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J W Pepper

The Pepper Difference

A History of Service: Pepper Instruments

July 12, 2016


You won’t see a lot of Pepper instruments out in the world these days. All told, the company only manufactured instruments for less than 30 years. During that time, however, Pepper led the way in innovation, creating new accessories, perfecting techniques, and even inventing a new instrument. While we are not known for our instruments today, manufacturing and sales of brass, string, woodwind, and percussion instruments and accessories were a key part of the foundation of J.W. Pepper.



“Premier” Series Sax

Pepper began factory operations in the early 1880s with the Superior First Class line of instruments. This line was made in collaboration with Henri Distin, a celebrated brass instrument manufacturer out of London, England. Distin continued working with Pepper throughout the 1880s and ‘90s, contributing to some of the most popular lines of instruments. In 1888, Pepper also brought in Alexander LeForrestier to be the superintendent of bell making. The combined efforts of these experts and J.W. Pepper himself earned the company several high honors over the decade that followed, including the highest medal and diploma for craftsmanship at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1883.


drum patent

Early Drum Patent [Click to Expand]


“Premier” Series Drums

During that period, the company was a bastion of innovation. Between 1880 and 1900, the company filed a number of different patents for both instruments and musical accessories. In 1892, Pepper acquired the Excelsior Drum Factory – another manufacturer in the city of Philadelphia – which led to the well-known Excelsior trade name. Pepper produced one of the earliest drum pedals, patenting the design in 1894. The concept of double drumming – that is, playing a bass and a snare at the same time – was in its infancy at the time, and Pepper’s pedal contributed to what has now become a percussion standard.



Original Sousaphone

Perhaps Pepper’s most recognizable creation was a modified helicon called the sousaphone. Conceived by John Philip Sousa himself, the instrument was originally intended for concert use. Sousa expressed a desire for a bass instrument with an upturned bell in a conversation with J.W. Pepper, who named the instrument after the famous band leader out of gratitude. The very first sousaphone ever created now resides in Pepper’s corporate headquarters in Exton, Pennsylvania. The story of how it disappeared and made its way back home is a fascinating one.



“Makers” Series Banjo

In 1910, J.W. Pepper & Son ceased producing instruments and shifted entirely to importing them from Europe. While the time Pepper spent manufacturing was short in comparison to the company’s 140-year history, those days have nevertheless left a deep imprint on both the company and the musical world.


See more on our 140th Anniversary Interactive Timeline.

Read the rest of our A History of Service Series:

The Pepper Catalog

The Pepper Website

Editors’ Choice














The Pepper Difference

J.W. Pepper and the Birth of the Sousaphone

July 1, 2015



On the field, in the stands, or on the street, the Sousaphone is one of the most recognizable instruments in the world. Now a staple of show bands and parades, the instrument had its start in the late 1800s as a piece in John Philip Sousa’s Peerless Concert Band. As the name suggests, Sousa himself conceived the instrument, but the identity of the original manufacturer of the Sousaphone was disputed between C.G. Conn and J.W. Pepper.

That is, until now. A wealth of newly gathered evidence has proven that the first Sousaphone was manufactured by none other than J.W. Pepper. Much of this information was gathered through the efforts of Dave Detwiler. Mr. Detwiler is the pastor at LCBC Church in Harleysville, PA, as well as a lifelong music history enthusiast and a tuba player in the Montgomery County Community Band. His love of the tuba family of instruments is what led him to investigate the history of the Sousaphone.


Herman Conrad, the first Sousaphone player

Two key pieces of evidence are firsthand accounts: one from Sousa and one from Herman Conrad, the first Sousaphone player in history. The earliest, a quote from Conrad, was found by Don Johnson, the foremost collector of J.W. Pepper memorabilia. The letter, dated October 14, 1895, three years before Conn’s first Sousaphone was produced, makes this mention of the instrument:

“The Sousaphone has become the talk of the town and gains in reputation daily. The Sousaphone is a splendid instrument. It is well in tune and has a wonderful carrying power. The photographs of the Sousaphone are in the windows of one of the principal music stores in Olive Street (St. Louis), which is the street of this city, and are a great attraction.”

While this quote on its own does not prove that Pepper made the instrument, it is supportive of the timeline our company has stood by. There is more direct evidence, however, and it comes in the form of a quote directly from the composer himself, John Philip Sousa. Featured in the August 30, 1922 edition of the Christian Science Monitor is an article where Sousa discusses the creation of the instrument, saying,

“The Sousaphone received its name through a suggestion made by me to J. W. Pepper, the instrument manufacturer of Philadelphia, fully 30 odd years ago…I spoke to Mr. Pepper relative to constructing a bass instrument in which the bell would turn upwards and be adjustable for concert purposes. He built one and, grateful to me for the suggestion, called it the Sousaphone.”

rusty sousa

The original Sousaphone as it looked at the time of its rediscovery.

The controversy settled, the only mystery left to solve was the whereabouts of the original horn. That part of the story skips over 70 years from when the original Sousaphone mysteriously disappeared, to its miraculous discovery in 1973 by a man named John Bailey.

In 1973, Bailey had recently graduated from West Chester State College and was traveling with his mother and sister to a local flea market in Adamstown, PA. At the market, he noticed an old three-valve “rain catcher” Sousaphone. Recognizing the possible historical significance of the instrument, he purchased it for $50 with the intention of refurbishing it. The Sousaphone would then sit in storage for 18 years before Bailey found time to polish it. When he did, what he found was a shock.

On the horn of the instrument, a series of engravings told the story of a pioneering instrument made especially for Sousa. In fact, John Philip Sousa’s face appears engraved on the bell in recognition of his design. He then contacted J.W. Pepper & Son, Inc., who quickly jumped at the chance to purchase the instrument, finally bringing it home after almost a hundred years missing.


Dave Detwiler playing the original Sousaphone

This brings the story back to Dave Detwiler. Mr. Detwiler approached Pepper with the idea of playing the original Sousaphone in concert for what would likely be the first time in over a century and J.W. Pepper wholeheartedly agreed. To prepare the instrument to be played, they brought it to Steve Dillon and Matt Walters of Dillon Music, both experts in the field of instrument repair and the care of antique instruments. Through their hard work the original Sousaphone was returned to perfect playing order.

And play it did. In Mr. Detwiler’s able hands, the original Sousaphone joined the Montgomery County Community Band in concert on May 3, 2015. You can watch clips of the concert, parts of the repair process, and the full interview with Dave Detwiler at the top of this blog post or on J.W. Pepper’s YouTube channel.


Pepper is now the place to go for Music Apparel!

March 20, 2014


You have always known us as the top sheet music retailer in the nation, and we know you will find our apparel section to be everything you’ve come to expect from J.W. Pepper.  We have a wide range of styles for you to choose from, so it’s easy to find a shirt that’s right for you.  From Muddy Waters to One Direction, we have whatever you are looking for.  Shirts make great gifts for your music-loving friends, so here’s a look at the musical genres that begat some of our favorite products.

Rock and Roll
The significance of rock and roll is difficult to overstate.  In a time when globalization was just beginning to bud, rock and roll was one of the first art forms to have a truly global reach.  In the 50s and 60s, young people on both sides of the Atlantic and even into Soviet Russia and Japan took part in the music revolution that brought us from sock hops to love-ins and beyond, sparking the beginning of a shared global identity that is still growing today.  Among the most ubiquitous bands of the first two decades of rock and roll were the Beatles.  We have a lot of great Beatles shirts to choose from as well as apparel from a ton of other rock and roll giants like Rush, Journey, the Eagles, and Foo Fighters.


The first truly American art form, jazz was also notable for the fact that it was created and driven by the United States’ minority African-American population.  Rooted in the old Negro spirituals sung in the days when slavery was still a blight on our nation, early jazz and blues told the stories of disenfranchised blacks still fighting for the promise of freedom while also presenting the lively, fun atmosphere of a vibrant community that could not be kept down by injustice.  One of the most influential jazz musicians of all time was saxophonist John Coltrane.  He helped spread jazz to the masses in the post-war world.  Around the same time, Muddy Waters was also a standard-bearer of jazz’s growing popularity.  Without them and other jazz pioneers like them, American culture would never have become what it is.

Among the most iconic locations in the world, few can match the volume of hopes and dreams risked in the theaters of Broadway.  For such a short stretch of road, it carries with it more history than some entire cities could dream of.  Many of the greatest stories ever told came to the public in the theaters on Broadway, and the center of the theater world shows no sign of slowing down.  We have shirts from some of the most popular Broadway musicals, including Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, both record-breaking shows.

The popularity of Christian music is making a resurgence with a number of Christian bands making their way into the mainstream.  That’s not terribly surprising considering over 75% of Americans identify as Christians.  Pepper is introducing a wide range of shirts that explore the many positive messages put forth by Christianity.  Best known, of course, is the text of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son.”  Another favorite comes from 1 Corinthians:  “For now there are faith, hope, and love.  But of these three, the greatest is love.”  A shirt is a great way to strike up a conversation about faith and share what is in your heart with others.


Pop is everywhere, but that’s kind of the point.  At one time or another, most of our favorite genres were pop in a manner of speaking.  Yes, even classical had a sort of pop status in the 1700-1800s.  Mozart was the Jim Morrison of his time, if Jim Morrison’s hair was white, puffy, and also a wig.  These days, our pop stars tend to still be individuals who rise above the competition and, sometimes, their own band members.  Adam Levine of Maroon 5 is a great example of this.  Equally as big is his co-host on The Voice, Usher.  Of course, we have shirts from all your favorite pop stars, so if you’re looking for a concert t-shirt or just something to wear to class, we have you covered!

The greatest music never really goes away.  In a hundred years, our children’s children will still hear Beethoven and Mozart in movies and on TV, whether they realize it or not.  With the many different genres in music filling the airwaves these days, it sometimes seems like the world has no time for classical.  That’s not the case, though.  In fact, appreciation of classical music is as strong as it has been in years, with countless school orchestras, bands, and choirs keeping the old favorites alive while mixing it in with the great music of the present.  To prove it, we have a number of shirts celebrating classical music and classical composers in styles you will love.  Keep the past alive!


Our Pepper Apparel section is backed by the same great guarantee as our music and accessories.  We ship quickly, with most orders going out the same day they are ordered, and everything is backed by our 100% Satisfaction Guarantee.  That’s something you won’t find anywhere but with Pepper.


Pepper is at the 2014 TMEA Convention

February 4, 2014

TMEA 2014Come visit Pepper at the 2014 Texas Music Educators Association Clinic/Convention and experience unparalleled professional growth, inspiration, and motivation.  With over 300 workshops for band, orchestra, vocal, elementary, and college educators, there is something for everyone.  Attendees will have the opportunity to enjoy more than 60 concerts from the state’s finest musicians, including 13 TMEA All-State ensembles.

Pepper will be in booths 3406, 3408, 3410, and 3412.  Be sure you come by to see us and grab a Free Shipping coupon.  We are also sponsoring the Elementary Publishers’ Showcase for BriLee, Heritage, and Alfred, so don’t miss it!

We look forward to seeing you there!

Music Advocacy

Band Camp: A Crash Course in Life Skills

August 15, 2013

Band CampFor some, band camp has concluded and the school year is underway;  for others, camp is in full swing, complete with marching and maneuvering basics, sectional rehearsals, and color guard catches.  The tail end of summer is an intense time for marching ensembles, a time that sometimes finds parents and new marching students a bit surprised by the level of commitment asked of them.  There are compelling reasons, however, to put aside other activities until November (or so) and make room for the full-time commitment marching band requires.

It’s good for you:

Being a marching musician is hard physical work.  The stamina it takes just to hold a baritone horn at attention for more than a couple minutes helps develop strength, endurance, and a willingness to muscle through tough tasks.  Building enough cardiovascular strength to dash around a football field for ten minutes straight while using every iota of breath to push notes through an instrument is something no other school activity can duplicate.  Marching music is a true marriage of artistry and athleticism a student will find nowhere else.

Lasting friendships:

Even into their adult years, many musicians who participated in marching band can cite countless treasured memories from the time they spent in their school ensemble.  For many, a band reunion would hold far more meaning than a class reunion, because in band, students find like-minded friends who work together as a team.  As a bonus, the students in band tend to be high-achieving members of the teen population, which puts kids in good long-term company.  Studies show that people who engage in healthy long-term friendships enjoy success in other life areas as well.

A commitment to the greater good:

It’s easy for teens (and adults) to become “me-centric” in a society that encourages a constant jockeying for the spotlight.  In marching band, students learn to operate as an integral part of the whole.  They must execute their individual roles to the best of their possible ability, but always with a mind toward how their instrument’s voice fits with the ensemble and how their positions on the field contribute to (or detract from) the form.  A willingness to sacrifice, to make it to rehearsal even when you don’t feel like it, or to help that struggling freshman instills skills of buy-in and empathy that will serve students in any field they might choose to pursue in their adult lives.


The western world has become a padded and fluffy place where failure has taken on an ill-founded bad name.  When a student is charging across the yard lines to make a set, playing the hardest passage of music she has ever learned, and praying her shoe doesn’t come off in the mud, she might just run into a mishap.  But because there’s an entire ensemble moving on whether she has her shoe or not, she must learn the skill of recovery.  Mistakes are inevitable.  Students have the choice when errors come along to implode or to recover, and a marching ensemble has an uncanny way of demanding the mistake-maker get ‘back with the program’ quickly and seamlessly.  The recurring theme of life skills a student can learn in marching band plays yet another refrain.

Though the hours spent in rehearsal become countless, the miles on the road to football games and competitions burn more tanks of gas than imaginable, and the emotional energy required to put on the best possible performance time after time may sometimes seem overwhelming, the emotional, physical, and relational gains that come from a full commitment to a marching ensemble are equally immeasurable.  When all is said and done in November, you can count on even the most initially-reluctant student to miss band until it ramps up again next summer.

Resources you might enjoy to help your marching musicians achieve:

Leadership Success by Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser, Pat Sheridan, Jon Gomez, and Scott Lang

Marching Bands and Drumlines by Paul Byer

Music Advocacy

“I Love the J.W. Pepper!”

July 2, 2013
"I love the J.W. Pepper"

"I love the J.W. Pepper" - click to enlarge

“I love the J.W. Pepper!”  –  quite possibly the best testimonial we have had the pleasure of receiving from a customer – or perhaps future customer.  This was only one of many wonderful things Eddie from Godfrey Elementary School in Wyoming, Michigan had to say about J.W. Pepper in a letter he wrote to us shortly after being crowned the winner of our Music in Our Schools Month coloring contest and receiving his prize – a box of music games for his school. 

Pepper of Michigan has hosted this contest every March for the past four years as a means of advocating and celebrating music education.  The contest has grown exponentially each year, resulting in over 1,100 submissions in 2013!  We lovingly hang the colorful array of tubas, pianos, harps, trumpets, conductors and music notes up on our store walls as they come pouring in so that all who walk through the doors can enjoy them.  It brings us great joy to see how creative and imaginative the kids who submit coloring pages to us can be.  Oftentimes, the outline of the image meant to be colored serves only as a conduit for the child’s creative vision and we’ll see an entire orchestra drawn around a conductor, an intricate pattern drawn on a harp player’s gown, or in Eddie’s case – an electric guitar so spectacularly decorated that Les Paul would have nodded his head in approval. 

As you can imagine, the process of narrowing all of these wonderful submissions down to select just one winner is a pretty tough task, but also quite rewarding.  Heartwarming exclamations of “I love music,” “Music is my life,” and “My music teacher is my favorite” can be seen on many of the pages we receive. 

Eddie's winning guitar

Eddie's winning guitar - click to enlarge

We can only imagine how wonderful the teachers themselves must feel when it comes time to collect their students’ work, and they see for themselves what a difference they’re making in the lives of these children.  Music in Our Schools Month is not only a way to raise awareness, but is a celebration of the hard work and dedication that music teachers give on a daily basis.  That same hard work and dedication is reflected in the incredible work of these music students who are inspired by their teachers, and also by music.  We can think of no better advocates!

A huge “Thank you!” goes out to Eddie’s music teacher, Dawn Downing, for taking the time to send Eddie’s letter as well as some pictures of the two of them opening their box of games.  Most of all, thank you for being such an inspiration! 

For your enjoyment, here is Eddie’s beautiful guitar and a copy of the letter he sent to us.


The Hottest Pop Sheet Music of 2012

December 31, 2012

The world of popular music comprises some pretty volatile terrain.  What seems fresh and exciting one moment is old news the next.  We hear stories from music directors and private teachers about how students are begging to perform the latest hit from Katy Perry one moment, and then something from One Direction the next.  Dare we ask how many requests you’ve gotten for Gangnam Style by now?  However, here’s some news that might surprise you – sheet music for the likes of Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby and Vince Guaraldi is just as in demand as that of Lady Gaga and The Band Perry.  Don’t believe us?  Take a look at some of the top-selling sheets of 2012.

Adele, Billboard’s Artist of the Year for the second year in a row, resides high in the top rankings with the following:

However, we think you’ll agree, the rest of 2012’s top hits are quite diverse:

  • The Prayer – Celine Dion/Andrea Bocelli – 5725015
  • A Thousand Years – Christina Perri –10304903
  • Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth – Bing Crosby/David Bowie – 10190790
  • Blessings – Laura Story – 10290394
  • What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong – 4921375
  • Bless the Broken Road – Rascal Flatts – 5990069
  • We Are Young – Fun. – 10309306
  • If I Die Young – The Band Perry – 10186774
  • Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen – 10054618
  • Linus and Lucy – Vince Guaraldi – 5968910
  • The Edge of Glory – Lady Gaga – 10288478
  • I Can Only Imagine – MercyMe – 5980737
  • The Devil Went Down to Georgia – Charlie Daniels Band – 10001291
  • What Makes You Beautiful – One Direction – 10317015
  • Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen – 6077515
  • God Gave Me You – Blake Shelton – 10294564
  • Over the Rainbow – Harold Arlen – 4919759 and American Idol Katharine McPhee’s version – 10023749
  • Paradise – Coldplay – 10299117

Oh, and speaking of Gangnam Style – never fear, we’ve got you covered! – 10343323E, 10347638E, 10343492 (Marching band), 10343719 (Concert band)


Top 2012 Customer Picks for Choir and Band

December 21, 2012

Top Picks for ChoralOur editors have their work cut out for them when choosing which titles to include in our Editors’ Choice series each year.  We did some digging to find out which titles Pepper customers favored this past year and were pleased to see that, for the most part, you liked what we liked.  Here is a list of the top 10 picks for both band and choir music, amongst you, our customers!

For Choir:

  1. Firework – Katy Perry, arr. Alan Billingsley – 10274183
  2. O Come All Ye Faithful – arr. Dan Forrest – 10312016
  3. All on a Silent Night – Becki Slagle Mayo – 10307377
  4. How Great Our Joy! – arr. Craig Courtney – 10312008
  5. Blessings – Laura Story, arr. Heather Sorenson – 10292259
  6. Jar of Hearts – Christina Perri, arr. Andy Beck – 10288773
  7. Tshotsholoza – arr. Jeffery L. Ames – 10276407
  8. If I Only Had a Brain – Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg, arr. Sally Albrecht – 10274821
  9. Earth Song – Frank Ticheli – 10027720
  10. Baba Yetu – Christopher Tin – 10277920

Top Picks for Band
For Band:

  1. Foundry – John Mackey – 10282825
  2. Jungle Dance – Brain Balmages – 10279417
  3. The Seal Lullaby – Eric Whitacre – 10281862
  4. Dynamite – Taio Cruz, arr. Victor Lopez – 10279716
  5. Above and Beyond – James Swearingen – 10280771
  6. Rolling in the Deep – Adele Adkins, arr. James Kazik – 10299425
  7. Firework – Katy Perry, arr. Michael Story – 10279776
  8. Ignition – Todd Stalter – 10280022
  9. Aces of the Air March – Karl King, arr. James Swearingen – 10280589
  10. Blue and Green Music – Samuel R. Hazo – 10281804

Were your top picks for 2012 included in the lists above?  Tell us YOUR favorites!


Veterans Day 2012

November 8, 2012

Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

  • On November 11, 1918, the fighting for World War I actually stopped on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month bringing an end to what was called “The War to End All Wars.”
  • World War I, known as at the time as “The Great War,” officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.
  • In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day.
  • On June 4, 1926, the United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution.
  • Another act, approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November a legal holiday.  This was to be a day dedicated to world peace and to be known as Armistice Day.
  • As World War II and then the Korean War followed, on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars, now known as Veterans Day.
  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first Veterans Day Proclamation on October 8, 1954.
  • The Uniform Holiday Bill, which was intended to give federal employees several three-day weekends, was signed on June 28, 1968, moving the observance of Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October.
  • On September 25, 1971, President Gerald R. Ford signed a law returning the annual observance of Veterans Day to November 11, beginning in 1978.

As the son of a World War II Army veteran, I am extremely proud of my father, and all veterans, for the sacrifices he endured.  To this day, he presents inspiring programs and musical concerts to his community, constantly stressing the importance of this day and this great country.

On behalf of the entire J.W. Pepper family, we thank all veterans for your sacrifice and dedication to this great country.  If you encounter a veteran or an individual currently serving in the military, please take a moment to thank them for everything they have done – or are currently doing – to ensure future freedoms for us all.

Read more about the history of Veterans Day, from The Department of Veteran Affairs.

The Pepper Difference

Our National Customer Service Center

October 19, 2012

Ever wonder who’s on the other end of your phone call, email, fax, or mail order when you contact J.W. Pepper?  Ever wonder who staffs these areas for 12 ½ hours a day and 10 hours on Saturdays?  We are extremely fortunate to have many dedicated employees with a lot of experience, passion and drive to help you with your music needs.

When the department was created in the fall of 1981, most orders were placed through the mail, which was quickly enhanced by toll-free phone calls.  Now emails and web orders drive a large portion of our business.

The WATS (Wide Area Telephone Service) department years later became Service Assurance, which placed a stronger emphasis on customer service.  The current name, Customer Service Representatives (better known as CSR), handles all different types of customer orders, issues, and details.  No matter what the name, the focus has always remained the same:  to provide the best customer service experience possible.

Our staff members come into the department with solid musical education, music experience or customer service backgrounds.  With thirty-two people split between our Paoli, Pennsylvania and Grand Rapids, Michigan offices, we collectively have just shy of 300 total years’ worth of experience!  It takes eleven shifts and sixteen lunch periods to maximize their available time for customers.  At peak times of the year, employees from our national headquarters and Regional Marketing Centers provide additional support to manage the spikes in customer contact volume.

When you need us, we are available Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time, and on Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time at 1-800-345-6296.  However, reaching us 24/7 through,, voicemail or by fax at 1-800-260-1482 are always additional options.

In addition to total customer coverage, the department handles many different tasks, all relating to customer service.  We interface with customers through phone calls, mail, fax, voicemail, emails, web orders, technical support, library orders, Wingert-Jones Publishing and our latest venture,

So the next time you contact us, we hope this gives you a better picture of the diverse demands our customer service representatives are prepared to handle, all in the interest of serving you, our customer.