Bathtubs for tubas

So I spent yesterday trying to get my new sousaphone into working order. It’s not actually new. It’s very very used. It came in a refrigerator box filled with packing peanuts, shredded paper and trash. I emptied out the box looking for the gooseneck. Whoever oppened the box openned it from the bottom, so at the very bottom of the pile, I found a note explaining that the gooseneck was “mislaid.” But it was all worth while, because Tiffany discovered a tuba mouthpiece amid the rubble, which included dirty, used foam, house insulation, bottle caps, used matches, etc all smelling like ashtray. Very odd packing maeterial, but the shipping was hella cheap.
I took the horn outside and started hosing it out. Inside were spiderwebs and spare packing peanuts. Every solder joint leaked water, but that’s ok. If they have bad air leaks, I can either try to resolder them or just duct tape it. Eventually, the odor of the tuba went from nasty-old-tuba smell to odorless, so I left it in the sun to dry and maybe disinfect. I mean, would you want to put your mouth on something you had just hosed spider egg sacks out of, unless it spent some time in the sun first?
Of course, before hosing it out, I pulled out all of the valves. They’re piston valves and they seem to be made out of brass, which is kind of unusual. I wanted to clean them, but I don’t own any brasso, and I didn’t really want to buy any, so I hit the ecology center website looking for some earth-friendly brass cleaning alternative. it suggested katsup. I swear, if some enviro group told me to cure headaches by hitting myself on the head repeatedly, I’d try it. And then, in conversations about headache remedies, I would casually mention it and then add, anecdotally, “but it didn’t work for me.”
So I rubbed katsup on all the vales and then rinsed them several times. Then I hauled the tuba back inside and yanked all the tuning slides out. There’s a trick to this. Loop a dishtowel through the slide and use it to yank it out. You won’t hurt the horn, but if the slide isn’t frozen, it’ll come out. So I pulled the slides out, ran a trombone snake through them a bunch of times and then rubbed the shiny parts of them with katsup. I think Christi and Tiffany think that I’m insane.
The valves move pretty well and the slides will budge if you pull on them. They’re not perfect, but I don’t feel like I should invest the money to take them to a shop. the main body of the horn is still filty, since I coulsn’t submerge it, I didn’t run a snake through it. I’d need a jacuzzi tub. I always thought those were silly and useless. They take a kajillion gallons ot fill up and then they get gradually cold and you have to drain the whole thing and start over next time. I mean, why not just get a hottub? But you can’t wash a tuba in a hottub! Old tuba grease would cause all sort of problems. But you could wash it in jacauzzi tuba! You’d probably want to keep the water jets turned off while doing it. So these giant bathtubs make sense for tuba players. I’m sure that when my parents had one put in, they somehow intuitted that I would one day take up the tuba, and then, in my late twenties, long after I had left home, I would come back to my dear widowed father and ask if I could wash my sousaphone in his bathtub.
As soon as I find a gooseneck, where “find” means “buy,” I can check out how playable the horn is. Hopefully, I can do this tomorrow, since the Brass Liberation Orchestra is playing at a protest outside of Lockheed MArtin in Sunnyvale on Tuesday morning.

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Charles Céleste Hutchins

Supercolliding since 2003

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