Tips on Auditioning Horns, Part II: Mouthpieces, Leadpipes, Hybrids and the Schmid Double

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At the Southwest Horn Conference (SWHC) a variety of Kruspe and Geyer type horns were available to try out. I currently play on a hybrid Geyer-wrap horn and not wanting to miss out on playing some great Kruspe-wrap horns, I came prepared with an agenda.

This agenda began with a pocket full of mouthpieces.

Bring more than one mouthpiece

Being a staunch Moosewood customer, I brought three mouthpieces:

  • Moosewood D6*
  • Moosewood A10*
  • Moosewood RB12

The D6 and A10 are heavyweight models* and due to their unique profile (and short external shank) I was not able to use them on a number of the European horns with deeper lead pipes.

For those horns I used the RB12. As the numbering system implies, this mouthpiece is the smallest of the trio and so that factor had some bearing. For the most part, I tried out horns in which the D6 or A10 would fit. Next time I will be better prepared with a European shank mouthpiece.

Hybrid horns

There were a number of modified stock horns to try out and compare. Having owned a few hybrid horns myself, these horns intrigued me the most.

The Conn 28D 400,000 series horn at the Houghton Horns table – priced at $5,250 – got a lot of attention. It is a modified, hybrid horn with a traditional 8D sound and some extra spice.

Of all the Conn brand horns at the conference, this one was my favorite.

With the Houghton custom leadpipe it was capable of a nice range of colors – from muted pianissimos to brassy fortissimos. I had a hard time putting it down and also had fun listening to a number of other people play on it. This horn has a charm, warmth and clarity that is difficult to put into words.

Like mouthpieces, a quality custom leadpipe can add huge and even mysterious properties to a horn. It is not something that I fully understand, but it is suffice to say that I have never been disappointed with a custom leadpipe on a stock instrument.

Hoyers with custom lead pipes

Along these lines two Hoyer horns at the SWHC – both with custom lead pipes – stood out. A stock Hoyer is a fairly good horn to begin with and with a custom lead pipe, it takes a quantum leap forward.

This Kruspe wrap horn from Houghton Horns with a custom leadpipe is a bargain at $6,250.

It had the wide, traditional 8D sound with the added bonus of an excellent medium-low range and a nice colorful, fortissimo sound.

I have nothing but equal high praise for the Hoyer G10 with a Patterson Hornworks leadpipe, priced at $5,045. I had a chance to compare this horn to a stock G10 (with a stock leadpipe) and noticed a significant improvement with the addition of the custom leadpipe.

Diamonds in the rough?

Based on what I saw at the SWHC, the average cost for a premium double horn ranged from about $8,000 to $11,000, while hybrid horns ranged anywhere from $4,000 to $7,000.

In seeking out a quality horn to purchase, one does not necessarily need to invest in a high-grade import or expensive custom horn. There are some pretty good hybrids out there that are at least worth considering.

The Schmid double horn

On the highest range of the pricing scale for double horns, we have Engelbert Schmid double horns. At the SWHC there were several Schmid doubles to try out, as well as a few descants and triples.

Compared to my current double horn, the Schmid double felt like lifting a bag of marshmallows; its weight seems impossibly light.

Of all the horns I played at the conference, the Schmid doubles felt the easiest and most secure to play. Playing on it in fact, almost felt too easy. Its sound glows like sunshine in all ranges, but somehow, I remained suspicious.

A few passersby noted that Schmid double horns sound very good up close, but do not carry well in a large hall. Yet, some people – like James Boldin – really like their Schmid doubles and have nothing but praise for them.

For the time being at least, I remain somewhat undecided.

Delusions of grandeur

I would love to get this Schmid double horn – and well actually, all of these horns –  into a large room with other people listening.

In closing out this two-part article on auditioning horns, that thought is probably the most important tip of all. Before making a final commitment towards purchasing a new or pre-owned instrument, be sure to have someone listen to you.

There are any number of factors that can cloud any musician’s good judgment, and in terms of what an instrument actually sounds like at a distance an impartial listener (or two) can help to sort out what is fact from what is fiction.

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