|Buying and Owning Stuff|
|Buying a Horn|
The French Horn tends to be one of the more expensive instruments in the band. If you don't yet own a French Horn, good. Don't buy one until you're in 8th grade or high school and certain you want to play it.
For learning, borrow if you can, rent if you must, but don't commit unless the price is right or you absolutely have to. If you're going to spend money on the French Horn, buy a mouthpiece. (More on that later.) If you own your own mouthpiece and you're renting a horn, never put that mouthpiece in the horn case.
As blasphemous as it seems to most, in your learning years, you should purchase an alto instrument in the key of F. Why? Because it's easier to actually play music and learn on. Your lips will become accustomed to the changes they need to make on any mouthpiece. You do not need to play your French Horn mouthpiece to learn. Do buzz on it to keep familiar, but don't try to use the French Horn as your singular learning instrument.
So on to actually buying a horn. You want a full Double Horn. You want some kind of plating, not lacquer. From there, just get what floats your boat or is affordable. Chinese made horns are every bit as good as an American built horn. In fact, the Horn is the one instrument that is most certainly worth the loss of quality. In short, you just want the heaviest instrument you can buy. Lighter horns are harder to play loud and harder to slot. Your arms will get stronger and you'll learn fingerings. No sense making the Horn any harder than it already is.
You want to buy an Alto instrument for learning, though? Ok. The best in terms of playability will be an Alto Horn in F. Marching Altos will be louder, but you might actually want to own your own marching instrument so that you'll be immediately proficient with it. Mellophone is functional and usually very cheap. Anything else will work. Marching Mellophone and a small Alto Horn mouthpiece (Bach 12C Alto) will actually be a good compromise and leave you with a conventional instrument to use in marching season. Do not play Marching Mellophone with typical "Mellophone" mouthpieces. It sounds awful. Never use your French Horn mouthpiece on an Alto instrument unless you have to. Only the Tenor Cor is capable of handling the waveforms from such a deep cup.
If you're dead set on never playing an Alto instrument, but still need to keep it cheap, buy a Chinese made Marching French Horn. You lose the F Horn part of playing French Horn, but you'll have something for marching season. Most people play exclusively on the Bb side anyways. This is a more sensible and practical choice to buying a single horn. The only time this option isn't an option is the rare event that your school owns no French Horns, and even then you might get away with it.
This is a good time to talk about French Horn features that you might see.
Spit valve: Yes, this is a "feature" for a French Horn and you never have enough of them so don't bother basing your buying choice on it. You'll inevitably dump slides more often than you use the spit valve.
Stopping valve: Double Horns rarely have stopping valves, but if you can get one, do it. It's extra weight and extra functionality. And if you can generate a good stopped sound, that saves you buying a mute.
Screw Bell: Removable bells allow the horn to fit in smaller cases, but they're a pain in the ass to put back on. Take it or leave it. Not important. You'll never find a real use for it because you'd have to custom order any screw bell with a significant change in flare to make any difference. For that price, you can buy a Chinese Wagner Tuba (or four) and get a vastly different sound.
Fourth Valve: This is really rare, especially on a Double Horn. This will really open up your fingering options and probably add 2lbs or more to the Horn. A rare find and a great catch.
Reversable Trigger: This is typically a feature of Geyer wrap horns, but I've seen Krupse wrap instruments with it, too. This isn't really that useful unless you want to play your horn as a 4-valve Bb Horn. If you need a Bb instrument that bad, just be a champ and play one. It's a better learning experience than frying your brain with trying to use the trigger that way.
Mechanical Rotors: Rotary instruments have two kinds of linkage: mechanical and string. Mechanical linkage requires oiling and is noisy, but never breaks. Strings are quiet and light, but can break. Ask yourself this. When are you playing quiet enough to hear the mechanical linkages in a non-solo setting? Go with mechanical linkage if at all possible. Restringing a rotor is a pain in the ass and it WILL happen.