Contempora Bass Trombones

The Reynolds trombone line underwent a significant design change in the late 1940s and adopted more of an Olds-style look and feel. Shortly thereafter, the F.A. Reynolds bass trombone was rebranded as the “Contempora” model. The bass trombone was Reynolds’ second instrument to bear the Contempora name, introduced along with the new trumpet model.

c.1949-1964

A standard yellow brass bell appears to have been used until the early 1950s when bass trombones were fitted with a bronze alloy bell to match the Contempora trumpet, cornet and tenor trombone. The bass trombone bell is much darker and orange in appearance than the golden smaller horns and led to the Contempora bass trombones earning the nickname, “the Tangerine Trombone”. Raw unlacquered bells can appear almost purple in color and look very similar to the all-bronze bells of Conn’s Coprion instruments.

The Reynolds bass trombone has a characteristic lighter sound with plenty of bite that makes it attractive for big band and other settings where today’s broad, dark orchestral sound is not desired. The “Symphony” model bass trombone was produced into the early 1960s, but was discontinued when Reynolds closed their Cleveland plant in 1964.

Model Size Description Example
72 Bore: .564″
Bell: 9½” (10″ optional in 1959)
Contempora “Symphony” Bass Trombone | Body: Bronz-o-lyte bell; brass gooseneck, tuning slide and slide receiver; nickel silver bracing and trim; rotor valve, closed-wrap F attachment (pull to E) | Slide: chrome-plated nickel silver inner slides; brass outer slides | Finish: clear lacquer finish; optional silverplate bright bell or silverplate gold bell finish. Model 72 [SN 50324]. Photo source: eBay.
Bore: TBD
Bell: 9¼”
Example of a Contempora “Symphony” Bass Trombone with a yellow brass bell, c.1954 Model 72 [SN 35714, 1952/53]. Photo used with permission from  Brendan Ward.

Reynolds introduced an updated Contempora bass trombone, the “Philharmonic” model, in the mid-1950s with a modified closed wrap that had two tuning slides: the main F tuning slide and a second slide that could pulled to achieve E tuning, then pushed in to return to F. This was an advantage over the traditional “Symphony” model with a single tuning slide, but still required a player to manually adjust tuning slides while playing – a problem ultimately solved a few years later with the addition of a second rotary valve that enabled the E tuning only when needed.

Model Size Description Example
72-X Bore: .564″
Bell: 9½” or 10″
Contempora “Philharmonic” Bass Trombone | Body: Bronz-o-lyte bell; brass gooseneck, tuning slide and slide receiver; nickel silver bracing and trim; rotor valve with F attachment; second tuning slide and adjustable stop guage extending to E | Slide: chrome-plated nickel silver inner slides; brass outer slides | Finish: clear lacquer finish; optional silverplate bright bell or silverplate gold bell finish. Model 72-X [RMC]. Photo source: eBay.

In the early 1950s, Kauko Kahila (St. Louis Symphony, 1944-1952; Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1952-1972) began a long correspondence with Reynolds on more effective ways of extending the low-register range of the bass trombone to enable more accurate playing of passages such as the low B glissando in Bartok’s “Concerto for Orchestra” (1944). Previous efforts to extend the bass trombone’s range had either featured a removable second valve or an adjustable valve that was attached to the F attachment tubing, or in the case of the Reynolds “Philharmonic” bass trombone (c.1956), a second tuning slide on the F attachment that could be pulled to get the lower range. It is unknown whether the “Philharmonic” improvements resulted from the ongoing design discussions with Kahila, but he did use the Philharmonic as an alternative to his longtime Schmidt model.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Kahila came up with his design for a dependent double-valve trombone by laying out strands of string on the floor — this might suggest the origin of the unique “flat wrap” design that extends the F-attachment tubing forward toward the bell. As a result of the design discussions, Reynolds built several prototypes and brought in Allen Ostrander (New York Philharmonic) and Louis Counnihan (Metropolitan Opera Orchestra) to aid in the testing. While Kahila rightly considers himself to be the horn’s chief architect, it’s worth noting that Ostrander and Edward Kleinhammer (Chicago Symphony) had also previously discussed the problem, eventually leading to Kleinhammer working with Holton on his own double-valve solution.

Introduced in the fall of 1958, the Contempora “Stereophonic” model was the first commercially produced bass trombone with two rotor valves permanently attached to the horn. Whereas Kahila seems to have ultimately preferred his single-valve “Philharmonic” bass trombone, Ostrander quickly championed the advantages of the “Stereophonic” double-valve design, mating it to a lightweight Conn bell (9½” yellow brass 72H bell) and slide (.547/.562″ dual-bore slide) for his NYPO playing. An image of a bass trombone with the Reynolds double-valve section appears on the front of my copy of Ostrander’s “Double-Valve Bass Trombone Low Tone Studies” method book.

Model Size Description Example
78-X Bore: .564″
Bell: 10″
Contempora “Stereophonic” Bass Trombone | Body: Bronz-o-lyte bell; brass gooseneck, tuning slide and slide receiver; nickel silver bracing and trim; two rotor valves, dependent F/flat E attachments | Slide: chrome-plated nickel silver inner slides; brass outer slides | Finish: clear lacquer finish; optional silverplate bright bell or silverplate gold bell finish. Model 78-X [SN 59942]. Photo source: eBay.
1964-1970
Model Size Description Example
TO-01 Bore: .565″
Bell: 10″
Contempora “Stereophonic” Bass Trombone | Body: bronze alloy bell; brass gooseneck, tuning slide and slide receiver; nickel silver bracing and trim; two rotor valves, dependent F/flat E attachments | Slide: chrome-plated nickel silver inner slides; brass outer slides | Finish: baked epoxy coating. Model TO-01 [SN 257775]. Photos used with permission from   ElShaddai Edwards.
TO-02 Bore: .565″
Bell: 10″
Contempora “Philharmonic” Bass Trombone | Body: bronze alloy bell; brass gooseneck, tuning slide and slide receiver; nickel silver bracing and trim; rotor valve with F attachment; second tuning slide and adjustable stop guage extending to E | Slide: chrome-plated nickel silver inner slides; brass outer slides | Finish: baked epoxy coating. Model TO-02 [SN 218481]. Photo source: eBay.
1971-1979
Model Size Description Example
TO-01 Bore: .565″ (.585″ rotor)
Bell: 10″
Contempora “Stereophonic” Bass Trombone | Same as TO-01 above, but with red-brass bell. Model TO-01 [SN A41211]. Photos used with permission from Bob   Weller [eBay: fairllane57].
TO-02 Bore: .565″ (.585″ rotor)
Bell: 10″
Contempora “Philharmonic” Bass Trombone | Same as TO-02 above, but with red-brass bell. Model TO-02 [SN 309xxx]. Photos used with permission from Wil Salo  [eBay: tubatuna].
Catalog Quotes

1958, 1959 Roth-Reynolds catalogs:

‘More carrying power, best for tonal quality, fast response, finest intonation’ … are the enthusiastic comments on noted symphony players such as Allen Ostrander, Louis Counihan and Kauko Kahila about their new Contempora Bass Trombones. Model 72-X with 9½” or 10″ bronze bell, with the built-in slide to E. Model 78-X with double valve. A Bass Trombone played and enthusiastically endorsed by symphony players in this and foreign countries.

1966 Reynolds catalog:

A ‘triple horn’ in Bb with two rotor valves for changes to F and E. Separate tuning slide for each section keep you permanently in tune. Special 10″ bronze alloy bell.

[The TO-02 is the] same as model TO-01 but with single rotor valve for change to F, and “E pull” slide with adjustable stop guage, separate from F tuning slide.

1970 Reynolds catalog:

This is a 3-horn horn for the professional’s professional. The TO-01 is a B-flat bass trombone that converts into F or E. Each section has a separate tuning slide to keep the 3-horn horn in tune. Large .565 Straight Bore; 10″ bronze alloy bell.

[The Philharmonic TO-02] is the same horn as the Stereophonic, except that it’s a 2-horn horn. The single rotor trigger converts the normal B-flat bass trombone to F. There’s an ‘E pull’ slide with adjustable stop guage; and a separate F tuning slide. Large .565 Straight Bore; 10″ bronze alloy bell.

1977 Reynolds catalog:

This bass trombone features special rotors for the professional’s professional. The TO-01 instrument offers all of the advantages of a single rotor bass Bb and F trombone with three separate tuning slides. The E valve extends the range to low B. The large bore and bell provide the robust tone demanded in contemporary music.

The Contempora [TO-02] bass trombone has been designed for the professional and the advanced player. The red-brass bell gives this instrument a richer, darker sound and excellent projection. The single rotor converts the normal B♭ bass trombone to F. Separate F tuning slide and an E slide with adjustable stop guage.

Notes

Henry Kavett recalls the following story regarding demo horns made for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra:

I bought my double valve Contempora from the legendary teacher Donald Reinhardt, in 1970. He had four of these beasts in his studio which he said had been the demo horns made for the Metropolitan Opera (NY) orchestra. I had my pick of the litter. My teacher had studied with him and brought me for a lesson and to get a “new” trombone. It is a sentimental favorite — a decent, multipurpose instrument that is essentially a compromise sort of horn. The top is great as is the middle, but the bottom was stuffy for me. After fitting it with a Callet lead pipe, the output was considerable better and more focused. Though I switched to another instrument about three years ago, this is still a terrific horn…

Renold O. Schilke studied the Contempora design when he was thinking about marketing a trombone line under the Schilke name, but wound up designing the original Yamaha bass trombones instead. Mike Suter recalled the following story for the trombone-l community:

In the early ’70s, I was in Chicago and stopped by Schilke to say ‘hi’ to Phil Warsip and look around a bit. The old man came out, all excited, and said “you have to play my new bass trombone.” He brought out a stacked Bb-F-E horn that looked for all the world like an exact copy of a double rotor Reynolds Contempora, roller linkages, dependent E branch, Reynolds pattern ferrules and all, except that it had a huge bell – a lot bigger than my Holton. I know it had a leaderpipe because my mouthpiece fit the receiver. But who knows how long or short it may have been. It was clearly an orchestral horn: you had to kind of boss it around to get what you wanted. After I’d played it for a while, he asked me what I thought of it. Somewhere in the first two sentences I mentioned its striking resemblance to the Reynolds. He snatched the horn from me and stomped off. Warsip just kind of smiled and said that I’d pay for that down the road.

Paul Rawlins confirms that Renold Schilke bought twelve Reynolds Contempora bass trombones (of which Paul later bought one) in the early 1960s just before Richards Music went bankrupt and production moved out of Cleveland.

The popularity of Reynolds bass trombones still lingers in the U.K., where Chris Stearn reports that Gerry McElhone (Covent Garden) used a Reynolds before retiring in the late-1990’s and Leslie Lake of the English National Opera still actively uses a Contempora bass trombone on a regular basis:

Les wore out his original Reynolds slide, but found another newer one. Then, about ten years ago, I sold him an early Reynolds bass that was in as new condition. I had bought the instrument from the widow of Harry Spain, longtime bass trombonist with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, who had used it for a short time in the sixties, then stored it. I used it at the Scottish Opera for a year or so, then sold it on to Les. He still plays it.

The “Stereophonic” originally featured attachments that provided F and flat E tuning as this was the simplest way to add the chromatic low C and B notes to the end of the slide. As more double-valve models entered the marketplace in the 1960s, players began to express a preference for F and D attachments, making it more efficient to play in the low register by placing the B closer in on the slide. Finally, in response to the increasing number of customer requests, the factory superintendent in charge of Engineering and Design at Olds’ Fullerton plant, Zig Kanstul, designed an optional D attachment for the Contempora. Norman Rowe recalls the story:

I was the head tour guide at the Olds factory in Fullerton from 1967-1971 while a student at Cal-State Fullerton. During my time in Fullerton I did some gigs with Jeff Reynolds (prior to his L.A. Philharmonic days). One time we got together he was showing me his Bach to which he had added a second valve in Eb. (Mine was still in E, of course.) He explained how much better it was than the E and what he said made a lot of sense, so the next time I went to the factory to give a tour, I went into Zig Kanstul’s office (which was right off the room where we began the tours) and told him what Jeff had told me and asked if it would be possible to get an Eb extension for my Reynolds. He made light of it but said, “Yeah, sure.” Over the next several months I’d poke my head into his office and asked how the project was coming. He’d shrug it off with an “I’m working on it.”

Finally, one day I was getting ready to start a tour and he stuck his head out of his door and asked me to stop by when I was done. I did, of course, and it turned out that since I approached him with the extension idea, they had received letters from three owners of TO-01s (if I remember correctly, one was from New Orleans, one from St. Louis, and the other from somewhere in Ohio) who wanted the same thing, except they had all asked for extensions in D. So now it wasn’t such a crazy idea after all and he was ready to get serious about it. We played with some ideas and tried to come up with something that could be in either Eb or D so that all of us could have what we had asked for. It just wouldn’t work, so he decided to produce a run of twelve D extensions and offered me one of them. I accepted, of course. Then he picked up an experiment in Eb and said he’d fix it up for me if I wanted it, otherwise it was going into the trash. Well, the Eb was what I wanted in the first place, so I said I’d like it. Therefore I ended up with the only factory-made Eb extension and one of only twelve factory-made D extensions.

Zig’s extensions were really a very simple design. The E tuning slide was pulled out, the extension angled around the F tubing above it, then the tuning slide was inserted into the end. But because of the need to angle around, that part of the extension length was unavailable to be used as extra tuning slide length, so there just wasn’t enough to pull the Eb down to D. If it had been available, he probably would have just made a separate tuning slide for it that would be left in for Eb and pulled for D. (And I wouldn’t have had the Db and C modes, so I’m glad it worked out that way.)

So he ended up having to make a separate D extension to satisfy those who wanted the D. The D, of course, is just a longer version of the Eb extension. And by using the original E tuning slide, no additional extra parts were needed. And the case design allowed the extension to be left on the instrument when packing the horn up. The design also allowed the two extensions to fit into each other and become the Db and C configurations. So unless I was using the horn in its original setting, I only had one “extra” piece kicking around. At first it tended to be the D extension, then soon it became the Eb most of the time.

I started off using the Eb extension most of the time and playing around with the D some. Eventually I went to using the D most of the time. Then one day while sitting in orchestra rehearsal and doing what trombone players usually do during orchestra rehearsals (twiddling thumbs), it struck me that the extensions would fit into each other. So I picked up the bone and extensions, went out into the hall, pulled the tuning slide out of the D, stuck the Eb into it, then put the tuning slide into the Eb, and I had a Db extension! Then I pulled the slides as far as they would go: C!! So I can have that second valve in E, Eb, D, Db, or C – the most versatile dependent second valve anywhere. At least using factory-made parts. I did a studio gig in Dallas shortly before I got [my Olds P-24G] during which I used each variation on at least one piece except maybe the E. Sometimes one just worked better than the others because of the way that particular number lay.