Best French Horns for College & Beyond

So you’ve decided you want to pursue horn long term. That clunky, banged up old Holton you played through high school isn’t going to cut it. You want something that will not only last you a while, but improve your playing and increase your chances of landing first chair in a more competitive environment. Where to start?

Before we go into specific recommendations, it’s worth mentioning that some music schools have their own “school” of horn playing. There are also regional differences. Increasingly, though, schools are agnostic about what model you play so long as you sound good. Gone are the days, for example, when every student at Juilliard must play a Conn 8D. In fact, many are moving away from the 8D today!

The best step-up horn for you can depend somewhat on the horn you already play. If you play a Krsupe style horn (e.g. Conn 8D, Holton H379), it will be easier for you to move up to another Kruspe horn. If you play on a Geyer style horn (e.g. Conn 10D, Yamaha 567/667), likewise you’ll have an easier time transitioning to a similar wrap. You should know, however, that Geyer-style horns are becoming increasingly popular in professional orchestras and the general trend has been a shift from Kruspe to Geyer models of the last 10-20 years. For more information on the difference between Kruspe and Geyer, read our article comparing the two styles. That said, we recommend avoiding “fashion” trends and instead focus on finding the horn that allows you to play your very best.

In the $4000-$6000 range (new) there are several models we recommend to the advancing player:

Yamaha 667: This time-tested Geyer-style horn wins rave reviews thanks to its ease of playing, strong intonation and good value. Unfortunately, it’s been discontinued and replaced with a yet-to-be battle tested 671 model,  but you may be able to snag a 667 used. Read our full review.

Hoyer 6801: This German-made Kruspe-style horn has a cult following among fans of the old Elkhart Conn 8D models, which are increasingly hard to find in good repair. Players feel it handles better than the new 8Ds and rave about its great manufacturing quality. Read our full review.

Conn 10/11DE: These small and medium-bell sized Geyer horns from Conn have recently been revamped for improved playability. They currently the official horns of the Canadian Brass. Read our full review.

If you can expand your budget to $6000-$10,000 range (new) there are some fabulous top tier professional-level models to consider:

Schmid: Coming in a bit above the top price range, Schmid horns are considered by many the creme-de-la-creme of horn making thanks to their combined light weight, ease of playing and strong projection in the concert hall. Read our full review.

Paxman 20 or 23: These British horns are played all over the UK and are increasingly invading the US thanks to favorable exchange rates. We recommend these horns especially to high players aiming for a compact, skilky sound. Read our full review.

Alexander 103: These German-made horns are very popular through Europe, but to date have seen less traction in the USA. This is starting to change as markets open up online. Played by the Berlin Philharmonic and many other top orchestras. Read our full review.

In the $8000+ range, there are many more exciting makers to consider including Atkinson, Finke, Dieter Otto, Ricco Kuhn, Durek and more.

Next: check our our top recommended horn accessories and practice mutes.