Mouthpiece Comparison Chart and HornReviews.com

*This post has been updated as of January 29, 2017

Related to my two previous posts about choosing a new horn (here) and mouthpiece (here), I recently learned of some new websites aimed at helping players compare a number of horn and mouthpiece brands and models.

First is Colin Dorman’s “Mouthpiece Comparison Chart,” an interactive resource which can be found on his website,  colindorman.com. Mr. Dorman is an active freelancer and teacher in the Louisville, Kentucky area, and holds degrees from the University of Alabama and the University of Louisville. As of this writing, the database contains 658 separate entries for mouthpieces, which can easily be searched and compared with one another across a variety of categories, including: Maker, Model, 1 or 2-piece, Thread Type,  Rim Inner Diameter, Rim Shape, Rim Width, Cup Depth, Cup Shape, and Bore Size.  A PDF version of the entire list can also be downloaded for free. In one of the comments related to the list, Mr. Dorman states that he sourced most of the information for each make and model from the manufacturers’ websites, so one can presume that the measurements are accurate. Comparing mouthpieces can be tricky; while there are some standards regarding how various dimensions are measured, the numbers themselves can be difficult to decipher. Mr. Dorman has helped remove some of that mystery by converting all the bore measurements to millimeters, so that differences can be seen at a glance. One word of caution I would offer when comparing inner diameter (ID) measurements was related to me by a well-known maker of custom mouthpieces. Because of differences in where  ID is actually measured by different makers, the same measurement on one brand might not be the same on another. For example, an ID of 17.5mm on one brand might not actually be the same size as 17.5mm on another brand.

Virtually every major brand is represented here, and horn players should be grateful to Mr. Dorman for the amount of time and effort it must have taken to create such a detailed database. He also provides a very handy guide to choosing a new mouthpiece, as well as a great explanation of what the various parts of a mouthpiece do and how they are measured. I would also add that the rest of Mr. Dorman’s website contains some other useful resources, including a blog, technical and fundamental exercises, recordings of the Kentucky All-State Etudes, and more. Be sure to check it out!

The next resource is called Horn Reviews: The Horn Research Helper. This unassuming site actually contains quite a bit of information, including fairly extensive reviews of models by Alexander, Conn, Engelbert Schmid, Hans Hoyer, Holton, Jupiter, Paxman, and Yamaha. Like mega-retailers such as Amazon, Horn Reviews allows visitors to submit their own reviews and see what others have written about a particular make/model of instrument. Each model of horn is also rated on a five-point scale for Tone Quality, Playability, Construction, and Value for Money. After reading several of the reviews, I can say that they are for the most part well-informed, and give a good overview of the pros and cons for each type of horn (preferences of individual players and quirks of specific instruments notwithstanding). However, there are a few observations I would make about this site and others like them. They aren’t red flags, per se, just things that visitors should be aware of before putting too much stock in the reviews and other information found here.

  • I could not find any information on who wrote the reviews. I contacted the website creators using the online form, and am awaiting more information. The first rule of all online information is that you should be able to easily verify the author(s) and their qualifications.
  • There is no rubric given for how the five-point rating system works. The idea has some merit, and the graphics for each model look pretty slick, but for the ratings to provide anything other than personal opinion they really ought to have a detailed rubric for each category.
  • A statement on the website mentions an “Affiliate Program,” with the following information:

The owner of this site is an affiliate of e-commerce websites that sell French horns and related products. If you are interested in promoting your business on hornreviews.com via an affiliate relationship, please contact us. Recommendations, ratings and reviews are not influenced by participation in our affiliate agreements.

There isn’t anything unusual about websites like this one earning ad revenue, but the vagueness of the statement itself (What e-commerce websites?, How can you promote your business on hornreviews.com?) struck me as a little odd. Perhaps I’m being overly suspicious, but combined with the anonymity and unverifiable credentials of the authors, this was a sticking point for me. Despite these issues, Horn Reviews is worth more than just a casual visit. Perhaps the site will be developed more in the future, and will become even more useful. *I heard back from Carson Smith, the owner of hornreviews.com, and he provided some additional information about his site. Mr. Smith also kindly gave me permission to share his comments. See below.

Hi James,

Apologies for this delayed response to your submission via hornreviews.com last month. Going back through the user submissions I discovered your message. Happy to answer any questions you have about the website.
I’m author of the reviews, having personally played the models reviewed at horn events, owned them or taken them out on trial. Some years ago I bought and sold quite a few horns online and realized by notes could be beneficial.
Every player does have personal bias and horns vary in quality, so I do aim to write the review with a consensus tone, corroborating my take with second, third opinions – and inviting other players to contribute. A more rigorous and scientific testing process (think what DPReview.com does with cameras) is where I hope to go with the site eventually. Hope to find some partners who are interested in building this out with me.
Having just launched 20 months ago, the website’s grown organically without any promotion on my part, reaching several thousand horn players monthly. It earns a small income via Amazon.com and eBay affiliate links that pay when a user buys something.
My day job is running a consumer advice & rankings website for a media company. Horn playing is a hobby/obsession.
 -Carson

 

Equipment Update Part 1: A New Horn

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Yamaha 671 Double Horn, with Custom Work by Houghton Horns

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.

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