New players typically start out on a single French horn in F (in America) or Bb (more common in Europe), either renting from their local music, using a horn on loan from the school, or buying a cheap used model. Depending on the student’s progress, he or she will require a double horn (F + Bb combined) after 1-2 years of playing a single horn. If lucky, his or her school music program will have a double horn on loan to start learning on. But even if the school has horns on loan, you will want your own horn sooner than later if you’re a serious player.
How do you choose the best horn for a new student? Below is a brief rundown of popular models manufactured by well-regarded student-level horn brands: Holton, Conn, and the increasingly popular Yahama models. While these three makers all produce a variety of great horns, the one you choose will depend somewhat on the student’s size and playing style.
H379: This horn is Holton’s intermediate student model. It’s design is based on the original “Farkas” H179 model horn, named for famed hornist Philip Farkas (who wrote what’s now considered the bible on horn playing: The Art of Horn Playing). Made in nickel silver, this is a medium-sized bore horn with a focused tone quality and dark sound. Read more about this model on our review page.
Bottom line: Chose a Holton horn if you’re looking for a well-rounded produces a pleasing sound and is relatively easy to play. Holton’s are of medium size, suiting many players from 7th grade and up.
6D: The Conn 6D is the 8D’s less famous, smaller sibling with quite different playing qualities. While has a reputation for being a more beginner horn compared to the 8D, that’s more due to its size than sound. The layout of the horn is similar to the 8D, but the bell throat is smaller, making the horn more comparable to Holton‘s sizes. It has strong intonation and all the notes come out easily. Read more about this model on our review page.
8D: The Conn 8D was popularized by professionals in the mid 20th century, found among some of the best American orchestras. While it has since gone out of vogue in the professional world, replaced by more expensive custom horns, the newer Conn 8Ds are still regarded as professional level horns. One of the larger horn models, the 8D requires more air support to play, but its advocates believe that extra effort is worth the big, dark sound it gets. We would not recommend the 8D to the typical beginner due to the size and air support needed, but an advanced beginner with a larger frame may do well with one. Read more about this model on our review page.
Bottom line: We recommend beginners take a look at the Conn 6D, which is more reasonably priced than the 8D and easier to play.
YHR-668II: Yamaha’s answer to the larger Conn 8D style of horn, the 668II is a fantastic horn for a more mature beginner who can handle its larger size and the air support needed to sustain it. Read more about this model on our review page.
Ultimately, choosing a horn comes down to a combination of price and the best “feel” for you. If budget is a primary concern, we recommend sticking with the Holton H379, Conn 6D and Yamaha 567 — all in the mid $3,000 range new (mid $1000s pre-owned) and fantastic horns. For more on bargain-priced horns, check out our top low-cost horns article. If looking in the $4,000 range (around $2000-2500 pre-owned), the higher end Yamaha horns are worth strong consideration especially when buying new as they hold their value well. If looking at used horns, the Conn and Holton models can often be found for better deals due to greater supply.
To help you identify great used horns, we put together a deal tracker that filters eBay listings down to the best deals on quality horn models. Bookmark the page and check back to see if a great deal shows up.