Brief Review: An Inexpensive Natural Horn

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With a small amount of funds available, I had an idea how to use them for something that would help the studio. What I learned from a source was that the body of the natural horn sold by Berkeley Wind Instrument, made in China, was nicely done, but that the crooks might not be so good. Which could be OK for my students at Arizona State, as I will explain shortly.

The horn arrived over the summer and I have had some time to work with it. The bell/body is really nicely done and the bell appropriate sized for natural horn (smaller throat than a modern bell). The inside of the bell is painted black (I joke with people for a darker tone) and nicely decorated.

The crooks that came with it look pretty but don’t play well. They have sort of an odd design with a tuning bit piece at the receiver. Ours came with 5 crooks; I would rate the G and A crooks as bad and everything lower the key of G is terrible.

However, we at ASU have the set of five crooks and a ½ step coupler associated with a vintage Hawkes piston horn (over 100 years old! More info here), and with those crooks the horn plays quite well! The receiver design used on the Berkeley horn is larger than that used on the Hawkes, so to use the crooks we have to wrap the end of the crook in paper or thin cardboard. When you get them on the horn though, the horn is vastly better and plays quite nicely. Besides fit, the other major issue with using the Hawkes crooks is that the horn is ½ step sharp! So for example Hawkes Eb crook plays in E on the Chinese horn body. It is not really a problem in the big picture, just a slight math problem, and we do have that ½ step coupler as well.

Special mention should be made of the case. The design is really nice, it has pockets to hold five crooks and the coupler, for our purposes at ASU it is a great case. However, within two weeks of arriving the hinges failed. They seem very small and are not attached to anything firm. I plan to rework the attachment point and probably also affix more robust hinges.

In short I give the horn body itself an A+ at the price, it works great! The case I would give a C to, the design is good but has an execution problem. As to the crooks, those are now all up on the wall in the horn studio. Shiny and decorative! But not very good crooks for actual horn playing.

This horn, because we have the Hawkes crooks, perfectly fills a niche for us. I am looking forward to some natural horn quartets this year, as now ASU owns two natural horns and I have two more we can use.

University of Horn Matters