Restoration of an Early Tuba by Graves & Co.
This monumental early American tuba from the 1850s required a monumental restoration in order to be both playable and acceptable for display for collector Steve Ward. A previous owner was planning on adapting a 20th century German rotary valve set in order to make it playable in a reenactor band, but that never happened. The cost to accurately reproduce all the missing parts is so high, it is surprising that an individual would agree to this process. Steve understands how rare instruments by Graves and Co. are and four valve tubas are among the rarest.
Another of the same design resides in Mark Elrod's important collection of early American brass instruments, and was the source for some needed measurements to complete this instrument. These are longer than any other tubas from the period, measuring 60". The proportions of the bore (.656") and bell, while large for the 1850s, are typical of those from the decade that followed. The circular mouthpipe crook, which is removable, can be replaced with one with a 90 degree curve, converting the style from bell over the shoulder to bell upright. Graves had outfitted a number of bands during the 1850s with complete sets of convertible instruments, including the famous Colt Armory Band. The Eb and Bb cornets would have converted from over the shoulder to bell front or circular (bell up at an angle).
The fifth and sixth photos to the right show the condition and what was left of the original tuba. While the body was there and unaltered, two of the four valve assemblies as was as all of the tubing from the first, third and fourth valves were missing. I cover the restoration of the valves on another page. I had to reproduce all the missing crooks and straight tubing (last four photos) to complete the valve section.
The eleventh photo shows most of the dent removal accomplished and all of the tubing, crooks and other curved tubing finished. The mouthpipe crook and a number of small braces were later made to finish the tuba. I also cover the drawing of special sizes of tubing, bending tubing and making the very tight bends in two pieces in my Mechanics pages. The fact that all these parts had to be made of nickel silver added to a job that was already very challenging. This material is not always available, but it was very important not to take shortcuts, as tempting as they were. The process took close to a year, as my enthusiasm waxed and waned in between other large and small jobs. This was rewarded in the finished tuba that looks and plays like it did 160 years ago.
The last photo below shows the only two known examples of the Graves four valve tubas with bells over the shoulder along with a very similar three valve tuba signed "C & G Draper, Boston". This is almost certainly the only occasion that two of these Graves tubas have been in the same location in the last 150 years or more.