Monday, June 8, 2015

What Materials Are Used to Make a French Horn?

French horn construction combines a variety of materials that allow the horn player to pick an instrument specific to his needs. A performer needs to carefully weigh the pros and cons of each type of material. Some professional horn players will even have more than one horn made of different materials to accommodate different styles of music. Understanding the different types of brass used and their basic tonal characteristics will make it easier to select the right horn.

Common Materials


Brass is an alloy that is commonly derived from a mixture of two elements. Zinc composes a smaller percentage of most brass materials to help prevent corrosion in the instrument. Zinc has been used for centuries to protect precious metals and as an element of brass. The majority of the brass in a french horn is made of copper. Copper is used because of its resonance and ability to create soft, supple tones. Copper is also easily malleable and makes repairs and initial construction of the French horn easier. Some instruments use nickel in their construction as well, although, this is less common.

Yellow Brass


Yellow brass is the most commonly used type of brass for French horns. It closely resembles the color of gold and provides a sound that is strong and multi-layered. Yellow brass gives a dense, edgy tone color that easily penetrates orchestras. Most professional horn players will use yellow brass instruments when playing in an orchestra, but may choose another type of brass for solos. When people think of a triumphant brass solo they often imagine the sound produced by yellow brass. Yellow brass consists of 70 percent copper and 30 percent zinc.

Gold Brass


Gold brass, contrary to its name is actually red in color. This is because more copper exists in the construction of the materials. Gold brass French horns are great for use in solos and dark orchestral pieces in which a somber and brooding French horn sound is required. The elements that make up gold brass are 85 percent copper and 15 percent zinc. This material is less frequently used since it is not well-suited to all-around playing.

Nickel Silver


By far, the least commonly used material in horn production is nickel. Nickel creates a narrow and highly defined sound that is not typically desirable of a French horn. The material is much stronger than other types of brass, but this also makes it harder to shape and repair. Since they are more difficult to make, they are often more expensive instruments. Some advocates of nickel-based horns argue that the tone is clearer and louder than a typical French horn. However, this clarity comes at the expense of a rich and dense tone color. Horns made from nickel contain 65 percent copper, 20 percent nickel and 15 percent zinc.

References


Yamaha: Horn Factory Tour [http://www.yamaha.co.jp/edu/english/factory/hr/hr_007.html]
Jefferson Lab: Zinc [http://education.jlab.org/itselemental/ele030.html]
Horn Matters; Nickel Silver and Horns; John Ericson; May 2010 [http://hornmatters.com/2010/05/nickel-silver-and-horns/]