So, You Want To Buy a Horn

Dr. Eldon Matlick
Horn Professor, University of Oklahoma
Principal Hornist, OK City Philharmonic
500 W Boyd
Norman, OK 73019
(405) 325-4093 off. (405) 325-7574 fax
Conn-Selmer Educational Artist

Recommended brands:
Holton (Farkas 179, 180; H-188, H-105, H-190, H-191, Merker 175)
Conn (8D, 8DY, 8DR, 10D, 10DR, 11D, and 11DR)
King (Eroica)
Yamaha (667, 667V, 668, 668V)

Hoyer (6801 - Kruspe wrap; 6801K - Geyer wrap)
Alexander (103, 200)
Paxman (25, 23; the most popular bell sizes are L or A)

Englebert Schmid


It really all depends on what you are looking for. Domestic instruments, as well as some foreign instruments, are massed produced. This means that during a manufacturing run, many instruments are coming off the assembly line in close succession. With regard to domestic makers, this is even more so as demand for instruments is greater than supply so there may be a waiting period for delivery of instruments. Thus, the manufacturer is concerned with meeting up with the supply. This means that there is not enough time to detail out the instrument, making sure that slides and valves are fitted properly or are in good alignment. When buying a new massed produced instrument, often the instrument will need a professional preparation, to bring it up to normal standards. It is an unfortunate circumstance, but often this is a common fact nowadays.

Some mass produced instruments, such as the Conn 8D, have had a storied history. At certain times during their manufacture, these instruments were of superior quality and have many desired response traits. If one of these instruments is available for sale, the asking price will be significantly higher than that of a new instrument. Thus, a good quality domestic instrument may increase in value over time, provided that it is well maintained.

To be sure, some foreign makers may have more quality control because they do not put out the mass volume that domestic makers do. However, consistency between instruments may be more varied. It is a caveat that the buyer must beware of this fact.

Prestige horns are those that are produced by master craftsmen in limited quantities. Because the manufacture of these instruments are labor intensive, limited numbers are produced each year. Often one must wait 2 years or more on delivery of one of these instruments. The price tag is as significant as one would expect, often more than 2-3 times the cost of a mass-produced instrument. What you get for your money is a work of art that is carefully assembled and has been designed with the discriminating player in mind. Some manufacturers have gone great lengths to study acoustics and produce an instrument with the utmost ease and efficiency of performance in mind. These limited edition instruments will appreciate in value and become highly prized instruments.

It is not necessary for a novice, or either a student to obtain one of these instruments. It is a significant investment. Only competitive players or established hornists whom desire a special kind of instrument to fit their particular style or concept of playing will truly appreciate, or need such an instrument.


Initially, standard brands (domestic) are usually the best choice. Do you have a firm concept of the tone/sound you wish to develop? The person with whom you study may influence this. If you do not study with anyone, listen to a variety of recordings and decide which artists you would most like to emulate. You may wish to choose an instrument more along the design of the instrument that person uses. However, this is not always the best way to choose the instrument that best fits your needs.

Moreover, more important questions need to be addressed. Such questions could be:

What is what you are specifically looking for in an instrument?
Are you trying to develop a particular sound?
Do you want to get the same kind of instrument as used by your section mates so as to create a better blend?
Are you wishing to pursue a particular kind of timbre to your sound (dark, or bright)?
Are you wanting a particular resistance (or not) in the playing characteristics of the instrument?
Are you looking for an instrument that may ease the execution of performance in a certain range?
Do you need an instrument with more dependable/predictable intonation?
Are you wishing to get an instrument with the idea of using it in a specific ensemble medium?
Are you wishing to get an instrument similar to those instruments used by local pros/teachers?
Are you wishing to get an instrument to fit in with your section?
Do you desire to get an instrument that will allow you freedom for solo work?
Astute teachers will make an instrument recommendation based on knowledge of instrument brands, as well as the playing characteristics of the student and student desires. In the absence of this, it would be well advised for the novice to contact someone whose expertise is unquestioned, such as an area teacher or professional.

There are also physiological factors that need to be considered when purchasing an instrument:

Musician's stature
Hand size/grasp
Physical strength
Breathing capacity
For instance a person who is small in stature, with very small hands may find that an open wrap, large throated instrument may be too unwieldy.

If you have an instrument and are looking to switch to another instrument, a more inexpensive solution is to have your existing instrument modified. Many quality makers will opt to customize/refurbish an existing instrument. Those modifications that are most often done are:

Valve work. Tightening up the valve compression by swedging the bearings or in severe cases, replating the valves.
New leadpipe. This will change the response and overtone alignment of the instrument.
New bell flare. This will change the timbre and the response of the instrument.
New mouthpiece. Maybe experimenting with a more efficient or better-designed mouthpiece is warranted.


This is how the tubing within the body of the instrument is bent/turned. This determines the freedom of blowing, or resistance, of the instrument. The more open (less sharp bends of tubing) the wrap, the less resistant the instrument will feel. Thus, it will take more energy (air) to control the instrument. Conversely, the more compact the coil along with sharper tubing bends, the easier it will be to fill up and the easier it may be to negotiate the upper register.

Open wrap horns:
King Eroica
Conn 8D types
Geyer/Knopf types of all manufacture
Paxman 23

Closed wrap horns
Holton Farkas and Merker models
Paxman 25
Alexander 103
Hoyer 6801


The larger the bell throat, the "darker" the tone that is emitted from the instrument. Also, a large throat bell will seem to play more freely, with less constriction. The sound emitted from a large throated instrument is more diffuse, so the player needs to drive the tone to its destination with a very dense, thick, slow air column. Large throated instruments keep the tone intact at a much higher sound pressure level In other words, it is much harder to produce an edgy sound on such and instrument. Also critics of these instruments state that large bell horns sound more dull in the hall.

Small-throated bells tend to compact/compress the sound for a more efficient tonal projection. Many people desire the brightness and the more centered sound is desirable, allowing a vibrant and present sound in the hall. Though these take getting used to, advocates state that they are easier to play. However, this compactness of sound has a tendency to be bright or harsh sounding. Though smaller throated horns are easier to obtain subtle shadings of tone, they are more apt to produce a 'whiney' sound, if the player's oral cavity is too closed. Likewise, such an instrument can develop an edgy sound rather quickly.


Nickel Silver - This is a harder metal that is very durable. The metal generates a more brilliant, bright tone. This harder metal has great projection. Finishes tend to last longer on a Nickel horn, plus the harder metal is more durable, but harder to repair.

Yellow Brass - This is a softer metal than Nickel Silver, thus it dents more easily. The brass metal tends to edge out more quickly than other alloys. Because the metal is softer, it will enhance lower overtones; thus it will sound darker. If you had two identical instruments, one silver and one brass, the brass would sound darker.

This is why small-throated horns are usually made of brass. The brass alloy tempers the compact sound coming from the small bell. Conversely, nickel instruments are made with larger bell throats. The open throat tempers the higher overtones generated by the harder nickel alloy.

Gold Brass - Sometimes this is designated as Red (Rose) brass. This metal has a higher copper content, thus the reddish hue of the metal. This alloy is even softer and denser (heavier) than regular brass. The resonance enhances the lower overtones, thus the metal alloy makes the instrument very dark sounding. Because of its denseness, the metal does not allow the tone to edge out as quickly as yellow brass. However, the metal has a much longer start up time, with regard to response. Thus, the player needs to articulate much more distinctly and crisply to get attacks clean and on time in the concert hall.

Ambronze - This is a very soft, dense metal that was first used by Walter Lawson. It is a very heavy metal that has a significantly slow start up time on the attacks. The metal offers a very dark, pure sound that carries very well in the concert hall.

Nickel Bronze - This is a mixture of Ambronze and Nickel alloys used by Walter Lawson. This combines the best of both features of the two alloys. The nickel alloy gives strength and hardness to the metal, which helps in projection and tone color. Sometimes this material is referred to as 'Pink Champagne' because of its distinctive hue.


The leadpipe partially controls the general tubing, or pitch of the horn by its length, which can be altered. The length of the mouthpiece and the distance it enters the mouthpiece receiver also affects pitch and the timbre of sound. If it enters too far, the sound will be harsh and unfocused: if not far enough, it may be too centered and stiff, especially in the upper register.

In older horns (especially used instruments), the mouthpiece tube, at the mouthpiece receiver end stretches and allows the mouthpiece to enter too far. This affects response and placement of the overtones within the harmonic series.

The rate of leadpipe taper also controls the balance or spread of pitch between the upper and lower registers. It is possible to control the rate of leadpipe taper in order to even out the harmonic series or to stretch one particular area so as to have a better lock on a problem area.

Leadpipe tapers also affect the intonation and tonal centers of the overtones. The general diameter of the leadpipe taper partially controls the amount of resistance and centering of the sound of the instrument. When the mouthpiece is pulled away from the leadpipe, the general size is smaller and a tighter or more definite harmonic series is usually the result. If the harmonic series is too rigid, slurs are stiff and not fluid.

Good endurance results from and efficient leadpipe designed with an upper register that is well in tune so that the player uses less energy during a performance.

Leading experts in leadpipe design are Walter Lawson (Boonsboro, MD), Charles Atkinson (Los Angeles, CA), and Jim Patterson (Tujunga, CA).

Certain horn manufacturers make various leadpipe choices for their instruments:
Holton 105 (4 choices)
King Eroica (3 choices)
Finke (5 choices)


A new bell can be put on an existing horn to change the tonal/playing characteristics. Alloys may be composed of any of the above mentioned materials. As an example, an Ambronze bell put on a nickel silver horn will add warmth to the tone, as well as adding presence to the lower overtones, thus increasing the instruments projection.

Annealing, or heat treating the bell will also soften out the metal, which increases its elasticity and ability to vibrate. In other words, this procedure adds more ring to the tone. This is especially desirable if major dent work or reconstruction has been done on the bell. Any reworking of the metal makes the alloy stiff, brittle, thus making it slower to respond.

Another procedure that can be done to alleviate stress is cryogenic treatment. As in the annealing process, under extreme temperatures, molecules will redistribute themselves in a more even fashion (overworked, brittle metal molecules accumulate in clumps at major stress points). Cryogenic treatment is nothing more than a sub-zero freezing of the instrument for an extended period of time, usually 36-48 hours. Thus, the effect is the same as annealing, only the treatment is more uniform and the finish of the instrument is not harmed in any way.

Often owners of new instruments will have this procedure done so that the metal will be more pliable and resonant. Over the years of playing and vibration, an instrument will eventually start relieving it's stresses. That is why a 20-year-old instrument plays so much different than a new one. A new horn will never play any worse than when you get it. This cryogenic treatment will make a new horn play like a seasoned, broken in instrument.

Many companies offer this procedure. Check with professionals in your area as well as in your phone books for cryogenic treatment centers. This is a common technique used in manufacturing industries. If you are located near any large town/city, there is a good chance that a company is close to you. You may also check in the HORN CALL and INTERNATIONAL MUSICIAN to find qualified people. Price ranges vary significantly for this procedure, so call a variety of places for a price quote.

Certain brands of instruments (and certain designs of horns) have inherent qualities that may or may not suit your tonal concept of physiology. I would recommend that you try several brands of instruments to see which model/s you feel most comfortable playing.

After narrowing your decision, play several horns of the same model, as mass-produced horns will have significant differences between them. Depending upon a locale, you may have a choice of one instrument to try out. The perfect venue for trying out a myriad of instruments is at regional and international horn workshops.

If you are purchasing an instrument on-line, you may get a 7-10 day trial period. If you are not satisfied with the instrument, you may return it for another (providing others are in stock). However, in purchasing the instrument in this fashion, the instrument has to be pre-paid. It always is a good idea to have a trusted teacher or professional player look at the horn to try it out.

Here are some general comments about commonly available instruments. Be aware that these remarks are totally subjective. Readers may disagree, but these comments are based on years of personal experience and teaching students that have used these instruments.

Holton Farkas - This is a well-designed instrument. It is well in tune and is of compact wrap, making it easy to play. It is a decent, all-purpose instrument. The Farkas model is more popular in the Mid-West region of the country. The middle low range of the horn is notoriously stuffy, needing lots of energy to drive it. The upper register is very clear and secure. Because of the design, the tone is moderately compact, not too bright, but definitely not dark. I have found the consistency to be fairly good, from instrument to instrument. The pitch locks in tight, and doesn't give much leeway in lipping pitches. Slurs can be somewhat stiff. Mature players feel the instrument is too confining. Unfortunately, there is some discrimination against the Farkas horn, with those who think that it is more of a student line instrument. Truthfully, not many are found in professional orchestras, but this has been a staple for high school and collegiate players for over 30 years.

Clones/Hybrids: Holton 105, Holton 175 'Merker', Yamaha 668 These are based on the Farkas design, but with some significant modifications, such as a more open wrap and the Bb third valve slide and in the change valve loop. The Holton 175, which also has a 'dual bore', meaning that the Bb tubing is slightly narrower, thus making the response from the F to Bb side of the instrument more even.

The Yamaha is a well-made instrument, but I have found that it is significantly more restricting than either of these clones, or of the original Farkas model. It is modeled after the Kruspe/8D design and offers an auxiliary Bb tuning slide, as does the Farkas. I have yet to have a student that has stayed with one of these instruments through their collegiate years of study. However, as of late (summer 2003) the 668 has been redesigned without the auxiliary Bb tuning slide and designers seem to have gotten rid of it's notoriously stuffiness. This horn may show more promise.

Conn 8D - This is a dark, free blowing, open wrap instrument. It takes much energy and stamina to fill up this instrument. The upper range has a tendency to be a little stuffy, requiring energy to drive out the upper notes. Advocates of the instrument say that this effort is worth it because of its distinctive, rich sound. The 8D is a copy of the original Kruspe double horn made for Anton Horner (Principal Horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra) in 1905. Horner had these instruments shipped from Germany for his colleagues. In 1938 Conn made a copy of this instrument, the 8D, which for over 60 years this has been the workhorse of the majority of professional orchestral musicians. East and West Coast players use this instrument. This is the instrument most often heard in film scores.

After a disastrous 15 years of inconsistent manufacturing control, the Conn Company wisely went back to their original specifications and acoustical design when they relocated their operation to East Lake, Ohio. Present instruments are fairly consistent, but do have several curious problems that have to be corrected. Unfortunately, the company has neglected to listen to artists and professionals. Some problems are:
1) F side of the instrument is too flat. Solution, the auxiliary F slide needs to be shortened.
2) The 3rd valve F horn tuning loop is significantly flat. Three-quarters to one inch of tubing will need to be removed from this loop to bring it up to usable pitch.
3) The 3rd valve Bb horn tuning loop is also flat. Around on-quarter inch of tubing will need to be removed from this to bring it to pitch.
4) The Bb/F mechanical change valve needs to be redesigned or converted to string Linkage

There are many older Conn 8D's that are available for sale. Those with the name 'Elkhart' stamped on the bell are highly prized. Those vintage instruments with 800,000, 900,000, L, M, and N series are highly prized.

Older Conns with 'USA' stamped on the bell are from the Abilene, TX plant. There were significant shortcuts made in the manufacture of these instruments. Most telling is that as a cost cutting measure; the rotary valves were made cylindrical instead of tapered. This design change significantly increased valve wear. Also, instruments at this time are very inconsistent in quality. Another way of distinguishing an Abilene 8D is the serial number. Most had double letter prefixes, (e.g. 'GH'). Not all of these instruments are bad. There are several renowned players that use instruments of this vintage. However, beware when buying one of these instruments, as the quality control was very inconsistent.

When Conn moved to the East Lake plant and retooled, tapered valves were once again a feature of these instruments. Look for a serial number starting with 442000 or higher to make sure that you are purchasing an instrument with tapered valves.

Presently, Conn is making a variety of choices for the consumer. The 8D model can be ordered with a yellow brass (8DY) or red brass (8DR)-bell flare and first branch. In addition, Conn now offers a smaller bell version of the traditional instrument called the 9D. In this author's opinion, these are best suited for a younger player or for a student of slight build whose hand is too small/dainty to play stopped horn on the 8D. If a student finds the 8D too large, a 9D or Holton should be considered.

Clones: Yamaha 668N, Yamaha 862 (discontinued), Holton 188, Hoyer 6801

As stated previously, the Yamaha 668 is based on the Kruspe design, but with the feature of an auxiliary Bb tuning loop, at least until recently. The new 668 has more of the characteristics that the 862 model possessed. The Yamaha 862 was an exact copy of the old Kruspe and was a fantastic instrument. It is unfortunate that they discontinued this model after a short time. It would be worth exploring one of these used instruments.

The Holton 188 is a newer instrument in the Holton line that has unfortunately not been marketed well. The bell throat is larger than the Farkas model, but is slightly smaller than the 8D bell. Redesigned third valve loops and the F/Bb change loop makes the instrument much more even. Unlike the Farkas models, the 188 offers a beefier middle low range response, but retains the superior upper range response of the Farkas model. This instrument plays like a very good vintage 8D. Initial reports state that this is a very good instrument, but recent owners cite problems with sluggish/spongy valves and curious intonation idiocyncracies. However, with my experience in having students purchase these and with my own playing of many display models, I have not come across these faults.

King Eroica - This is an extremely open wrap design, making for a wide open, free-blowing instrument. This instrument is best for a low horn specialist. The bell throat is larger than that of the 8D, making the tone very dark and rich. These are very heavy horns. The pitch center on this instrument has a tendency to be very wide, which can be a blessing and a curse. For a mature player, the ability to bend a note and not significantly affect the tone is a plus. However, for an immature player, it is possible to play very badly out of tune while still making a resonant sound. This is why the instrument comes with different leadpipe options to counteract this trait.

Geyer/Knopf Type Horns - There are a myriad of choices available my many manufacturers for this type of instrument. This instrument design has experienced increasing popularity within the last 20 years. This instrument design features a very open wrap, which can make for a free blowing instrument. Some manufacturers (Conn, Holton) may put an additional bend in the tubing for reasons unknown, which affects the removal of water from the instrument. These instruments are based on the instrument design of Carl Geyer, master instrument maker in Chicago during the 1940's to the 60's. Supposedly Geyer based his design on that of a German maker, Knopf. This free-blowing instrument has a superior low range. The tone tends to be brassy, yet warm. One flaw in this design is that there usually is one bad note located above the staff. Usually this note is Ab, A, or Bb.

A feature of this design is that the Bb change valve is aligned in the same plane as the primary valves, creating a much smoother transition between the two sides of the instrument. Some people find the longer throw of this thumb valve annoying, having to adjust their technique to accommodate this greater distance. Also, players opt to convert the traditional mechanical linkage to string for faster response.

Yamaha 667 - This is a very free blowing instrument. The small bell compacts the tone, making it a brighter sounding horn. The larger European bore, .472 as opposed to the normal .468, takes significantly more air to generate the tone. Though responsive to play, the tone seems to be more harsh/brittle to the audience than it does to the player. While the 667 is enjoyable to play, in my experience I have found the horn has difficulty in projecting in large halls. The step-up model, 867, seems to produce a more mellow tone because of its added weight and darker brass alloy.

Holton 190/191 - This is very similar to the Yamaha, only it heavier. Thus the sound has more heft to it. The response is generally good on both sides of the instrument. One does not see many of these instruments around. There is another model, the 191, which is an identical horn with a larger bell that affords a darker sound with more full volume.

Holton Merker Geyer-Model - This is a brand new design that was previewed at the 2003 International Horn Society Workshop in Bloomington, IN. I was impressed by this horn. The response was excellent and was very even. The notoriously difficult 12th partial on the Bb horn was good on all valve combinations. Like the Merker-Matic, it is also a dual bore design. The only thing that needs to be done, in my opinion, is redesign the thumb lever. The thumb pad of this lever is extremely small and feels awkward. I would prefer a larger spatula to rest the thumb on. Additionally, I didn't care for the valve action. It wasn't bad, but at the same time it didn't seem as good as other domestic instruments. I guess I'm getting spoiled by German rotary valve makers.

Conn 10D/11D - Like the Yamaha, but with better projection. Similar to Holton, this also comes in a larger bell version, the 11D. Conn also includes an option for a red brass bell on each of these models (10DR, 11DR). The 11D is freer blowing than the 10D. The red brass option warms the tone significantly on these instruments, creating a beautiful sound. The all-brass models tend to be too 'buzzy' for my taste. Also, the red brass bell makes the horn seem to blow more free on both models.

Alexander 200 Anniversary Model - While not an exact copy of the Geyer, the essential in-line design of the valve structure is kept. Those instruments I have previewed were very resonant and responsive. The bell garland gives the tone a little more heft.

Alexander 1103 Heldenhorn - This is another in-line valve design that is on the order of Geyer/Knopf. Personally, I have found this model to be extremely stuffy, however I have talked to others who seem to like this instrument quite a bit.

Paxman 23 - This instrument comes in several versions, nickel, yellow brass, and gold brass. This is a fairly recent addition to the Paxman horn line. However, it does not retain the dual bore feature of the 25 series. This model also offers a variety of bell sizes. The most popular configurations are the E (European), and L (Large). These roughly correspond to the Conn and Holton bell throat offerings. Paxman instruments are not cheap, but the quality has always been superior. Paxman also offers a distinctive sound. Some people really like this, others don't.

Prestige Horns - I will lump these all together. Most are Geyer based designs, with the exception of McCraken, Atkinson, and Patterson. All of these instruments feature superior workmanship and artistry. These instruments are true works of art and are highly prized by the discriminating hornist. Each maker, while keeping the basic design, has experimented with rates of taper, leadpipe designs, bell throat dimension, and metal alloy. Such instruments are available by Lewis, Rauch, Berg, Kuehn, Hill, Patterson and Schmid. Older instruments by deceased makers Carl Geyer and Jerry Lechniuk are occasionally found for sale and are treasured instruments.


This category is filled with those custom manufacturers. These instruments have been designed according to acoustical research and performer feedback. Only mature players can truly appreciate the skill and research afforded by these instruments. As in the above category the workmanship and materials are second to none. These instruments and those listed above can only be truly appreciated by the serious hornist.

Lawson - Walter Lawson has developed a wonderful instrument though his exhaustive research on leadpipes, bell flare design, metal alloy, and mouthpiece design. Walter has done the most detailed acoustical research with Bell Laboratories, aided by Barry Tuckwell. The result is a tremendously efficient instrument that requires significantly less effort to play. He can customize an instrument to the express wishes of a buyer. Lawson horns have a distinctive sound. This is why one will rarely see a lone Lawson in a horn section. There are many sections that exclusively use Lawson instruments, such as Dallas, Baltimore, and Minnesota.

Paxman - The model 25 is a dual bore model and was the result of a dynamic design by Richard Merewether. Like all Paxman instruments, alloy choices are nickel, yellow brass, and gold brass. Bell choices are M, E, L, and A (American or New World). The later is design inspired by the large bell throats of the Conn 8D. These instruments are of the highest quality workmanship and are in high demand.


Now we have come to the conclusion about available instruments from which to choose. Every instrument listed here is a viable instrument choice. Instrument manufacture and research has made tremendous strides in the last 20 to 30 years. Our worst instruments available today would be thought of as outstanding instruments in the 1930's to the 1940's. Look at old orchestra photographs of Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston and look at the instruments these hornists used. All of us are extremely fortunate to have a tremendous variety of quality horns to choose from.

Now that you have selected an instrument that you want to try out, it is now time to take the instrument through its paces. Next, I will address how to audition a horn.

The process I will outline is applicable to any instrument, be it new or used. The buyer should be methodical and take plenty of time. You should negotiate for a 7-10 day trial period in order to get used to the peculiarities of the instrument. You are about to make a major purchase, so don't be pressured to make a decision. If you find such pressure, walk away. There are many other dealers to visit. If possible, select a music store that has a large stock of instruments from which to choose.


This is a touchy issue. You will get your best price from those outlets that do a large volume of selling. Thus, music mega-stores and those on-line outlets may give you a better price. However, instrument support/repair will not be available. Your new instrument will need to be professionally prepared by a local repairperson if this option is not available from the on-line dealer.

OK, it is time for the author to get on a soapbox. I have found that it is better to keep your dollars locally, if at all possible. Thus, support your local music store if you can. Your purchase and tax dollars will be returned to the local economy which will help the local school music programs. Thus, if you are within $200 - $300 of the on-line price, I believe that it is worthwhile to keep the money locally. This is especially true if the music store has a competent repairperson and offers good support services. Often you can negotiate the professional preparation to be included and will come out almost even.

If you buy an instrument on-line or out-of-state, your repair/service charge should you need to use the instrumental technician's services, will be very high. Thus, you can either pay the music store now, or pay them later. The choice is up to you.

However, don't be anyone's fool. A dealer knocking off a few hundred dollars off the list price of the horn isn't doing you any favors. Buying an instrument is like buying a car; one has to negotiate from the bottom up, not the top down.


As a rule of thumb, the dealer's bottom line cost is 40% lower than retail. If a dealer has smaller volume, this may be only 35%. Be that as it may, the store has to pay bills (lease, employees, and utilities). Thus, your benchmark is as close to 35% as you can get. Remember, if you are within several hundred dollars of your best price, it is within your conscious to where you wish to spend your money.


When I have attended workshops in the past, the lack of knowledge and ineptitude of many players stun me when it comes to previewing a horn. The criteria that many players use for determining a 'good' horn seem to be the production of a c3 or an F. Also it seems that the majority of the hornists stay in the keys of F and Eb concert. To really find out how an instrument plays, also choose keys of E and Db concert.

Also, the player often does not adjust the instrument so that it plays in tune with itself. Any instrument can respond poorly and play badly out of tune if the necessary adjustments are not made. In addition, to truly test out a horn, one needs a quiet place in order to hear what is really going on. Also, the absence of interfering vibrations from other horns will make for a more honest assessment of tone color consistency and potential stuffiness within the regions of your normal playing range.

1. Get the instrument in tune with itself!

2. Do a short, easy warm-up to allow the lips to feel the instruments response

3. Play scales slowly with a tuner. Look at the needle after each pitch sounds. Determine how evenly the scale lines up. Also identify any peculiar intonation problems with the instrument.

4. Play octaves with a tuner. How does the intonation line up within the octaves?

5. Keep a list of extremely sharp, flat, or otherwise "bad" notes. Bad notes are those that seem to be hard to center, or crack when attacked.]

6. Play sforzandi whole notes in all registers to determine pitch control. Next, try to bend the pitch up and down on these notes to determine how well centered the notes are.

7. Play chromatics SLOWLY. Start in the middle range and go down, then go up to the top of your playing range. Be aware of those notes that do not come out clearly or evenly. Certainly some resistance can be expected in long valve combinations, but on many instruments, certain partials may be noticeably stuffy. If you encounter an instrument that has several stuffy regions, try another of the same model and see if the same phenomenon occurs. The goal is to find an instrument that has the same resistance (or 'blow') in all registers of the instrument. Hornists will disagree on what is acceptable resistance; the individual has to decide what is 'right' for them.

8. Play repeated staccato notes and rapid staccato scales and arpeggios. Does the instrument allow a quick start-up time to the response of the pitches? Can staccato passages be played quickly and cleanly?

9. How are lip slurs and legato passages? Are they produced easily or are overtones slurs rough and bumpy?

10. Play long, sustained crescendos from pp to ff in all registers. Does the sound stay consistent and clear in all registers? Does the sound "fuzz out" at top dynamics? Does the sound break off early in soft dynamic playing? A good horn should have a consistent tone within all registers and volumes.

11. What is the sound like? Do you like the sound you are getting? This is a matter of personal preference.

12. What is the color characteristic of the instrument?

13. Can the color of the sound be easily varied by changing the vowel and hand position, not by just blowing louder?

14. What do you think about the potential carrying power of the instrument? This depends upon the clarity of sound and how well the instrument locks into the center of the pitch.

Next, start using musical examples to help you determine the feel of the instrument. Be methodical in your approach during this tryout phase. Don't play your entire solo repertoire. The best solution is to take it easy by playing scales, slurs, arpeggios, various attack styles, intervals, in addition to soft and loud playing. After you feel comfortable, you may play selected solo/etude/excerpts to further explore the instrument.

Once you have found the particular model of horn that you seem to enjoy the most, I recommend that you next audition several horns of that particular model. No matter the consistency of mass produced instruments, there are often particular characteristics inherent in individual horns. Thus, all like horns may tend to behave a little differently. Take time to find the one that "feels" the best for you.


For legato, slurs, and cantabile playing:
Tchaikowsky: Symphony No. 5 (mvt 2)
Mendelssohn: Nocturne (Midsummer..)
Mussorgsky: Pictures (Promenade solo)
Strauss: Heldenleben (opening)
Strauss: Don Quixote (rehearsal 9)
Frank: Symphony in D Minor (mvt. 2)
F. Strauss: Nocturno, Op. 7

For upper range response:
Wagner: Siegfried's Rhine Journey (call)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 (scherzo)
_____________ (finale)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 (mvt. 1)
_________ Symphony No. 2 (mvt. 2)
Shostakovitch: Symphony No. 5 (mvt. 1)
Haydn: Symphony No. 31 (mvt. 4)
Haydn: Concerto No. 1 (mvts. 2 & 3)

For low range response:
Mahler: Symphony No. 1 (mvt. 3)
Strauss: Don Quixote (var. 8 & 9)
Beethoven: Overture to Fidelio
Shostakovitch: Symphony No. 5 (mvt. 1)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (trio)
______________ (mvt. 4 coda)
Beversdorf: Sonata (end of mvt. 2)

For fast passage response:
Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 (hn. 3)
Mozart: Concerto No. 2 (mvt. 1)
Mozart: Concerto No. 3 (mvt. 3)
Jacob: Concerto (mvt. 3)
Beethoven: Sonata (mvt. 1 coda)

It is always desirable to enlist some horn-playing colleagues and try the horn out in a large hall to see how it feels there and also how it sounds from a distance. It's very interesting how what you hear up close is not necessarily what you get in the audience. Also a good tape recorder or mini-disc recorder would be an obvious advantage here.

Enlist your friends to play trios or quartets with you to see how it blends and matches with your colleagues. It should go without saying that if the horn is out of tune with itself, put it in the case and walk away, no matter how sweet the sound.

Lastly, play material of which you are currently working. Does the instrument seem dependable? Does it fit into the mold of what you want from and instrument? Are you happy with the feel of it? If so, congratulations! You have found the horn that is the best for YOU!!!


Lawson, Walter. "The Development of New Mouthpipes." (Lawson Musical Instruments)
Stout, Louis. "Choosing An Artist French Horn." (Leblanc Educational Pamphlet)

©2002 Eldon Matlick

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