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ITEC 2014 Instruments, part 2: JP Sterling and Willson

Rating: 12 votes, 5.00 average.
JP Sterling
One stop enabled me to try three different horns I was interested in testing: the JP Sterling 4-valve compensating Eb Tuba, 3-valve compensating baritone horn, and 4-valve compensating euphonium. DF Music had all those, and several other horns, on display for testing.

The tuba did not take me very long at all. I quickly discovered that my tuba chops were apparently still back in Minnesota that day. At first the horn seemed stuffy, but then I realized it was my chops and not the horn. So I quickly moved back to the Bb world.

The JP373 baritone is a similar design to my own Besson Sovereign 955. DF's price is just under $2,000 for lacquer. Its compensating system works on 3 valves, so the tubing is slightly extended for fingering 23, 13, and 123. See my compensating system article for more details if you have not encountered a 3-valve compensating horn before. The system is also used on tubas and euphoniums.

The baritone played a similarly to my 955, but had a noticeable lighter sound. The response was good and fairly even through the normal range. I did not try to do a tuning graph on this horn because I have not played baritone enough lately to feel like it would be accurate. However, the middle F# concert on my own baritone is quite flat, and this horn seemed a little better in that regard.

My real goal was the JP374 euphonium so I spent more time with that. As with the two horns above, this is a "Chinese clone" instrument. I believe the model for most of the clones is the Yamaha, but I have also heard that Sterling may have used a Sovereign as a model. They are not built in the Jin Bao factory, and Paul Riggett of Sterling has had a hand in the design and production standards. In any case, this horn, as with the other clones, don't really play just like either the Sovereign or Yamaha. Price from DF Music is $2,834 in lacquer.

The tone was good - lighter than the pro horns but still pleasant and consistent through the range. Construction quality seemed good and the overall appearance was pleasing. Response was good, but not great, and there were some stuffy notes, notably the middle Eb concert. The intonation graph is below. There were no big surprises except for the flatness in the range between low B and middle E concert. Much of this could have been solved by a shorter 4th valve slide (similar to what I found on the Prestige, but more extreme). I could not tune middle F with the 4th valve, which is normally my starting point for setting the 4th slide's position. Both G's had the best results with 3rd valve - 12 was pretty sharp.

Willson 2960
I had a chance to play this model briefly a few years ago, but this was my first chance to spend adequate time to get a better feel for the newest of the Willson euphoniums.

The horn was a "good player" as they say. It had a very nice response, and as with all Willsons I've tried, the response and tone were consistent throughout the whole range. Tone was more to my liking than the 2900, but other players may feel the opposite. In any case it was a nice tone, solid and compact, but not as large-sounding as some other brands. Construction was solid and professional looking. The horn had a very nice mechanical feel. It was equipped with a trigger, which of course I did not use for the tuning testing. However, as you can see below, all but one of the out-of-tune notes is sharp, so if you are good with a trigger you can correct sustained notes very nicely. Without a trigger you might want to consider tuning the Bb's slightly low to "average out" the notes across the range. The G's shown in the graph below were played with 3rd valve. With 12 those notes were sharp.

Compare these and other euphoniums on my Euphonium Tuning Comparison page.

This is part 2 of my ITEC feedback.

Read part 1 here (Besson Prestige 2051, Besson Sovereign 955, Gemeinhardt/Big Mouth Brass):

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