photo by Bill Willroth
NMM 13,807 Prototype Upright Tuba in BBb
Attributed to The Martin Band Instrument Co.
The first challenge with this tuba was to determine the manufacturer, as no identifying marks were located. After becoming frustrated, I let the instrument sit next to my desk while I cataloged other instruments. Every day, Dr. Banks would stop by and ask, "any progress on figuring out the maker?" Then one day, I decided to look at a couple of Martin Sousaphones, and behold, the ferrule designs matched! The double engraved rings gave it away, eventually I found a drawing of this tuba shape in several Martin catalogs from the early 1960s.
After determining the maker, I focused on the lever connected from the bell pipe that controlled a rod attached to the main tuning slide. The concept was obvious, to enable "on-the-fly" fine tuning by the player. However, the overall weight and design made the instrument difficult to control while playing. This is due to the need of the left hand of the player to move the lever, but this meant the left hand could not be used to stabilize the instrument when playing. Though, as noted below by Mr. Markin, the U.S. Navy Band began using this model or similar models in the 1950s until they became unrepairable after many years of use.
Above and below, observe the ferrules with the double line decoration. This style matched the ferrules on NMM 13,797 and NMM 13,794, both Martin Sousaphones in the Holton Factory Reference Collection.
Photolithograph from 1962 Martin Catalog. Note that the tuning adjusting rod is shown connected to the main tuning slide. Also note that the bell is detachable.
Serial number on 2nd valve
The valve design, which matched other Martin instruments, helped with identifying the maker.
After writing an article for the ITEA Journal about the process of cataloging this instrument, I received an email from Mr. Tod Markin of St. Petersburg, Florida.
"Regarding your article in the Summer 2010 ITEA Journal Cataloging an Unsigned Tuba I can add some information about the tuba in question. I believe it is a prototype for a special order of twenty tubas Martin built for the U. S. Navy Band during the 1950s.
Around 1979, I played in a community band with a gentleman who had a similar Martin tuba. He told me that he had worked for Martin when they built the horns for the Navy. He said the Navy specified the fixed upright bells, and they had also specified that they be built slightly sharp to allow for greater latitude in tuning. These specifications are probably the reason why the prototype was built. I saw and heard four of the Martins when I attended a concert by the Navy Band in the early 1960s. I sat in the balcony and could see the tuning slides moving in and out when the players worked the tuning levers. When I next heard the Navy Band about 15 years later they were using Rudi Meinl BBb Kaiser models. I asked one of the tuba players what had happened to the Martins and he said they had simply worn out to the point they could no longer be repaired, and by then Martin had gone out of business so they couldn’t be replaced. The gentleman who told me about the tubas said that when they were completed, the folks at Martin asked him what he wanted for a bonus and he said he wanted a tuba like the Navy Band tubas, except he wanted interchangeable upright and recording bells. They built one for him, with both bells, which was the one he was playing. Several years later his back gave out to where he could no longer carry it around, and he sold it to me. He said he had the hardware for the tuning mechanism, but it had never been installed.In the same community band I met another gentleman who had one of the fiberglass Martins mentioned in your article. He traded it in on a brass tuba and so I was able to purchase it. It has a good tone quality and is a great “knock-around” horn – I’ve played it in alumni bands at football and basketball games.nI have attached a photo of both horns. You can see the fiberglass tuba is smaller – it’s more of a 4/4 tuba, similar to what King and Reynolds were making in the 1960s. I believe the Navy Band Martins are pictured and discussed in Donald W Stauffer's book A Treatise on the Tuba."