Comparing Descant Horns

Last weekend my wife and I took a day trip over to Shreveport. Our trip had two purposes: 1) shopping for some items we couldn’t find in Monroe, and 2) visiting Craig Pratt, a colleague and friend from the Shreveport Symphony. Craig has played with the SSO for a number of years, and is an active freelancer throughout the area. He also has an amazing collection of horns, mouthpieces, and other related equipment. Craig is generously letting me borrow his Paxman model 40M descant horn for some upcoming performances, which I picked up during our visit. More on the horn later, but first here are some pictures (posted with permission) of a few of the items in Craig’s collection.

craigmouthpieces

And I thought I had lots of mouthpieces! There are a number of vintage and otherwise rare pieces in this collection. Craig also owns a natural horn built by Carl Geyer, a Trompe de chasse, and another natural horn built by Lowell Greer. Oh, and he also has a few mutes.

mutecollection mutecollection1 mutecollection2

Of particular interest in his arsenal are an original Rittich mute, as well as a cup mute (top image, far left) and a Harmon mute (top image, fourth from left). I wasn’t aware that a Harmon mute for horn had ever been manufactured, although Allan Mathieu Perkins has discovered that a bass trombone Harmon mute fits very well in a horn bell.

As for the descant horn, it is a great little instrument, and I am enjoying playing it. I had already planned to use my Holton H200 descant for some upcoming performances, but jumped at the chance to try out one of Paxman’s earlier Model 40’s, which in the opinion of many players are among the best descants around. Looking at the two horns side by side, it’s clear that they are based on a similar design – the Holton is on the left and the Paxman is on the right.

descanthorns

After playing on it for a few days, here are the differences I’ve noticed.

  • The horn is a bit lighter, and more resonant throughout the range.
  • The B-flat side is much easier to tune than on the Holton, and in general locks into the center of each note more quickly.
  • The high F side is more responsive than the Holton, and has a less brittle quality to the sound.
  • The grip is less comfortable than my Holton, which has an Alexander flipper installed, but I have ordered a velcro hand strap to see if that will help.

This is not to say that the Holton is a poor instrument, and for the price it would be hard to find a better entry-level descant. However, the Paxman was probably built to much closer tolerances, and plays like it. Hopefully I’ll be able to pick up a similar model on the used market in the future. In the meantime, my gratitude goes to Craig Pratt for the generous loan!

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