Tips on Auditioning Horns, Part I: Carl Geyer, Paxman 25, Patterson Custom and Finke Americus

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My main agenda for the Southwest Horn Conference (SWHC) – besides hearing concerts and talking shop – was to play on as many horns as possible. It had been a long while since I had an opportunity to play on so many different instruments, all in one convenient location. I was positively giddy at the prospect.

But before getting started, an agenda for consistent testing was needed in order to determine as fairly as possible what horns played the best. Based on my own personal and subjective set of standards, I wanted to come up with a wish list of what I would deem as “top gear” for this conference.

Keep it simple

Basic scales and arpeggios can tell a lot about a horn.

With even the simplest patterns, one can quickly and fairly judge intonation, response and many other determining factors. Myself, I prefer basics over solos or excerpts for one simple reason: to concentrate less on performing and more on critical evaluation.

Sometimes moving a slide or two may be involved. On my first morning of trials at the SWHC for instance, a door was open and the room was relatively cold; moving slides was a necessity on that occasion.

Bad notes

Next on the agenda is to find out if the horn has any weak spots, and in particular, any bad notes. Geyer-wrap horns, for example, can be fairly notorious for a few particular quirks and here is what I go for right away:

Geyer from Pope Instruments

On older horns too, grabbing the stop-arm rotor and giving it a good shake back-and-forth can reveal if there is wiggle-room in the valve. If the valves are tight, there will be little or no movement.

At the SWHC, this original Geyer with rebuilt valves and a new lead pipe by Ron Pinc was on Ken Pope‘s table. I played on it for a good while and enjoyed listening to others play on it too.

The valves seemed very tight and there were no bad notes to speak of. Characteristic of an original Carl Geyer horn in good shape, the tone felt like warm melted butter and it is well worth the price.

This horn is for sale from Pope Instruments, and another horn on the same table that caught my strong attention was the Paxman 25LGD.

I had never tried a dual bore horn before and thoroughly enjoyed the F-side of this instrument, among many other things. The Paxman 25LGD is a large-bore horn and it had a very open and free feel and response.

‘Wow’ factor

For any make or model of horn, I also like to slowly toggle between the different sides of the instrument to see how they do (or do not) line up. Again, moving a slide or two might be necessary. Be sure to give that a try before giving up altogether and putting a tester horn back down.

Patterson Custom Double

One of my favorite tests for Kruspe wraps in particular is to play a few loud forte-pianos and sfortzandos. I do this to see if the instrument can get some color and sizzle with having to work too hard for it.

If the horn just says ‘wow’ instead of WOW! I put it down and walk away.

One horn that had me saying WOW was the Patterson Custom Double. This was easily one of the best horns at the show. The Patterson Custom Double has the open feel of most Conn horns, but it contains plenty of sizzle and power for when it is needed.

Tone quality flows evenly throughout: the high range did not get shrieky and the low range did not feel stuffy or sound tubby.

Be aware of bias, stay open for surprises

Back in the day, the word fink was a pejorative for someone who is a tattle-tale and rats out their friends. You dirty rotten fink! Pinko commie fink!

This bias, I must sheepishly admit, has always been in my mind whenever I see or hear the brand name Finke  – and so to be fair, I had to put that aside and actually sit down and try one out.

Thankfully I put asunder my rather childish hangup and decided to try out the Finke Americus horn at the Osmun Music table. It was a nice surprise and a very fun horn to play on.

Finke Americus from Osmun Music

The Americus model is described as a large-bore Geyer-wrap design and it is made in nickel-silver. The tone quality and intonation felt even and smooth in all ranges.

Unfortunately, my camera lens had a smudge on it, but there is plenty of information at the Osmun Music site on the Finke Americus.

I felt an immediacy to the response of this horn, one that really intrigued me the more I played on it. The tone glows and radiates like an Engelbert Schmid double horn, but with perhaps more depth and weight.

Ultimately, the big lesson for me with the Finke Americus was that preconceived notions about a horn can lead to missed opportunities. I look forward to trying one of these horns out again.

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In Part II: Custom lead pipes, my favorite Conn horn and the dilemma of the Schmid double horn.

University of Horn Matters