“KING” Euphoniums are constructed in the most practical and serviceable manner, and will stand up under the hardest usage. They are built for service, not a weak part in their entire make-up. The plan and arrangement of slides, single seamless mouth pipe tube with all other tubes and bows seamless, extra protection plates and guards, with extra strong bracing, make them the strongest built and most serviceable Euphoniums on the market. All claims proven by tests.
-King Musical Instrument catalog, 1919
King euphoniums have been in production for well over a hundred years. They've now been built in the Eastlake, Ohio factory for over 50 years. Ten models of baritones and euphoniums are offered today under the banners of both King and Holton. This King Soloist model euphonium owes its lineage to the Conn 19I, both of which are very traditional American style euphoniums.
It's worth looking at the different schools of thought in euphonium design.
The British euphonium is in vogue with most professional players. These are usually automatic compensating instruments with 3 top and 1 side piston valves, and the accompanying dual sets of slides. These tend to be weighty, expensive, but have very good pitch and a simple fingering system. The British automatic compensating system achieves the holy grail of brass: to offer a simple and reliable fingering pattern chromatically down to the fundamental, in this case, the pedal Bb. This system has moved beyond the UK, with many instruments in the style being built by Willson and Hirsbrunner in Switzerland, Miraphone and B&S in Germany, Amati in the Czech Republic, Adams in the Netherlands, Weril in Brazil, Yamaha in Japan, and Kanstul in the US. Rheinesound now offers a model in plastic, your choice of colors.
What is this about a compensating valve system? To lower a brass instrument a half step in pitch, you add 6% to its length. The is the length of the second valve loop. If a euphonium is about 270cm long, then the length to lower it a half step is 16cm. The trouble begins when you add more tubing length with multiple valves. A euphonium with the fourth valve pressed down is now 100cm longer, or 370cm, so the second valve at 16cm is no longer 6% of the overall length. An automatic compensating instrument solves this by routing the air through the fourth valve, then back again through a second airway in the first three valves and then through a second set of slides on the back to add the extra length necessary. Pitch can be very accurate, but resistance and weight can be higher.
The German euphonium is often called the tenor tuba. These are lighter, with a set of 4 or 5 rotary valves. The bell throat may be larger and the instrument a bit taller compared to the British instrument. These share fingering patterns with 5-valve tubas. Advantages include a fast response from the solid rotors, somewhat difficult pitch, and sometimes an uncertain low range. They are the standard instrument for most tenor tuba parts in the orchestra, and this kind of instrument is completely captivating to play. It's a day at the races in a classic car, and it's a lot of fun.
The American euphonium is seen with both top action or front action piston valves, either 3 or 4. They are non-compensating, and may also have front facing bells. Often called "baritones", they are larger than the true English baritone horn, and are more similar in size to a British euphonium. Double bell models had their heyday, with a fifth piston to route your sound to the desired bell, large or small. Few American euphoniums are configured to play the entire chromatic scale down to pedal Bb. If troublesome notes are encountered, the player simply lips it in tune or uses an alternate fingering, perhaps a "false tone". These instruments are now less common in the professional ranks, but look around and you'll see some great players choosing to play an American euphonium. King, Conn, Olds, Holton, York, and others are and were played by Loren Marsteller, Bill Reichenbach, Frank Rosolino, Ashley Alexander, and many soloists over the last century.
On the Gig
Nowadays it seems that you have to show up at the gig with a British compensating euphonium, or you won't be taken seriously. "What if they write low B?", the other low brass players might ask. "You won't be able to play it. Not a low Eb either. Not in tune at least. Nope, it's right out."
My/Steve's response: "Well they won't write it, but if they do, I will play it. In tune."
And it's this sort of (perhaps curmudgeonly) player who will love the King 2280. This player also plays trombone, and might even play bass trombone, preferably of the single valve variety. One who has mastered that instrument knows a bit about slide pulling. Not just the hand slide, but the F slide that you swiftly toss out to E to play the lowest notes. A single valve bass trombone isn't just slippery and slidey because of the obvious, but also because of the movable F attachment. Sometimes it's F, sometimes flat F, sometimes flat E. It depends upon the weather and the orchestrator.
And this player might also like the tubas and euphoniums from Alexander, who on occasion will feature the fifth rotor as a flat half step.
And this player might know the famed Gronitz F tubas with a tri-tone fifth rotor.
And this player might remember Belgian tuning, wherein the third valve is tuned to 2 whole steps, akin to fingering 2-3.
All of these instruments and tuning systems are mental floss for the experienced player, and they are a lot of fun. This player might understand King instruments and the American style. Many of these designs came about as recording became more common in the early twentieth century and throughout the jazz era. They know the style of a King 3B trombone or a Silver Flair trumpet or a King euphonium. King Soloist is an apt name - these are instruments for soloists, and they are made to be heard. And they are heard, even when the band is blazing.
Given the illustrious history of American euphoniums, we thought the King 2280 euphonium was worth a closer look. It has some notable features, very fair pricing and a secret tuning system.
The 2280 shares traits of all these instruments and this American style. It breaks the mold with a larger bore, an adjustable length fourth valve loop, and a spring loaded movable third valve slide. (That sounds like a trumpet feature actually.) The King is a compensating euphonium, but it is a manually compensating euphonium. Its tuning is adjustable on the fly depending upon what range is in focus at the time. You know where we're going here? The fourth valve tunes to something other than a perfect fourth. When you embrace that idea, you can get the entire chromatic scale in tune down to the pedal Bb with only four valves. Only two fingerings are different from the British style automatic compensating system. And you've got a much lighter weight instrument with shorter pistons and an easy way to adjust pitch on any problematic note.
The trick: tune the fourth valve so 1+4 is exactly in tune for low Eb. Play C and F 1-3T, B and E 1-2-3T. Look below and you'll see that from Eb and below, all fingerings are the same as the British automatic compensating system. One player writes that he can switch the top and bottom slides of the King fourth valve for an easy way to lengthen it. Another prefers to pitch the King fourth rotor in Eb by itself (your mileage may vary). There are a lot of options, and you can be creative to tailor your tuning to the music at hand. "What if the music's too fast to move the trigger?" Then it's too fast to hear whether you did or didn't. In that case, don't worry about it.
T = pull third slide T+ = more third slide
Look at you. You played the chromatic scale on fourth valves. When playing the dreaded low B natural, British compensating instrument directs the air through 7 pistons: all 4, plus 3 again. Think of how little resistance you have when blowing through only 4 pistons. (Trombone players think of these sorts of things.) It should be easier and more even. The pistons are shorter, reducing weight even further. Why work harder when you can have a sports car of an instrument? You're the soloist, and you needn't.
This King euphonium is about the same price as a Conn 88H trombone. That makes it more approachable for a lot more players. That says to us: quality. If they can offer a top professional trombone at this price, a similar quality euphonium is an excellent deal.
* Not supported by science.
Comparisons should be made to the Yamaha 321 euphonium (.571" bore, 11" bell, made in PRC), which has been a go to "jobbing horn" for a generation. The Yamaha is very good. In fact, the vintage Yamaha used to allow a long third slide pull to tune to Belgian tuning. Tuned as such, an in tune low C was possible. Sadly, this feature is no longer included. Thus, we think the King offers more:
It is a privilege to support local builders. A healthy society thrives with well paid artisans and craftsmen amongst us. By choosing a US-made King instrument, you are encouraging exactly that. And you don't have to spend any more to do it.
All claims proven by tests.
I/Steve wrote the above text in a moment of enthusiasm, but we didn't have one of these Kings on hand to really put it through its paces. Now we do, having found a lightly used model to play around with.
This is a very nice instrument. The tone is lively and full. The response is fast, the pitch is good, the construction is top notch. Though mostly made of brass, all the outer slides and some bracing is made of nickel. First, third and main slides have water keys.
I tried out the tuning options and learned a great deal:
Fourth valve in F: You can play this just like any other non-compensating euphonium with the fourth valve tuned so C and F are in tune. The low Eb 1-2-4 will be off, but the other notes, especially low Db and C, can be right on by throwing the third slide trigger. That's something the Yamaha can't do.
Fourth valve in flat F: With the lower fourth slide pulled about 3", low Eb can be played 1-4, and it's right in tune. It's very satisfying to play a low Eb right on, and it bursts right out of the horn. Nice. Low D 1-2-4 is right on, low Db 2-3-4T with the trigger is fine, but you can also play the Db 1-3-4 with no trigger and it's also right on. The low C can work as 1-3-4T with trigger, but it's more satisfying 1-2-3-4 with no trigger. The low B is not quite there unless you lip it a little.
There are a few drawbacks to this setup. The main one is avoiding the use of the fourth valve by itself, since it's no longer in tune with anything. The other is that you'll need to use the trigger. For all 1-3 and 1-2-3 notes you'll need to pull the trigger, as the third slide can't be left out a bit longer to compensate. The trigger spring is fairly strong; I wish it weren't so. If it had a trumpet third slide stop, I could adjust the slide in and out with little effort needed. The last drawback is that some of the patterns become awkward in the low range, like this little pattern:
A Difficult Pattern
If you're really trying to master the low range, the awkwardness of the above pattern might discourage you. The trouble is that the fourth piston button feels like it's in the way if I'm only fingering 1-3 or 1-2-3. If it was mounted on the side of the horn like a compensating euphonium, this would be less of an issue.
Fourth valve in E: If you reverse the two F slide crooks and insert them all the way, then the fourth valve is tuned to E. It's a whole different fingering system
The first drawback to this E setup is the long slide pull. If you have the long fourth slide on the bottom pulled out, it may fall out, or perhaps bump your leg and add grease to your pants. If you reverse the slides so the long pull is on top, you can no longer set the horn down on its bell: the slide sticks out above the bell. Forget this and you have a big dent in your fourth slide crook. Speaking of which, a digression: Even without the extended fourth slide, this horn does not stand well on its bell. Maybe it's the 11" diameter, or the fourth valve loop so far to the outside of the horn. Whatever the reason, you'll have to lean this horn against your chair or the wall if you wish to stand it up. /End of digression. The last drawback is the completely different fingering system in the low range. It can be learned in short order, and it matches some bass_trombone_in_E positions, but it's not a natural system I'm fluent with.
Fourth valve in Eb: If you reverse the fourth slides and pull them to their extremes, you can tune the fourth valve to Eb by itself.
The low notes all settle in pretty well without any trigger added. And let me say this: Low Eb played on one .600" valve is completely captivating. I want to play it again and again. Loud. This pattern makes a bit more sense to me than the above Fourth_in_E pattern, but of course, your mileage may vary. The drawbacks still include having to play 1-3 and 1-2-3 with that fourth piston button sort of in the way, and also not being able to set your horn down on the bell due to the extended fourth slide.
I like this King 2280 euphonium a lot. It's more open and weightier with a broader tone than the Yamaha 321. It's easier to tune in one way or another for the occasional low C. I can use a large shank mouthpiece that I like. It's made in the USA and the price is very fair. If you must_have an automatic compensating British style instrument, you'll pay a lot more, or you'll get something made in China with its own set of problems. If you prefer a euphonium without the compensating setup, the King is very playable and should be at the top of your list.
About the Model 2280
The King 2280 is an excellent intermediate, non-compensating euphonium that produces a great overall sound. The spring-loaded 3rd slide and extra long 4th pull slide allow for extended range and aid intonation adjustments. Top-action, nickel plated pistons provide smooth, quick action and unmatched durability.
King "Legend" - .580" primary bore, 4 valve top action, .600" bore through 4th valve, 11" upright bell, nickel plated pistons, nickel silver outside tubes, spring-loaded 3rd slide with adjustable finger ring, extra long 4th pull slide, lacquer or silver-plated finish, Marcellus mouthpiece, 7619C plastic shell case.
-King Musical Instrument Catalog, 2015