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Thread: What design causes Stuffy or Free blowing instruments?

  1. #1

    What design causes Stuffy or Free blowing instruments?

    Over the past few months I've played many new and used instruments. One area that puzzles me is why some instruments, baritones, euphs, and tubas, seem stuffy and others seem free blowing. What causes this?


  2. What design causes Stuffy or Free blowing instruments?

    I recently tried an old besson bell front euphonium with a jet tone trombone mouth piece and shank adaptor. It was barely playable. I'm not exactly sure what stuffy sounds like but I would think this was super stuffy. I then tried a shilke 51d small shank and the instrument was reasonably playable (open?).

  3. #3

    What design causes Stuffy or Free blowing instruments?

    You'll know "stuffy" when you encounter it. If, when you are playing a scale, all the notes are playing nicely, and the air is flowing well, and the tone is euphonius, then on one note the "feel" of the note is wrong and the timbre changes, you have encountered "stuffy". Lots of things can cause this:
    o pistons need oil
    o tuning slides need adjustment
    o excess water in slides
    o valves out of alignment
    o a leak
    o an obstruction, however minor
    o instrument design

    Any horn has some notes that are less "sweet" than others. These notes often involve the 12 combinations. With practice you will learn the tendencies of your horn and how work with its response for each note. Fortunately, many "stuffies" can be dealt with as suggested in the above list.

    - Carroll

    Regarding Sirjohna's situation, a bad mouthpiece/extension combination can cause stuffiness as well. Extensions alter the effective leadpipe length which is a critical design component of the horn. Extensions might save some money, but you really want a mouthpiece with the proper shank size.

  4. What design causes Stuffy or Free blowing instruments?

    from what I've noticed, certain brands, types, or models tend to be stuffier than others. It's never a bad idea to go with a trustworthy brand. but it's not always the instrument, it's sometimes your embrouchure. as carbogast said some notes don't sound as "sweet" that may be an embrouchure problem. sometimes we unknowingly close our throat or jaw slightly because it makes it easier to get higher notes and things like that, that causes your air stream not to flow as well.

    to fix things like that (considering it's not an embrouchere thing and more of an instrument thing) give your euphonium a bath! You may be surprised at the filth that's clogging up some of your sound. also be aware that some euphoniums are just don't sound as clear and clean as others do. if you're going non professional horn, i'd trust a king 2280 or a yamaha 321.

    hope this clears some stuff up!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Indianapolis area

    What design causes Stuffy or Free blowing instruments?

    Stuffiness can occur when airflow is impeded.

    Sirjohna's bell front Besson had an impediment at the Jet-tone mouthpiece (small throat and/or small cup--don't know which JT he had) and a possible impediment at the adapter. That created a stuffiness that went away when he got a bigger mouthpiece.

    Another possible impediment to airflow is a bend in tubing.

    Another possible impediment to airflow is a peanut stuck in the main tuning slide.

    Speaking more seriously, there are many parallels between how we feed a radiating device (a euphonium) and how a radio transmitter feeds a radiating device (an antenna).

    In either case, radios or euphoniums, when there is a mismatch between the source and the radiating device, inefficiency results.

    That inefficiency is referred to as "reflected power" in radio. Instead of radiating efficiently out of the antenna, reflected power is directed back to the source and is dissipated in the form of heat. In the extreme case, so much power is reflected back that it blows the final amplifier. Perhaps some ham radio operators can chime in here and describe the joy of a blown final. Mismatched antennas have a lot of wasted power and odd radiation patterns

    In euph playing, that mismatch between source and radiating device can manifest as a thin or flabby tone, failure to "project," blown out chops, lack of endurance, poor high/low range, or "stuffiness."

    So let's all strive for a "1:1 SWR" in our embouchures!

    This discussion is slightly simplistic, but it conveys the essence of the issue. When air goes straight through the euphonium, that's good. When air backs up or tries to back up or is blocked/impeded, that's bad.

    Sirjohna mentioned a jet tone of the biggest booboos I find is that band directors often start euphonium players on a Bach 12c. Why? It encourages all sorts of bad habits.

    Despite what "conventional wisdom" suggests, I don't really think it's easier to play upper register on a tiny piece UNLESS you realize how easy it is to overblow. Additionally, a tiny piece does not leave room to insert lips into the cup.
    Small mouthpieces, unless the player takes GREAT care, are very prone to this mismatch phenomenon and all bad consequences it causes. Do not expect a Bach 12C to sound like a Wick 4!!

    Final thought: Unlike a piece of ham radio gear, we can TRAIN our source--our air and embouchure. A tube or transistor is what it is. Our air & embouchure are to a large extent what we make them.
    Jim Williams N9EJR (love 10 meters)
    Yamaha 642-II Neo, Wedge 103E, SM3.5
    Yamaha 321, Yamaha 621 Baritone
    Conn 50H trombone
    Blue P-bone

  6. #6

    What design causes Stuffy or Free blowing instruments?

    Jim's explanation makes good sense to me, both regarding the mouthpiece size and instrument design. My Miraphone 5050, which Jim has played, is the most open and expressive horn I have ever played, and the least stuffy... I believe Demondrae worked with the manufacturer to bring out those qualities.

    I have found that I far prefer the more free blowing instruments, like the Miraphone, than the more resistant instruments like the Willson. Both designs work, but require a totally different approach where the mouthpiece meets the lips.

    I play with a number of music educators. When they ask what mouthpiece they should start young players on, I always tell them a 6 1/2 AL is a good choice, but nothing smaller.

  7. #7

    What design causes Stuffy or Free blowing instruments?

    When I posted my question, way back when, I was curious about a Nirschel I-800 I owned. It's intonation was good, but every note, no matter what mouthpiece I tried, had an unpleasant resistance. It was a new horn, so there weren't cleaning or maintainance issues. I sold it and moved on. Before my current gaggle of horns, I play tested Yamahas, Werils, Bessons, Yorks, Conns, Kings, and stencil horns. The stuffiness I referred to in my original question affected some horns across all brands, and didn't seem dependent on compon-comp or the mouthpiece. It seemed the stuffiness had something to do with the basic design or manufacture of the horn. It also seemed to be independent of the intonation as some horns seemed out of tune but blew freely.

    In 2010 I bought a York Preference 3068 and just love it. It isn't stuffy, but I've learned that it needs regular cleaning to keep it from getting stuffy. I seem to produce a lot of water when I play, and it creates a coating in my slides that has to be washed away. The same happens with my Besson 3v comp, and with a JA Samick non-comp stencil horn I have.

    But why stuffiness in a brand new instrument?

    Another thread about the Yamaha 642 Neo and Miraphone Ambassador 5050 got me to wondering about horn design in terms of floating leadpipes, position of the 4th valve, and overall lengths of horns, as well as playing characteristics including stuffiness. It would be interesting to know how a designer's software might bear on the stuffiness question. I concluded the solution was just play a lot of horns to find the right one.

    I recently play tested the Yamaha Neo and Miraphone 5050. Both were excellent. I found a great deal on the 5050 and it should arrive tomorrow. I'll let you know in a month or so how it does with my water production.

    But back to the original question, I've thought of footing the bill for a horn for my nephew who lives many states away, and still wonder if there is some design I might steer him away from to avoid stuffiness.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Indianapolis area

    What design causes Stuffy or Free blowing instruments?

    May I gently suggest, if EVERY instrument you play produces this perception of "stuffiness," that your expectations of what you should be feeling are perhaps out of line with the reality of what a euphonium should feel like.
    Are you perhaps mainly or additionally a trombone or tuba player? If yes, that may color your perception of how a euphonium feels.

    In reviewing this thread, I see a response I made over two years ago wnen the thread was new. Stuffiness is caused by a mismatch somewhere. It could be in the instrument, it could be in the interface between the player and the instrument, or it could reside in the player him/herself.

    Having spent some more-or-less quality time with virtually every major brand euphonium available, I would say they all have "unique characteristics," but certainly not all of them are "stuffy." Additionally, as a euphonium player, *I* also have "unique characteristics" including thin lips, a long trunk, a very aggressive approach to the instrument, and lungs that are nearly 60 years old. Horns that I find "resistant" may perfectly match other players. As JTJ experienced, I experienced the Willson I played for five years as being much more "resistant" than the Miraphone 5050 I now use. Other terrific players I know, who sound like a million bucks on their Willsons, think that blowing into my 5050 is like trying to fill the Howe Caverns.

    It is also a matter of adjustment. When I changed from Besson to Willson (a great mistake in MY case), I had to adjust. When I moved to the 5050, I had to adjust, an adjustmant which corresponds better to how I play. Any move off my 5050 would also require adjustment.

    Perhaps, as you search for instruments, you might go accompanied by another euphonium player who can affirm/challenge your perceptions, or with a knowledgable musician whose ears you trust. Though I am a very experienced player, I went with a good friend who is a great euphonium player and conductor. I wouldn't dream of trying horns solo. His advice was worth its weight in gold as I tried upwards of a dozen horns.

    In summary, yes, horns are unique, as are the people who play them and the mouthpieces we use to interface with them. But I'd lovingly think twice about a statement that every euphonium on the market is stuffy.
    Jim Williams N9EJR (love 10 meters)
    Yamaha 642-II Neo, Wedge 103E, SM3.5
    Yamaha 321, Yamaha 621 Baritone
    Conn 50H trombone
    Blue P-bone

  9. #9

    What design causes Stuffy or Free blowing instruments?

    I have always found that, while horns vary in stuffiness from brand to brand, ANY brand is stuffier when new than after it is broken in. This is most apparent in the range below low F (with combinations of 4 and other valves).

    When valves are brand new, they don't seal as well as they do once they break in. Any air leakage can cause stuffiness, so as the valves seal better, the stuffiness is less.

    Also, many feel that a horn that is played regularly has better response. I believe it is due to moisture gradually helping to "smooth" the various tubing joints along the bore of the instrument. The late Harold Brasch suggested pouring some milk through the horn, dumping out the excess, and letting the remainder stay in the horn for a few days. Then rinse with water. Harold described this as quickly creating the "patina" that normally coats the inside of well-played instruments and makes them play better.

    For me, it sounds like a bad idea. In my case I use valve oil. I put several drops down the leadpipe and blow it through the horn using various fingerings. I do it a couple times during each practice session while a horn is new. It could easily be my imagination, but it certainly seems to get the horn working like a veteran instrument more quickly for me.

    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams Artist (Adams E3)
    Alliance Mouthpiece (DC4)
    YouTube: dwerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    Twitter: davewerden
    Instagram: davewerdeneuphonium

  10. #10

    What design causes Stuffy or Free blowing instruments?

    I didn't say or mean to imply that all instruments are stuffy. I wondered why some instruments are stuffy and some are not, and whether there was a design or manufacturing parameter affecting stuffiness. I also do the valve oil method and find it helps. Anyway, thanks...

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