Buying a Horn

The horn I’ve been using since I started playing again is a Yamaha 668 that is about 15 – 20 years old. It’s somewhat beat up. The valves need some work and the slides are very hard to pull. All of this is completely fixable and by itself does not warrant the purchase of a new (or new to me) horn. But, it’s a large bell horn. Playing my teacher’s Hill, a geyer wrap, medium bell horn was definitely easier for me. I’m sure in the long run, I could become proficient using the Yamaha but I firmly believe that it would take longer and be a lot more frustrating.

For the past two months I have been alternating playing either the Yamaha 668, a Conn 8D which I borrowed from my teacher, or a Holton 180 which I just bought to try to figure out if the horn has anything to do with my problems. I have about 21 more days to return the Holton.  I have the most trouble playing the Yamaha – it requires lots of air, I have lots of missed attacks, clammed notes, and tone that goes fuzzy very quickly. I also gurgle between notes a lot. I feel like the Conn is easier to play, however, I can’t seem to play the Conn in tune and this drives me crazy. Also, the position of the keys and thumb causes pain in my hand. I do find the Holton easier to play than either of the other horns, I have more range, and my husband and mother say I sound better. This horn, however, has at least one solder joint broken somewhere and has very sluggish valves so I am considering returning it. Though, it still may be a good horn for me and I should just get it fixed. However, I bought this from a very well known music store and I don’t like the fact that they didn’t take care of these obvious problems before they put it up for sale. It makes me wonder what the service for this horn will be like. All of these horns are similar to each other and none of them are as easy as the Hill.

So how do I pick the right horn? I started by asking questions on the Yahoo Forum. I asked for some suggestions about playing characteristics of different horns with maybe some insight on better choices for me. I don’t feel that I play well enough to go play lots of different horns, nevermind finding them to play (I have since learned about all the horn workshops that have tons of horns to test), and make any decision.  I did a search on the web and found an article on buying a horn by Dr. Eldon Matlick. This article was extremely helpful.

Here’s my criteria / considerations:

‘Easiness’ – I don’t know how to describe this except to say that I found my Yamaha ‘harder’ to play than the Conn. I found the Holton easier than the Conn. Easiest of all was my teachers Hill. Easy to me is what range I get, how much air I need, can I play in tune, are the attacks clean, how are the slurs, etc.

Intonation – Is there a Bb tuning slide. Reputation of brand for intonation.

Sound – Warm, dark

Quality – reputation of brand, known or rumored faults (like Holton’s have bad valves or where the Conn’s were manufactured.)

Type of music most likely to play – chamber.

Bell throat size – medium.

Physical Characteristics – Type of wrap. Location of thumb trigger. (I can’t play the Conn 8D without lots of pain in my hand.) Adjustable pinky ring or alternative.

Recommendations – Is there one brand that get more recommendations than the others.

New / used – no preference.

Location of vendor – Local (within a days drive), or web based.

Budget – under 5K (for new horns, not list but typical selling price.)

The recommendations played the biggest role in my final decision. I narrowed my choices down to a Holton Geyer Merker 192 or a Hoyer 6801 PMAL. I have a sentimental attachment to Holtons because I played a circa 1960’s nickel silver 179 in school. The Hoyer, a medium bell model, comes highly recommended by many people. The decision between the two came down to where I had to buy them. The Holton was available from a web based store or by special order from a semi-local music store chain. The Hoyer was orderable from an extremely reputible vendor, Siegfried’s Call, who would get the horn in for me to try without my paying for it first. I decided to buy the Hoyer assuming that I liked it once I played it.

I went up to Seigfried’s Call, about a three hour drive from my home, two days before Christmas 2008 and four days after I had surgery and doctor’s orders not to play for two weeks. This was not the most appropriate time to buy a horn but I had ordered it before the surgery and didn’t realize that I would not be allowed to play it. Well I played it anyway but very carefully.

I have to say that it was not love at first note. I didn’t really like the sound too much when I played it but I really couldn’t put any chops to it. I asked Scott Bacon, the owner of Siegfried’s Call, to play the horn for me and I liked it a bit better. Again, no love yet. So why buy it? I heard so many good things about Scott and spent enough time talking to him that day that I decided to trust him when he told me I would love the horn soon enough. So I bought it. Stay tuned for more about the horn.

The New Horn –>

2 thoughts on “Buying a Horn

  1. Hi Tina,

    I have been been alerted to your new blog. Congratulations on beginning to play again, and thank you for adding my web page/blog to your links!

    At your level right now I’m sure it’s very difficult to judge the quality of a horn. Not only are you starting up again, but 4 days after surgery is not a good time to judge! I’m glad you had Scott play it for you before you bought it. I’m confident you made a good decision in your purchase.

    I look forward to reading more about your journey, and look forward to being inspired in my own journey by your love of the horn.


    • Hi Julia,
      It was actually reading your blog that gave me the idea to write one of my own. Without giving away some of my new horn story that’s not posted yet, I can say that Scott is wonderful and other that a few hiccups I’m happy with the Hoyer.



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