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 A Beginner's Guide to Buying a French Horn

by Jonathan Richard Meager

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 longer linkage.

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 smaller instrument.

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 snappier tone.

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.

I am the Communications Manager of Gear4music.com. I am committed to delivering the most informative and useful articles about musical instruments and equipment.

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