Guide to Horn Types Explained

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The French horn is a beautiful instrument with a lovely sound, but it’s also a very complicated piece of technology. What North Americans call a “French Horn” actually originated in Germany. And that’s just the first confusing thing about this beautiful-sounding but a notoriously difficult brass instrument. 

Horns require impeccable lip and breath technique and will reward sloppiness with painful sour notes. But if you are willing to put in the long hours of practice, horns can produce music that will bring tears to your eyes or rally you to action. 

When you’re a beginner shopping for a French horn, all the choices may seem overwhelming.  There are many inexpensive French horns available on Amazon and elsewhere. But most are barely playable and will soon have you throwing up your hands in frustration. 

Buying a good horn will require a significant cash outlay. But once you make those sacrifices, you will be rewarded with a lifetime of musical joy and entertainment. 

To help, I’ve compiled a guide to the many different types of horn, along with a brief horn history. I’ve also pointed out some particularly fine horns on the market today, with an eye to instruments for different uses and skill levels.

Bottom Line Up Front: For most serious horn players, the Conn 8D will be the best choice. The Conn 8D will be an instrument that you can use from your first horn lessons to your Carnegie Hall debut. If you prefer the brighter and lighter sound of a Geyer wrap double horn, Yamaha’s YHR-671 will put a big smile on your face.

Want to learn more about how we got today’s French horn? Buckle up, because we’re about to take a trip back to the Stone Age!

The History of Horns

At some point in the dim, distant past a bored hunter-gatherer made a buzzing sound through a hollow animal horn and was shocked by the loud sound produced. As that buzz resonated through the horn, it was amplified and transformed into a loud ringing sound. 

For thousands of years, musicians used horns and conch shells for signals and rallying cries. With a little more practice, Mesolithic musicians learned they could play different notes through lip and breath control. The shofar, the ram or kuru horn played on Jewish holidays, might be the oldest musical instrument still in regular use.

Sometime around 7,000 years ago (give or take a few centuries), we learned how to smelt and work copper. Copper is too soft to use for weaponry but could easily be worked into long and precisely shaped tubes. These copper horns could be built to more accurate tolerances than animal horns, allowing for a more predictable tone.

Around 5,500 years ago, smiths discovered you could mix copper with tin to create bronze, thereby starting the Bronze Age. They also combined copper and zinc to create brass, the metal still used today to make horns and other brass instruments.

Wrapped Horns

As the Bronze Age dawned, smiths began crafting horns out of metal. Smiths were able to produce cones that were longer than any animal horn. But longer horns were hard to hold, so instrument makers began wrapping their horns into circular shapes. Hunters could carry a wrapped hunting horn around their shoulders and blast a signal when they spotted prey. Different notes and cadences could signal the animal’s position and direction or call for help in an emergency. These wrapped hunting horns are the forerunners of the modern-day French horn.

Because these horns could only play a single harmonic series, horn players typically owned several instruments. Then, around 1700, Vienna’s Liechnamschneider brothers developed a new system. 

Hunting horns had permanently affixed mouthpieces since a removable mouthpiece could come loose while you were riding after a fox or stag. The Leichnamschneiders developed a removable mouthpiece attached to a short length of tubing or a master crook. To change the horn’s pitch, a player would add additional lengths of tubing.

Removable mouthpieces were an enormous innovation. The horn’s sound depends on the interaction between the player’s lips and mouthpiece. Horn players could now choose mouthpieces with the diameter, rim, and depth best suited to their playing style. Today the horn and all brass instruments feature removable mouthpieces, and serious horn players spend as much time choosing mouthpieces as instruments.

Crooks, by contrast, have largely fallen out of fashion. Swapping crooks mid-performance was awkward, and while it is easier to tote extra crooks than extra horns, hornists were still left carrying bulky and easily dented lengths of tubing. While some period performances use natural horns with crooks, most horns today change pitch through a system invented over a century after the Liechnamschneiders’ crooks.

Best Natural Horn: Wessex FH790 Natural Horn

British/Chinese instrument maker Wessex Tubas has brought many period instruments to market at very reasonable prices. The Wessex FH790 Natural Horn comes with a set of eight crooks to change keys. If you want to play Baroque and early symphonic music on a period-accurate instrument, the FH790 lets you add a new horn to your collection for a bit less than $1,200.


In 1814 German inventor Heinrich Stölzel applied valves to a natural horn, thereby creating the prototype of our modern-day French horn. With his system of valves and pipes, horn players could perform complete chromatic scales without crooks, hand-stopping, or lipping.

As Stoetzel bragged in a letter to the King of Prussia:

My horn can play all the notes from the lowest to the highest with the same purity and strength without having to stop the hand into the bell. The mechanism of my invention is most simple, can be employed easily and quickly and everyone who plays the instrument can make himself thoroughly familiar with its application in a few days. This device renders the many crooks superfluous and makes it possible for the artist to play all the notes without losing any of the instrument’s tone.

Stölzel’s valves had some issues with back pressure and constricted airflow, and some longtime natural horn players were reluctant to learn a whole new system.

But before long valves were standard on every brass instrument, even trombones! (While the slide trombone regained its position, valve trombones remain popular in many countries today).

Rotary Valves

French Horn valves

First invented by Joseph Riedlin in 1832, today rotary valves are used by the overwhelming majority of French horns. Rotary valves help produce the smooth transitions and broad, mellow tone commonly associated with the horn’s sound. 

Rotary valves use a short circular plug with airports are cut along one plane through the stock. When a hornist presses a key, the plug rotates 90 degrees and directs the airflow into the tubing.

While most other brass instruments in North America use piston valves, you will sometimes see rotary valves on tubas and euphoniums. Many tubists prefer rotary tubas because they feel the rotary valves produce smoother, more flowing notes than the oom-pah sound of piston tubas. In Germany, Austria, and Eastern Europe, many musicians prefer rotary trumpets.

Rotary valves are more delicate than piston valves and will become jammed and corroded if not oiled regularly. Hornists must regularly unscrew their valve caps and lubricate their valves (including the F/B♭ rotor).

If the horn uses mechanical linkages, those must be oiled as well. On most professional horns, the rotors and valves are connected by a quieter string linkage. The hornist with a string-linked horn will need to know how to restring a valve with a broken or frayed string linkage.

They were also configured in the ornately curved style of the natural horns, so the resemblance between an 18th-century horn and your new Conn 8D is more than just cosmetic.

Piston Valves

Early 20th-century piston valve horn

Although today’s “French horn” uses rotary valves, horns made in 19th and early 20th century France used piston valves designed by François Périnet. Périnet’s valve design is still used on trumpets and other brass instruments today.  

Piston valves can move more quickly than rotary valves, and allow for “half-valving” effects that you cannot perform on a rotary instrument. They also produce a brighter, lighter sound well suited for ensemble and small orchestra work.

There are two major reasons why piston valves are not used on concert horns. The first is ergonomic. The placement of piston keys requires musicians to stretch their fingers at an awkward and often painful angle. 

There are also issues with using piston valves on double horns. While a few piston double horns were produced, a double horn requires very long valves that may require the musician to push the keys an uncomfortable distance.

Single Horns

Most people today see single French horns as student instruments for beginners. There’s some truth to that idea. Single horns are lighter than double horns, making them easier for smaller students to handle.

And a single horn has one less valve to worry about, something that may help a student already struggling with a complicated and challenging instrument.

Mendini MFH-20 Single French Horn in F



Mendini is a Chinese firm that, with its parent company Cecilio, has become one of the world’s leading manufacturers of student instruments. For a small fraction of the price you’ll pay for a professional horn, you can have a complete, ready-to-play instrument that comes with a carrying case, a mouthpiece, and even a polishing cloth and set of white gloves to make sure your instrument stays nice and shiny.

This is a beginner’s horn and serious students will likely outgrow it in a couple of years. But it is a solid instrument that will let beginners concentrate on their lessons without worrying about their horn’s shoddy construction or bad intonation.


  • Comes with everything you need to start playing the French horn
  • One year warranty
  • An inexpensive introduction to the French horn


  • Serious students will quickly outgrow this model


  • Key of F
  • Lacquered yellow brass bell and body
  • .450″ bore
  • 12″ bell
  • 3 solid rotors with mechanical linkage

Double Horns

While the music for most brass instruments is written in their second octave, much horn music goes into their third or even fourth octave. With each octave, the difference between tones grows narrower. This narrow range makes it easier for hornists to miss the note.

In 1897 German instrument maker Eduard Kruspe introduced a double horn. Kruspe’s horn featured the fourth rotor in addition to the three standard valves. When the performer closed the fourth valve, four feet of tubing were blocked from the horn’s length. This raised the pitch a fifth, from F to B♭.

With the fourth valve engaged, higher notes became easier to play. And since engaging a thumb valve is considerably easier and faster than changing a crook, hornists could take advantage of the pitch change during a passage without any awkward pauses. Today the double horn is standard with professionals and students above the intermediate level.

Kruspe placed his fourth rotor above the other three. This placement produced a shorter linkage between the thumb lever and the fourth rotor. Today this style is called a “Kruspe wrap” horn. In the 1920s, Carl Geyer, a German-American horn maker, designed double horns with the fourth rotor in line with the other three valves. 

This “Geyer wrap” is more free-blowing as it involves less complex tubing turns, while the Kruspe wrap has a distinctive darker tone. Horn players are divided on which wrap is better, and a few horn companies offer double horns in both wraps.

By high school, most French horn players are using a double horn. A double horn is, as per its name, an F horn and a B♭ horn sharing a mouthpiece. The French hornist can use the F horn for lower and low-middle register work. For higher passages, the B♭ horn is pitched a fifth above the F horn.  That double tubing can be wrapped in two styles.

  • Geyer horns place the F/B♭ rotor valve in line with the other three valves. This configuration produces fewer bends in the tubing and results in a freer-blowing instrument with a brighter tone.
  • Kruspe horns move the F/B♭ rotor valve close to the thumb key. Because this requires several additional tubing bends, Kruspe horns have more resistance. To counterbalance Kruspe horns generally have larger bells, giving Kruspe horns a characteristic dark tone.

Yamaha YHR-671 Full Double French Horn (Geyer)


Yamaha is one of the world’s largest instrument makers and their instruments range from highly-regarded student lines to professional horns that are found in many conservatories and orchestras.

The YHR-671 has a bright, broad tonal palate, and is especially well suited for dynamic passages that require pianissimo to double forte shifts. Its adjustable fourth rotor thumb lever lets you dial in the lever position you want, and the extended B♭ 2nd valve pull ring lets you make tuning adjustments quickly and comfortably.

Musicians praise Yamaha instruments for their reliability and durability. They note the YHR-671’s tight design specifications result in a horn that stays in tune and slots notes accurately. If you’re looking for a solid French horn and you favor the Geyer wrap sound, you can’t go wrong with the YHR-671.


  • Ergonomically designed for comfortable play
  • Excellent quality control and customer service
  • Retains resale value well


  • None, really – Yamaha is a world-famous instrument maker for a reason


  • Key: F/B♭
  • Body: Yellow brass
  • Bell Size: M
  • Bell Type: Fixed or Detachable
  • Bore Size: 12.0mm (0.472″)
  • Number of Valves: 4
  • Valve Rotors: Solid
  • Lever Action: String
  • Finish: Clear lacquer
  • Mouthpiece: HR-32C4
  • Case: Included

Conn & Selmer CG Conn 8D (Kruspe Wrap)

Introduced in 1937, the C.G. Conn 8D has long been one of America’s most popular French horns. American conductors and musicians love the dark, rich, satiny sound of a Conn 8D like Austrians love their Vienna horns.

And since America exports a great deal of music, lots of people have heard studio musicians playing Conn 8Ds on records and soundtracks.

They can play soft, warm, and mellow, but Conn 8Ds really shine at higher volumes. Their power to handle tragic crescendos and passionate passages made 8Ds favorites on movie studio lots. If you like French horns with a big sound, you’ll have a hard time finding a sound bigger than a Conn 8D.


  • Conn 8Ds are the French horn of choice in American studios and soundtracks
  • Traditional broad, dark American sound
  • Great dynamic range that preserves clarity in the softest and loudest passages


  • Large bore and bell means you need healthy lung power to play the 8D


  • Key of F/B♭
  • .468″ bore
  • 12-1/4″ large throat nickel silver bell
  • All nickel silver construction
  • Tapered rotors and bearings
  • Mechanical change valve
  • Adjustable lever bridge
  • Clear lacquer finish
  • Conn7BW mouthpiece
  • 7614C plastic shell case

Double Descant Horns

While trombone and trumpet players spend most of their time playing in their instrument’s second harmonic series, the French horn’s most common range starts in its third series.

With each series, the space between notes grows more narrow, making it easier to hit a sour note. Descant horns are a special type of double horn pitched in B♭ and F alto, an octave above the F side on a typical double horn. This makes it easier for a hornist to slot notes on the highest passages.

Descant horns move high passages down a harmonic series, making them popular for repertoire with sustained higher register playing. While they have the same range as a standard double French horn, their tone is lighter and the higher range is a bit easier to play.

The horn’s high register will always be challenging, but in the hands of a skilled horn player, a descant horn can be a great tool for getting the job done properly.

Paxman Model 45 Descant Horn

Paxman Instruments has been making descant horns since the 1940s, and its B♭/F-alto instrument has long been considered the gold standard for descant horns.

The Model 45’s valve is specially designed to ensure both the mouthpiece and branch have proper mouthpiece tapers. The Model 45 also features a new longer taper that enhances the tone and improves the intonation on the lower end.

Paxman lets you choose the material, bore, bell flare, and lever action so you can get exactly the sound you want. The Paxman “Merewether system” ensures air flows smoothly when transitioning between keys.

If you find yourself spending a lot of time playing in the high register, the Paxman 45 will leave your highest passages sounding better than you would have imagined possible.


  • Meticulously crafted by one of Britain’s most well-regarded horn makers
  • Solid, silky sound with particular strength in high register
  • Many customization options


  • Limited distribution in US, may need to special order


  • Bore: M-Medium ML-Medium/Large L-Large
  • Wrap: Geyer
  • Metal: Y-Yellow brass G-Gold brass N-Nickel silver
  • Bell Flare: F-Fixed D-Detachable
  • Lever Action: C-Cord M-Miniball
  • Valve Section: S-Standard C-Compact
  • Pitch: A-442 unless otherwise specified

Triple Horns

A few horn manufacturers make triple horns that combine the F/B♭ bodies of a traditional double horn with the F alto section of a double descant horn. In theory these horns would provide you with the best of all possible worlds and allow you to play at your best across every register. 

In practice triple horns are heavy, complicated, and expensive. Constructing a double horn is a daunting affair: adding another valve that opens and closes half the F tubing makes things much more complicated.

Some hornists feel the triple horn design makes compromises on all three bodies and produces a sound inferior to that of a double or descant. Many triple horns, particularly the less expensive ones, suffer from intonation issues and mechanical problems. An extra valve not only means one more key to consider, it means one more valve to oil and one more mechanical failure point. 

But for every critic, there is a musician who finds the additional versatility a triple horn offers worth the weight, complexity, and expense. Since triple horns are used in orchestral and studio settings, any presumed loss of sound quality is not so great as to trouble professional conductors and recording engineers.

If you have the money to invest in a good triple horn and the chops to play it, you’ll be set for anything your music director throws in your direction.

Alexander Model 303 F/B♭/High F Triple Horn

Alexander’s 103, a double horn, is the instrument of choice for a majority of German horn players. Their triple horn combines the bodies of the 103 with the High F of the 107, their popular descant horn. Armed with a 103, the hornist can switch to the best key for any passage.

And while Alexander offers some choices in material at their storefront, they can make custom modifications to a standard 303 upon special request.

When you are at a skill level that will benefit from a triple horn, you have put in thousands of hours of playing and know exactly what you want in your dream instrument. Alexander can make your dreams come true.

But while Alexander may build your ideal instrument, dreams come at a steep price. The Alexander 303 starts at around $15,000 and goes up from there depending on any options you select.

For the price of an Alexander 303 you could own a Conn 8D, a Yamaha 652, and a Paxman 45. You’d lose the convenience of a single instrument, but you’d be able to choose between Geyer and Kruspe wrap.


  • Custom triple horns available upon request
  • Rich broad Alexander house sound stays velvety even at higher volumes
  • Unique Alexander design for smooth playing


  • Expensive


  • Key: F/B♭/High F
  • Bore: 12,1 mm
  • Bell flare diameter: 310 mm
  • Bell throat: Medium
  • Body size: Medium
  • Material: Yellow brass, gold brass or nickel silver
  • No. of valves: 6
  • No. of thumb valves: 2

Specialized Horns

While the French horn is the most famous of the horns, there are a few similar horns that you will see used in certain roles. These instruments are generally played by French horn players in the orchestra as the situation warrants.

Some are very specialized instruments only useful in a few situations, while others are growing increasingly popular within the broader musical community.


For many years mail delivery coaches traveling through European towns would announce their arrival by blowing on a posthorn. The ringing cadence of the horn became associated with rural village life and with mail carriers: even today posthorns are featured on the logos of many European postal services.

Mozart used a posthorn in his Serenade No. 9 for Orchestra (called the “Posthorn Serenade”). Mahler has a posthorn playing offstage in his 3rd symphony. Many other Central European composers have worked classic posthorn cadences into their music.

Tempest Musical Instruments Agility Rotary B♭ Posthorn

Most of the early posthorns were natural horns. But after the introduction of valves in the 1830s, some valved posthorns were built as well. The Agility posthorn from Tempest Instruments has three valves and an octave and a half usable range.

The Agility is especially good for playing Mahler’s 3rd but will work with Mozart or in any situation where you want a thrilling high horn sound.

While there are a couple of situations where a posthorn is indispensable, there are not a lot of other situations where you will need a posthorn. But if you want to add a cool instrument to your horn collection for not a lot of money, this may be the posthorn for you.


  • Concert hall-ready posthorn for under $700
  • Valves give you extra chromatic room


  • Not a lot of repertoire


  • Rotary Valves: 3
  • Key: B♭
  • Case: Included


French horns sound great in a chamber or an orchestra pit, but they’re not really built for marching. The bell position on a French horn is not set up for the acoustic demands of an arena or athletic field and the heavy, bulky horn is difficult to play while going through marching maneuvers.

Mellophones (also called “marching French horns”) are built more like trumpets or cornets, with front-facing bells and piston valves.

The mellophone fills in the middle parts between the trumpets and trombones in marching brass bands and drum & bugle corps.  You can use a trumpet mouthpiece for a brighter sound, or a horn mouthpiece for a warmer sound that is closer to a French horn.

 Yamaha YHR-302M

Yamaha’s YHR-302M was designed for ergonomic balance so you won’t have to strain to keep it in place during maneuvers during field recordings.

And if you’re a French horn player intrigued by the trumpet, the YHR-302M may be a great compromise that will give you a unique onstage sound that sounds like a warmer flugelhorn.

The YHR-302M is keyed in B♭, a full fifth above the usual F. Most marching music is more likely to call on the horn’s higher register than its lower, so this comes in handy on the field.

If you’re used to reading in F the transposition may give you some headaches for a while, but if you’re going to be a serious horn player you’re going to have to learn sight transposition sooner or later.


  • Can use trumpet mouthpieces for a brighter sound or French horn mouthpieces for more warmth
  • A great marching instrument that brings the distinctive French horn sound to arenas and events
  • Considerably lighter than a concert French horn


  • B♭ key will cause challenges for French horn players used to F transpositions


  • Key: B♭
  • Playing Weight: 3.5 lbs
  • Bore Size: .472″
  • Shank: Standard French Horn
  • Bell Size: 10 1/8″
  • Body Material: Yellow Brass
  • Leadpipe Material: Yellow Brass
  • Valves: 3 Pistons
  • Valve Material: Nickel-Silver
  • Finish: Lacquer
  • Mouthpiece: 30C4
  • Case: Included

Vienna Horns -Completed

Vienna Horns use special valves called pumpen valves. While they have paddle keys like rotary valves, the pipes are opened and closed with pistons.

Pumpen valves were introduced by Viennese instrument maker Leopold Uhlmann and are among the earliest brass instrument valves. These valves used a piston action but connected the keys and valves with long push-rods. Uhlmann’s valves produced a mellow, smooth sound that was very like a natural horn but had a slower action that made fast passages more difficult.

 Because the action on these valves is slower, most horn makers switched to the rotary valves used on French horns today.

Despite all the modern advances in horn design, the Vienna horn has remained virtually unchanged since the mid-nineteenth century. Vienna horn players use single horns and change keys using removable crooks like hornists in Mozart’s time. 

The narrow bore and large-throated bell give the Vienna horn a dark, mellow sound while the Vienna valves give it a smooth legato. And though the crooks may be inconvenient, they give the horn a sound very like the natural horns of the Baroque era, with none of the inevitable compromises that arise when designing double and triple horns.

While a Vienna horn might come in very handy when playing the works of the many Viennese composers, these instruments can be difficult to find outside of Austria. While you can find used or new Vienna horns with some effort, they don’t come cheap.

Englebert Schmid Vienna Horn

German horn maker Engelbert Schmid has worked hard to reduce the moving mass of the levers and pumpen valves. The machinery on an Engelbert Schmid weighs less than half the usual weight on other Vienna horns.

This makes the valve action lighter and faster while retaining a vintage Vienna horn’s sweet natural tone and slur facilities. And while vintage Vienna horns are famously fussy, the Engelbert Schmid Vienna is designed for solid intonation in every register.

You can get an Engelbert Schmid Vienna horn as a single or a double. But where your double French horn changes key with valves, Vienna horns use the old system of alternating crooks and valve slides.

A single Engelbert Schmid Vienna horn will set you back €6,800 (over $7,500) while a double Engelbert Schmid with all the bells and whistles will cost you over €10,000 (over $11,000).


  • One of the best Vienna horn makers on the market
  • Believe it or not, one of the most reasonably priced Vienna horns available
  • Can use other Engelbert Schmid crooks to play your horn like a natural horn


  • Expensive


  • Key F (B♭ with optional valve slides and crook)
  • Bore: 10.7 mm
  • Bell: Vienna
  • Body, bell alloys: brass,  gold brass, nickel silver, sterling silver
  • 3 or 5 water key builds are available

Tenor Horn

Remember our earlier discussion about “French” horns?  Well, tenor horns are even more confusing. Mahler’s 7th symphony features a solo for tenor horn. But the instrument that we call a “tenor horn”  is called an Althorn (Alto Horn) in Germany. 

Many orchestras play the tenor horn solo on a euphonium, sometimes called a “tenor tuba.”  But when Mahler requested a “tenor horn in B♭” he was thinking of an instrument that resembles a French horn more than a tuba.

The Czech/German tenor horn Mahler was thinking of using a larger bell hammered to a thinner gauge. This produces a less piercing but more resonant and harmonically complex sound. The euphonium’s sound is heavier and more forceful, and while Mahler’s music is often described using those adjectives this tenor horn solo was meant to be lighter and more nimble.

Best Tenor Horn: Wessex BR-130 Tenor Horn

Wessex BR-130 Tenor Horn

Wessex Tubas offers its BR-130 German Tenor Horn for under $1,000. This is the proper instrument for Mahler’s 7th symphony, but once you learn that part you’re going to find all sorts of new opportunities to take advantage of the tenor horn’s hauntingly beautiful sound. The BR-130 offers much of the sound you will get from a Czech or German tenor horn but at less than 20% of the cost.


  • Cheaper than other tenor horns
  • Will allow you to broaden your repertoire and skills


  • While quality it won’t produce the same sound as more expensive horns


  • B♭
  • Bell: 10″ (255mm)
  • Bore: 0.512″ (13mm)
  • All gold brass
  • All nickel slides
  • Robust nickel rotary valve linkage
  • Nickel strengthening plates
  • Hardened bell
  • Lightweight foam body case

Wagner Tubas

When Wagner was writing Der Ring des Nibelungen, he commissioned an instrument that would fill the space between the French Horn and trombone. Wagner tried Adolphe Sax’s saxhorn but wasn’t pleased with the sound.

The Wagner tuba has a conical bore like a horn and uses a tapered conical horn mouthpiece instead of the parabolic cupped mouthpiece used by trumpets and trombones. This gives the Wagner tuba a sound that is often described as unearthly, haunting, or smoky.

Ultimately, Wagner, had German instrument designer C.W. Moritz build a Wagnertuben or “Wagner tuba” that combined many features of a tuba and a French horn. Today the Wagner tuba is most commonly played by French horn players as a second instrument.

Wagner tubas are produced in two sizes. The tenor B♭ Wagner tuba has the range of a euphonium, while a bass F Wagner tuba has the range of a tuba in F.

Several composers wrote for the Wagner tuba. Anton Bruckner uses a quartet of Wagner tubas in his Symphony No. 7. And four of the eight horn players in Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony double on Wagner tubas. 

But by the turn of the 20th century, most composers no longer scored for Wagner tubas and so they fell out of fashion. Since the revival of period instruments in the 1960s, Wagner tubas began showing up in modern compositions and movie soundtracks.

Wessex FH-250 F/B♭ Wagner Tuba

Chinese/British instrument maker Wessex Tubas offers a wide range of specialty instruments at very reasonable prices. For a bit over $1,000, a French horn player can add this double Wagner tuba to their collection.

Play the FH-250 in B♭ and you have a tenor horn that can handle Mahler’s 7th Symphony. Switch to F and you’ve got a  Wagner bass tuba fit for the Wagner tuba parts in John Williams’ Jurassic Park score.

The FH-250 is a great second instrument and will serve well for occasional performance or studio use. Its low end is not as powerful as the Wagner tuba models made by European makers like Hans Hoyer.

But since the FH-250 comes in at around 10% of the price of a Hans Hoyer, it should be more than sufficient for anybody who isn’t making a good chunk of their living playing a Wagner tuba.


  • An inexpensive second instrument that will broaden your gig opportunities
  • Double horn takes the place of two Wagner tubas


  • Not as strong in the lowest end as more expensive instruments


  • Key F/B♭
  • Bore: 0.47” (11.89mm)
  • Bell: 10.08“ (256mm)
  • Mechanical linkage (unlike equivalent from other brands)
  • Gold brass bell and body
  • Rose brass leadpipe
  • Reversible 4th valve to play in F or B♭ open
  • Fitted with extra water keys
  • Lightweight foam body case

Great French Horn Players

Some great French horn players include:

  • Anton Joseph Hampel (1710-1771): Not only did this 18th century hornist invent the technique of hand-stopping. He also participated with Dresden instrument maker Johann Georg Werner in the creation of crooks that allowed horn players to change their instrument key.
  • Dennis Brain (1921-1957): this British horn genius made the most difficult passages easy and premiered pieces by Hindemith and Britten before his life was tragically cut short in an automobile crash.
  • Barry Tuckwell (1931-2000): born in Australia, Tuckwell was considered one of the greatest horn soloists of his time and was also praised for his skills as a conductor, educator, and author.
  • Frøydis Ree Wekre (1941 – ): Former co-principal at the Oslo Philharmonic, Wekre has become one of the most influential horn players in recent history thanks to her popular book On Playing the Horn Well.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Question: Why is the French Horn so Hard to Play?

Answer: The French horn requires much more embouchure work from a musician. French horn players must go higher in their instrument’s harmonic series (notes that can be played without valves). The notes in a French horn’s harmonic series are also closer together than that of a trumpet or tuba.
That means even tiny changes in mouth position or air volume can lead to a sour note. French horn players must maintain proper lip and breath control while mastering the numerous alternate fingerings for different notes.

Question: Why Do Horn Players Put their Hand in the Bell?

Answer: The earliest horns had no valves and could only play notes in their overtone series. Then 18th-century German musician A.J. Hampel discovered that by partially or fully closing the bell with his hand, he could alter the pitch and produce fully diatonic scales.
While today’s valved horns can play chromatic scales throughout their range without hand-stopping, some modern composers call for a fully stopped horn to produce a distinctive nasal timbre. And many horn players will occasionally use hand stopping for quick pitch correction on the fly.

Question: Was the French Horn Invented in France?

Answer: The instrument we call the “French horn” was actually developed in Germany. Outside of the United States, the French horn is called simply the “horn” and nobody associates it with France. There are several theories as to how Americans decided these horns are French.
Some believe that it started in Britain, where English horn players have long preferred French brass to German instruments.
Another is that early 20th-century horn players began calling their instrument the “French horn” to distinguish between those reefer-smoking degenerates who called clarinets, trumpets, trombones, and saxophones “horns.”

Question: How many horns are there in an orchestra?

Answer: Early orchestral music featured high and low horn parts. Beethoven used three horns in his Third Symphony and added a fourth horn for the Ninth. Today most orchestral and symphonic works use four horns. 
But Wagner regularly used up to eight horns in his work, and Richard Strauss’s Alpine Symphony is scored for twenty horns – eight onstage and twelve offstage! Many orchestras also have a fifth horn player who works alongside the first horn and gives them a break before particularly challenging solos.

Question: What clef is French Horn music written in?

Answer: The French horn has a 4½-octave range, with 3 octaves commonly used in the horn repertoire. That wide range means horn composers must use both bass and treble clefs when writing for horns. In many orchestral arrangements, the higher first and third horn parts are written in treble clef while the lower second and fourth parts use bass clef. In addition to knowing how to sight-transpose into different keys, a skilled horn player must also read music in both bass and treble clef.


Horns are not an instrument for the faint-hearted. Mastering the horn will require long hours of practice and lots of frustration. But if you are up to the commitment you will be rewarded with a lifetime of beautiful music. 

If you’re interested in learning the horn, the Conn 8D CONNstellation will be your best bet.  While the CONNstellation is a hefty investment, you can find used 8Ds at very reasonable prices. Many instrument stores also rent Conn 8Ds. The Conn 8D will ensure you sound your best at every stage of your career, and will be a top-of-the-line horn at every stage of your career.  If you want some more inexpensive options, check out my article on finding the best French horn!

If you prefer the free-blowing feel of a Geyer wrap horn, you won’t go wrong with a Yamaha YHR-671. Yamaha is one of the world’s biggest instrument manufacturers thanks to its reliability and quality control.

If you are a serious horn player who wants to pick up a second instrument, I would recommend the Wessex FH790 Natural Horn. Not only will the FH790 provide you with a period-appropriate instrument for Bach, Handel, and Mozart. Learning to play without valves will strengthen your embouchure and improve your intonation on your main instrument.

Whatever instrument you choose, you can look forward to a lifetime of musical enjoyment (and a fair bit of frustration) with your new French horn. Happy playing!

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