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Evaluating the Adams Custom Euphonium

Rating: 3 votes, 5.00 average.
As I have announced earlier I am now playing the Adams Custom Euphonium. Of all the horns I've ever tested, this one was clearly the best choice for me. Several colleagues have asked me for more detail about why I chose Adams, so here is my perspective.

I've been play-testing professional-quality euphoniums seriously since about 1978, and I have gotten used to testing instruments in all kinds of situations. The Adams seemed to "brag" about itself a little less as I was playing in my normal practice room. It wasn't as clear from the player's listening position how excellent the tone was. But when I got it into a larger room it was easy to hear the nice Adams sounds coming back within the room's reverberation. To investigate more, I asked some musicians who know my playing well to listen to me in the hall, which was encouraging on the Adams' behalf. Then I did a set of comparison recordings, which I shared with musicians whom I trusted, and their opinions were also very positive regarding the Adams.

One of those who listened to my A/B testing is a well-established professional euphoniumist, whose comments were, "[The Adams] has a bigger/richer sound to me that seems closer to a preferred euphonium sound. I think the extreme soft dynamics were much better on this horn and seemed more in control, as was pitch. When you decrescendo in passages it's really beautiful on this horn and showcased your control. Also, the loud range stayed nice and big and didn't seem to get thin/bright."

Tone was the first part of my decision, because without a good tone I would not be happy with the horn, no matter what other qualities it possessed. But having learned that the Adams has the rich, dark sound I prefer, I moved on to other factors.

I learned as of my first testing of the Adams at ITEC 2010 that it had excellent intonation. I did not have a chance to fully test that factor until later, but when I did (on a different sample) it was indeed the best of any horn I've ever tested. See the actual testing results here: Euphonium Intonation Comparisons. In current professional euphonium models, most are offered with a trigger (including the Adams), at least as an option. A trigger can add a level of comfort to your playing, because you are more often able to play "in the center of the horn" (with the trigger pushed out for sharp notes) instead of having to work to lip the pitch down. When the intonation is as good as on the Adams, it becomes less clear that one might want the trigger. There are still some notes where it would be convenient to have a trigger, but they are closer to true pitch and relatively easy to control (especially compared to vintage horns!). So a buyer needs to carefully consider if the convenience of the trigger is worth the cost, weight, and maintenance on a horn that is as well in tune as the Adams. My current tendency is to use a non-triggered Adams, but I'm still considering if I want a trigger for my own use.

The response of the horn is particularly fine. It is easier to play many tricky passages, especially when I am pushing the limits of dynamic range or rubato in an expressive passage. I can "feel" the Adams' sound with more confidence. Its smooth response has made the 4th-valve register (4 + other valves) much more dependable for me. That is a range I have always struggled with, and the Adams makes it easier than with any horn I've played. And it has great capacity in very loud passages. I can push it quite far without it showing signs of strain.

It's always difficult to theorize about why a horn does this or that thing better, but one factor in the excellent response and resonance may be Adams' insistence on maintaining the tubing thickness for the entire length of the horn. They feel it helps create more consistent vibration characteristics as the waves travel through the horn. Or it could be partly due to the excellent assembly quality. The more accurately all the many joints are fitted, the better will be the response because there is less disruption of the sound waves. Whatever the reasons, it's rewarding to play a horn that responds so well.

Probably the most unique design feature of the Adams Custom is the adjustable-gap receiver. The "gap" I refer to is the distance from the end of the mouthpiece shank to the beginning of the actual leadpipe (which is hidden from view inside a euphonium's receiver). If I were to check this gap with my personal mouthpiece on various brands of euphonium, no doubt it would vary from brand to brand. And with any one euphonium, a change of mouthpiece can affect the gap to the leadpipe. By offering a method of adjusting that gap, the player is able to find a more optimum balance of response, tone, and intonation for any mouthpiece.

The receiver's integrity seems not to suffer at all because of the adjustment mechanism. It is very sturdy and locks solidly at any desired position. The threading of the mechanism is extremely smooth. No doubt it would be beneficial to put a little lubricant on it now and then, but there is so little movement and wear in this area that the grease is likely to last a very long time. The difference as you change the gap is not hard to notice. It was easy to feel a difference in the "directness" of response as I moved it toward the narrowest setting, and just about as easy to hear the difference tone. It's such a logical idea that one almost wants to ask, "Why hasn't anyone done this before?"

As mentioned above, the build quality is excellent. All slides work smoothly and the finishing is done to the same high level. Valve action is very sure, smooth, and fast. Adams uses the Bauerfeind valves. In fact, they recently acquired the Bauerfeind Valve company, so Adams now has more control over quality and design.

MISC: The horn accepts a large (bass-trombone size) mouthpiece shank.

The bell is about 12 inches in diameter.

CASE: Adams offers the rarely-seen (at least in the USA) Marcus Bona case. This is one of the lightest hard cases I've ever seen, and seems very sturdy. It's quite attractive and looks somewhat like a gig bag, but it has a rigid fiberglass liner (which makes it heavier than a soft bag). For more protection, the case has a strap that holds the bottom bow firmly against the bottom of the case. This helps to keep the bell from striking the other end of the case in the event you encounter careless baggage handlers. There is a removable music folio on the outside. There is a double mouthpiece holder inside (removable) and a very small accessory area. The case comes with removable shoulder straps for easier carrying when you are also toting luggage. In that position it would not be as comfortable as a soft bag, but it's still a nice option to have.

It's exciting to see Adams' line of instruments grow and to see the research and development they are doing. They are committed to producing top-quality instruments, and the sample I have now proves the point. It is simply the best euphonium I have ever played.