Journal: May 17, 2016

Howdy folks! Been a while for updating the page and I apologies for that… hopefully this new post will make things right, as it is a very exciting one!

I wanted to post about a very popular subject and one that is near and dear to the hearts of all of bass trombonists out there in the world. I’m talking about the Conn 70H bass trombone… no other bass trombone model is shrouded in myth and legend like the Conn 70H bass trombone. Originally knows as a “Fuchs” model, this single valve bass trombone was one of the first American made large bore and large bell bass trombones and featured tuning in the slide, which was very popular during the day. Designed with Robert Fuchs of the Chicago Grand Opera around 1915, it was marketed as the pinnacle of bass trombone development at the time. These “Fuchs” models are in great demand today as they are quite rare and feature many design features and measurements that were used for inspirations for many modern bass trombone models still produced today. The legendary bass trombonist Robert Harper was famous for playing a Fuchs model in Philadelphia. This Fuchs trombone was later sold to Los Angeles Philharmonic bass trombonist, Jeff Reynolds, who modified it with a removable plug in 2nd valve (I believe this is the horn pictured on the stage of the Dorothy Chandler on the cover of Jeff’s Except Album from Summit Records). More on the Fuchs bass later.

So what came next? When did the 70H show up? That’s hard to say, as most of the Conn records for instrument models were not preserved by the factory. The Conn trombone shop, in the 20’s and 30’s, was basically a custom shop, producing an incredible amount of different models of trombones in all shapes and sizes. Jake Burkle, trombone design chief was working with the top professionals from the period and as such, there are many special orders, variations and one offs from this period, which makes collecting them so much fun! The production Fuchs models were given the model number 70H for instruments produced from about 1920-26. Here’s where it gets confusing… around that time, Conn introduced another version of the 70H, a dual bore version with a smaller bell taper and back bow, but still tuning in the slide (you’ll see one of the first one of these below, although mine has a special order .562″ slide). This version was made until the late 1930s when a batch of 70H SPEC horns were made, going back to a .562″ single bore production version of the instrument. It has been well documented that there were lots variations in between of this model during this period and I’ll get to that with some photographic evidence shortly. I speculate that this SPEC version is what evolved into the classic Elkhart 70H that was mass produced and very popular… as was made famous by George Roberts. The yellow brass, tuning in the slide, small throated bell version that was in the catalog until the mid 1950s and also morphed into the bell tuning 72H. Interestingly, it has been said that the Conn 60H and 62H reused the large throated taper and back bow of the original Fuchs model for its design and of course we all know the popularity of this model.

Ok, enough of that, I know you want to see some photos!

Recently, I was lucky enough, with the help of my good pal, Gabe Langfur, to acquire a very early Fuchs model. It isn’t perfectly preserved: the slide was modified from its original setup, but the bell section is more or less fully intact. I immediately had our local historic brass expert, Robb Stewart, give it a once over. He fabricated a new bow guard from period Conn yellow brass, as the original was worn and buffed through. He also modified the trigger lever to make it a bit more user friendly, as we didn’t want to alter the original braces (the instrument probably had a German style leather sling to actuate the valve originally) to get it back into prime playing condition. The German made rotary valve is very small but works quite well. Since the slide was modified, I don’t have a serial number on the instrument. Judging from the bell engraving as well as the brace trim and decorated ferrules (check those out!), both Robb and I agree that this instrument was fabricated around 1916-1918, making it one of the earliest Fuchs models. I know y’all want to know how it plays… it plays incredible. Here is a photo of it with the next instrument I will discuss, another from my collection, the 1927 variation of the 70H.

Pretty wild huh? Check out the differences in the bell throat and the back bow. Here’s a close up of the guts of both horns. You’ll also notice that they are almost the same length but the Fuchs is much larger.

The next horn I want to mention is a very special one that recently came into The Brass Ark for a cleaning. It’s such a piece of history, and happens to be here with all of these other 70Hs that I was inspired to write this entry! I’m talking about this wonderful 1939/1940 Conn 70H Spec that was originally owned and played by Lewis Van Haney. Indiana graduates may remember this instrument as the one that hung on the wall of his trombone studio, used by many during impromptu quartet readings. The trombone currently resides with a well known trombonist here in LA. There is also a wonderful handwritten note to Jeff Reynolds about this trombone, which is scanned below, from Van Haney in which he gives some backstory on this instrument. I won’t spoil it for you, worth a read… but I will say he did pioneer a special technique for Bartok Concerto for Orchestra using this 70H discussed in this note! Here it is compared to my 1927 70H which you’ll notice has a shorter slide, longer bell and much different proportions. Also interesting to note, Haney’s 70H has three bell seams on the flare (one goes straight through the engraving) and is also a gold brass construction.

And here’s that letter I was talking about:

So, as you see, there are lots of interesting Conn bass trombones out there! I’m always on the lookout for more Conn trombones from this early period. If you have one, I want to hear from you! Send me an email and tell me a little bit about yourself and your horn! Until next time! Cheers!!!- Noah G.