Parts of the Horn: Bell Tail and Bell Flare

This will be the last in a series of posts based on a handout from a Lawson Horns clinic given around 1980.  The materials and processes of horn design and manufacture have continued to develop since then, but I think the information presented in the clinic is still very relevant today.  Depending on your equipment – namely if your horn has a detachable flare and a compatible ringset – different bell flares can be a great way to get more out of your current horn.  Many professionals customize their existing instrument with bells made out of various materials to fit a particular playing scenario.  Here’s the last part of the the handout. (Direct quotes in italics.)


The bell tail continues the taper of the first branch and affects:

1. Ease of playing – A long, slow taper from a narrow first branch to a large bell throat gives a free-blowing quality to the instrument. If the bell taper starts at a large diameter and is small at the throat, the instrument will have a centered sound and will be harder-blowing for the player. Many variations are available.

2. Intonation – The rate and smoothness of taper in the bell tail controls the pitch of the harmonics.

3. Timbre of sound – The alloy and its hardness affect the tone and dynamic range of the instrument.


1. Shape, size, and thickness – Subtle differences in playing characteristics such as ease of starting notes, dynamic range, carrying power are influenced by these dimensional properties.

2. Stability – The internal dampening characteristics of the bell flare influence the stability of the pitch, ease of starting the sound, and the ability of the instrument to maintain sound through slurs.  Dampening is controlled by allow, weight, and hardness.

3. Dynamic range – For a given alloy, the hardness affects the dynamic range. A softer bell flare distorts at a higher input of sound so that more control of dynamics is possible. Varying the hardness gives different degrees of brightness or darkness to the sound.

4. Tone color – The alloy and its hardness controls the timbre or color of the sound. This color change is most noticeable at high dynamic levels.

5. Protective coatings – Lacuqer and plating slightly reduce the output of sound from the bell of the instrument. The advantages of protective coatings are great in that they prevent deterioration of the metal and eventual shortening of the life of the horn.

The lacquer/no-lacquer debate continues, with notable makers and players taking up both sides of the argument.  In my humble opinion, lacquer on a professional quality instrument is ok, as long as it is not too thick.  However, it does seem that a majority of hand made custom horns are produced without lacquer.  In the end this really is a choice that the individual player must consider based on a number of factors.

Parts of the Horn: Leadpipe

Along with the mouthpiece, the leadpipe (or mouthpipe) is one of the most significant and relatively easy modifications you can make to your horn.  As with mouthpieces, a leadpipe change can radically alter the playing characteristics of your instrument.  Digging back through some of my old materials, I came across a clinic handout from Walter Lawson, circa 1980 (before my time, but I must have picked it up along the way at a horn workshop somewhere).  In the handout, he lists some of the ways a leadpipe can be altered, and the corresponding effects.

1.  The ease of register – A short taper provides an easy high register, but the low register lacks power and concentration of sound. A long taper gives strong low notes but is difficult in the high register in that it requires precise lip control and intense mental concentration.

2.  Alloy – A mouthpipe made from a corrosion-resistant alloy is important because this tube is more exposed to the chemicals and food particles blown into the instrument. The taper is most critical inside the mouthpiece and will be adversely affected by corrosion buildup.

3.  The center of sound or efficiency of the horn in amplifying the sound generated by the lips – A mouthpipe with a large cubic content will slur easily, but the harmonics will not be as centered or stable as a mouthpipe with smaller cubic content will produce.

4.  Pitch of the harmonics and relative intonation between them – This is controlled by variations in the rate of taper inside the mouthpipe.

The handout is full of lots of other great practical information, and I will most likely be posting further on it in the future.  If you are considering having a custom leadpipe made for your horn, check out some of the makers (and their websites) below.

Cantesanu Horns

Wes Hatch Horns

Houghton Custom Horns

Lawson Horns

Patterson Hornworks [*Patterson has recently created a custom leadpipe for mellophones – check out the review and hear sound clips at The Mellocast.]

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