Ask Dave: When Should My Daughter Move Up to a Double Horn?

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Susie asks:

My 5th grade daughter will be playing the French Horn in the orchestra this year. We were wondering what the normal time frame is for playing a single French horn before moving up to a double French horn? We are debating between renting and buying.

Dave replies:

I think the decision as to when to move to a double horn from a single horn is very much dependent on what your child’s teacher recommends and what you can afford to do. So, I’m not going to answer that part of the question.

But the question of whether one should rent or buy is a persistent one. Most parents don’t have a clear idea what to do when faced with such a large, unexpected financial commitment.

Many school systems have larger instruments to lend or rent at low cost to students. I recommend this as a good place to start, especially if you are on a tight budget.

However, if the school cannot provide a horn and you are forced into the “rent versus buy” situation you have to weigh several financial considerations. Renting a horn is usually a costly expense both on a monthly basis and over time. Even a single horn can be double the monthly rent of a trumpet, and is often more. Over time you will likely pay full list price or more for the horn that you are renting, when you can usually buy a new one on the open market for around 60-70% of list price and a used one for much less than that.

So, it would seem that buying is a better deal than renting. But even a moderately priced double horn is going to cost thousands of dollars brand new. It’s only a better deal if you can afford the money to buy.

If the parent is unsure or confused or does not have the money to buy a new horn, then I recommend renting for a short period of time, usually about one school year. If your child still has the desire to play and you have the money to buy a horn then consider buying a good condition used horn instead of a new one, especially if your child needs to continue on a single horn for a while. A new single horn is the worst investment overall because it retains so little resale value.

The finances of buying a horn are much the same as those of buying a car, only on a smaller order of magnitude. Your best deal is always a used horn that has had light use and is in good condition. Consider the value you are getting for your money, and stay within your budget.

University of Horn Matters