Tommy Johnson's Double Tubas
Over the years, Tommy Johnson would occasionally mention that he would like to have built a modern version of his Carl Lehmann double tuba from the 1930s (photos below). This was built in F with change to BBb, but later modified for CC. I told him that Larry Minick had worked on his own double tuba project for years and I would occasionally talk to him about it. Larry tried a number of configurations using a Conn 4/4 bell from the 1920s. It was only a few years before he died that he told me that he had finally come up with a design that he considered very playable and he was happy with it. This was very similar in concept and a big improvement on the famous York (also built here in Southern California) that now resides in the Simonetti collection. Tommy was already accustomed to the less extreme change system used by Lehmann and had even used that instrument (modified by both George Strucel and Dan Rauch) on gigs. Eventually, I agreed to modify one of his Yamaha F tubas in a very similar manner, using the existing 5th valve and I had to make the huge change valve assembly myself. The 6th photo below shows how far I had to tear down the original tuba. Not wanting to risk his favorite, Tommy had me do this to the F tuba that he liked the least. The results were a success. The CC side of the tuba was not as good as a really good CC tuba, but the low notes were very good and that was the whole point of this exercise. He decided that he wanted to have the same thing done to his favorite F tuba since that is the one that he would use in the studios. A year or so later, I did the second one and it was even better the first. In both cases, the playing characteristics of the F tuba were not diminished.
Yamaha Corporation helped out with this project as a favor to Tommy by supplying some of the crooks and tubing that I needed to complete the project. After Tommy died in 2006, his widow sold his tubas to fund a scholarship. The first double tuba went to Justin Jerome and the second to Jim Self. Jim's take on these instruments is here: