Assembly & Care of the English Horn

The English horn is assembled in the same manner as the oboe. Of great importance in the process is the careful and proper alignment of the bridging keys between the upper and lower joints. The use of a bit of cork grease on the cork joints is good, since it does away with the tendency to “force” the fit of the joints. If the joint is unstable, there may be too much cork grease, which can be removed with a tissue.

There are two bridging keys between the upper and lower joint. On one side is the trill key bridge for the C-D trill. On the other side is the bridge for the fingering combination for C and B. Assembly of the upper and lower joints is easily accomplished by observing from the back of the instrument, the better to see the alignment of the bridging keys. The bell joint presents no problem, since there is only one bridge.

The English horn also uses a bocal, which extends from the top of the instrument, curving toward the player. The reed tube slips over the top of the bocal, completing the assembly. Some players find it very useful to use a piece of thin rubber or plastic tubing as an airtight bond at the juncture of the reed tube and the bocal. A short piece of aquarium tubing works quite well. In addition to making a good seal, this prevents the reed from slipping off the bocal during performance.

 Always soak the reed while putting the English horn together. Dip the reed in water, shake off the excess
water and let it stand for a few minutes before playing on it. If left standing in water, the reed becomes quite
open and difficult to manage. If water is not available, the reed can be moistened with saliva.

Cradle the upper joint in the left hand. Place the right thumb on the E key of the second joint and carefully
maneuver the two parts together, gently pushing and turning in a clockwise direction until the bridge mechanism is properly aligned. Be careful not to bump the “arm” above the F# key. Do not hold onto the C, C#,
and E spatula cluster.  Cradle the thumb rest in the left hand. This holds it up and out of the way while pushing and twisting the bell into the lower joint. (Left-handed people should reverse hands in the assembly  procedures).

 The reed tube slips over the top of the bocal.  Wooden instruments need care! Extremes of temperature
can be deadly. Never play an instrument when it is cold. Let it come to room temperature or warm it under a
coat or sweater next to your body. The most crack-prone area of an oboe or English horn is the area between the
trill tone holes in the upper joint. Often a tiny crack can develop almost unseen, which can seriously hamper an
instrument’s playing ability. A good test for air tightness is to cover all the tone holes in the top joint and insert a rubber stopper in the bottom of the upper joint. Try to create a vacuum by sucking out the air from the top of the joint.

If it won’t hold a vacuum, you may need to see a repairperson to check for a crack. The newer plastic and composite instruments do away with that particular problem.   The instrument should be swabbed out after each use with a silk swab (taking care not to force the swab through).  Occasionally, carefully oil a wooden instrument bore with bore oil.

The bocal is extremely influential in the sound and tuning of the English horn. Bocals are available in varying lengths, with #1 being the shortest, and #3 being the lowest in pitch. Individual bocals can vary in tone color, response, and dynamic range, so it is important that the instrument you choose has a well made bocal to complement it. Treat the bocal with care, so as not to bend or dent it, and clean it out periodically with warm water, a mild detergent and a pipe cleaner.

Unless you have had some experience with adjusting woodwinds, it is best to let an experienced repair person handle adjustments. Often, a small problem can become a big one with a screwdriver in untrained hands.

The English horn reed differs from the oboe reed in two ways. First, the reed is not inserted into the body of the instrument, but is instead fit over the end of the bocal.

Second, the reed usually has a thin brass wire wrapped twice around the reed about 6mm above the winding.
The wire is not essential, but it serves to stabilize the size of the opening. The length of the reed and staple together is from 53 to 56mm. The material in the oboe manual pertaining to the adjustment of reeds is equally applicable to English horn reeds. Only the proportions are somewhat larger. For anyone who wishes to go into reed making in greater detail, a fine reference is David Weber’s book “The Reed Maker’s Manual.” An accompanying videocassette is available. Another fine text is “The Oboe Reed Book” by Jay Light.

It is important to have a reed case that supports the reed in such a way that nothing can damage the delicate tip. It should also allow for air circulation around the reed to keep it dry when not in use. There are commercial reed cases available or cases can be made by the student. Do not use the plastic tubes in which some commercial reeds are packaged. They do not permit thorough drying of the reed between uses.

English Horn Reeds

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