re-build:

Add a detachable bell that also is cut in half itself.

This way the bulkiest part of the tuba, the bell, goes in a separate bag, much like some french horns. The challenge was that even with the bell detached it was pretty bulky. So, the obvious solution: cut it one more time! The Miraphone people were skeptical to say the least, but were willing to try it. The biggest concern was the sound. As some of you have noticed allready in a recent Facebook rant I don’t believe that the sound of the tuba defines an artist, so I was less concerned, and even if the sound should turn out to be different I would easily be able to express myself with the instrument.
This very tuba was used on one of my latest recordings, the Christmas CD Snow Flakes. Check out how it sounds here. Due to the bigger diameter of the bell compared to the french horn the connection system nedded to be the traditional three-screw system, not a completely threaded connection. This adds a few grams to the weight but you learn to live with that. Besides, it is fun to play without bell! You get the sound litterally in your face.

Hinge the valve section.

This turned out to be pretty easy to do. I had noticed that on most tubas the pivot point of the first joint of the valves aligned with the valve bridge support. So we just made a hinge on the support brace, moved the thumb ring a bit and replaced the second valve ring with a small pin. This allowed for the valves to fold nicely down between the bell and the valve machine.
The hinges are locked with a screw on each side. I added a thin cork gasket to avoid stuff coming loose during playing.

Adapting a standard Samsonite suitcase to fit the tuba.

The reasons for using a Samsonite suitcase are several. They are light, they have some of the best material around, I have used them for 20 years and know that you can get spare parts everywhere (wheels, handles, locks). Not so for proprietary tuba cases as we all know…
The things that needed to be done were:
– Reinforcing the body with fiber glass tunnels on the inside. The goal was that a person should be able to stand on the lid without it flexing more than a couple of centimeters.
– Padding it so that the tuba was kept nicely in place while allowing just enough room for it to move in case of an impact.

Didn’t you always wish to transport your tuba this way? 🙂

In the case.

Valves folded down between machine and bell.

Unlocking the valve section for playing.

Lifting the valves.

Locking the valves in upright position

Valves laying flat down. Much safer than when sticking out.

The two bell parts. (Can alternate as flower vase or candy bowl…)

Bell parts together.

Bell parts padded fits into each other and goes into a separate bag. Carry on luggage or in a separate suitcase.

Weight of case with padding, tuba, and fiber glass reinforcement: 15,5 kilos. Bell comes in a separate bag and weighs approx 3 kg.


Rolls on four wheels and fits in the smallest of cars.

Final question: Where do I get one?

This is still in the prototype stage, but of course, if the demand is there Miraphone will most likely be able to start making them for you. They have already made the hinged valve section for some other players. This is of course a first step towards more security for rotary tubas on the road. Even if you travel with a standard case.
Correction: Miraphone is now offering this solution (split bell, hinged valves or both) on all their Eb and F tubas. Contact them directly for a quote.

One thought on Travel with tuba, the solution?

  • Oystein,

    I have been amazed at this travel tuba solution since I first saw it. Thanks for letting me take a closer look at the bell case at ITEC. Glad you had a safe and productive trip. I am very seriously considering creating something similar with my small Yamaha CC tuba I play with the Atlantic Brass Quintet. I am looking at some strong suitcases by Rimowa and wondering if I could get away with just one cut on my bell. Lee Stoffer, who is a very talented repairman also is concerned that the cut bell solution would be expensive and change the sound. (I’m still dreaming of it though!) Thanks for you wonderful music making and inspirational creativity.

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