Purchasing a French Horn can be a very confusing issue as there are many different options to consider. Whether you are a complete beginner, amateur player, teacher or professional player there is a John Packer French Horn that suits your budget and playing ability.
Your final choice of instrument needs to be comfortable to hold, easy to play, versatile and, importantly, it must cater for your future playing aspirations as well as the standard that you are now. Always consider all the options that are available.
The following guide gives an overview of the JP French horn range. For specific advice speak to your local JP supplier, or an experienced teacher.
French horns in Bb are easier to pitch in the upper register due to their 9ft tubing but can often sound more like a trombone. Our John Packer single ‘Bb’ Kinder Horn (JP161) is ideal for children. There are a couple of notes in the very low register, which are not achievable on the Bb horn. Some teachers prefer these horns because it is easier for the novice to progress quickly.
The single ‘F’ and single ‘Bb’ French Horns have some fingerings in common with each other namely A, Bb, B and C, but with the remaining notes you have to use different valve combinations.
Single horns are also available in a full size which are used by adults or players who prefer using a lighter weight instrument rather than using a full double horn where the repertoire allows it.
Some single horns come equipped with a Ducks Foot and/or an adjustable finger ring which can help players with smaller hands hold the instrument more comfortably.
French horns in F are considered to have the ‘traditional’ French horn sound but due to their 12ft tubing are very difficult to pitch in the higher register as the notes are very close together. Some teachers prefer these for novices as dealing with this difficulty makes the player adept at pitching at an early stage.
Our John Packer single ‘F’ Kinder Horn (JP162) is wrapped up very small and is ideal for children. We also have the JP165 which being full size is perfect for adult beginners.
Compensating horns are placed mid way between Single horns and Double horns and are often used as a ‘step up’ from single horns.
They are basically a 3 valve single ‘Bb’ horn of 9ft tubing with an extra 4th or ‘thumb’ valve which when used adds an extra 3ft of tubing which equals the 12ft of a single ‘F’ French Horn.
The 1st, 2nd and 3rd valves have a set of ‘F’ and ‘Bb’ set of slides with the shorter ones being the Bb side.
Therefore a big advantage of the Compensating horn is that it gives the player the range of a double horn whilst learning how to use the thumb or 4th valve lever, whilst the overall weight of the horn is considerably reduced.
The 4th or thumb valve allows the player to switch back and forth between the ‘F’ and ‘Bb’ side of the horn and it is the player and not the music or the composer who chooses which side to play on. The general rule of thumb (!) is that the low register is played on the ‘F ‘side and the higher register on the ‘Bb’ side, the middle register on either side depending on where you are coming from and where you are going. Certain notes will be more in tune on one side than the other so the player will use both the ‘F’ and the ‘Bb’ side whilst playing.
However, the compensating system does not offer the level of secure tuning and natural harmonics available on a double horn and consequently some players and teachers prefer to go from a single horn straight to a double horn.
John Packer offers a Rath designed French Horn series - you can read more about this collaboration here
These horns are usually classed as ‘Intermediate’ or ‘Professional’ and have a ‘full’ set of ‘F’ tubing (12ft) and a ‘full’ set of ‘Bb’ tubing (9ft) and all the valves have separate ‘F’ & ‘Bb’ slides (which can all be removed). It is essentially two single horns in compressed into one with a shared leadpipe and bell.
The ‘Double’ Bb/F French Horn is the preferred type of horn and is used by the majority of players as its large range of options make it the ideal and most versatile instrument.
We offer a JP Rath designed double French Horn which has a detachable bell.
Learning a musical Instrument at a young age has a whole host of benefits but it is important that children are comfortable holding and playing their instrument before they start their musical journey in earnest.
When starting younger players on a French Horn it is common to start on ‘kinder’ (small wrap) horns with 3 valves. This is so that the correct hand position can be taught easily. A full size instrument is simply too big to comfortably hold and play for a younger/smaller player.
Teachers are still divided on which single horn is ‘best’ to start a pupil on as there are merits for both the single Bb and the single F horns. It is therefore very important to seek advice from your own individual teacher as you could easily purchase the wrong single horn.
If a beginner is physically able to hold a compensating or double horn, there is no reason why they should not start on a suitable instrument and miss out the single horns altogether.
The other consideration for younger players is their ‘embouchure’ or mouth position when starting at a young age. Developing a good embouchure can take many years and relies on making small adjustments over time. It is usually best to wait until adult teeth are fully in place so that a stable mouth and teeth position is set for players to use as their baseline for embouchure development.
Here are some common vocabularly used around French horns:
Adjustable Bb/F 4th valve lever
Ideal to fit smaller hands and can be adjusted to suit the individual player.
Reversible Bb/F 4th valve lever
Can be altered to suit the player’s preference.
This type uses a strong string, which is wrapped around a connecting post from the valve to the lever. When the lever is pushed down, the string rotates the rotary valve to change the note. String linkages require periodic adjustment and eventual replacement of the string. The biggest advantage of string linkage is its silent operation.
This type uses metal arms that connect the levers and valves with ball and socket joints. Mechanical linkage can produce a slight "clicking" sound when the instrument is played. The advantage of mechanical linkage is that it lasts much longer than string linkage and requires less maintenance.
The wrap of the horn has a great effect on the feel and resistance of the instrument. There are a number of different wraps, with variations on each. The best way of choosing is to try the various designs until a horn that feels right is found.
Many French horns are equipped with a bell that can be attached/detached by using a screw thread. This is called a ‘screw’ or detachable bell and allows the horn to fit into a smaller case for easier transport. These are perhaps less ideal for younger players who may damage the thread during assembly/disassembly through ‘enthusiastic’ handling.
Our brass department is more than happy to answer any brass related queries that you might have, feel free to contact our sales team via our contact form or leave a comment below.