From the Mailbag: Kruspe or Geyer–Which is Better?

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For many years there have been two dominant “flavors” of double horn, Kruspe and Geyer style, in use in the United States. The question of which is better is one that comes up often and is a hot button topic of our horn world.

First, I should note clearly that makers rarely if ever use the term Kruspe to describe their larger horns as in fact Kruspe is still [as of 2011] in business! In the era from the turn of the 20th century until WWII they were one of the standard types of professional horns in use in the United States. They made (and make) many models of horn but the Horner model was certainly the one that was used the most by big name players and it was the type of horn that Conn copied when they created their 8D model back in 1937, of which this is an example. Note that the thumb valve is located on the “face” side of the valve cluster.

Meanwhile, there were other ways to make a double horn and the design that emerged as the strong competitor was the Knopf/Geyer type of wrap [UPDATE: For more on the Knopf/Geyer comparison see this article]. Note in this picture of a Hoyer horn of this type that the thumb valve is located on the side away from your face, opposite of the Kruspe wrap. It is still operated by the thumb, it just has a longer lever.

As a number of big pros are playing Geyer style horns some people have predicted the death of the Kruspe wrap for years. While they do have less small bends in the design, one element of the problem is perception as most “production” horns are Kruspe wrap and they are often built heavily, for a school market, like tanks (so they won’t dent easily). On the other hand most Geyer style horns are hand made by custom builders and most are lighter and more responsive instruments [also meaning “easier to play”–see UPDATE III at end of article]. The classic Kruspe style horn is nickel silver with a large throated bell and a classic Geyer is brass with a smaller bell throat. Also, as typically made today Kruspe horns have a heavier weight bell, although this will vary maker to maker.

I came to horn playing from the Conn 8D side of playing and would highlight two prior articles as background reading:

But I won my job in Nashville however playing on a modified Yamaha 667 and have toyed again recently with a vintage (East German) Hoyer. Note that there is one important quirk of Geyer style horns to consider, described in this article. Plus Bruce profiled one custom maker of Geyer style horns here for more background.

Speaking of the Yamaha 667, they obviously got good advice when they developed this instrument as it has much of the feel and sound of a handmade custom Geyer style horn. This is why people will bother to spend money to upgrade them. My co-author on this site Bruce Hembd did this recently; follow his story in these links with plenty of photos:

Bruce also owns and 8D and in short, Bruce and I have both seriously played on both styles of horn. They each feel a bit different and have their respective places in our professional horn world.

Any individual player that is really used to one setup or the other (Kruspe or Geyer) is pretty much automatically not going to be as comfortable on the other style of horn. Part of why some players feel strongly pro or against one or the other type is when you try the horn of the other type you are not using it with a mouthpiece that matches it ideally. Plus it blows different and sounds different (Kruspe=big and darker, Geyer=brighter and closer to European ideals) and the responsiveness of each horn will be different. You may not like the change. But a listener might really like the change if you took time to get used to it.

This leads us to a final point I would throw out there, the sound issue. Kruspe and Geyer sound different to be sure in the way they progress into a brighter tone quality as you crescendo. I know some reader will at this point think “oh, Joe sounds like Joe on any horn” which is true to a point but not true on a high level. Joe won’t sound the same in a good hall if they are a good player.

The big picture is the only listener that really matters is the conductor. Factory horns have a different sound than custom horns due to reasons of instrument weight and such, which is part of it. However, if you had a conductor hear the same player performing on a Kruspe wrap or a Geyer wrap as typically made today in a blind test they would chose the Geyer style horn almost every time. It will depend on the hall of course as well but the Geyer style horn has more color in the tone and is perceived to have more clarity. Right or wrong, that type of sound will catch their ears better and will tend to make them think that player has more technical prowess. And they are in fact the boss.

There is a much longer answer possible and every horn teacher will have a bit different take on all of this. Kruspe or Geyer is a minefield that every advanced student of the horn will have to negotiate carefully and you really should try both. Good luck to all readers in your personal quests for horn happiness.

UPDATE: Within actually only a few months of posting this article, and having thought about it for years, I actually made the switch to a Geyer/Knopf style horn. Among other things, as implied above, I feel this type of horn in general gives the type of sound that is more marketable in our present professional world in the U.S.A., and I have enjoyed the change, it feels very comfortable to play [less work!]. I have more on the horn I purchased here.

UPDATE II: See this article for more on the Schmidt and Lawson wraps and styles of horn, two popular models that are neither Kruspe or Geyer.

UPDATE III: Plus there is a point to expand about one type of horn being easier to play. As I put it in a note within a recent article,

If you are going to play a horn for hours week after week you need something that plays easily, especially as you get older, rather than expending great physical effort to produce some idealistic sonic concept.