On the single F horn, part II: Mouthpieces for the serious player

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Continuing this brief series on the F horn and the 19th century, spending close to two months mostly playing the F horn on period solo literature has been an interesting project and learning experience.

In part I of this series I hint at some thoughts on tonguing, and I would briefly repeat that certainly the F horn requires very careful attention to tonguing in the upper range (the Eli Epstein book, reviewed here, has some of the best advice you will find).

Another part of the puzzle is the mouthpiece. About three years ago I posted a two part article on mouthpieces for horns with a high F side (starts here). In short, a shallower cup is advantageous on a triple or descant.

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But when it comes to long horns like a single F horn or a natural horn, a deeper cup is advantageous; it is acoustically more suited to the F horn.

The interesting thing I have found though is that, among those available in my “collection,” the several that have what I would call a double cup work the best.

Double cup mouthpieces are more associated with other brass instruments, especially the trumpet. Basically for a horn mouthpiece the design as you look at the main cup looks the same but then there is a secondary “V” shape (the “double cup”) that leads down to the actual straight bore (the small point) of the mouthpiece. It results in a very deep cup that has a throat that is closer to the small end of the mouthpiece than where it is typically placed.

The three mouthpieces that have the most promise for me right now on the single F are a 1980s vintage Atkinson H-10 (H being for Horner, but this one somewhat modified by me in grad school), a Moosewood Anton Horner 12, and a Moosewood LGC model. All of them have the double cup to varying degrees, which seems to help substantially with the rough attacks in the higher range that I get on any “modern” mouthpiece, and it also helps with slurs. Right now I am leaning toward the Atkinson example, but each has good points to consider.

The big picture point being that if you are playing anything serious on the F horn or on the natural horn your normal, modern horn mouthpiece is likely not the best choice.

Gumbert-model-hornThe other “update” to note as this series progresses is that in part I I was mostly playing on a reproduction period horn made for me by Rick Seraphinoff. At this point now I have however gravitated to another horn I own, one I made with his help but combining new, authentic parts with the body of a modern single F horn. The body is a vintage King horn but it was rebuilt with a crook to match the design of a Gumbert model horn (ca. 1880) that I saw photos of in a book. This photo is of the horn when I was rebuilding it; presently it also has a screw bell. That a Horner cup mouthpiece works well on it makes total sense, too, as Horner was a student of Gumpert (the name is actually spelled with a P, but on all of his publications it is spelled with a B).

Playing mostly this instrument for so long has taken this type of project to a new level for me (any prior version, such as described here, was part of usuing a group of horns on a recital). This project has given my accuracy a checkup too, in the same way that natural horn playing does. The F horn playing will continue into the summer, be looking for another update in a month or so.

Continue to Part III of series