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Thread: B&H/Besson 70s design lineage

  1. #1

    B&H/Besson 70s design lineage

    Hi, new user here - my apologies if I'm asking an earlier answered question - I did search past threads without finding the answer, but that doesn't mean that it's not lurking out there somewhere.

    Longish time euph player from the UK here (33 years), though in recent years it's very much taken a back seat to various sizes of trombone. Learned on older B&H (even some pre-merger Boosey) instruments, spent most of my time with Sovereign 967s, with their intonation 'quirks'.

    I am reminded by today's purchase of a 1980 Imperial euph (4V compensating, 11" bell, large-shank leadpipe) that I feel quite unclear on the design changes that define B&H/Besson euphs of the relevant era... Here's a non-exclusive list of specific questions that I don't have an answer to at the moment that interest me:

    1) The seller told me: "It's the same as a Besson New Standard". Now, B&H and Besson were the same company at this date (since 1948, the internet tells me). Were B&H Imperial and Besson New Standard simply different badgings of the same instrument at this date, with only minor cosmetic differences e.g. valvecaps?
    2) 1980 was after the introduction of the Sovereign euph line (which was 1974, I think, from memory?). So Imperial and Sovereign models were produced in parallel for a number of years - what was the concept of this? Were Imperial seen as second class in some way, or was it two parallel professional lines? When did the Imperial cease production? I don't think I've ever seen one of later date than the instrument I've just purchased.
    3a) What is the relation of the late Imperial to Sovereign models? Is it the same as the Sovereign 966? How does it differ, it it does?
    3b) Then, I'm quite unclear on the relation of Sovereign 966 to 968/967. I understand that the 968 and 967 only differ in the bell, but that the 966 has more differences. What are those differences?
    4) There seems to me a fairly clear design lineage from the earliest Blaikley-designed Boosey Imperials (early 20th century) to the 70s - I think, without total confidence? But at what point did the Imperial acquire a modern-age-compliant large leadpipe? Were medium and large leadpipes offered in parallel?

    Thanks! And apologies if this is all well-known stuff; it isn't well-known to me.
    Dave Taylor
    Oxford

  2. Dave,

    I am able to answer your questions in part.

    1. A B&H Imperial in the 11" bell era is the same as a Besson New Standard. I "think" that they switched from the medium shank receiver to the large shank receiver around the time of the Sovereign introduction in 1974-ish. This also coincides with the intoduction of the Wick 4AL as the standard mouthpiece on the Sovereign. Most of the medium shank New Standard/Imperials came with a Besson 10 (a truly abominable mouthpiece). Thank goodness they also came with the tenor-to-medium adapter. I used a Bach mouthpiece throughout my university years (1969 - 1974).

    2. Yes Imperial and Sovereign were produced in parallel at least through 1980. Generally the Imperial/New Standard (at least in the medium shank era) had better intonation than the Sovereign. There was some resistance to the Sovereign when it first came out due to the wild intonation. For instance Trevor Groom would not play one and gave up his relationship with B&H/Besson as a result of this. Also, not everyone went for the Sovereign 967 sound initially.

    3a/b. The Sovereign 966 definitely replaced the Imperial/New Standard. It differed in bell size and leadpipe from the 967. I am told that the 966 was a 967 with the 11" bell and a diffferent leadpipe than the 967. It was more "Z-shaped" and less "S-shaped" with a more gradual taper. The 966 was first produced in the "soldered to the bell leadpipe" era and had metal valve guides. I believe it evolved into the 968 when they switched to floating leadpipe and plastic guides. (I am a little fuzzy on how this all transpired).

    4. I think I answered this in #1 above. AFAIK, the "receiver" was converted on the early large shank Imperials, but the leadpipe didn't change. Many earlier Imperials/New Standards have had their receivers replaced as well.

    An aside note: The introduction of the Sovereign 967 with its change in sound and intonation issues, combined with the Blaikley patent running out, created a huge opportunity in the American Military bands for Willson. Look at the specs on the Willson 2900, and what you see is something akin the Imperial/New Standard. Dr. Bowman, who had been playing an Imperial, was the catalyst for bringing the Willson to the fore in the "American style" wind bands.
    Last edited by daruby; 07-15-2020 at 12:16 PM.
    Sterling Virtuoso 1052HS & Adams E3 Prototype 0.70 Top Sprung valves
    Sterling Virtuoso 1050HS baritone
    New England Brass Band
    Winchendon Winds/Townsend Military Band

  3. #3
    Join Date
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    3,293
    Can’t add much to what Doug has shared except that Morgan Griffiths always preferred the 966 over any over Besson model. He reportedly bought a couple extra 966s to have spare parts when needed. He’s always been one of my favorite UK soloists.
    Rick Floyd
    Miraphone 5050 - Warburton Brandon Jones sig mpc
    YEP-641S (on long-term loan to grandson)
    Doug Elliott - 102 rim; I-cup; I-9 shank


    "Always play with a good tone, never louder than lovely, never softer than supported." - author unknown.
    Symphonic Band of the Palm Beaches
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    El Cumbanchero (Rafael Hernández) cell phone video

  4. #4
    Doug is generally our authority on such things but I'll add what I saw going by.

    I became an official Besson artist in 1979 or 1980. I was playing a Sovereign 967. In 1980 I visited the Edgeware factory and got to talk to Dr. Richard Smith, their chief scientist at the time. He said the 967's only different parts compared to the New Standard were the leadpipe and bell (I'm not counting trim). He confirmed that B&H and Besson used the same structural design, varying in trim only. BUT he said the Sovereigns were assembled by their most experienced people. The 967 leadpipe was nicknamed the "Swan" design because it was less angular. I THINK (based on my impressions only) that it was larger at the start compared to the NS, which let it accept a stronger airflow (again, my impression). From what I recall, the 968 I tested later had a leadpipe that looked the same as the NS, but I never asked if it was different in any way. The 968 played a little more smoothly than the NS I had. Between the 968 and 967, the 967 had slightly worse intonation on the 6th partial and was worse than the NS as well. Of course, that can vary from sample to sample, so...

    My memory says that 968 was around when I had my 967 and had a soldered-on leadpipe at the time. I think Besson started with the floating pipe in the 90's for both models.

    While in England I was a guest for the National Brass Band Championship. Naturally I visited the trade shows! This was before my factory visit. I mentioned to the sales guy at the B&H exhibit that the 6th partial sharpness was a competitive problem in the USA, and is one of the reasons people were switching to Willson. He was surprised that there was an intonation problem and said the compensating system should take care of that. I had to explain to him that the compensating system only comes into play in the low register. I know sales people are often not very technical, but I think the reason he was not aware of the problem is that B&H had such a lock on the market and (apparently) the players were not pushing for it to improve.

    Anyway, once I got to the factory I asked Dr. Smith about it. He called in his tester-tuner guy and asked if they hadn't solved that problem with a new bottom bow. The TT guy said that the bottom bow project got tabled when the Sovereign designs were in the works and never got revived. A while later (months, or maybe a year) they sent me a prototype with that new bottom bow. I gave them feedback that is was very slightly better, but needed to do better still. That was the last time I noticed any effort to correct this. The only other such testing they asked me to do was to give feedback on the Regent (I think it was) non-compensating 3+1 euphonium.

    I stayed with Besson because no other horn gave me the sound I wanted, even though I was disappointed that they were not trying to keep up with the competition of Willson and Hirsbrunner (plus Miraphone coming to the game, but it took them a while to get the compensating horn right). ONE of the reasons I switched to Sterling in 1990 is that they were actually listening to and soliciting player feedback and improving the horn (Steven Mead was playing Sterling at the time and they made a special model for him with no bow caps and an un-plated bell). The horn had most of the sound I wanted, and what sound was there was set in the right direction for my taste.

    Besson made the move from medium to large shank receivers in 1974, but I've never been totally clear if the large ones began in 74 or if 74 was the last year for the medium ones (or maybe it was mix & match for a while). To me, the large shank NS lost a little of the sweetness of the medium shank version, but it did give a bit (or seemed to give) a little more power handling ability. Small effects, either way.
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams Artist (Adams E3)
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  5. Dave, very interesting. I went back to some of your older posts to try to put together my understanding of lineage. Your observations about the Sovereign in 1980 line up with Trevor Grooms from 1974. He played the NS and loved it. He worked with them on the 967, but they just stopped development at some point to get the project done. They wanted him to endorse the horn at that time. His response was (more or less): "I'd love to once you fix the intonation problems". Needless to say, he played his NS until it was well worn, switching to his Sterling around 2007 or so (his children "sponsored" him to the new horn since his NS was so worn).

    I had played the older med-shank NS in 1969 for my HS solo (it belonged to my teacher), and again from '71-'74 at UC Berkeley. The '71 school horn was brand new, purchased for me and was just the most lovely, natural playing horn I had ever experienced. I could make that thing sing! I wanted an Imperial in 1980 when I went shopping for my first horn on my nickel. I could not find one and ended up getting a round-stamp Sovereign in lacquer. While the Sovereign was a nice horn (save pitch), I REALLY wanted an Imperial in frosted silver. Little did I know that the NS/Imperial were basically gone by then.
    Last edited by daruby; 07-17-2020 at 01:36 PM.
    Sterling Virtuoso 1052HS & Adams E3 Prototype 0.70 Top Sprung valves
    Sterling Virtuoso 1050HS baritone
    New England Brass Band
    Winchendon Winds/Townsend Military Band

  6. #6
    Thanks Doug and Dave, all helpful information to me. Particularly interesting to learn that the body didn't vary between Imperial/NS/Sovereign.
    There is a single underlying question motivating the questions above, namely: What have I got here, and how does it relate to what I know?

    To recap: B&H Imperial, 1980, 4V compensator. Small bell, large shank. The sound is on the compact side for a modern euph sound (but none the worse for that, indeed it's an attractive thing to me). The 6th partial tuning issues are present, but to somewhat lesser degree than on a 967. Both of these attributes can be heard on this quick recording I made on my phone when I got back to the house with it yesterday: https://photos.app.goo.gl/qBQYTfEfG5gPhXQG9 (mouthpiece a DW 3AL). Apologies for the odd vibrations in places - the music stand that the phone was perched on, I think.

    It seems to me that I can largely approach this with the same head on as when playing a 967 - but with less of an emphasis on using a powerful airstream.
    Last edited by MoominDave; 07-16-2020 at 03:18 AM.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by RickF View Post
    Can’t add much to what Doug has shared except that Morgan Griffiths always preferred the 966 over any over Besson model. He reportedly bought a couple extra 966s to have spare parts when needed. He’s always been one of my favorite UK soloists.
    On an unrelated note, I had a lesson with Morgan a few years back, and had a toot on his euphonium, and it was lovely. It enticed me into buying a 966 which served me well for a few years. I have always found it curious that I loved my 966s but found the 968 a detestable euphonium. In order of preference of euphoniums I've owned it would be:

    1. B&H Round Stamp.
    2. Besson 966.
    3. Besson New Standard.
    4. Besson 967(1980s with soldered leadpipe).
    5. Besson Prestige (German).
    6. Besson Prestige (UK).
    7. Besson 967GS (with floating lead pipe).
    1983 Boosey & Hawkes Globe Sovereign
    Vincent Bach 4GB

  8. #8
    Really useful information guys. Thanks very much.

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