The English horn (also referred to as the “cor anglais”) is a double-reed woodwind instrument in the oboe family. Though part of the oboe family, the English horn is often differentiated by its larger size (1.5x that of an oboe) and its lower pitch.
English horns, like oboes, are commonly used in orchestra and chamber music ensembles or as solo instruments.
There are plenty of options for the student, intermediate and professional players. This isn't only true of individual instruments but also solo English horn makers and larger brands.
With such a wide variety of choices, knowing the market’s top brands is useful. Of course, the brand is far from the most important aspect of an English horn, though it's still worth considering for general knowledge and judgment. In this article, I’ll share my take on the top English horn brands.
Though obviously subjective and prone to biases, I’ve done my best to list out these brands based on the following metrics (in no particular order):
- Company reputation
- Performance of the English horns
- Longevity of the English horns
- Variety of English horns available
- Accessibility of the English horns (how easy they are to find/buy)
- The company must currently be in operation
With all that being said, let’s list out the brands.
The Top 11 Best English Horn Brands Are:
Let’s get into each of these brands in greater detail and explain why they belong in the top 11 best English horn brands. I’ll share their country of origin, a bit of history, an example of a notable English horn, and a link to their official website.
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Hugo Fox founded his company in 1949. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in South Whitley, Indiana.
Fox is currently the world’s largest bassoon manufacturer, with over 2,500 instruments sold every year and 130 employees. But bassoons are just one of the products of this brand’s exquisite and extensive catalogue; their English horns are just as sought-after.
Perhaps, to understand why Fox English horns are a great choice, we have to say that Hugo Fox was a member of the Chicago Symphony from 1922 to 1949. During that time, he gathered first-hand experience, which led to a player-centred approach to the design and manufacture of all instruments.
Hence, what you can expect from every Fox English horn is to have a distinctive playing experience and superb tone.
Notable English horn: Fox 508 Tristan Professional
Handmade from selected maple, this English horn by Fox is capable of producing all the depth and resonance Fox’s bassoons are known for worldwide. But that’s not all because the maple retains all the tonal characteristics of classic grenadilla wood, being 25% lighter.
Moreover, the uniqueness and complexity that maple adds to the tonal equation make this a great soloist instrument as well as a great blend in woodwind sections.
It is no surprise that this one-of-a-kind instrument comes from the Fox factory; try one today before buying anything else.
Lorée was founded in 1881 by François Loré. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Paris, France.
Frédéric Triébert was the owner of France's biggest, most sought-after oboe shop. François Loré was his chef d'atelier (workshop manager) for several years before moving on to opening his own shop. By that time, he had already learned all the secrets of woodwind instrument-making from his former mentor.
Moreover, François cascaded his knowledge to his family, and it was his son, Lucien, who perfected the oboe system to the one currently being used on both sides of the Atlantic.
If you want the best of the French woodwind tradition blended with modern manufacturing techniques, you’ll find Lorée to be the best brand in the market today.
Notable English horn: Lorée Royal 125
Entirely made with 10+-year-old naturally-dried grenadilla wood and silver, this is the pinnacle of Lorée’s manufacturing excellence.
Moreover, the top-notch materials used in its construction offer the player natural resonance, sustain, and tone.
Also, the instrument is supplied with two gold-plated bocals (mouthpieces), a 3rd-octave key, a left-hand F key, and a low B resonance key. Finally, the gold-plated reed well and gold-plated rings and posts round up an outstanding instrument ready to take any stage.
Fossati was founded in 1986 by Gérard Fossati. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Amilly, France.
After working for the Rigoutat Company for some years, Gérard Fossati felt it was time to chase his dreams and open a shop with his name on it. He was not only successful in that endeavour, but he was also able to blend what he had learned in Rigoutat with his vision and implement state-of-the-art design and manufacturing techniques.
Innovation and technology took Fossati’s creations to the next level. If you haven’t already, give this brand a try and find out why it is a synonym with impeccable manufacture and great sounds.
Notable English horn: Fossati Model S
Made entirely of grenadilla wood and featuring a fully automatic system, this is a serious English horn for serious players. Indeed, the platinum-plated keys, double tenon ring, and second-octave stop make it as flexible as it is great sounding. In the same vein, the F key for the left hand, 3rd-octave keys, and forked F, A, and E vents make it as versatile as it gets.
The Fossati S is a great sample of what a body made with a CNC machine and a hand-laid mechanism can do to an instrument.
Bulgheroni was founded in 1947 by Luigi Bulgheroni. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Colverde, Italy.
Still a family business, the Bulgheroni family works hard to keep the spirit and passion for excellence Luigi had when he was alive. Moreover, the craftsmanship secrets he learned during the decades dedicated to instrument building cascaded to the next generations. As a result, every English horn by Bulgheroni is the perfect blend of past and present.
Powering their facility with solar energy, the company still makes some of the best English horns in the world, bearing the proud “Made in Italy” label.
Notable English horn: Bulgheroni Artist Model
Made entirely of grenadilla wood, this English horn by Bulgheroni represents the company's flagship model. Indeed, the 3rd-octave key, silver-plated keys, and full conservatory key system make it easy to play. Finally, the Artist model by Bulgheroni includes a hardshell case for safe transportation and all the products needed for its care in years to come.
Bulgheroni’s best can very well be the world’s best; try it before buying anything else.
Tom Howarth founded Howarth of London in 1948. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in London, England.
Howarth is not only a great English horn maker; it is also the meeting point for world-class woodwind instrument players. Moreover, it is the place to find some of the world's most exclusive second-hand, vintage, and exclusive instruments.
This contact with some of the best woodwind instruments ever made gave Howarth the ability to make superior-sounding instruments and sell them at his shop. If they fit your budget, trying them is a must before buying.
Notable English horn: Howarth XL Automatic System
The XL Professional Model by Howarth is available in Grenadilla and Cocobolo. This is not a minor detail since these tonewoods sound very different and can accommodate different players’ needs. Besides the wood type, the semi-automatic silver-plated key system will work flawlessly for years. The Cocobolo wood, with correct care, can bring its unique character to the sound accompanying your performances for decades.
The Howarth XL Professional is the ultimate model made by one of the best brands in the world; if you are after excellence, this instrument needs to be on your list.
Buffet-Crampon was founded by Denis Buffet-Auger and his wife, Zoé Crampon, in 1825. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Mantes-la-Ville, France.
Buffet-Crampon is the company responsible for creating the Boehm System clarinets that revolutionized the world for players and manufacturers alike. That same bold, passionate, knowledgeable approach can be traced to today’s instruments in terms of sound, construction, and playability.
Two centuries have gone by since the company was founded. Those 200 years of non-stop innovation, hard work, and music make Buffet-Crampon one of the biggest, most sought-after brands in the world for woodwind instruments.
In case you haven’t already, try one today and feel the difference.
Notable English horn: Buffet-Crampon Prestige 4713
Entirely made of hand-picked top-notch grenadilla wood with a carbon-wired ferrule and metal-capped tenons and tenon caps, this is a great instrument for the demanding professional musician.
Moreover, the 3 semi-automatic octave keys, silver-plated key work, and cork pads (GT for the lower notes) make it reliable. Speaking of reliability, the wooden case comes fully covered in black leather with a white acrylic fleece interior.
Laubin was founded by Alfred Laubin in 1931. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Peekskill, New York.
Laubin’s story is that of many professional musicians who start making their own instruments because they can’t find any to match their high demands. Alfred decided to take matters into his own hands, but what he could have never imagined was creating one of the most important woodwind companies in the world.
Furthermore, he abandoned his career as a musician to dedicate himself fully to instrument making.
Today, the company is in the hands of the third generation of Laubin master builders who make each instrument exclusively using hand tools.
Notable English horn: Laubin Rosewood English Horn
Made with one of the most expensive and tonally-rich woods, this English horn represents the pinnacle of Laubin’s long journey in instrument making.
With a wait time of 8 to 9 years and a price that is not for the faint of heart, this English horn is an elite instrument for elite-level players, and after drying the wood for close to ten years, it can withstand any and all concert conditions.
If you are after the best money can buy and have the time to wait for it, Laubin fits that category easily.
Vinzenz Püchner founded the company in 1897. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Nauheim, Germany.
Vinzenz Püchner lost his parents at a very young age. He went to live with a family that had started making woodwind instruments in 1840. Therefore, little Vizenz learned how to play and make bassoons, English horns, oboes, and more from a very early age.
That know-how he got as a kid determined much of his life as he became a sought-after musician and a master builder who cascaded his skills and secrets to his family, who still runs the business.
Every Püchner English horn has been over a century in the making. Try one today and hear the difference by yourself.
Notable English horn: Püchner Model 39C
The grenadilla used in this instrument has been naturally dried for 20+ years after being hand-picked for its tonal and visual qualities.
Moreover, the entire key work is done completely by hand, following the century-old German tradition. It is thickly silver-plated to avoid the damage time, and use can inflict on the keys. In the same vein, the instrument ships with several bocals and a leather-covered hardshell case to make for easy transportation.
Finally, a set of premium accessories for the right care of the instrument is added to every shipment.
Püchner is a synonym for playability and amazing sound; try one today and feel the difference.
Johann Adam Heckel founded the company in 1831. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Wiesbaden, Germany.
Johann Heckel and Carl Almenräder joined forces to create one of the most important and old German woodwind manufacturers. After the retirement of Carl, Wilhelm Heckel (Johann’s son) stepped up to the challenge to continue with the company.
During that time, a close relationship with the legendary composer Richard Wagner helped the brand shape instruments and make innovations on known designs that would revolutionize the market more than once. One of them was the heckelphone, an instrument still made today.
After almost two centuries, Heckel continues to make and sell elite-level instruments for musicians around the world; they are a must-try before you buy.
Notable English horn: Heckel Heckelphone
The heckelphone is not strictly an English horn, but it is an innovation pushed by Richard Wagner over the original design that gave birth to an entirely new instrument. The key to understanding the heckelphone is that it can go 1 octave lower than the oboe and be as soft and powerful as the Alpenhorn at the same time.
Heckel decided to fulfill this strange request by Richard Wagner with an instrument similar to the English horn but with a spherical bell and a different length for the bore. As a result, the heckelphone is capable of a sonorous tone but retains the softness and lovely tone of the woodwind instruments while offering a wonderful low end to the player.
Marigaux was founded in 1935 by Mr. Strasser, Mr. Marigaux and Mr. Lemaire. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Paris, France.
Opening their shop in the busy streets of early 20th century Paris gave this trio the funds to open a woodwind facility in France’s number-one woodwind instrument region: Normandy. Instruments made in the new facility were received to such critical acclaim that the company stopped making brass instruments to dedicate entirely to the manufacture and retail of woodwind instruments.
After almost a century, Marigaux has outgrown its initial scope and ships state-of-the-art English horns to every corner of the planet with great success. The French tradition of woodwind instrument-making is still winning hearts all over the world. Play one today and hear the difference.
Notable English horn: Marigaux Altuglass English Horn Model 933
Made of an exclusive new material created by Marigaux specifically for this model, the model 933 English horn plays, sounds, and feels just like the real thing with none of the hassles real wood brings to the equation. Moreover, the new bore design and semi-automatic gold-plated key system make it sound sweeter while enhancing the looks of the transparent material.
This is an English horn like no other in the market today, and it sounds just like you would expect a Marigaux instrument to sound: incredible. Try one today and dare to a new world in English horn manufacturing.
The Rigoutat Company was founded in 1922 by Charles Rigoutat. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in Paris, France.
Lorée and Marigaux worked together with Rigoutat as apprentices for Georges LeBlanc, one of the most famous saxophone makers in history. Working next to each other at the shop, they learned and shared best practices; indeed, the three last names became utterly important for the history of music.
This means that Rigoutat’s skills have been over a century in the making and were forged with a master luthier. Hence, all you’ve heard about the “Rigoutat sound” is completely true and backed by a rich history of making elite-level instruments.
Notable English horn: Rigoutat Professional English Horn
Gildas Prado is the English horn soloist for the Orchestre de Paris, and he chooses Rigoutat to leave the audience in awe night after night. In his own words, the English horn by Rigoutat is a lively instrument capable of a large palette of timbres that can defy the instrument’s natural melancholic sound.
Indeed, with a body made entirely of African grenadilla wood, a silver-plated key system, and cork pads (and leather pads for the low registers), this is a serious instrument that can bring years of joy to the lucky owner.
Whether you need to impress audiences at concert halls or play at the studio or at home, this English horn can be a lifelong companion with great tones to offer.