Parts of the Horn: Bell Tail and Bell Flare

This will be the last in a series of posts based on a handout from a Lawson Horns clinic given around 1980.  The materials and processes of horn design and manufacture have continued to develop since then, but I think the information presented in the clinic is still very relevant today.  Depending on your equipment – namely if your horn has a detachable flare and a compatible ringset – different bell flares can be a great way to get more out of your current horn.  Many professionals customize their existing instrument with bells made out of various materials to fit a particular playing scenario.  Here’s the last part of the the handout. (Direct quotes in italics.)

BELL TAIL

The bell tail continues the taper of the first branch and affects:

1. Ease of playing – A long, slow taper from a narrow first branch to a large bell throat gives a free-blowing quality to the instrument. If the bell taper starts at a large diameter and is small at the throat, the instrument will have a centered sound and will be harder-blowing for the player. Many variations are available.

2. Intonation – The rate and smoothness of taper in the bell tail controls the pitch of the harmonics.

3. Timbre of sound – The alloy and its hardness affect the tone and dynamic range of the instrument.

BELL FLARE

1. Shape, size, and thickness – Subtle differences in playing characteristics such as ease of starting notes, dynamic range, carrying power are influenced by these dimensional properties.

2. Stability – The internal dampening characteristics of the bell flare influence the stability of the pitch, ease of starting the sound, and the ability of the instrument to maintain sound through slurs.  Dampening is controlled by allow, weight, and hardness.

3. Dynamic range – For a given alloy, the hardness affects the dynamic range. A softer bell flare distorts at a higher input of sound so that more control of dynamics is possible. Varying the hardness gives different degrees of brightness or darkness to the sound.

4. Tone color – The alloy and its hardness controls the timbre or color of the sound. This color change is most noticeable at high dynamic levels.

5. Protective coatings – Lacuqer and plating slightly reduce the output of sound from the bell of the instrument. The advantages of protective coatings are great in that they prevent deterioration of the metal and eventual shortening of the life of the horn.

The lacquer/no-lacquer debate continues, with notable makers and players taking up both sides of the argument.  In my humble opinion, lacquer on a professional quality instrument is ok, as long as it is not too thick.  However, it does seem that a majority of hand made custom horns are produced without lacquer.  In the end this really is a choice that the individual player must consider based on a number of factors.

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