A French horn is most commonly used in orchestral music, and can therefore
be a highly evocative instrument that produces very distinct sounds and effects.
But when buying a French horn, there are a number of factors that need to be
considered, such as what type you intend to purchase.
There are two types of French horn - a single and a double. Single horns
come either in the key of F or Bb and have three rotary valves. These tend to be
the most popular option among younger people, as they are much smaller than
double horns, which could be more suitable to larger beginners.
Double horns are notably different because they can make use of a fourth
valve, allowing players to shift between the two keys. In addition, the left
thumb can be used to trigger a key that cuts out four feet of tubing.
The most noticeable feature of a French horn is the wrap, which is in
effect a long, coiled tube that has been fitted with valves to lengthen or
shorten the air column.
There are several different types, with the Kruspe wrap for example
locating the fourth valve above the other three when it is being played. This
means there is a shorter linkage between the valve itself and the finger key
that accentuates it.
Another alternative for a double horn is the Geyer wrap, which instead
locates the fourth valve below the other three, thereby resulting in a much
Younger players can also opt for a 3/4 wrap if they wish, which is the
same length as a standard wrap, but is just coiled more tightly to make it a
The valves each comprise of thick disks with holes drilled through them
and rotate to connect various tubes. Located below the keys that are pressed by
the horn player, they vary the length of the vibrating air column and thereby
generate the required notes.
There can be technical differences in this area, as either strings or rods
are used to connect the keys to the valves. Prospective buyers must therefore
consider what will work best for them, as while rods can be highly durable, the
mechanical linkage can sometimes be noisy. By contrast, strings are very quiet,
but by their very nature will need replacing on a regular basis.
Other differences between various types of French horn can be found in the
bell throat - the area where the hand is placed while playing. Musicians who opt
for an instrument with a smaller throat could find it much easier to control,
but the timbre is thinner and less resonant.
Meanwhile, a larger throat may be more difficult to control, but it can
give a more open and full-bodied sound.
The material the bell is made out of can also make a considerable
difference to the tone of the instrument. Rose brass can sound much darker with
a less defined response, while yellow brass generates a much brighter and
French horn buyers may also wish to consider purchasing an instrument with
a removable bell, as this can allow it to be fitted in a smaller case. This
makes no difference to the overall sound of the instrument, but can make
carrying it around a lot easier.
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