THIRTY YEARS TO FINKE
THE QUEST FOR A BETTER CLASS OF HORN
By David Pickles, London
No.1 1967 • £70 left Dad’s wallet with great difficulty, and I became the proud owner of my first double horn. It was a La Fleur with (I discovered later) horrible sticky valves. These were attacked periodically with a session of filing and emery paper. Anyway, it saw me safely into the Junior RAM where Tony Randall started me on those strange Bb tubes; I was off to conquer all 2nd horn parts!
No.2 • Single Bb/A/F Hoyer, gold brass, medium bore, detachable bell, £270. With some highly unusual low note F side fingerings and a bit of right hand tuning I was pretty good even on low parts. Money well spent too, because it survived as many trips on the back of my motorbike as it did rehearsals & concerts, some sections including the big London names of today. The main problem was the A valve: being a lazy so and so, I never got to grips with semitone transposition, and once I stopped playing so much, there was no way I was going to spend time on it: easier to use the thumb than the brain.
No.3 1979 • Dear old Auntie Kate died, and by a minor miracle left me £800, which I though was very kind of her. The Hoyer was sold (I regret that now) and I decided to buy my first brand new horn from Paxman. Large bore model 13 in yellow brass, Bb/A/C with a second thumblever ascending to C. Well, I can tell you now, cutting off a full tones worth of tubing when you push a thumblever is a very odd experience. It certainly took some getting used to, especially as I was now playing about once a week with less and less practice. Bit of a nuisance these careers, so inevitably, off went the horn to various lofts for more than 17 years. In 2000 I was able to join the University of Kent Symphony Orchestra as 4th horn, the horn re-surfaced, and without even an oiling, off (it was to start with) went my playing again. One really good concert involved playing 4th in Strauss Death & Transfiguration, and I decided that a double needed investigation.
No.4 2001 • 2001. Paxman model 26, large bore, fixed bell, Bb/F with stopping valves for A/E. Wow, that made a bit of difference to the level of oomph and no more imaginative fingerings were needed. I bought it thinking that I’d have the bell chopped later on, but frankly it was in such beautiful condition, that it would have spoilt it. Bye!
Nr.5 • Yep, you guessed it! Specification: Bb/F/A double, large bore, gold brass, detachable bell, and it all had to be achievable for a sane price. The search was on folks – Internet time! Did you know that in Germany there are: - Hoyer, Kruspe, Dieter Otto, Thein, Kuhn, Durk, Schmid, (don’t run spell check on that lot) and of course Alexander. I could see a mini adventure coming up, as I finally decided on a Finke and a drive to northern Germany to pick it up. The order was placed, funds transferred and the wait began. No turning back now, but once there, I had to select the leadpipe. Would I know which to pick, oh help!
Very early in the morning of 24th May 2005, I left the UK via the Chunnel. I drove through France, Belgium, Holland, and then flat out through Germany to Herford for some food, a few large dunkel beers and some sleep. Waking ridiculously early, I packed, wolfed breakfast, paid and left for Vlotho-Exter. Oh dear, how I wish I had a car with SatNav: lost for the second time, no detailed map of the area, and completely deaf to the German language.
Industriestasse 17, 32602 Vlotho was not the easiest place in the world to find, but as I trundled past the field of ripening corn for the second time I spotted the Finke symbol on the front of what looked like a large tall house. I rang the bell, and was greeted by a very surprised, very tall man, who told me he was Johannes Finke. I hadn’t realised it was only 08:30 and he’d hoped that I would arrive after 10. The reason soon became clear; he’d had a bit of an accident. During final polishing, the horn had slipped, and one of the tubes had been bent. Johannes had been up late the night before and up again early that morning dismantling, re-making, re-soldering, re-polishing, and still had to degrease, lacquer, and finally assemble the instrument.
After a long chat about the history of Finke, friendships between Bob Paxman & his father Helmut (who I later met) and other horn makers, I left Johannes to work. I then set about the terrible task at hand. I had a large reception/display room full of horns which just had to be tried, and by the look of it I had all day to do it. Life’s tough sometimes. First played was a really wonderful free blowing Bohemian design natural F horn. I’d keep returning to this during the day, because it was so easy to play with dead easy pitching and wonderful edge on forte. Next was a large bore “Americus” triple, which Johannes was keen for me to try because it was the bore which I had ordered. Being allergic to high parts, I’d never really bothered about F Alto, but was really surprised how much easier high notes became. More impressive was that after a few minutes, I could actually produce a very acceptable tone throughout the entire range whichever part of the horn I played on. This was certainly not true of an F-Alto I’d tried six months earlier from another German maker; this was so bad in most respects that I put it down straight away. Triples, Doubles, Compacts, Naturals whatever I tried, there was a really impressive consistency about intonation and feel throughout the Finke range. I preferred the larger bore, but the medium “Brendan” was certainly not overly restrictive.
Finally at 5 o’clock my gorgeous hand-made horn was ready. The finish was absolutely fabulous, even in the most inaccessible places. Johannes adjusted the thumblevers, and then laid four leadpipes out in front of me on the workbench. I’d been blowing for hours now, certainly more than my normal ten minutes, and I really didn’t know what to expect. Test time for me and the pipes. Number 1 was great top end, but tighter at the bottom. Number 2 was the exact opposite. Number 3 was brilliant top and bottom, but not for me in the middle. Gulp, but number 4 was just so smooth across my entire playing range; I just couldn’t believe how easy it was.
Would I do it again? You bet I would, and I’m going to recommend it to others too, but one thing is important, the final leadpipe selection. Just to illustrate, I had a ****** horn a while back, and I just hated the thing. I now know that a different leadpipe would have transformed that instrument too. Maybe, other makers have something to learn here from Herr Finke.
If a man with greying hair and a beard asks if you’d like to see his shiny new horn, don’t get all upset; see what you could buy with your hard-earned Euro’s, Dollars, or Pounds.
A(+) Must Try Harder.