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Thread: Wessex Wyvern review

  1. #1

    Wessex Wyvern review

    Hello all. I thought I'd share some impressions of my new Wessex Wyvern CC tuba, since there isn't a whole lot of discussion on this relatively new model online yet, and also since there is a lot of interest in Wessex instruments in general for which my experience with this instrument may be applicable.

    For context, I'll add little background on this reviewer: I'm primarily a trombone/baritone/euphonium player and tuba is fairly new to me, so I don't have a huge amount of experience with other tubas to compare this to. I had a Chinese clone of the Yamaha YCB-621 3/4 CC previously which I liked very much, but I decided I wanted either a compensating instrument or one with five valves to further my low register capabilities. My tuba playing is mostly limited to what I call musical cross-training. I feel like playing tuba in my practice studio does great things for my breath control and low register on the other instruments I play. While I wanted a more professional instrument so that I could explore playing the instrument in some ensembles, I was not ready for a $10,000+ German instrument. I had been impressed with many (but not all) of the Wessex products I had tried at their trade booth at both NABBA and TUSABTEW, especially their 3-valve compensating British-style baritone and small-bore jazz trombones. At the 2016 NABBA and TUSABTEW events I compared directly the Wyvern tuba to instruments from several other makers and judged that the quality was really good; and as far as I was capable of judging that it was a really good playing instrument as well. I liked the idea of a 4-piston+1 rotor front-action CC 5/4 instrument similar to the PT-6P or MW5450 which seem so popular with the tubists I work with often in the local scene. I also liked that it was Wessex's original design and not just an improvement on a pre-existing model in their manufacturer's line-up, which is an approach which may lead to design compromises. I put in my order for a silver-plated example in mid-April and was allocated an instrument that was already en-route, which was delivered to me in early June.

    The instrument came in a large strapped cardboard box with foam-in-place packaging at both ends and arrived via fedex ground without any damage. It came with a Wessex ball cap, Wessex pen, a very luxurious polishing cloth, a super nice mouthpiece pouch, and with a baggie including an extra valve spring, guide, water key cork, and rotor valve rubber stop. This is a nice touch that I have not seen from other manufacturers, but when someone gives me something I get greedy and think about what else would have been great to get as well: it would have been really nice to get an extra set of felts as this is always one of the first things that wears out and needs replacement after a year or two of ownership. Even though I usually take the manufacturer's provided valve oil and throw it away in favor of my preferred brands, it is customary to see a new instrument come with a bottle of valve oil. The Wyvern did not. The included mouthpiece is a "Wessex Chief" and appears to be a European-shank Helleberg clone, and has a very nice rich gold plating. Curiously, while the included mouthpiece fits perfectly in the instrument, it also included a small adapter/extender in the instrument, perhaps to fine-tune the gap? I've been playing without it and it seems to be better for me that way.

    My initial impression was that the silver plating is of very high quality, with a deep shine, smooth surface, and almost no micro-scratches on the inside and outside of the bell and the major outside surfaces of the instrument. This is much better quality in comparison to a more expensive European-made euphonium I purchased recently. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that not all the fine details are quite that good. The bottom half of the valves on the inside of the instrument as well as some of the interior tubing and some of the stays/braces on the inside of the instrument are not well buffed, and have a cloudy appearance rather than a mirror shine. This is fixable, but it is surprising considering how well finished the rest of the instrument is. The joint where the T-handle meets the second valve tuning slide had a big green splotch on my instrument, perhaps an acid bleed from soldering. This cleaned up OK with silver polish but did leave a tiny flaw in the plating. The rear cap on the rotary valve is a slightly darker shade of silver color than the rest of the instrument, did not lighten up with the application of some silver polish, and is the same color on both the outside and the inside which leads me to think it is unplated nickel-silver rather than silver-plated like the rest of the instrument. Time will tell for sure as nickel-silver will age differently than silver plating. This is hidden when the instrument is in playing position, but is still a little odd and I suspect might have been the accidental use of an unplated part on a plated instrument rather than designed that way. This cap has a nice CNC-engraved Wyvern (dragon) on it and the opposite outside-facing side of the valve has some decorative engraving around the circumference. The bell is engraved with a large wessex logo and the Wyvern there as well in a simple thin light outline.

    The only thing I would describe as a quality defect on the instrument is that one of the round "pads" that hold the brace/stay to one of the ferrules on the main tuning slide looks like it lost a fight with a pair of pliers before being installed on the instrument and plated and is fairly "chewed up" -- that is to say not smooth.

    The instrument is nicely layed out and is easy to hold and work all of the relevant tuning slides. For me, the leadpipe reaches just the right spot with the instrument sitting in my lap and the tuba angled slightly to the left, but it's also workable with the instrument sitting on the chair between my legs and held a little more upright. The main tuning slide is at the front bottom of the instrument and extends fairly far down across but not past the outside edge of the main bottom bow. If you lean the instrument outward, you can feel the main tuning slide dig a bit into your leg. This isn't a problem, but with it so exposed at the front of the instrument like that I might worry about damage as I move the instrument around -- or that it might get pushed in without my noticing and cause me to be sharp as I lift the instrument up to playing position. Once in a while the water key will push against my knee and get held open. The fifth valve (flat whole step) tuning slide is on the back side of the instrument up against the player's chest and faces up. The first valve tuning slide is right where you'd want it, at the top of the instrument closest to the bell and very easy to reach. The second valve tuning slide is immediately adjacent and features a T-handle bringing it up just about an inch and a half lower than the first valve tuning slide, making it also very easy to adjust while playing. The third valve has an upper-facing tuning slide just slightly lower than the handle for the second, and a second tuning slide down at the bottom of the instrument. This arrangement allows you to set the lower tuning slide for proper intonation and use the entire range of the upper tuning slide for adjustments on the fly. The fourth valve has two tuning slides as well, with the top one being furthest to the right as you play and slightly higher than the first valve tuning slide. This arrangement is very logical and it is easy to find all of the tuning slides as you are playing.

    All of the tuning slides came very well greased and perfectly aligned, and all of them are very easy to move and re-install after pulling, if not a little stiff. A lighter grease freed up the ones that I move while playing a bit. I find this to be perfect although some players who pull slides a lot on-the-fly may want to polish and/or lap the tuning slides a bit more to move even more freely. I like that Wessex left them on the stiff side to give the player the choice of exactly how free they wanted them as it's harder to put the genie back in the bottle if they are made too loose from the factory. I should mention that the alignment of the tuning slides is worlds better than I have experienced on any other Chinese-made instrument, and actually significantly better than the aforementioned European-made euphonium. The tuning slides give a good range of adjustment with no issue getting up to A442 with some room to spare, as is needed in some ensembles these days.

    Although some high-quality instruments have brass tuning slide inner and/or outer tubing, many of the best instruments use nickel silver tubing. I believe that the extra hardness of nickel silver contributes to good slide action and helps prevent damage. The inner tubing on the Wyvern tubing slide legs is nickel-silver, and although it's hard to tell due to the silver plating, I believe the outers are as well. They certainly are on the lacquered examples I've seen of the same model.
    Last edited by bbocaner; 07-10-2017 at 02:26 PM.

  2. #2
    (continued in a second post due to character limit)

    The instrument has five water keys and is very well designed so that any trapped water goes to one of the water keys with no gymnastics needed to turn the instrument to the point at which they drain, just a slight rocking back and forth of a few degrees from playing position. Typically only the main tuning slide requires any frequent emptying with only long practice sessions creating only a small dribble from any of the other water keys. The others are on the lower fourth and third valve tuning slides as well as on the L-shaped return tubing at the end of the circuit for the third and fourth valves. The water keys all have a small circle of cork glued on the lever end to prevent the end of the water key from scratching or denting the tubing, which is a very nice touch that some but certainly not all high-end instruments employ. All five water keys were over-tightened when I got the instrument and stuck open once used, which was easy to fix with a small screwdriver by backing off the screws just a tiny bit.

    The piston valves are stainless steel and all four are vented. While Wessex offers as standard a lightweight finger button with engraving, I prefer a more ordinary finger button with a faux-pearl insert and Wessex was happy to make the substitution for me. The springs they came with were far too heavy for my taste, and heavier than I have experienced on any other maker's tuba. They were also quite long, which caused them to bend over and scrape against the piston casing when used making them very noisy. I replaced them with a spare set of heavy euphonium springs which I had in my inventory, which quieted down most (but not all) of the spring noise and made them a nice and firm but very playable tension with only the tiniest bit of bounce. The alignment looks perfect in all of the valves I can easily see into. Firmer felts of the same dimension might be nice though, as it is easy with enthusiastic playing to get a good "clank" of metal on metal through the felt on both the downstroke and upstroke. The inside of the instrument was extremely clean when I got it, better than any other instrument I've ever purchased, however there still was a little pocket of lapping or buffing compound inside the edge of the passages of several of the valves and it still needed a good clean-out. The second and third valves have a very pronounced whistle when I use them, caused by air going through the piston. There is nothing blocking the ports on the bottom or top of the valve. I may experiment with having my repairman enlarge these ports as it's pretty annoying. The top caps of the valves are very well threaded, not quite as easy to remove and re-align and re-install as some of the German-made instruments I've owned in the past, but far better than any other Chinese-made instrument I've ever seen, including some of the other step-up Chinese brands. This is very important as you remove these at least every single time you play to oil the valves; and sometimes you need to do it in a hurry during a rest as well. The bottom caps aren't quite as easy -- they came with the threads caked in polishing compound, but even once that was cleaned off they require a little fiddling to get the threads started and don't screw on as smoothly. As these only get taken off when cleaning the instrument, I can live with this -- but it would have been nice to do as good a job with the bottom cap threads as they had done with the top caps. They aren't the smoothest piston valves I own, but they aren't bad and are still wearing in. It's hard to tell for sure with vented valves, but I believe the compression is good.

    The fifth rotary valve works fairly nicely and has a Minibal (or minibal clone) mechanical linkage and a comfortable wooden thumb paddle. This too could be a little bit smoother, but I've been oiling it frequently and it's been getting better. It is easy to oil the front and back spindle and also easy to put a little oil onto the rotor itself through the main tuning slide. It is very well aligned from the factory.

    I don't have any other tubas to compare it to at the moment, but I believe the Wyvern to be made of fairly stout metal with good hardness. I cannot deform the bell pushing my thumb against it at all and the instrument is fairly heavy (even considering it is a 5/4 tuba!). It has not picked up even a single pinhead-sized dent in the month it's been kicking around my cluttered practice studio, which is remarkable considering its clumsy size. My previous Chinese-made tuba would dent if you dropped a piece of sheet music on it!

    The tuba has a free-floating leadpipe with a post in the middle, similar to the design of the Besson Prestige euphonium. There is also an adjustable thumb ring.

    So, how does it play? It has a big and dark sound, but not too big and dark. It is easy to color and get a touch of brassiness if the situation calls for it. It may be a touch on the bright sounding side for my tastes, but not much, and it's easy to make much darker by playing with a warm slow airstream. It is very easy to play and feels like a smaller tuba than it is, with a nice response to delicate articulations, easy response, and being very easy to make large intervals. The slots feel a little bit wide to me, but this may be my lack of experience with tuba speaking. It is very lively with a nice ring and provides good feedback to the player.

    Intonation is really wonderful, with no odd alternate fingerings required and only a handful of notes being around +/- 5 cents from center, and the worst note being about 10 cents low (the fourth partial C in the second space of the bass clef staff), which is easily lippable considering the somewhat flexible slots. Not a lot of slide pulling is necessary to put things perfectly in tune with my equal-tempered tuner, although it's great to have the option to move things around with the slides to get closer to just intonation in an ensemble. This is a great surprise as big tubas like this are notorious for having intonation gremlins, especially above the staff.

    I will refrain from going any further into how the instrument plays, as I am a relative neophyte on tuba and just not sure that the opinions I'm offering are correct or relevant to more experienced players yet.

    One potential glitch with my order: The Wyvern model comes standard with a gold brass leadpipe (for corrosion resistance) and a gold brass bell (for sound). I have owned dozens of brass instruments of all shapes and sizes made from every color of brass, bronze, copper, nickel silver, and sterling silver -- and my least favorite alloy for bells is gold brass. It works great for some other players, but it has just never agreed with me. I asked Wessex if a Wyvern could be custom-ordered with a yellow brass bell and they told me it was no problem. I hadn't previously tried a Wyvern with a yellow brass bell (nor do I know if they had ever made one like that), but extrapolating what I know about having tried other tubas available in both alloys, the gold vs. yellow brass trombone bells I own, and various euphoniums I either currently or previously have owned in both alloys, I made the educated guess that I would prefer yellow brass. It isn't possible to tell for sure on my instrument as the bell alloy is covered up by the silver plating, but it sure feels like gold brass to me. Again, I'm not an experienced tuba player and I don't have anything else to directly compare it to so I can't be sure, but it has all the hallmarks of timbre and especially articulation that I associate with gold brass. For all I know, the gold brass may be better than yellow in this instance, or it could be yellow after all and that my experiences on other instruments just don't translate in such a linear fashion to tuba, but it sure feels like gold brass to me. I have reached out to both the US and UK offices for Wessex to ask about this (as well as the whistling pistons) and have received no reply yet.

    So, to sum it all up, I'm very pleased with this instrument. It's certainly not absolutely perfect, but I buy a lot of brass instruments and very few of them, even the very expensive boutique ones, are completely perfect out of the box. It plays great and is a high quality instrument which certainly exceeds my requirements and ability level (for now) on tuba!
    Last edited by bbocaner; 07-10-2017 at 04:59 PM.

  3. #3
    Thanks for that outstanding review! It's almost like I could see and feel everything you described.
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams Artist (Adams E3)
    YouTube: dwerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    Twitter: davewerden
    Instagram: davewerdeneuphonium

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by bbocaner View Post
    I find it a little difficult (compared to my previous tuba) to play a smooth legato on this instrument, as if the valves were not well aligned -- but they are. This, again, may be a player-related issue that I grow into as I get more experience on tuba, but I thought I would mention it as it's fairly pronounced compared to my previous instrument.
    I'm removing this part of the review. Although I cleaned the instrument thoroughly when I first got it, I just pulled the first valve out again and it had again accumulated a "lip" of a couple of mm of lapping/polishing compound on the inner edge of the first valve passage. So it really was behaving as if the valve was misaligned by a couple of mm. Once I cleaned this off, the legato is really good. My Holst 1st suite excerpt is now super smooth.
    Last edited by bbocaner; 07-10-2017 at 02:19 PM.

  5. #5
    Nice and complete review Barry. I believe I love brass instruments as much as you do!!! I have toyed with the idea of getting a tuba, especially since the symphony I play in has a tuba player who may be nearing the end of his playing days, and I am not sure about a replacement in the community. Guess I would have to decide on a CC vs. a BBb. I sure was and still am happy with my Wessex Dolce euphonium and use it when I don't want to risk my Adams getting goofed up in close quarters or other non-ideal playing scenarios. Would be interested in what others may have to say about the sound if you get to using it in any ensembles. And what mouthpiece you end up with being that you are, I assume, mostly a trombone/baritone/euphonium player.
    John Morgan
    The U.S. Army Band (Pershing's Own) 1971-1976
    Adams E3 Custom Series Euphonium, Wessex EP-100 Dolce Euphonium, 1956 B&H Imperial Euphonium
    Adams TB1 Tenor Trombone, Yamaha YBL-822G Bass Trombone
    Wessex TE-360 Bombino Eb Tuba
    Rapid City New Horizons & Municipal Bands (Euphonium)
    Black Hills Symphony Orchestra (Bass Trombone), Powder River Symphony, Gillette, WY (Tenor Trombone)
    Black Hills Brass Quintet (Tuba)

  6. #6
    I chose CC for a few reasons:

    1. I've heard all things being equal, CC tubas have a more colorful sound and are better in tune. All other things are rarely equal, and I know there are some very fine BBb tubas out there -- but the idea kind of stuck with me and I felt like I have a bias towards CC.
    2. 90%+ of the players I know in the groups I play with use CC tubas. It's rare to see anything else. They've got to be on to something.
    3. I was already fairly comfortable with C fingerings as I own and play often a C bass trumpet. I figured using them (albeit offset by an octave) on tuba would help me keep the two sets of fingerings working in my brain.
    4. my previous tuba was also a CC and I didn't want to switch.

    With regards to mouthpiece, I'm currently using a different maker's Helleberg clone which seems almost identical in every dimension as well as rim shape to the Wessex-supplied mouthpiece. I think I might do better with something using a smaller diameter and/or thinner rim as my nose is fairly low on my face and the rim tends to get jammed up into my nose.

    What I perceive as a relatively bright sound from the instrument may be a function of the mouthpiece I'm using on it. I don't have a big stable of tuba mouthpieces to audition. Once I get some more time and familiarity with tuba playing in general and with this particular instrument I will embark upon a mouthpiece search. I'm thinking about getting some lessons as well, and my teacher may be able to offer advice.

  7. Quote Originally Posted by bbocaner View Post
    I have reached out to both the US and UK offices for Wessex to ask about this (as well as the whistling pistons) and have received no reply yet.
    Barry, That is strange because I did reply to you. Below is copy of my reply;

    Hello Barry,

    I am pleased to hear you like the Wyvern. To answer your comments;

    Obviously we can't be certain of the metal under the silver-plating without removing some silver, but I would expect it to be yellow brass as that was what was specified, and I would not expect the factory to fit a more expensive metal when they don't have too.

    For the valve whistling you mention, I think that is caused by the hole in top valve cap not being big enough for the size of the valve stem. We increased the stem size to make more robust, with this unanticipated effect. I am changing the specifications in this area on future production. This can be easily corrected by reaming out the hole larger. If you don't feel comfortable doing that, then we might get replacement valve caps when at the factory in September.

    I don't know about the piston springs. Different people have different preferences of strength. I have not found too strong myself playing the Wyvern. It may be you coming from smaller brass they seem too strong?

    We are working hard with factory to improve finishing. I know it is still not perfect, but we are getting there. Pleased we exceeded the finish on European-made euphonium, although rather surprised.

    The green spot you mention is a flux leak from the joint - another area where we are trying to improve. That will hopefully clean off with metal polish. Do not delay cleaning, as the flux is acidic and if left on finish will eat away the silver.

    Thank you for your feedback. I hope you enjoy the Wyvern and give it lots of good use.

    Best Wishes,
    Jonathan Hodgetts
    Wessex Tubas
    Regarding the rotary valve cap. That is solid nickel and lacquered. I can't tell you why, but rotary valve caps are always like that. I have never thought to ask to be silver-plated, as I find they look fine.

    I confirm the outer slides are also nickel.

    Thank you for posting a review! As well as useful for prospective customers, it is also useful to me to learn where we can make improvements.
    Last edited by Jonathantuba; 07-11-2017 at 02:22 PM.
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  8. #8
    Thanks, Jonathan. Odd, I didn't get your reply, and it isn't in my spam trap.

    I'm pleased with how the instrument plays, regardless of what alloy it is, but it sure feels like gold brass to me. So, no issues there.

    With regards to the whistling -- this is the hole in the threaded top cap that the stem goes through? I can have my repair tech make them slightly larger. I don't think I'll need replacements.

    The springs on my instrument were much stronger than the ones on the demo Wyverns I have tried previously.

    Thanks so much for the reply here, and keep up the great work.

  9. It is the hole in the threaded top cap. Ideally there would be 1mm gap around the stem, but the heavier stem has reduced the tolerances causing the unintended whistling.

    Maybe incorrect springs were fitted to your tuba. As I did not check personally before shipping, I can't really know.

    The Wyvern tuba is a personal favourite of mine - and being to a large extent my own design concept, one of which I am particularly proud.
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