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Stuffy horn with a thin high range; solutions?

13 Dec 2009 20:41 #351 by Gregory Beckwith
Stuffy horn with a thin high range; solutions? was created by Gregory Beckwith

I have a Yamaha 668ND that is about 10 years old. It has a nice sound except for higher range notes, which are rather thin. Have you ever worked on a 668? It is also a bit stuffy to play. I'd like to hear any recommendations as far as mouth piece or lead pipe, or if I should just sell and move on to another horn. I play in a brass quintet and community bands/orchestras etc. I'd consider a horn in the $3 to $4K range, if that would be much better.

Greg Beckwith's answer:

The 668 is a standard model seen quite frequently for routine maintenance and needed repairs. Wait on a new leadpipe, new mouthpiece, or even new horn and address the following questions and checks, first.

A few questions and checks concerning your issues:

1st- Has the horn always played this way, or is this something recent. Either way the following could be causes/issues:
  • Your horn needs to be clean- 3 months of consistent playing can introduce enough gunk to close the bore perceptibly and affect your sound.
  • Valves ported? Have a technician check that your valves are porting correctly and the material used holds them in position. This is a simple fix that can make a huge difference in the response of your horn.
  • Your horn should be dent free- Any obstruction to the air flow, especially in the leadpipe can affect sound.
  • Valve oil-are you using “rotor” valve oil? Regular piston oil is not formulated for rotors. You may notice your sound and high range gets better when you change oils.
  • Try using a heavier oil also- If there is a definite change- then you may have worn valve issues requiring technician verification and maybe leading to a rebuild- a process where material is added and they are refit to the casing. Or simply continue using heavier oil.
  • Have you changed your mouthpiece recently? This is probably obvious, but if you switched and it felt great initially you may be realizing that it is not the best match for your embouchure and horn.
  • Is your mouthpiece old? It could be worn where it fits the leadpipe? The mouthpiece needs to seal and fit well for optimal playability.
  • Have you dropped the mouthpiece? Is the bottom round or flared from corrections? This too can affect your sound and range.
  • Has the horn experienced any major shocks or damage over its 10 years? Even if it has been repaired there could be stresses built up at connection points and require removing the bell or heating up other junctions to relive the stress.
  • Do you use a gig bag/how does the horn fit in your case? Some gig bags can put stresses on the instrument and solder joints. A hard case can cause stress too if it is pressing on the instrument. A technician can investigate the fit, determine if there are issues and evaluate solder joints/assembly points for stress.
  • Solder joints could have leaks- Have a technician check anywhere air travels; they can fill joints as needed.
  • Excess solder could be inside tubes and connection points on the horn- They can reduce the bore size and affect sound production and quality. An experienced technician will be able to detect and remove the excess.
  • Misalignments/gaps- At junction points parts need to be aligned and assembled without gaps- this too can affect your sound and range. Have a technician investigate and make corrections.
After these issues are addressed, the following could be affecting your high range and stuffy sound:

Mouthpiece to Leadpipe- position/fit

Sometimes the maker misses getting the correct taper and fit for the mouthpiece or it has become worn and changed position over the ten years you’ve had the horn. For the best playability and response from the horn the mouthpiece needs to “seat” in position and distance into the leadpipe. If it does not, there could be two issues affecting this relationship.

Issues-Mouthpiece to Leadpipe:

1) A loose fit
  • Place your mouthpiece in your horn and see if it wiggles or wobbles?
  • If so- you have a poor fit of the tapers - mouthpiece to leadpipe and the leadpipe is likely the cause.
  • Solution- take your horn to an experienced repair technician/shop and have them true the leadpipe taper to match the mouthpiece. If they are familiar with the issue, a technician will have truing tools to correct the fit.
2) Wrong distance
  • Get another horn that plays well and use it as a test to see how far your mouthpiece goes into the leadpipe. You can use a fine tip sharpie to draw a line where your mouthpiece enters as a reference.
  • Compare how far your mouthpiece goes into your horn. It may go in further past the mark.
  • If this is the case, again take your horn to an experienced technician/shop and they could make some temporary adjustments so you can determine if this is the cause of your thin high range and stuffy sound. Then the shop could make an insert for the leadpipe to establish the distance more permanently.
  • If you want to know if it does improve on your own? wrap some tape around the bottom of the mouthpiece to allow the mouthpiece to extend out and try playing it! You may have found the issue.
This is a common issue that can affect sound and range significantly. Too shallow could also be present, but less likely. There are many custom makers that have leadpipes by style of horn and make/model that you could experiment with also. But the above could easily be your issue and the resolution would be less costly than replacing the leadpipe. The choice would be yours.


If any of the above mentioned issues are confirmed you need to find a knowledgeable experienced technician who knows how to investigate, confirm and address them to make repairs/ corrections. Leadpipe corrections are more delicate than some of the preliminary ones mentioned but a skilled technician should be able to improve upon them with careful work and checks along the way.

It would be nice if we could communicate back and forth concerning your issue but hopefully what has been shared will prove helpful in determining the cause of your playing issues and how they could be resolved. If you would like to communicate about your horn further please contact us at: and we would be happy to assist you in any way.

Greg Beckwith and John Huth- Instructors MN State College SE Technical, Red Wing MN.

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