French Horn Buyer's Guide
Some of the Questions Answered Below
French Horn Breakdown
The French horn—known simply as a horn in non-English speaking countries—is a unique member of the brass musical instrument family. First developed in France about 1650, the French horn has a wonderful warm, round tone that makes it a stand out among brass instruments.
Due to the complexity of the French horn manufacturing process and the huge amount of labor required to construct them, French horns are among the more expensive orchestral instruments. This makes it especially important that you select the right horn for your needs. Here are a few pointers on the basic differences between various French horn models and their pros and cons.
French Horn Categories
Conn 8D CONNstellation Series Double Horn
The instrument comes in two basic versions: single and double. Single horns are physically easier to handle and are available in smaller sizes for younger players. Students find the single horn easier to start on and usually play it for a couple of years before switching to a double horn. Almost all intermediate and professional horns are double horns. These names sound a bit odd for a horn, but the differences are very basic.
French horns come in two basic types: single horn and double horn. Single horns come in two keys: F and Bb. Each type of single horn features three rotary valves. The F horn (for the key of F, not an abbreviation of French) is the most popular single horn for students in the U.S. For larger beginners, a double horn is preferable since most students will move to a double horn anyway within a year or two. A single horn is sometimes preferred for younger beginners because of its smaller size, lighter weight, and smaller price tag.
Through the wizardry of tubular engineering, a double horn is actually capable of shifting between the key of F and the key of Bb through the use of a fourth valve. Actuated by the left thumb, this valve actually cuts out about four feet of the French horn's tubing from the vibrating air column within. On some horns the lever works the other way around, turning a Bb horn into an F instrument when engaged.
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That's a wrap
A French horn is simply a very long tube that is coiled up to make it portable and it's fitted with valves to lengthen or shorten the air column by rerouting it. The specific design of this coiling is called the horn's "wrap." There are three basic types of wrap. The Kruspe wrap locates the fourth rotor valve above the other three when the horn is in playing position. This makes for a shorter linkage between the finger key that actuates the fourth valve and the actual valve.
The Geyer wrap (which as with the Kruspe wrap, is named for its German designer) locates the fourth rotor valve below the other three. Since the linkage reaches past the other three valves, it is much longer.
The child's wrap, children's wrap, or 3/4 wrap is a student single French horn that is coiled very tightly to make it easier for a child to handle. The vibrating air column is the same length, just in a smaller package.
Bell and first branch material
Any serious horn player can tell you—and scientific research has verified—that differing materials used in the bell and the first branch (what the bell attaches to) make a significant difference in the instrument's tone. Yellow brass produces a bright tone (accentuating the treble end of the spectrum) and has a very snappy response. Rose brass, also called red brass or gold brass, produces a darker tone with a less-defined response. Nickel silver produces the darkest tone.
This is the most common brass used in making brass instruments. It produces a rich, full sound. Most student horns are made of yellow brass.
Also referred to as red brass or gold brass, this produces a darker, warmer tone compared to yellow brass. Most intermediate horns are made of rose brass.
Silver/Nickel or Sterling Silver:
Used primarily for professional instruments and some intermediate. This material produces a very rich sound.
Bell throat taper
The throat of the bell is the area where the hand is placed while playing a French horn. A smaller throat makes it easier to control the tone, but the timbre will be thinner and less resonant. A larger throat size provides a more open, full-bodied sound, but is more difficult to control.
Many French horns are equipped with a bell that can be detached by twisting it off the first branch. This is called a screw bell or detachable bell and allows the horn to fit into a smaller case for easier transport. There are no significant drawbacks to this design, and it's a very popular option.
Rotor linkages - string or mechanical
The valves that vary the length of the vibrating air column in a French horn work by rotation. The valves comprise thick disks with holes drilled through them that rotate to connect various sections of horn tube. These disks are well below the finger keys that control their rotation. The keys are connected to the valves either by super-strong string or by metal rods (mechanical linkage).
String linkages are very quiet in operation but eventually the string can break and require replacement. It is the most popular type of linkage in the U.S. Europeans tend to prefer the mechanical linkage because it never needs replacement, though it can sometimes be heard during quieter music passages.
This type uses a strong string, which is wrapped around a connecting post from the valve to the lever. When the lever is pushed down, the string rotates the rotary valve to change the note. String linkages require periodic adjustment and eventual replacement of the string. The biggest advantage of string linkage is its silent operation.
This type uses metal arms that connect the levers and valves with ball and socket joints. Mechanical linkage can produce a slight "clicking" sound when the instrument is played. The advantage of mechanical linkage is that it lasts much longer than string linkage and requires less maintenance.
Buy Your French Horn with Confidence from The Woodwind & Brasswind
In choosing a French horn, you need to consider your musician's age and skill level, and the kind of use (school band, marching band, orchestra, etc.) to which they will put their instrument. If for school, consulting with the band teacher is a good idea.
Whatever French horn you select, The Woodwind & Brasswind's 100% Satisfaction Guarantee means you have 45 days to be sure it's right for you. If it's not, just return it for a full refund.* And you don't need to worry about paying too much. Our 45-Day Lowest Price Guarantee means that if you find the French horn advertised for less elsewhere, we'll make up the difference. When you buy your French horn from The Woodwind & Brasswind, you can buy with complete confidence.
*All returned woodwind and brass instruments are assessed a $10.00 sterilization fee. Instruments priced over $3,000.00 are assessed a $20.00 fee. All mouthpieces are assessed a $4.00 fee.
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