photo by Bill Willroth

NMM 13,945 Contrabass Bugle in CC

photo by Bill Willroth

This instrument was a bit of a mystery when I started to measure and research its history. An attached tag stated the instrument was pitched in G, but the actual sounding length matched a C fundamental, specifically the same as a CC tuba (I am a tuba player and my CC instrument is a Willson 3050S). Another tag read, "Bugle Contra Bass / Ludwig / #354353". Holton built bugles for Ludwig from ca. 1950s until 1965, when Vito Pascutti halted bugle production. A playing test confirmed the instrument was pitched in C and the fundamental is the same as a CC tuba. 

As you can see in the pictures, there are two valves, a Périnet piston valve and German rotary valve. Before World War II, competitive regulations stipulated a bugle could have a horizontal piston that lowered the fundamental harmonic series a perfect fourth. The regulation fundamental pitch was G. Post-WWII, this stipulation continued, though experimentation was encouraged (or cheating according to oral memories). How do you check if all instruments in a Drum & Bugle Corp are pitched in G, on the spot? On the field? And what if regulations did not say anything about a rotary valve? 

This particular bugle, along with other Holton bugles from the mid to late 1950s, include a rotary valve, whose tuning slide was interchangeable. This allowed the performer to choose the interval that the fundamental was lowered by the rotary valve. Depending on what the player desired, the fundamental pitch could be lowered a half step, a whole step or a minor third. 

In the early 1960s, Drum & Bugle Corps were working to free themselves from the American Legion and V.F.W. umbrella organizations. Eventually, Drum Corps International was formed as we know it today.  According to the “Evolution of the Bugle,” some Canadian corps experimented with a C contrabass bugle. Traditionalists were against the new instrument, especially within the American Legion, but eventually the contrabass became an accepted instrument.

After the NMM published a short article I wrote about the instrument, I received a phone call from a collector who told me it was not possible that this was a bugle pitched in C, but that is precisely what it is. 

The rotary valve was likely designed to be placed in one position for an entire show and not to be depressed for individual notes. Holton manufactured interchangeable tuning slides.

photos by Bill Willroth
serial number


Sounding length: 4924 mm (193-13/16")

Bell: 253 mm (9-15/16")

Leadpipe inner diameter: 14.2 mm (.559")

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