The tuba is a wonderful and unique brass instrument. The lowest-pitched member of the brass family, it is made of between 12 to 18 feet of brass tubing. It can be pitched to F, Eb, CC, or BBb.
But how much does one of these things cost?
Well, that entirely depends on the type and model of tuba you’re looking at, but prices range from as little as $1,000 to up to $12,000.
It’s worth noting that tubas for students and beginners will cost considerably less than professional instruments, so consider where you are in your musical journey.
If you’re just starting out, you’ll want to start with a cheaper instrument before you commit to an expensive tuba that’s meant for professionals.
Table of Contents
Price Affecting Factors to Consider When Buying a Tuba
Many things come into play when determining how much you will pay for a tuba or any musical instrument.
Some things to bear in mind are:
- The grade of the materials used
- The size and tuning of the tuba
- The sound quality
- The finish (silver-plated or not)
Type and Quality of Materials
All brass instruments are made of…yep, you guessed it – brass! But the mixture of metals that go into making this alloy can affect the finished product, how it sounds, and how much it costs.
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc – when more copper is used, the resulting metal is softer and producers a more mellow and broad tone. Harder mixes, where less copper and more zinc is used, will create a sharper and more distinct sound.
The differences in tone that these metals produce will be all but unnoticeable to the most seasoned pros, especially if the instrument is a mix of different types of brass. For beginners and intermediates, it’s recommended to just go with the standard: yellow brass, which has a 70:30 copper: zinc ratio.
Gold brass and red brass are also available, with ratios of 85:15 and 90:10, respectively.
The size (and therefore price) of tubas is directly affected by what tuning they are in, as different tunings require different lengths of tubing to be bent into the tuba shape. The BBb and CC tubas are technically contrabass tubas since they play two octaves below middle C.
- F = 12 foot of tubing
- Eb = 13 foot
- CC = 16 foot
- BBb = 18 foot
The BBb is the most widely played tuba in middle and high school bands, orchestras, and brass ensembles.
CC tubas are generally used by more advanced players at collegiate or professional levels.
F and Eb-tuned tubas are much more suited to expert players, as their tuning classifies them as bass tubas, and they fit in the orchestra in a more unique place, between standard contrabass tubas and euphoniums.
Many tubas, regardless of their pitch or tuning, are built to fit a specific size model for easier understanding and selection by new and old players alike.
Sizes are measured in quarters, and while these sizes aren’t standardized across manufacturers, they do measure bore size, which is the diameter of the internal tubing.
Simply put, a larger bore size will be more difficult for an inexperienced player to consistently produce quality sounds with. Here’s a quick look at the sizes:
- 3/4 sized – the smallest tubas available. These might be ok for an absolute beginner to get the feel of the instrument, but most players will quickly outgrow this size, and its tonal profile is limited.
- 4/4 sized – this is the standard, full-sized tuba. The bore profile is great for beginners and intermediate players alike, and it produces a rich, deep tone.
- 5/4 sized – this is the standard-sized tuba for professional, working tuba players. Slightly bigger than the 4/4, it is a little bit more difficult to produce sound and is only really suitable for experienced players.
- 6/4 sized – this is the biggest size of tuba you can get, and many of these instruments are so large that they have to be played standing up. Only really suitable for specialist ensembles, and very difficult for most musicians to play to a high standard.
There are broadly two options when it comes to finishes on a tuba: lacquer or silver plating. Lacquer is a thin metal paint applied to the brass of the instrument to protect it. Other than that, it has no bearing on the quality of the sound that the tuba will produce.
The other option is silver-plating, which many players claim improves the tone of the tuba, adding a richness and warmth that lacquered instruments lack.
For most players, the finish won’t make much of a difference to playability or quality – only to price. Silver-plated tubas are much more expensive than their lacquered counterparts.
Beginner/Student Tuba Prices
Now let’s talk about what you can expect to pay for some different types of tuba! We’ll start with the cheapest – the beginner and student models.
Most student tuba models will set you back between $1,000 – $3,000. Of course, you may be able to find something a little cheaper than that, especially if you buy second-hand. Also, if you’re after high quality, you can even get student models that will sell for up to $5,000.
Of course, if you’re looking for a beginner’s tuba, chances are you might not be entirely sure if you’re going to stick with the tuba for a long time, so spending that amount of money might not seem worth it.
It’s best if you can hire out a tuba first or possibly take up classes where they will provide an instrument for you to have a go on. Of course, you won’t be able to take these instruments home to practice, so if you’re serious, you’ll have to buy one!
If you’re really concerned about price, or if you’re buying for a child, you could opt for a 3/4 size tuba just to get started. You can probably find a 3/4 size student tuba for under $1,000. You’ll learn the basics, get a feel for the instrument, and if you decide to carry on learning, you can sell it and buy a 4/4 size instrument.
Intermediate Tuba Prices
If you’ve been playing tuba for a while, and you know it’s something you want to continue doing, it’s probably going to be worth investing in a high-quality model. Perhaps you’d like to try out a different tuning or maybe something silver-plated?
Whatever you choose, you can guarantee that graduating from a student model to an intermediate model is going to cost because as you take the instrument more seriously, more care and quality materials are put into the construction of higher-grade tubas.
Because of this, intermediate-level tuba models will probably set you back around $4,000 – $8,000.
Of course, there’s a lot of variation within that price bracket, and what you decide to shell out on ultimately depends on you.
Professional Tuba Prices
As you progress in your musical career, the higher quality instruments that you require (or just want!) will obviously come with bigger price tags.
But if you’re playing in a notable and esteemed orchestra, you want your performance to sound as good as it possibly can, and that will come from years of practice and top-quality instruments.
Most professional tubas will be silver-plated, often 4/4 or 5/4 bore size, and possibly a mix of yellow- gold-, and rose-brass alloy. All this adds up!
Professional tubas can range from $9,000 – $12,000, and more!
Of course, you’re only going to be considering one of these instruments if you’re a professional musician at the top of your game.
As always, it’s obvious that prices can and will vary across makes, models, sizes, and skill levels. If you’re just starting out on your tuba adventure, there’s absolutely no need to even consider anything above a beginner-level instrument.
In my opinion, it’s worth taking a class or two, either playing the teacher’s instrument (if they offer them) or hiring a rental tuba for the class.