Charles Gerard Conn, a cornet-playing civil war veteran born in 1844, was inspired to enter the instrument business after a lip injury — allegedly resulting from a bar brawl. Standard mouthpieces caused him too much discomfort, so he invented a rubber rim in 1875 he called “an elastic face.” This entrepreneurial acumen quickly extended to a full range of band instruments, business partnerships and a series of factories (several destroyed by fires) in Elkhart Indiana.
The first Conn French horns were produced in about 1913, including a “low pitch” piston valve model called the 2D and a corresponding “high pitch” 3D model, both single horns complete with tuning slides in F, Eb and D. Production ended in 1929 when the rotary value 4D was introduced.
The 4D was also a single horn with F, Eb and D slides. Marketed at a professional level, it was a “favorite with second and fourth horn players because they say only on the F can the true French horn quality of tone be obtained,” according to Conn.
Conn’s first double horn, the 6D “Schmidt” model, was produced in roughly 1919 and was an approximate copy of the popular German-made C. F. Schmidt horn, according to The Conn Loyalist. The Schmidt design includes rotary values for the three main slides and a piston to change between F and Bb horns.
In 1934, Conn introduced a new 6D model in collaboration with then principal horn of the NY Philharmonic, James Stagliagno. This “Stagliagno” 6D ditched the Schmidt-inspired piston valve in favor of a 4th rotor value to change between F and Bb horns. This second iteration of the 6D became widely popular and is still manufactured today. For more details, read our review.
In 1937-38, Conn debuted the 8D, what is to this day America’s best-selling horn model. Like its 6D predecessor, the 8D was not a brand new design but borrowed from other popular horn makers. The overall design was based on the famous Kruspe model (see our Kruspe vs. Geyer article), but with an improved lead pipe inspired by the Schmidt horns, resulting in better intonation (see History of the 8D as told by Kendall Betts). Priced for $50 less than Kruspe’s $350 cost (about $6,000 today), it quickly caught on among students and professionals alike. Read more about the 8D on our review page including including differences between today’s “Eastlake” 8D models vs. those made in Elkhart and then Texas.
Later in the 20th century, Conn responded to market interest with the introduction of the Geyer-style 10D and 11D models. These horns are less popular, in part because Yamaha has a strong corner on the mid-range Geyer market with its 667 model.
Why are Conns so popular with students? Part of the answer lies in the company’s history. As community brass bands declined in the first half of the 20th century, the Conn company needed to find a new market. The company, then led by Carl D. Greenleaf, became a big promoter of music in schools, developing the Conn National School of Music in 1928 to train school band directors around the country.