In an earlier post, I briefly mentioned an upcoming review about a new horn. After several weeks of playing it, I have some thoughts on my new double horn, a Yamaha YHR 671. Earlier this year at IHS 48 I did some preliminary testing on both the 671 and the higher end 871 Custom, with the following reaction.
I spent a few minutes in the exhibit rooms this afternoon, and tried out a few of Yamaha’s new horns, the 671 and 871. My initial impressions were quite good. Both horns are very well balanced and even across the range. I have to say though that based on the two horns I tried, my preference was for the less expensive 671. Of course, more thorough playing on both models would be necessary to come to any firm conclusions. If you have the opportunity, try out both horns for yourself.
Stepping back a little, here is a short list of reasons why I was even looking for a new horn in the first place.
- I’ve played an Engelbert Schmid ES1 double horn for the last five years, and overall was very pleased with it. Schmid’s horns are incredibly light, well balanced, and built to the highest mechanical and artistic standards. I was comfortable performing on it as a soloist, and in orchestra and chamber music. But…
- I was not 100% satisfied with my sound, especially in my university’s recital hall, where I do the majority of my solo and chamber music performances, and where I plan to record my second solo CD. Both my colleagues and I noticed a tendency for the sound to “break up” at higher dynamics. I’m sure this is due to more than just the lightness of the horn, and I definitely don’t want to take anything away from Schmid’s very fine horns. However, after trying various mouthpiece and bell options (over the course of a few years) without obtaining the desired result, I thought it might be worth looking at some different instruments.
- In addition to looking for a slightly different sound, I was also curious about Yamaha’s new models. While I’ve played a Schmid for the last five years, I played Yamahas for the previous fourteen years before that. In many ways, returning to a Yamaha horn felt like coming home.
Ok, now for a bit more about the new horn. First, it isn’t a stock Yamaha 671. Houghton Horns, who sold me the instrument, did some custom work on it, including installing a Schmid bell ring and removing the lacquer. Out of the box the horn played great! As mentioned above, returning to a Yamaha even after so many years I felt like all the notes were in the right places. With the Schmid I always seemed to be fighting something, especially in the high range. Like the YHR 667V I played all through graduate school, this one has a great high B-flat. In addition, the horn has more “core” to the sound, and I’m able to keep that core at loud dynamics. After rehearsals with the faculty brass trio, my colleagues agreed that the sound was preferable to the Schmid. As mentioned earlier, Schmid horns are fantastic instruments, but at this point in my career the right choice for me was the Yamaha. However, in the interest of fairness and full disclosure, there are some noticeable differences with the Yamaha.
First, the horn is a little heavier than the Schmid, which I had to adjust to. For the first several days I needed to take frequent breaks while playing to rest my left arm. You wouldn’t think that a difference of a few ounces would matter, but it does. Second, and most significantly, in my opinion is the valves. I suppose I’d gotten spoiled by Schmid valves, which are more or less perfect, but the Yamaha valves are definitely slower. On top of that, they became so sluggish after a few days (despite repeated oiling) that I ended up sending the horn back to Houghton Horns to have them check it out. Houghton provided excellent service at no charge, and got the valves back in working order. I’m not exactly sure what was wrong, but Dennis (Houghton) said that spinning the valves in oil got them going again. He also sent back a bottle of Hetman piston valve oil to use for a while. As of this writing I haven’t had any major issues with the valves. The third and final difference – though not a drawback – is that both sides of the horn settle at a slightly lower pitch than the Schmid. I had to be very mindful to keep the pitch low enough on the Schmid, but it isn’t quite as much of a struggle with the Yamaha.
In summary, though it isn’t a perfect horn (none are), the Yamaha 671 is a very well made instrument, and I’m really enjoying playing on it. I’ll post some audio and video recordings of it in action very soon.
Stay tuned for part two of this series: testing mouthpieces on the new horn.