The French horn (more often referred to simply as the “horn”) is a mainstay brass instrument of orchestral and chamber music and even sees use in jazz and other genres.
Due to its popularity, there are plenty of options for the student, intermediate and professional horn players. This isn't only true of individual instruments but also of solo 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 a French horn, though it's still worth considering for general knowledge and judgement. In this article, I'll share my take on the top French 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 French horns
- Longevity of the French horns
- Variety of French horns available
- Accessibility of the French 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 French horn brands are:
Let's get into each of these brands in greater detail and explain why they belong in the top 11 best French horn brands. I'll share their country of origin, a bit of history, an example of a notable horn, and a link to their official website.
Currently run by the 7th generation of the Alexander family, this brand has been making top-notch brass instruments for centuries, not decades. Indeed, the know-how accumulation passed from one generation to the next makes each Alexander horn leaving the Mainz factory a piece of music history in the making.
If you want to feel what 3 centuries of heritage sound like, all you have to do is pick up an Alexander horn and hear the difference yourself.
Notable French horn: Alexander Bb Horn Model 97 (link to check the price at Paxman)
Seven generations and three centuries are behind every decision made in the design of this instrument. As a result, the craftsmanship, design, and performance are top-notch.
Indeed, you can choose yellow or gold brass or nickel silver and enjoy the medium-sized bell throat to make the challenges in opera concerts effortless. Moreover, the solo players will find that this horn cuts through even the densest mixture of instruments.
If you are after a B♭ model that is built to last, sounds amazing, and performs effortlessly, you have to try this model by Alexander.
Official website: gebr-alexander.de
Alexander was founded by Franz A Alexander in 1782. Currently, the company's headquarters are in Mainz, Germany.
Alexander is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Although Frank Holton started as a second-hand instrument seller with a tiny shop in Chicago, his company grew way beyond his imagination. For starters, they are the instrument of choice for giants like Vincent Bach, Ethel Merker, and Philip Farkas, among many others.
To be the go-to option for people with such a refined ear is not an overnight phenomenon. Indeed, Holton has been manufacturing some of the best horns in the market for decades. Check one for yourself today and hear the true brass spirit beating inside every Holton creation.
Notable French horn: Holton H105 Professional French Horn (link to check the price at Sam Ash)
Holton's flagship horn just got a full revamp from the company, and it sounds better than ever. To begin with, the red brass used in the bell translates into dark, rich tones that can sound amazing at any volume without ever getting into brassy territory.
Moreover, to add dynamics and enhance the tonal palette of the instrument, you can even exchange the lead pipe system making it suitable for orchestral or chamber music. Finally, the tapered rotors in the mechanism ensure long years of music joy ahead with minimal maintenance.
This horn is Holton's flagship instrument and, as such, also a benchmark of the industry.
Official website: conn-selmer.com/en-us/our-brands/holton
Parent company: Conn-Selmer
Frank Holton founded the company that bears his name in 1896. Currently, the headquarters are in Eastlake, Ohio, USA.
Holton is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Although the first Paxman horns ever made started in 1945, Paxman had already been working as a brand for almost half a century when Bob's father, Harry Paxman, founded it.
The critical acclaim to which Paxman horns were received by the musical world took the company to a meteoric rise. Furthermore, teaming up with notable Australian player Richard Merewether, Paxman created the f-alto and F/f-alto horns. Although before their construction, it was considered a crazy idea; nowadays, these horns have more than 50 models in Paxman's catalogue.
If you're looking for uncanny quality, great sound, and a plethora of options to choose from, Paxman is a must-check.
Notable French horn: Paxman Model 20 (link to check the price at Paxman)
This horn is the flagship model of one of the world's most renowned horn manufacturers. This makes it a benchmark for the entire industry and one of the best horns you can buy today.
For starters, this horn is unlike any other because of Paxman's exclusive Merewether system. In case you are not familiar with it, the system allows air to flow in the same direction through the valve section for both sides of the instrument: F and B♭. From a player's perspective, this system allows an unprecedented smooth slurring and great legato on both sides.
If you want to put your hands on one of the best horns ever made and your budget allows it, you have to try one of these before buying anything else.
Official website: paxman.co.uk
Paxman was founded in 1945 by Robert Paxman. Currently, the company's headquarters are in London, England.
Although most people associate Yamaha with state-of-the-art technology and performance, the brand's origins are very different. Indeed, it all started in the hands of a superbly gifted piano maker who created an empire out of his talents.
The brass department enlarges the company's legacy by applying the latest technology to improve the quintessential design and deliver something new to the market. Therefore, what you get from a Yamaha musical instrument is always the perfect match of centuries-old tradition and cutting-edge machinery.
If you want a great-sounding, utterly-reliable, and long-lasting horn, Yamaha is a must-check.
Notable French horn: Yamaha YHR-871 (link to check the price at Woodwind Brasswind)
The newest addition to the rich Yamaha tradition of outstanding horns is the Yamaha YHR-871. This state-of-the-art instrument is capable of exceptional clarity while also delivering deep and rich resonance in every note.
That being said, you can also hear the solid core in every performance due to the orthodox Geyer-style wrap. Speaking of which, the instrument's lead pipe design in gold brass is unorthodox, which plays a big part in the instrument's tone throughout the entire register.
This is a great candidate for those in search of a superb, dynamic, flexible, and easy-to-play instrument.
Official website: yamaha.com
Yamaha was founded by Torakusu Yamaha in 1887. Currently, the company's headquarters are in Hamamatsu, Japan.
Yamaha is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
This is one of the oldest companies making brass instruments in the USA, and although it was sold and purchased several times, the legacy of one of the biggest names in brass instruments in history is intact.
Today, after being purchased by Selmer in 2003, the healthy interrelationship between Conn and the rest of the outstanding brands owned by Selmer created an ecosystem that elevated all the brands involved. Thus, every time you pick up a Conn horn, you'll be playing centuries of combined experience, knowledge, and tradition in every blow.
Notable French horn: C.G. Conn 8DS (link to check the price at Sweetwater)
The 8DS is this company's best-selling French horn because it is capable of offering any player the perfect blend of projection and flexibility to conquer any stage. Moreover, for the horn players on the road, you can detach the bell and make it even more compact.
The success of the 8DS is not new, though; it has been one of the best-selling horns by Conn for decades. The dark tones with rich lows and perfectly-balanced mids coming from the nickel construction and the large throat bell are still unmatched in the market.
Finally, the thin lacquer finish provides the warmth and sustain most players search for in an instrument.
Official website: conn-selmer.com/en-us/our-brands/cg-conn
Parent company: Conn-Selmer (Steinway)
This company was founded in 1876 by Charles Gerard Conn. Currently, the company's headquarters are in Eckhart, Indiana, USA.
C.G. Conn is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Although this company was established at the end of the 20th century, the heritage these instruments proudly bear comes from the last years of the 18th century. Indeed, the headquarters region is rich in musical history, 250 years of fine instrument making.
This expertise and finesse were only augmented by state-of-the-art machinery and industrial know-how to create some of the best, most reliable, and great-sounding horns in the market today.
Notable French horn: Hans Hoyer RT91 (link to check the price at Music & Arts)
If we were to name the credits of Richard Todd, one of the most prominent artists in the Han Hoyer catalogue, we would need a different post exclusively for it. What is important to know about him, though, is his past as a Hollywood Studio Artist and principal horn of the L.A. Chamber Orchestra.
This wide palette of sounds needed by Richard daily gave this instrument (his favourite) unheard-of dynamics, which make it excel in all situations. If you are after a do-it-all horn that plays great, sounds even better, and will last for a lifetime, check this one out.
Official website: hans-hoyer.com
Hans Hoyer was established by its parent company Buffet Crampon Deutschland GmbH in 1994. Today, the company's headquarters can be found in Markneukirchen, Germany.
After a long trajectory as a horn master player, Engelbert Schmid decided to open his own shop as a master builder in 1990. Due to the outstanding demand for his horns, he decided to train the personnel in his production facility personally. This way, he could grow to a full-scale production facility while maintaining the quality levels achieved in his shop.
As a result, every Schmid horn leaving the factory carries decades of experience, a touch of finesse, and attention to detail only a master builder and accomplished player is capable of. If you are after a horn ready to make history, you have to try a Schmid out before buying anything else.
Notable French horn: Schmid Vienna Horn (link to check the price at Rimsky Horns)
The first thing you'll notice as a player when you pick up one of these horns is that the valves are the quickest you've ever played. This is not random; it is because Schmid managed to reduce the moving mass of the instrument to half its weight. As a result, this is one of the most dynamic, versatile, and great-sounding horns you can pick up today.
Furthermore, for the professional player, the triple water keys in the design allow you to empty all the water in the instrument in only a few seconds.
If you are after the quintessential Vienna sound in an instrument with impeccable intonation and fast touch, this is a must-check before buying.
Official website: engelbert-schmid-horns.com
Schmid Horns was founded by Engelbert Schmid in 1990. Currently, the company's headquarters are in Mindelzell, Germany.
Every musician in Asia knows Jupiter to be the best option for student-prized models in the region. Moreover, most of the biggest talents in music started their path holding a Jupiter instrument in their hands. Therefore, the brand enjoys a reputation for making sturdy, reliable, well-made instruments that can withstand student life (and every bump in the ride) and stay in tune.
If you are after a great instrument with a student-level price tag and amazing sound, you need to check Jupiter out today.
Notable French horn: Jupiter 1100 Performance Series JHR1100 (link to check the price at Guitar Center)
This is the perfect horn for those students needing an extra quality push going through their advanced years. Indeed, the tonal palette at hand in this double horn is perfect to excel in class without breaking the bank. Furthermore, the Geyer wrap makes resistance minimal while enhancing volume level.
Finally, the price tag attached to this very capable student instrument makes it perfect to go through your college years, sounding great.
Official website: jupitermusic.com
KHS established Jupiter Band Instruments in 1980. The company's headquarters are in Taipei, Taiwan.
Jupiter is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
After a successful career as a horn player and director in some of the world's most renowned orchestras, Andrew Lane decided to come up with a unique model that could outdo everything else in the market. Moreover, he wanted to make the kind of horn that could solve all the problems he had encountered in his playing years.
As a result, and with the input of notable players like Phil Munds, Joshua Horne, and Larry Solowey, Lanstro horns are slowly creating a revolution. Moreover, the name of this brand is whispered in the hallways of every major concert hall in the world as we speak.
If you haven't already, pick a Lanstro horn up today and witness excellence for yourself.
Notable French horn: Lanstro AL2 Premium Model (link to check the price at Lanstro)
The premium model of one of the world's best craftsmen is a standard for the entire world. In this case, the AL2 by Lanstro is nothing short of a shocking instrument ready to take over any stage. This is because every AL2 is built using Meinlschmidt rotors exclusively designed for Lanstro Horns.
Moreover, each horn is made by soft hand hammering on metal by the Ewald Meinl of Germany. This procedure smoothens the sound adding warm colour and providing outstanding pitch to every horn coming out of the factory.
The Lanstro AL2 is ready to take over the world in the right hands.
Official website: lanstrohorns.com
Lanstro Horns was founded by Andrew Lane in 2014. Currently, the company's headquarters are in Winter Park, Florida, USA.
The tradition behind Schiller as a brand goes back to an exceptional German piano maker of the 19th century, Gustav Schiller. He was the one who grew the company's reputation around the world for making some of the best pianos of his time.
After WWII, the company resurged from the ashes as the factory had been bombed to nothing. In this respawn, the commitment to excellence that made the company grow astronomically was kept intact, but the catalogue was drastically expanded.
If you want to play a horn that has been perfected for over a century, you have to try Schiller out.
Notable French horn: Schiller Elite VI French Horn (link to check the price at Jim Laabs Music)
Made out of silver and gold, this French horn is a great representation of what this brand can do for music. For starters, the double-reinforced bracing and tubing make it an exceptional instrument in terms of reliability.
The hand-hammered bell adds an exceptional response to the playing and delivers uncanny quality and clarity, especially for the lower and upper registers. Finally, it comes equipped with a deluxe hardshell case to take it anywhere with you.
If you want a next-level horn for your talent to explode, this may very well be it.
Official website: schillerinstruments.com
Schiller was founded by Gustav Schiller in 1885. Currently, the company's headquarters are in Stevens Point, Michigan, USA.
Schiller is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
The mission behind the creation of Stagg was to manufacture affordable musical instruments any musician could enjoy. In other words, to close the gap between students' budgets and great instruments that play properly, can endure the pass of time, and stay in tune as well.
Therefore, that is exactly what you can expect from Stagg, a great-sounding horn that can play well and won't break your bank.
Notable French horn: Stagg LV-HR6515 (link to check the price at Music Good Deal)
This double horn made of gold brass is a perfect example of a French horn that is reliable and sounds great but won't break your bank.
The design incorporates 4 rotary valves, and the lead pipe also features a water key. Also, the clear lacquer adds the sought-after warmth to the sound solo players need to shine. Finally, the included soft case is great to move around with it.
If you want quality that sounds great without the hefty price tag, this is a great instrument to buy.
Official website: staggmusic.com
Although Stagg started in the 1970s as a tiny endeavour in Japan, the version we currently know of Stagg was launched in 1995 by its parent company EMD Music. Currently, headquarters are in Brussels, Belgium, and production is carried on in Asia.
Stagg is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
- King (no longer in production)
- Dieter Otto
- Ricco Kuhn
- John Packer