I know I don’t post much, but this seems to be a perfect place for this review.
I bought a Wessex Dolce back in 2015, and that has been my main horn since then. I have been very happy with how well it sounds, its openness in all registers, and the fact that it hasn’t degraded much in quality even though the price tag was $1300. In 2016, I bought an 1895 Conn double-belled euphonium to replace my leaky and poorly-tuned 1920 King double-bell. I found that this instrument worked perfectly for the 3rd trombone parts I played in orchestras. I used the main bell when I needed the dark tone to blend with the tuba, and I used the small bell when I played parts that needed to blend with the trombones/trumpets. The bell was sufficiently large that is sounded fairly close to a trombone, unlike the tinny sound that the King made. However the Conn had several issues:
1. The main tuning slide was in low pitch, and the small bell tuning slide was in high pitch. That meant I had the main tuning slide pushed in all the way and the second tuning slide pulled all the way out and barely able to hold on. It often popped out during loud passages. I also had to use a 6 1/2 AL mouthpiece (which was tiny compared to the SMU4 I used on the Dolce) to bump the pitch up further, which made switching between the two a hassle.
2. The Conn was small bore, which meant extra resistance that I didn’t like compared to the Dolce.
3. There were some quirky notes (D was sharp, G was very flat, etc.) that could be “lipped” to compensate for, but they were the exact opposite of the quirks on the Dolce. That made switching instruments much more difficult that is should have been.
4. The Conn didn’t compensate, so my fingerings in the pedal registers were different, though that was easy to adapt to when the music wasn’t fast.
These points were foundational for my decision to buy the Duplex. It would be in modern pitch, and it would have a large bore, and it had a compensating system. In addition, the chassis of the Duplex was the Festivo (a modified clone of a Besson model), which has consistently been said to have great intonation. It also had a gold brass bell for better resonance. The Duplex appeared to solve all of my problems, so I bought it back in March (the silver/gold model to be precise). I’ve been evaluating it for the past 6 months to notice any problems that could arise.
- The case was very solid, sturdy, and heavy, much more so than my Dolce case. It had wheels! The dark velvet on the inside is a great contrast to the finish of the instrument.
- The thumb ring for the left hand is unnecessarily large and actually poses a weak point on the Duplex. The Duplex arrived with transit damage from where the box was dropped and the weight of the instrument pressed on the ring and put a bend and dent in the 4th valve tuning (see picture). I contacted Wessex about this, and they acknowledged it and said they would look into seeing what could be done to fix it, but I never heard back.
- There was a green goop on half of the slides. It was simple enough to clean off.
- The valve caps were finely threaded and thus finicky to put back on after being removed. I decided to spend 20 minutes twisting and untwisting the caps without removing them to loosen up the threads, and that helped a lot.
- The handholds feel unnatural at first, but you get used to them.
- The valves were very quiet. After cleaning out particulate matter left over from manufacturing, the valve action was very fast.
- The main tuning slide did not tightly fit into the tubing, so longs strings of playing with lots of rapid valve movements (lots of vibrations) would cause the main tuning slide to fall out. This wasn’t a problem if the tuning slide was pulled less than 0.5 inches out, and using a thicker slide grease fixed the issue.
- Storing the second bell in a bag that fits into the main bell is a pretty smart move. Makes things more compact.
- I don’t like having the 4th and 5th valves completely separated from the first 3 as there are times it is more helpful to be able to use the pinky for the 4th valve, but I understand the design decision from a “fit and function“ perspective.
- Finding a way to hold/carry the Duplex with one hand was surprisingly difficult. There aren’t any good single-hand holds that don’t risk damaging the instrument. I found that grabbing the 1-3 valve section through the slides to be a great way to pick the instrument up. It isn’t a comfortable way to carry the instrument.
- Despite what is looks like in Wessex’s pictures, the second bell does rotate to the front. The angle upward actually makes it so that is faces directly forward when being held in a playing position. I like this design choice.
- The water key positions allow them to do their job without getting the discharge all over the instrument. The Conn was deficient in this regard, so I never used them.
- EDIT: I forgot to add that the Duplex came with some extra parts (valve guides, springs, etc.) than can be used for repairs when needed. This is a really nice touch.
6 Month Impressions:
- I found a comfortable playing position within two weeks
- I love having the wheels on the case, but the case is extremely unstable. The Center of Gravity (CG) is too high, so any little bump causes it to severely wobble from side to side.
- The plating on one of the buttons (2nd valve) is wearing off. I mostly use gloves, so maybe the plating on that one was extremely thin? The others are fine.
- Valves are still quiet and are even faster.
- Second bell slide (interior surface) is starting to get some staining like on most other horns I have played. The other slides don’t have this. They still look new.
- The green goop is back on two of the slides.
- One said they have had issues with the case’s interior Velvet getting caught up in the zipper and jamming it. I have not encountered this issue, but I may just be careful.
- I got used to using my left middle finger to activate the second bell. Took a couple months.
- The valve action is far more comfortable than on the Dolce and the Conn. This was highly surprising.
- I found that turning the bell outwards and grabbing the bow over the valve section to be a comfortable way to carry the instrument with one hand.
- The silver finish has held up very nicely
- The valves still appear to be in excellent condition.
- The case has still held up well.
- SOUND: The main bell was nice and resonant. It was warmer than the Dolce, but quite comparable. I’m quite happy with it. The second bell is very large, so it actually sounds like a trombone. More so than the Conn. This also made me happy.
- INTONATION: This horn is the most in-tune horn I have ever played (and I have played a lot of them). Once I got the main tuning slides right without pulling any of the other slides, all notes between low E and high Bb were within 10 cents, and the vast majority were within 5 cents. I adjusted the valve slides and there is very little variance from center. It plays excellently with little lipping when I play with professional musicians.
- OPENNESS: The main bell is super open and resonant from the low Bb in the staff all the way up. The second bell is open and resonant from the Eb in the staff up to the high A. It starts sounding tinny above that, but it could just be me and my lips of not-steel. On the main bell, notes below the Bb get increasingly stuffy and hard to get in tune. This was the biggest disappointment I had with the Duplex. I could honk these notes and put tubas to shame on the Dolce. The second bell does not sound good in this register at all, but it never does on double-belled euphoniums. I was surprised the D/Eb in the staff come out as well as they do. I don’t know if this has anything to do with the damage on the 4th valve slide.
- Pitches lock in quite well on the Duplex. I’d say better than on the Dolce. The main bell is better than the second bell in this regard.
- It plays smoother than the Dolce. I don’t know how else to describe it. Transitions between notes are just smoother.
- I’m not a good enough of a player to evaluate the performance better than this, but I think this gives you an idea of how well it plays.
If you have a niche need for a double-belled euphonium and you need it to perform like a modern euphonium, then I cannot recommend the Duplex enough. Even if performing like a modern Euphonium isn’t a requirement, the performance you get for the price you pay is really like nothing else on the market. It doesn’t quite have the charm of a 100-year-old instrument, but it does have gold valve caps. ;)
Ask away with any questions, and I will do my best to answer them. :)
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