Make Your Own Conch Horn

In addition to getting some much needed rest and relaxation, I had time over the break to pursue a project I’ve wanted to do for some time – make my own conch horn!  These primitive but fascinating instruments can be purchased online, but with the right tools can be easily constructed at home.  Basically all that is needed is some sort of tool to safely remove the tip located at the larger end of the shell.  Once removed, a small cavity inside the opening needs to be created to function as a mouthpiece.  It is also necessary to make sure the inner and outer surfaces of this opening are as smooth as possible – otherwise you risk cutting your lips on any sharp edges.  I owe a big thanks to my Dad on this project, as he had the perfect tool for this job, as well as the know-how to execute the necessary cutting and sanding.  Since conch shells come in a wide variety of sizes, there aren’t really any hard and fast rules for cutting the appropriately-sized mouthpiece.  My advice would be to make the opening as close to the size and shape of your own horn mouthpiece – we used a dime to approximate the correct inner diameter.  In addition to the Dremel tool linked above, I also recommend using several different grits of sandpaper ranging from coarse to fine to get the mouthpiece nice and smooth.  You’ll probably only be able to get a few notes on your horn, but you can alter the pitch by using your hand. The sound of these instruments is actually quite nice, and they make great conversation pieces for your studio or office.  See the pictures below for some up-close views of my conch-horn, as well as a short video clip of me demonstrating it.  The video was shot with a digital camera, so I apologize for the microphone quality. If you are interested in making your own conch horn and have any questions about the process, feel free to contact me.

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Cool! The Columbus Sym. did a piece once (It might’ve been the Revueltas “Maya” piece mentioned by Chris Woehr on the conch shell website, but I don’t remember exactly) where the entire horn section had to get up in front of the orchestra and play conch shells. It was memorable for me because we got both doubling and soloist pay! 🙂 We rented our conchs from a trombonist in the National Symphony.

Which size of conch shell you ended up getting for your project? It looks like you made yours very suitable for horn players, as opposed to the ones we used, which had a little too big of a “mouthpiece,” more suited for trombonists. I’ve always thought it’d be neat to have a conch shell horn of my own- perhaps a project for the off season…

Hi Julia,
Good to hear from you! The shell I used was about a foot long, I’d say. The existing mouthpiece “rim” on the shell is quite comfortable, but I may end up epoxying an old screw rim from a horn mouthpiece. I have been told that it is possible to do the cutting and sanding with a hacksaw and a file, but the Dremel tool really helped speed up the process.

Hey! I wonder if You have an email address to reach You at? I have a question concerning making the conch shell horn. Greetings Sonja in Sweden

Hi James,
I have a conch shell with a hole in the side that I’d like to make into a horn. I watched a few youtubes on how to fashion a conch into a horn and used my grinder to take the tip of the shell off leaving a hole about the size of a dime. I used a Dremel to smooth out the inside some and then made a hole with a drill that turned out somewhat large because it broke out a chunk of shell instead of making a round hole. I made a kind of stopper out of a cloth covered wire to block the side hole. In blowing into it, the sound isn’t great and I’m not getting any variation in tone when I move my hand in and out of the opening. Would you help me to figure out what to adjust? I could Bondo the side hole shut, or make the mouthpiece hole larger or smoother, or drill the interior hole deeper into the center of the mouthpiece. Would it be possible for you to give me any suggestions without seeing or being able to play my conch? (I could send you an email with a photo looking into the interior)
Thanks for your help.

Hi Celia,

Thanks for your question. I wouldn’t think that the side hole in the conch would need to be blocked. If you want to send pictures I would be glad to take a look at it.

James

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