Earlier this year I wrote about the patent for a wooden horn mouthpiece, available on Free Patents Online. This a fascinating resource, and offers a glimpse into some horn-related items that might-have-been. Most of the inventions seem to be meticulously thought out, with copious annotations describing design and use. Some of the inventions have made their way into the mainstream market, but others have become largely forgotten. One thread that runs through the history of horn-making and horn-related inventions is the quest for better efficiency and ergonomics, with the overall goal of making a sometimes precarious instrument a bit more manageable. Here are a few of my favorites.
“French Horn Mute” Patent filed Nov. 3, 1927 by Carl A. Schumann I’ve never seen anything quite like this! Apparently this mute is meant to be “incorporated in the sound wave passage of the horn at a point adjacent the valves and between the mouthpiece of the bell and by providing the mute with tubing, this tubing may be properly proportioned, and of a length to begin the muting effect after it has passed through the valve and to discharge it thru [sic] a properly proportioned convolution, having a suitable discharge bell.” (p. 3) If I’m reading this correctly, the mute would actually be incorporated into the horn itself, and not inserted into the bell, thereby avoiding the need for scrambling during rapid mute changes.
“Mute for Horn-Type Instruments” Patent filed March 12, 1991 by Thomas Purdie Another fascinating take on mute design, this one seeks to create a muted sound, but without lessening the actual volume of the instrument.
“Musical Horn Construction” Patent filed January 20, 1976 by Mark S. Veneklasen This appears to be the patent for the “Veneklasen” horn, one of the most intriguing ventures in recent horn design. Mark Veneklasen was an acoustician and amateur horn player, and created a remarkably advanced and efficient horn. Unfortunately, his design never made it into commercial production For more information on the Veneklasen horn, check out this page on Hornplayer.net
“French Horn” Patent filed March 27, 2001 by Wu-Hong Hsieh Like the Veneklasen horn, this particular invention incorporates a modular design, allowing one horn to be adjusted for either adults or children.
“French Horn” Patent filed on December 31, 1991 by Van O. Nicolai This patent appears to be for a five-valve double horn, in B-flat and high E-flat. Other innovations include a built-in left hand strap, and “cork block mountings” instead of the normal soldered braces between tubing.
“French Horn” Patent filed on September 13, 1945 by C.F. Hubley Another five-valve horn design, this one “raises the dependable playing range of tones up to high C and costs only slightly more to manufacture than a single horn. It accomplishes stability of high tones by having a shorter length of tubing than any French horn heretofore; that is, the length of tubing from mouthpiece to end of bell bypassing all valve crooks or slides.” (p. 3).
“Hornette” Patent filed on February 19, 1991 by John Clark According to the patent, the Hornette has “substantially the same range as a French horn but has a forward facing bell for greater projection…The instrument includes a rotary valve for changing the key from an F-alto to a B-flat. The instrument includes a French horn lead pipe.” (p. 1) I’m assuming the John Clark listed here as the inventor is the famous jazz horn player.
“French Horn Spatula” Patent filed on May 21, 1991 by James H. Andersen This simple little improvement to valve levers actually made it into production, most notably on a few models of horn by Holton. See if you can figure out which models!
“Horn with Intermediate Tube Network Enlarged in Inner Diameter” Patent filed on Nov. 29, 1994 by Shinji Hamanaga I’m not exactly sure what is going on with this particular design – some of the technical language is pretty dense for me. This radical-looking design was created (I think) in an effort to build a more efficient horn – the design bears little resemblance to the modern horn.
“Wind Instrument Finger Exercise Device” Patent filed May 4, 2006 by Marielle Woods Like the spatula above, this one seems to have made it into the commercial realm – compare the drawing in the patent with the device shown here.
If you haven’t gotten your fill of horn-related inventions, check out the links below. I couldn’t find patents for these items, but they are interesting nonetheless.
Acousticoil for brass instruments, invented by Don Novy
The Pipstick, invented by Pip Eastop
The “Watt Lifter,” invented by Bob Watt
On the first patent, I have seen these on Vienna horns. It is a stopping mute as I understand it and it makes all those tricky Mahler passages – going open and closed, back and forth – a lot easier.
Interesting! I wonder why they haven’t become popular in the U.S.