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Thread: Finishes on a Euphonium: does it really make a difference?

  1. Finishes on a Euphonium: does it really make a difference?

    Hi Euphonium friends, I recently heard from my private teacher and a brass guy from Music and Arts that the finish on a brass instrument changes the sound of the instrument. Like, a silver one is brighter than a yellow brass finish which is warm but still brighter than a gold brass finish which has a dark sound. Is this true? I知 not sure if this has been answered before but it kind of sounds fake to me and I知 not sure if I 100% buy it.
    Besson Sovereign BE967 Euphonium
    Vincent Bach 1.5G Megatone Mouthpiece

  2. #2
    "yellow brass finish" vs. "gold brass finish" isn't really a thing. I mean, there are gold-tinted lacquers that are darker than clear lacquers, but what you really are talking about there is the a gold brass alloy versus a yellow brass alloy. 80/20 copper to zinc as opposed to 70/30 copper to zinc or thereabouts. That makes a huge difference.

    But the finish makes a difference, too. Lacquering puts a thin coat of epoxy (older instruments were sometimes nitrocellulose) over the whole instrument which tends to affect vibration in ways that a much thinner coat of silver plating does not. I think this is probably more prominent on naturally bright instruments like trumpets and trombones than euphoniums, but I'll bet you could tell on euphonium as well.

    Beyond that there are people who swear they can tell the difference between a super thin layer of gold plating on top of the silver plating versus just silver, or between a silver plated instrument and one that's raw unlacquered brass, or that they can tell the difference between a brushed finish and a mirror finish. Maybe. I don't know, not having tried otherwise identical instruments multiple ways for myself. This is a lot more subtle but enough instrument makers say there's something to it that I'm willing to be open-minded about it. If there is a real difference here it might not be as noticeable on euphonium where it's a more diffuse sound to start with.
    Last edited by bbocaner; 12-07-2019 at 05:20 PM.

  3. #3
    Sounds like the guy at music and arts may have gotten the Finish and Material discussions mixed up a bit.

    With finish, you've got pretty much silver and/or gold plating, and some type of lacquer. Of course there's also raw brass, which has no finish on the instrument.

    With material, The ones you usually see are Copper alloys with Zinc in them, or Brass. Yellow brass is 70% Copper and 30% Zinc. Red brass is 90% Copper and 10% Zinc. In between those are alloy referred to as Gold or Rose brass, but there is some dispute over the composition. Usually 85% copper and 15% Zinc is rose/gold brass, but some mention 80/20.

    There is also Nickel Silver, also called German Silver, which is Copper, Zinc, and Nickel, usually int a 60/20/20 ratio. It is usually used for fittings and outer tuning slides on many instruments, but my Sterling Euphonium has a body made entirely out of Nickel Silver, while the bell is Red brass I think. It's all silver plated so I can't really tell on the bell.

    Sterling Silver can also be used, as can pure Copper, but those are fairly rare. Also certain bronzes can be used. The LEGENDARY Trombone tech/builder in the Los Angeles area, Larry Minick, made some one off bass trombones with Beryllium Bronze bells, which today are highly sought after.

    As an Aside, the name that the actual foundries who make brass use are quite different than what the brass instrument industry uses. For them, 70/30 is "Cartridge Brass", 80/20 is "gold Brass" 85/15 is "red brass" and 90/10 is "Commercial Bronze", even though without tin, it's not a real bronze.
    Last edited by tbonesullivan; 12-07-2019 at 07:12 PM.
    Sterling / Perantucci 1065HGS Euphonium, 1952 B&H Imperial Eb Tuba, Yamaha YBB-631S BBb Tuba, and a bunch of trombones.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    Farmington Hills, MI
    I知 sure there are very subtle differences in finishes but I壇 bet that production differences between identically specified horns make that difference hard to evaluate.

  5. So does material make a difference?
    Besson Sovereign BE967 Euphonium
    Vincent Bach 1.5G Megatone Mouthpiece

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Jasoncostello77 View Post
    So does material make a difference?
    Yes. Metal/alloy and thickness both matter. When I was working with Sterling Instruments we experimented with different bells. I liked the heavier metal with more copper in the mix (red brass, which might be called gold brass). The straight yellow brass was also nice, but adding red brass gave it more "zing" to my ears.

    Since I started working with Adams I have tried instruments of yellow brass, gold brass, red brass, and my current horn which uses all 3 of those plus a sterling silver bell. Adams offers various thicknesses as well, which make a difference.

    Most euphonium brands don't offer a choice of material. (Trumpets and trombones are more likely to, I think.) If you like a Willson 2900, for example, you're going to get whatever they use. I assume it is fairly heavy yellow brass. Same for Besson, Miraphone, and Yamaha. Sterling offers some metal choices as far as I know.
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams Artist (Adams E3)
    YouTube: dwerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    Twitter: davewerden
    Instagram: davewerdeneuphonium

  7. I have pondered this concept for a while myself having heard similar claims regarding the material and finish of instruments. I am an engineer by profession and have done a lot of material properties testing over the years (mostly non-metallic materials). So I am approaching this in engineering and material properties terms. The properties of the various alloys of brass and other metals vary. However, the temper of the metal will change the properties as well. When metal is worked such as by rolling and burnishing the bell, either to make it or repair it, the metal "work hardens" meaning it gets stiffer, harder to bend and more likely to crack when worked further (it eventually embrittles). The solution to this is to heat the metal and allow it to cool; this process "softens" the metal. Different instruments are purposely made to various degrees of "softness". French Horns tend to be quite soft and are easily bent; but some tuba bells are rather soft as well.
    Considering that the stiffness of the bell can affect how freely it vibrates at various frequencies, this may account for the perceived "brightness" of sound. I think that silver plating or thick lacquer would stiffen the bell and would tend to brighten the sound while raw brass or old "broken in" lacquer would be softer.
    Weril H980 euph
    Besson 4v comp euph 314xxx
    Besson 3v comp euph 455xxx
    King 3v bari. 20xxx
    King 4v double-bell euph 50xxx
    Conn 5v double-bell euph 355xxx
    Buescher 3+1 double-bell euph 285xxx
    Olds bell-front 3v bari
    Holton alto horn
    Holton 3v tuba
    Belleville Helicon
    Some of the performances of the Mid-Shore Community Band:

  8. #8
    I think the more important question is whether the cup of your mouthpiece is gold or silver plated. The air slides much easier over the gold! ;-)

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Hidden Valley, AZ
    No one seems concerned with the start of a Euph, only the finish...

    1966 Besson 181 highly modified New Standard
    1918 Hawkes & Son euph 3&1 original
    1915 York Bb tenorhorn original

  10. #10
    I am interested in carbon fiber. Trumpets ( and trombones ( ) are being produced with it. I know of one tuba bell (Canadian brass).
    John Packer JP274L Euphonium
    泥on稚 only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven


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