YOUR IMPRESSIONS: Double Descant Horns

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27 Dec 2011 03:46 #510 by P.G. Woodhead
YOUR IMPRESSIONS: Double Descant Horns was created by P.G. Woodhead
A friend asked me about double descants as he intends to buy one. I've played singles (in several keys), doubles, triples (both F & Eb alto flavors), single Bb's, a Bb/high-Bb... about everything under the sun except a double descant. Since I have no experience, I'd like to ask here for your thoughts & experiences on several particular horns. If you've played one (or more), I'd like your impressions, particularly as regards the following models.

1) Willson WCS255C
2) Alexander 106 & 107 (w- and w-out A-stop valve... I think)
3) Lawson 963 descant (there's a hot one over on the 4-sale forum, have to re-mortgage though)
4) YAMAHA YHR-881
5) Conn has one, and
6) Holton has one too

I would guess that a good Bb/F-alto would live or die on how good a Bb horn it was, with the F-alto for those scary moments.

Look forward to hearing from you,
P.G.

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15 Jan 2012 20:42 #521 by Eric A Johnson
Replied by Eric A Johnson on topic YOUR IMPRESSIONS: Double Descant Horns
I have always liked the Holton H-200, just because it is available, plays reasonably well, and does not break the bank. I play a vintage Holton 178 as my daily driver so the switch is not that different.

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15 Jan 2012 22:48 #523 by Ryan Gruber
Replied by Ryan Gruber on topic YOUR IMPRESSIONS: Double Descant Horns
I've owned a Yamaha 881 for about two years and could certainly recommend the horn without hesitation. It's well built, the sound is consistent between the two sides (one caveat, keep reading), intonation is easy, and it has a nice sound. The Alex 107's I've tried previously have also been very nice horns.

For me, I think there are a two important considerations when buying a descant.

First, what one should look for depends largely on how the player intends to use the horn. If the purchaser intends to use the horn as his primary instrument, then yes, the quality of the Bb side throughout its entire register will likely be of utmost importance, as will be the availability of an F extension (or an ability to get one built). For someone like me, who uses his descant primarily for contemporary music or certain Baroque or Classical repertoire, my concern was almost exclusively how the horn functions from the second line G up and how even the transition is between the two sides in the upper register. The Bb side of my Yamaha is fine, to be sure. It's a little honky in the lower register but lots of descants are. It's an inherent flaw of the typical descant, which almost always has a remarkably short leadpipe and consequently a very fast taper that favors the upper register.

The second question ties into the first, and it's the one to which Eric alluded. How much one is willing to pay for a horn that might not be a daily driver? I make my living playing the horn, so of course it matters to me that the descant I have is easy to play and sounds good. But at the same time, if I found a descant that played 10% better than my Yamaha but cost $5k more than my Yamaha, would I buy it? Probably not. It's just not worth it to me to have a whole bunch of extra money tied up in a horn that I only need a handful of times each year. I have better ways I can use or invest those funds that provide me with a better return. You can find lots of excellent and gently used descants for around $4-5k. I would be hesitant to encourage or recommend that anyone ever spend considerably more than that, unless it's for a horn they're going to play every day or if money is simply not a concern.

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