top of page

CSO York Tubas

It all started with the prestigious conductor Leopold Stokowski from the Philadelphia Orchestra.  Mr. Stokowski was known for being a progressive conductor and experimented with different instrumentation, lighting, and sound concepts.  During his tenure, he eventually sought a larger bass presence for the orchestra and suggested the tuba player Mr. Philip Donatelli obtain an instrument more pipe organ-like in scope and breadth.  Mr. Donatelli consulted with the York Band Instrument Company which had already been making instruments for nearly 50 years and established a reputation for their remarkable bass instrument quality. 

The result of the consultation produced two custom CC tubas that were larger than the standard 4/4 York 692 model CC tubas in overall size, and keyed valves.  The first of these two 6/4 CC tubas went to Mr. Donatelli, and the second was sold to the University of Oklahoma. Accounts vary as to why Donatelli got rid of this York tuba.  Some sources say it was uncomfortable for Donatelli to hold, yet another source claims that Eugene Ormandy badgered Donatelli due to professional differences. Regardless, Donatelli sold the York tuba to Arnold Jacobs, his student at Curtis Institute of Music.  Coincidentally, Donatelli helped Jacobs acquire the second York tuba after spotting it at the University of Oklahoma at a performance.

Mr. Jacobs continued playing his custom built CC York tuba in the Indianapolis Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, and finally in the Chicago Symphony. During his tenure with the CSO, Mr. Jacob's tuba playing came to define modern symphonic tuba sound.  Since the York company was sold in 1940 and primarily making student horns, no other tubas of this caliber were manufactured or could be created for a new generation.   Mr. Jacobs set about to consult with different companies on reproducing an instrument that mirrored his York.  Jacobs eventually purchased the other CC York tuba from the University of Oklahoma.


Early attempts at copying the 6/4 York tubas were made by Holton.  Other private attempts were made by taking York model 91 tubas and shortening their length and adding newer valve sets to recreate the York sound.  In the early 80's, Hirsbrunner was able to make an almost exact copy of Jacob's original York tuba.  The Nirshl company eventually copied the other York CC tuba from the Universty of Oklahoma with the help of Floyd Cooley. Mr. Cooley was able to measure it during a rotation through the CSO.  Hirsbrunner eventually obtained the measurements to this other tuba in 1995 and switched their production to copy that design.

Arnold Jacobs eventually sold both original York tubas to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in retirement where they are still currently being played with the orchestra.  Today, band manufacturers from around the world continue to try and recreate the York tuba sound by making copies of these famous tubas.

Fast Facts:

  • The two tubas were made in 1933 & 1935 according to the serials.

  • They were the first practical 4 valve plus 1 rotor CC tubas made.

  • The 5th rotor valve was originally a CC/BBb quick change.

  • The first York lost its original lead pipe from a repair error, so Mr. Jacobs played on the second factory York in later years with the CSO as his primary concert horn.

  • The 5th valve was accidentally replaced on Jacob's first York tuba and is not original today.

  • The original Jacob's York tuba was copied by Hirsbrunner, but only after it was severely damaged then repaired in Switzerland.

  • The second York tuba from the University of Oklahoma has an original lead pipe and 5th valve and is the primary concert horn that was sold to the CSO in 1988.

  • Jacobs held on to his original York until 1996, but then sold it to the CSO.


A Fascinating look at Arnold Jacobs & his teaching.  Please buy!


bottom of page