Better Crafted, or Better Playing?
A thought experiment I do sometimes is to consider what would happen if one were forced to chose between taking delivery of a horn that played wonderfully but was poorly made, or one that was made made exquisitely but played poorly. Which would be more valuable to the player?
If a horn is made well, it will last for a very long time and require very little repair, other than the regular maintenance. With a reliable platform to start with, the horn’s playing characteristics can be tweaked and pushed in whatever direction they need to go. Working and modifying a well made horn is much easier and many times, subtle changes can radically influence the playability.
If a horn is made poorly, it may not matter how well it plays. As joints break and the horn deteriorates, the playability will suffer. Upgrading and modifying a poorly made horn usually isn’t very successful because even if the worse parts are replaced, there are other areas that are unreachable, or very expensive to modify. Additionally, the life span of these kinds of horns are much shorter and a player may find themselves regularly without their horn as it is in the shop more often.
This thought experiment is useful as more and more makers and shops adopt a strategy of “it only matters how the horn plays”. Bad craft is bad craft even if there are no overt consequences to the way the horn initially plays. As a player shopping for a horn, you would do well to consider that a well made horn has much intrinsic value and can usually be optimized to fit your playing style more easily. The good news is that better craft almost always leads to better playability, smoother slurs, clearer tone colors and more projection in the hall.
Luckily, there are shops still committed to long form horn making, even if the work is slow and difficult. Find us, and you’ll be assured to never have to choose between a horn that is well made, and one that plays great!