C.G. Conn Elkhart New York Contrabass Trombone in BBb c.1902

This trombone is the centerpiece of my collection—the 1902 Conn contrabass trombone in BBb! It is stamped as being made in both Elkhart and New York. The Conn factory was in Elkhart, Indiana but they had a satellite shop in New York during this time and that’s why both cities are engraved on the bell. This contrabass trombone boasts an impressive pedigree, with much written about its history over the years. Legend has it that Conn crafted three BBb contrabass trombones in 1901/1902 along with input from August Helleberg (He’s even photographed with one… maybe this one!). Of these three, one is owned by The Boston Symphony and is featured on Doug Yeo’s website, another is apparently housed in the National Music Museum (although I haven’t had the chance to see it), and this one in The Brass Ark museum. Notably, this instrument is significantly larger than the other two, making it stand out.

According to legend, this trombone found its way into Bill Bell’s possession in the New York Philharmonic during the 1950s, gifted to him by Abe Torchinsky of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Roger Bobo then acquired it in the late 1950s and utilized it at The Eastman School before his move to Los Angeles to join the LA Philharmonic. In LA, Bobo enlisted the legendary craftsman George Strucel to modify the instrument, adding a F attachment. Strucel’s work was impeccable, seamlessly integrating the valve as if it were originally part of the instrument built by Conn nearly 120 years ago! This contrabass trombone became a regular feature in LA, appearing in concerts with the Philharmonic and Hollywood recording sessions (it’s rumored to have been played by George Roberts on Jaws!) until Roger’s retirement when he sold it to the late, great Murray Crewe. Before Murray’s passing, he approached me to help find a new home for this special instrument.

It then made its way to Niclas Rydh, a prominent collector in Sweden, where it resided for a few years. I missed this horn after it left for Sweden, prompting me to commission Brad Close to craft a modern 2-valve replica (now owned and played by Ido Meshulam). Remarkably, the replica worked exceptionally well! After a brief period, Niclas offered to return the original instrument to me to be housed in LA at my museum (and possibly make a return to Hollywood recordings!), and I couldn’t wait to have it back.

As for specs and playability, it’s phenomenal! While there’s a learning curve with any BBb contra, this one is the most playable I’ve encountered. Surprisingly lightweight given its size, it features a dual bore .547/.547/.578/.578 slide, with the smaller front end contributing to its playability. The bell taper and back bow are massive, showcasing the trombone’s grandeur. The raw brass inner slide tubes contribute to its warm, rich sound—a joy to play.

BBb contrabass trombones often get a bad rap, and rightfully so with many modern subpar offerings. However, with a truly exceptional instrument and dedication, the BBb contrabass can achieve the true contrabass trombone sound.

For more information you can read about this instrument at Roger Bobo’s website: http://wwwtemp.rogerbobo.com/instruments/contrabass_trombone.shtml

*I use a Rene Hagmann handbrace on this instrument to help support the additional weight*