Brass Instruments

The Best French Horn

Frech Horn Playing

From our research and testing, the best french horn is the Conn 6D Artist Series, assuming that the player is big enough to handle the instrument’s weight and advance enough to handle playing a double horn.

Credit: Conn-Selmer

Top Pick: Conn 6D Artist Series
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The Conn 6D is our recommendation for several reasons. Especially for the beginning player, it is not as intimidating because of its smaller size. This double French horn is has a great, balanced tone. The build quality excellent – The 6D will provide years of problem-free playing.

A Short History

Before digging into our testing and direction on how to choose a French horn, let’s dig into a little context.

The French horn traces its history back to the hunting horns from before the 16th century. These horns were only able to produce a natural harmonic scales. Starting about the 16th century these horns found their way into operas, and the French horn was born. Each time the conductor wanted the musicians to play on a different scale, the musician had to switch instruments. Soon, different crooks were invented eliminating the need to carry different instruments.

Anton Hampe figured out how to manipulate his right hand inside the bell to create different notes allowing the instrument greater flexibility. It was still very cumbersome to carry the many crooks and mouthpieces. Two men claim credit for creating the modern instrument. Heinrich Stoelzel receives credit for creating the first modern valve while Friedrich Blühmel receives credit for creating the first modern valve. While the two never met, the modern French horn that musicians love today was created (Holcomb).

Since those early days, beginning horns have come a long way.

About the Author

I have taken music lessons at the University of Northern Iowa. I play the piano and the cello. I am also the parent of two girls who both played in one of the top-rated high school bands in Texas under the legendary Mike Brady who won 18 band competitions in a row. I also am honored to have five high school band teachers among my friends. The wealth of information passed on at local, regional and statewide band competitions has been invaluable at helping me write this article.

How to Choose a French Horn

Understand that many different types of French horns. Therefore, if you are a parent make sure to check with the teacher to be sure the exact type of French horn that your student needs. Alternatively, if you will be playing in a musical group, check with the conductor.

Single Horns

Most people begin playing a single French horn as they are less expensive to buy, easier to master and weigh less. The F horn is usually the most popular choice as it plays the mid-octaves extremely well. The B flat horn weighs even less and does a better job of reaching higher notes although it is impossible to play some lower notes on this instrument. Marching French horns can be either B flat or F and are designed so that a player can more easily hold them while marching.

Double Horns

More serious players can play a double horn because it uses a rotor allowing players to switch between a F horn and a B flat horn by eliminating air from moving through part of the tube. These instruments are harder to play. Their added weight also makes it harder for young players to control the instrument.

There are two different styles of double horns. The fourth rotor is located above the other three in Kruspe wrap instruments while the Geyer wrap puts the fourth rotor behind the third. A descant horn is a double horn containing a B flat French horn and a alto F horn. These horns give players more note stability in the upper register.

Triple Horns

The triple horn is a favorite with many professional players because it adds an alto F horn to the double horn allowing experienced players to play more notes easily.

Other Options

It is important to consider the different options available in French Horns. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each allows the buyer to make the choice that is right for them.

Rotor Linkage

The rotor linkage can be either string or a metal rod. The advantage of string is that they are quieter, but the string sometimes breaks. The advantage of metal is that they usually never need replacing.

Bell Size

The larger the bell size the more full bodied the music will sound. The tradeoff is that these instruments are harder to control.

Bell and First Branch Materials

Different French horns sound different because the bell and first branch are made of different materials. Players who plan on playing mostly in the treble range find that yellow brass produces a brilliant sound while those nickel/silver produces the darkest tone. Players also find instruments made out of rose brass, sometimes called gold brass or red brass, has the least responsiveness.

Detachable Bell

The reason that many French horns have detachable bells is to make them easier to transport. As long as the instrument is well made, there is no major drawbacks to having a detachable bell.

The Competition

After hours of testing and research, here's the final competition.

InstrumentRatingCurrent Pricing
Conn 6D
Yellow-rose brass helps this french horn provide a brilliant soundOut of stock
Horton H179
Both horns can be tuned independentlyOut of stock
Alexander 103
Thumb valve allows this instrument to be played on either side
Atkinson Geyer AG2K
Addition of F slide tuning crooks allows players to easily tune
Paxman Series 4
An incredibly strong clear upper register
Yamaha YHR567 F
Nickel-silver for the inner and outer slides does not corrode as easily as brass$3,349.99

Top Recommendation: Conn 6D Artist Series

If you are a parent of an aspiring French horn player, then we recommend that you buy a double French horn as it will grow with your student. Our recommendations are based on this type of horn.

Credit: Conn-Selmer

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The Conn 6D is about 25 percent smaller than many comparable models. This allows the beginning player to master it more easily as it is less intimidating. Its smaller size also allows players to play rapid notes more easily. Furthermore, this double French horn is designed to perfectly blend in with ensembles instead of being overwhelming.

This instrument has a .468-inch bore size, allowing players to play forte and fortissimo easier because there is less air resistance. The 12 inch fixed bell allows players to easily control the air flowing through it creating different sounds. The smaller bell size also allows new players to control the air flowing through the instrument easier. The yellow-rose metal helps this french horn provide a brilliant sound. The lead pipes on the Conn 6D are also yellow brass.

The rotors use the Kruspe method allowing for a better blending sound between the F and the B flat sides of this instrument and making it easier to play slurs. The yellow brass material coupled with the Kruspe design provides a very balanced instrument.

Nickel tuning pipes are used enhancing the beauty of this instrument. This instrument looks particularly attractive because of the contrast between the nickel and yellow gold pipes. The Conn 6D has string rotor levers making it a quieter instrument than those with metal. Experienced players and teachers should be able to replace the string on these instruments very quickly. This instrument has nickel slides that should provide years of problem-free playing. They may, however, require oiling on occasion.

Enhancing the quiet performance of this instrument are tapered rotors and bearings. Conn has used a lacquer finish on this instrument making it look very shiny when properly cleaned. Players find that the finish is thick enough that it stays in place for many years.

This instrument takes the Conn 2 mouthpiece that is readily available. Overall, this is a very solid instrument that will provide years of enjoyment because it is well constructed, plays a balanced tone.

Horton H179

Credit: Conn-Selmer

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If you are shopping for a medium-sized French horn, then be sure to consider the Horton H179. This instrument was especially designed by Philip Farkas who formerly played with the Chicago Symphony. Horton has especially designed this horn to provide a centered tone. making it particularly useful by first-chair players and those performing solos. This horn is known for its reliability while its smaller size makes it easier for students and adults of smaller stature to master.

The Horton H179 contains a water-release valve. The bore on this instrument is .468 (Woodwinds Brasswinds) allowing players to produce great airflow with little resistance. The bell measures 12.25 inches, so everyone can hear the beautiful music coming from this instrument. This instrument has a slightly smaller bell throat than the Conn 6D, but it offers very little air resistance. One big advantage of this French horn when compared to other models is that both horns can be tuned independently.

Like the Conn 6D, this instrument features string linkage although it is not quite as easy to replace the string because of the instrument’s design. Controlling the register is easily accomplished with this instrument providing outstanding tone across a broad range. This instrument could easily be the first pick if it was not nickle-plated which produces a darker tone.

Alexander 103

Abel Pereira of the National Symphony Orchestra plays an Alexander 103 (Pereira). This instrument is either loved or hated with very few people in the middle because of its deep throaty sound that can be overpowering when compared to American French horns.

Until the last 10 years, Alexander has been very inconsistent in their build quality. This instrument has a .476 inch bore allowing players to move air easily. The well-designed thumb valve allows this instrument to be played on either side.

Unlike most American and European models, the 12.2-inch bell has a slight 12.2-inchowing for better projection. This horn which is available in a variety of materials is particularly useful for ensembles looking for projection and precision.

Atkinson Geyer AG2K

Atkinson hand makes every component of their French horn ensuring that the instrument produces the best possible tone (Atkinson). This horn features the original Geyeer valves. Buyers find this model with two different bell sizes, so make sure to choose the one that fits the player’s hands the best.

A trigger valve allows the player to easily switch this instrument from the B flat/F configuration to the F/B flat configuration. The addition of F slide tuning crooks along with the main tuning crooks allows players to easily tune the instrument. An adjustable palm flipper and an adjustable finger hook allows players to experience less fatigue.

We found that the soldering work on some of these instruments could be tidier. This Atkison French horn is played in numerous symphonies in California, USA and Australia.

Paxman Series 4

Credit: Paxman

This Chinese-manufactured French horn is a serious contender, especially for the budget-minded consumer as it is slightly cheaper than many comparable models. This horn features a detachable bell making it easier for people to transport. A protective hand guard helps to protect the instrument from sweat on the player’s hands.

This yellow-brass instrument provides a classically warm tone. The Paxman has an incredibly strong clear upper register. The French horn allows players to move air through this instrument effectively.

Player fatigue is not a problem because this instrument features a removable thumb hook and an adjustable finger hook. Since both are fully adjustable, many young players find this instrument easier to master. This Paxman instrument has a modified Geyer wrap because it contains extra piping on the F side which does not seem to affect the tone. Professor of music and founder of Horn Matters Magazine John Ericson at Arizona State University particularly loves this instrument.

Yamaha YHR567 F / Bb Double French Horn

View on Amazon $3,349.99

One of the most responsive French horns is the Yamaha YHR567 because of the tapered leadpipes (Tapestry Music). Yamaha chose to use nickel-silver for the inner and outer slides because it does not corrode as easily as brass, so this instrument should provide years of playing fun. The carefully designed tapered values should also last a long time without air leakage, so that the instrument’s individual notes shine through crisply.

This instrument would have placed higher if there was some convenient way to switch sides as is becoming very popular in newer French horns. The Geyser wrap on this instrument makes it particularly easy to hold.

Sources

  • 6D Artist Series. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2016, from http://www.wwbw.com/Conn-6D-Artist-Series-Double-Horn-463295.wwbw
  • Abel Pereira. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2016, from http://www.abelpereira.com/bio
  • Alexander 103 Review. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2016, from http://hornreviews.com/alexander-103-review/
  • Atkinson Brass Valve Repair. (2009, September). Retrieved November 22, 2016, from http://atkinsonfrenchhornssuck.blogspot.com
  • Davie, T. (n.d.). The French Horn. Retrieved November 22, 2016, from http://www.timusic.net/debreved/the-french-horn/
  • Ericson, J. (2015, April 4). Review and First Impressions: Paxman Academy and Series 4 Horns. Retrieved November 22, 2016, from http://hornmatters.com/2015/04/review-and-first-impressions-paxman-academy-and-series-4-horns/
  • F/Bb Double Horn · Model 103. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2016, from http://www.gebr-alexander.de/en/instruments/double-horns/fbb-double-horn-mod-103/
  • French Horn Buying Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved November 21, 2016, from http://thehub.musiciansfriend.com/band-orchestra-buying-guides/french-horn-buying-guide
  • Holcomb, P. (n.d.). A Brief History of the (French) Horn. Retrieved November 21, 2016, from http://www.rugs-n-relics.com/Brass/french-horns/frenchhorn-History.html
  • Horton 179. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2016, from http://hornreviews.com/holton-h179/
  • Horton 179 Frankas Series Horn. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2016, from http://www.wwbw.com/Holton-H179-Farkas-Series-Fixed-Bell-Double-Horn-460376.wwbw
  • Kruspe & Geyer Horns: What’s the Difference? (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2016, from http://hornreviews.com/kruspe-geyer-horns-whats-the-difference/
  • Paxman Series 4 Double Horn. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2016, from http://www.hornguys.com/products/paxman-series-4-double-horn-1
  • Pope, K. (n.d.). Paxman Series 4. Retrieved November 22, 2016, from http://poperepair.com/paxman-series-4/
  • Pope, K. (n.d.). Yamaha YHR 567D – $3591.99. Retrieved November 22, 2016, from http://poperepair.com/yamaha-yhr-567d-3591-99/
  • Yamaha YHR-567 F/ Bb Intermediate Full Double French Horn. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2016, from https://www.tapestrymusic.com/band-orchestra/french-horns/yamaha-yhr-567-f-bb-intermediate-full-double-french-horn-yamaha-canada

Notable Replies

  1. The French Horn usually gets beat out by the Mellophone for Marching. They are easier to tune and due to the thicker rimmed mouthpiece it’s less likely for shocks and bumps to cause disruptions. It is also is more distinct from the soprano (trumpet) and the Baritone, with a brighter/more piercing sound that cuts through.
    It is all really about preference though, I like to keep a French Horn in for the lower register. Worth checking out both if you’re looking specifically for a Marching instrument.

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