The Deep End: Huge Horn or Puny Player?

4 05 2010

Recently, I have been curiously looking into some very enormous and, consequently, bizarre instruments. Although I have never explicitly stated so on GG, if you read between the lines you may have inferred that The GG is in fact a bass player. So, as someone who fancies the low end I wanted to research some of the other instruments capable of producing that bottom register. You would be surprised (and delighted) by how many weird and unusual instruments are designed to produce such incredibly low tones… I’m talking REALLY deep.

Instruments are often referred to in terms of their pitch or register. Think of an orchestra or chorus: soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, etc. Well, these monstrosities are so low that they have their own deep end designations, known as: contrabass & subcontrabass. It’s pretty straightforward, contrabass being one octave lower than bass. While subcontrabass takes it a notch further, tuned an octave lower than contrabass. The best part about these crazy instruments is that they are all huge in order to naturally be able to produce tones so low. Ok, ok… the best part may actually be their ability to create fart-like sounds that makes the kid in all of us chuckle.

The first and perhaps my favorite is the contrabass saxophone…

This is a duet for contrabassoon, the bassoon’s larger cousin. These dudes are great…

This is the lovable contrabass tuba. Perfect for fight songs…

Here is another duet. This time, the contrabass trombone. There is actually a subcontrabass trombone that requires a double slide but videos are scarce and, frankly, not nearly as enjoyable as this one.

Now we’re really going low. This one is the subcontrabass flute. It may be the strangest because the flute family is usually reserved for the high voices in most ensembles. Needless to say, this is very rare (and odd).

This is a subcontrabass recorder. Yes, like the recorder you used to play “Mary Had A Little Lamb” on when you were in kindergarten… except this in so big it requires 20’of headroom to play.

Believe it or not there are actually a few more… like this  HUGE subcontrabass tuba. But, I think I’ll leave it there.  As fart-tastic as it is, you clearly get the point.

Now, there are legitimately large instruments that need to be designed that way in order to obtain their low range and than there are just big f’ing instruments. You know what I’m talking about, the ridiculous, obnoxious things made by guys who either really love the spectacle of it or just want to break some sort of Guinness record. Either way it’s a circus act, clowns and all. Here are just a few…

Ok. So, there are always exceptions. This is actually pretty cool. It’s a giant science project that enables humans to go inside a huge made-to-scale guitar to see and hear how the acoustics work.


CNN story on rare historic contrabass sax

Indie piece on rare historic contrabass trombone

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