Hornmasters: Farkas, Schuller, and Berv on Care and Maintenance

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Next the Hornmasters turn the topic of care and maintenance of the horn.

Farkas offers in The Art of French Horn Playing a very practical chapter on how to maintain a horn. While certainly dated (the lacquers used by modern instrument makers are much better than those of his day, the bumpers used are synthetic instead of real cork, linen line is no longer used for horn string, etc.) and perhaps overly detailed (such as the suggestion to put corks in the mouth and “bite them gently between the surfaces of the back teeth”) the illustrations of how to string and oil a rotary valve are timeless.

Gunther Schuller in Horn Technique has only a few words about the upkeep of an instrument. Interestingly, his main suggestion is to not oil the valves regularly, as this can “gum up” the valves. This may reflect somewhat on the oils available to him in 1962 and is not good advice. Use plenty of oil! There are great brands out there now and there really is no damage that using plenty of valve oil can cause. If things are gumming up to any degree you need to use lighter oil and plenty of it.

Harry Berv has a chapter on “Care and Maintenance of the Horn” in A Creative Approach to the French Horn, with content that is very comparable to that of Farkas. He recommends that the leadpipe (he prefers to call it mouthpipe) be cleaned at least once a month and that the valves be lubricated every other day. About this he notes

I do not recommend putting oil into the valve through the slide, because it can also dissolve the grease inside the shank that retains the slide, making the grease go into the valve…. Once this happens, it is difficult to free the casing of the grease and the valve will usually have to be taken out completely. This requires delicacy and skill, as a valve can easily be damage when it is removed.

As to valve repairs, he notes that “The player cannot rely on anyone else to do this for him, and he must be ready to put all these components back in working order at a moment’s notice.” Berv describes in full how to remove a rotary valve for cleaning and also how to string a valve and install corks. He also notes

I find that it is worthwhile to have a hand grip make of very thin leather on the horn to preserve the metal. Many players need to have a metal patch put on the bell of the horn, after a time, because the acid from the hand can eat right through the metal.

The horn should be wiped clean with a cloth and be kept free of lint and finger marks. I prefer a clear-lacquered horn because the lacquer preserves the metal and can easily be cleaned….

Berv concludes with a list of “Maintenance Do’s and Don’ts.” While mostly common sense (“Do not eat, chew gum, drink soft drinks, or smoke during a playing session,” “Never force the case closed,” etc.), he also offers this sage advice: “Always carry your original mouthpiece with you and have a duplicate in your horn case.”

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