Thoughts on ‘Quality’ and an Overview of Trusted Brands in French Horns


As someone who works in marketing and advertising, I respect the value and power of word-of-mouth opinion. While big-name consumer brands – like McDonald’s and Sony – manipulate popular opinion and end-purchasing through detailed marketing strategies, the same is not completely true in the much smaller universe of horns and musical instruments.

I doubt that in our lifetime for example, that we will ever see television commercials, bus signs or billboards that advertise orchestral instruments, let alone a specific instrument like the French horn.

What drives a person to try out a different horn?

In my own observations, the initial motivation to try out a new instrument – whether it be a professional player, student or enthusiast – appears to be based wholly on what a player hears or feels about a certain brand. While a limited amount of advertising avenues for horn makers exist in order to drive opinion – banner ads, artist endorsements and trade journal advertising as examples – for the most part their sales rely heavily on word-of-mouth opinion.

Under this rule, popular opinion can make or break a company’s brand and in more extreme cases, its reputation.

Whether or not this opinion is accurate or based in fact is beside the point – if someone simply believes that a certain horn does not play well, they probably will not even consider a trial session to play on it. Even if they do try it out, that trial will be biased and therefore, tainted.

To quantify this theory and test it out further, a survey titled “What Brand Names Do You Trust?” collected the opinions of 392 participants. The results are in and while it may take some time to process a full report, here are some overview statistics to think about in the meantime.

The survey

  • Alexander
  • Atkinson
  • Balu
  • Berg
  • Cantesanu
  • Conn (Abilene TX 1969-86)
  • Conn (Eastlake OH 1986-present)
  • Conn (Elkhart IN 1937-1969)
  • Cornford
  • Dieter-Otto
  • Dürk
  • Eastman
  • Finke
  • Geyer
  • Holton
  • Hoyer
  • Jupiter
  • Kalison
  • King
  • Kortesmaki
  • Kruspe
  • Kühn
  • Lawson
  • Lewis
  • McCracken
  • Patterson
  • Paxman
  • Rauch
  • Schmid
  • Schmidt
  • Sorley
  • Willson
  • Yamaha

Participants were asked the simple question of “Do you believe this brand to produce quality French horns?” Four options were given as answers:

  • Yes
  • No
  • I have no opinion
  • I have never heard of it

Quality and motorcycles

The key term in the survey question was the word “quality.” It was chosen with a very deliberate purpose.

Like beauty, the perception of a horn’s quality is in the eye of the beholder. It could mean any number of things – from how the instrument is constructed, to how it actually plays. It is not an objective term and to a certain degree, neither is the preference to choose one brand of horn over another.

From the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence” (1974) we have Pirsig’s metaphysics of Quality to consider:

“Quality,” or “value,” as described by Pirsig, cannot be defined because it empirically precedes any intellectual construction of it. Quality is the “knife-edge” of experience, known to all. “What distinguishes good and bad writing? Do we need to ask this question of Lysias or anyone else who ever did write anything?” (Plato’s Phaedrus, 258d).

Equating it with the Tao, Pirsig postulates that Quality is the fundamental force in the universe stimulating everything from atoms to animals to evolve and incorporate ever greater levels of Quality. According to the MOQ, everything (including ideas, and matter) is a product and a result of Quality.

The big question

What is a quality French horn?

In short, we know it when we see it and that is really the only viable answer.

This survey and its results are not intended as a popularity contest or as a list of recommended horns and it should not be viewed as such. In this regard, surveying what people people perceive about a particular brand is a very valid study and when looking at the results, the old axiom of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” should be kept in mind.

However, if I were an existing company whose brand name appears within this study, I would be paying very close attention to its results and also to what might be done to sustain, reinforce or in some cases, rebuild my company’s brand and image.

This all being said, here are some preliminary results to think about.

High and low meta-scores

The top eight most recognized brands:

  1. Holton (100%)
  2. Yamaha (99%)
  3. Conn (98%)
  4. Alexander (98%)
  5. Paxman (98%)
  6. Hoyer (95%)
  7. Jupiter  (95%)
  8. King  (94%)

The bottom eight least recognized brands:

  1. Sorley  (227 votes)
  2. Kortesmaki  (213 votes)
  3. Cornford  (199 votes)
  4. Cantesanu  (196 votes)
  5. Kalison (195 votes)
  6. Willson (180 votes)
  7. McCracken (157 votes)
  8. Eastman (149 votes)

The top eight brands most perceived to produce quality horns:

  1. Alexander (346 votes)
  2. Paxman (346 votes)
  3. Schmid (306 votes)
  4. Conn – Elkhart IN 1937-1969 (305 votes)
  5. Geyer (292 votes)
  6. Hoyer (281 votes)
  7. Yamaha  (280 votes)
  8. Kruspe  (265 votes)

The bottom eight brands least perceived to produce quality horns:

  1. Jupiter  (275 votes)
  2. Conn – Abilene TX 1969-86  (167 votes)
  3. King  (163 votes)
  4. Conn – Eastlake OH 1986-present  (135 votes)
  5. Holton  (133 votes)
  6. Eastman  (102 votes)
  7. Kalison  (76 votes)
  8. Yamaha  (69 votes)

More to come

These results are only a beginning. Since participants were grouped into age and experience sub-sets, there will be plenty of more data to look at and cross-compare in a full report, coming either this Friday or sometime next week. [NEXT ARTICLE]

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