The process of choosing a horn can be a difficult one, whether you are a complete beginner looking for your first instrument, or a seasoned professional seeking a change after many years playing on an ‘old faithful’ which has finally worn out.

Whatever your situation, the Paxman staff (all horn players to a professional level) will be able to guide you through the various options with expert advice to ensure that you end up with the right instrument that suits your level of playing and your budget.

One important aspect of choosing a new horn is to keep an open mind. A large degree of horn playing is psychological and it is very important to end up with an instrument that you feel happy with and comfortable playing, rather than one that you have been told to get without considering all the options available.

For the purposes of this advice, let us divide horns into three categories, Beginner, Intermediate and Professional


The first consideration is the physical size of the new player. Recent years have seen several manufacturers produce ¾ size horns suitable for smaller children for whom a full size instrument is simply too big to comfortably hold and play, so that the correct breathing and posture can be learned. Most of these are single horns, either in F or Bb, although there are a few compensating doubles available. Traditionally in the UK players start on the F horn as it is this length of tubing that best produces that characteristic sound of the horn and the Bb horn is introduced later as the player's range extends upwards and the greater security of the Bb horn becomes useful. There are, however, many fine players who have started on a Bb instrument and traditions vary from place to place and from teacher to teacher.

Full size instruments can be single horns, compensating doubles or full doubles. Single horns have been discussed above and the same points apply to full size singles as to ¾ size horns. Compensating doubles have been very popular in the past when full doubles were big, heavy and fairly cumbersome. They work by sharing some of the tubing between the F and Bb horns. This results in less tubing overall making them lighter than full double horns. Today, with lighter components and superior manufacturing processes, the weight difference is less marked and many players first double horn will be a full F/Bb double.

There is inevitably a degree of overlap with intermediate horns, and if a beginner is physically able to hold a double horn, there is no reason why they should not start on a suitable example and miss out the beginner range altogether.


At this stage, players will usually be comfortable with the basics of horn playing and looking to develop their range, repertoire and general fluency. Choice of instrument is very important as a bad instrument can hold back progress and dampen enthusiasm at a crucial point in a young player’s development. Paxman recommend that the ideal choice at this level should be yellow brass with a medium/medium large bell. Most new instruments currently available are of very good quality and it is a case of trying several and finding the one that suits best.

If buying second hand, the instrument will need to be in good overall condition, particularly the valves, as defects in this area can cause major difficulties. Not only can the valves physically stick, but if they are not airtight, the instrument does not function efficiently, notes will not be centred and can be out of tune. Whilst many cosmetic faults such as bad lacquer or minor dents do not affect the way an instrument plays, problems with the valves can be much more serious, so expert advice should be sought before buying second hand.


At this level there is a much wider choice of instruments Experienced players will have a good idea of the sort of playing they generally do, the type of sound that they want and the kind of instrument best suited to achieve that. For anyone who is less sure, there is a large range of bell sizes, wraps and colours of metal available, as well as what can seem like a bewildering variety of models.

Single horns at this level are almost always in Bb and are for players who do not require an F horn. Occasionally they are supplied with an F extension, which gives the player the open harmonics of the F horn, but this is not designed as a substitute for a complete F side.

Compensating doubles are for players who play predominantly on the Bb side, but want to have the full range of a double horn.

Most players at this level will opt for a full double horn and the choice is very large. Generally speaking, the following observations apply.

• The larger the bell, the bigger and darker the sound will be. However this can also sometimes lead to a lack of projection.

• Gold brass tends to produce a richer sound than yellow brass, with nickel silver brighter still.

• Recent trends have seen a move away from large bored instruments to those with a smaller bell size and a slightly more centred sound.

The wrap of the horn has a great effect on the feel and resistance of the instrument. There are a number of different wraps, with variations on each. The best way of choosing is to try the various designs until a horn that feels right is found. Once this is achieved and the desired make and model has been chosen, the other options available can be decided upon.

Whatever the level of player and the type of instrument being looked for, Paxman have a large range of new and second hand instruments available. Please email or call with any questions, whether in general or about a specific instrument listed on our website.

To help with the purchase of your new horn, a range of grants and scholarships are available. You might also be able to take advantage of the Assisted Instrument Purchase Scheme if you are in full time education.

Finally, once you have found and bought the horn of your choice, you will want to make sure that it is properly cared for and looked after. Basic maintenance can be done at home (see our care and maintenance section), but anything more complicated should be carried out by a reputable repairer. It will require servicing from time to time, depending on how much use it, please contact Satch in our repairs department for advice and quotes. Unfortunately accidents do happen, so your horn should of course be insured against accidental damage, loss or theft. Specialist instrument insurers are recommended, such as Allianz Musical Insurance

Jim Rattigan
Paxman Horns in Stock
Martin van de Merwe
Horn Rental