Early Contrabass (Tuba)

by Isaac Fiske

Isaac Fiske is known to have gone into business making brass instruments in Worcester, Mass. in 1842 and quickly gained a very good reputation for making keyed bugles, post horns and cornets.   For a more complete history of Fiske see Robert Eliason's "Early American Brass Makers".  There is no evidence that he made any bass or contrabass instruments until the mid-1850s which is likely when this example was made.  A similar and likely earlier tuba by Fiske is featured elsewhere on this site.  Judging from the many extant instruments made in his shop, one could easily conclude that Fiske never made a second rate instrument and that is just the evidence that makes me guess that this tuba is his first design.  
Even though it compares well with other instruments made during these early years, he went on to make superior Eb contrabass tubas with better acoustics than this one.  By the time that he published his 1862 catalogue, Fiske was making three different size or "calibre" Eb contrabasses as well as a bass in Ab and four sizes of tenor/baritone/bass in Bb.  All but the smallest tenor horn were available with four valves.  The low brass player was in a very fortunate position if he was able to afford a Fiske.


Most of the earliest rotary valve instruments made in the US have top action levers as seen here.  Graves & Co. was making these by 1851, but we don't know which shop originated them.  Fiske was constantly modifying his designs and by the time he published his 1868 catalog he had dropped the simple top action and illustrates either side action levers or top action push rods that he called "key pistons".  This instruments is made of German silver, is 45 1/2" tall with a bell rim diameter of 11 1/2" and bore measuring .588".