A conversation I end up having fairly often is on the topic of what makes a horn a professional quality horn. The Nirschl in the previous post is not professional quality and is not marketed as such, but it hits a price point and also in the case of this ¾ size double horn is an interesting new product for young students. But many horns are marked as professional. Are they?
While perhaps partially defined by price, a professional quality horn is ultimately one that a number of actual full time professional hornists play in real jobs. In other words, professional horn players themselves define what is or is not professional quality, not marketing and advertising.
Some horn players get really bent out of shape about different brands of horns, it can be a hot topic. For sure different types of horns “speak” to different players, and what works well in one hall won’t necessarily work well in the next. Also tradition runs strong in certain areas.
From the stats I know that about 80% of readers are in North America and the rest are from abroad. The types of horns widely used in Asia and Europe by professional players differ from those commonly used here. The most popular models in professional use in the United States are probably classic Conn 8Ds (usually Elkhart, rebuilt to some extent) and various Geyer style horns (mostly handmade), while overseas the most popular brands are Paxman and Alexander. They are all fine, professional level horns which will serve well in the right performing situation, but they don’t all mix together well in terms of tone color over the full range of dynamics. Differences of how instruments sound at extreme dynamics is why most professional sections use similar instruments and why it is rare to see for example Alexander horns in use in professional orchestras in North America (Paxmans being somewhat more common as they make more of a variety of models, some of which are geared more to our market).
The plain fact is that no matter what type of horn you play and how good it is someone else out there won’t like it. If you are a student try to figure out what type of horn suits you and will fit in best in the types of professional performing situations you aspire to win, find a good example of that type of horn, and work out your playing. For a few more specific suggestions, my article on suggested horns and mouthpieces may be found here.
UPDATE: I would add that if I were to make one clear recommendation it would be that in our market in the United States overall a custom Geyer style horn such as the horn in the photo above has the most commercially viable sound, but it won’t work in all places to be sure.