Aftermarket Setup for New Horns? Necessary or Not?

Steve Goodson

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I’ve seen a good bit of discussion lately about sending a brand new horn to a technician for a set up and adjustment before it is played. One of my students asked me about this today, and we had a pretty good discussion on the topic. Here are my thoughts on the topic:

As a matter of disclosure, I have a couple of good friends and business associates who are absolutely world class technicians who offer this service. Do I think you would benefit from sending your brand new unplayed instrument to them for setup? There is no question in my mind that you would. Let’s explore why you may wish to consider this service, and why it may (or may not) be necessary.

First, I think the reality is that MOST of the major manufacturers send their instruments out to their dealer network in absolutely playable condition, and that the dealers for these major brands are almost always qualified to resolve any major issues that may result from ship[ping etc. When the ultimate purchaser receives their instrument, in almost every case it’s going to play pretty well. This is NOT always the case with “off brand” instruments, or with instruments purchased from dealers who do not maintain an on premise repair shop. It also does NOT apply to used or “vintage” instruments.

So you say “if these horns play well, why should I invest in an aftermarket setup?” or “why don’t the manufacturers and their dealers set them up right in the first place?”….well, I believe there’s an answer to those questions…..

The friends of mine who do this sort of work (and there may well be others), Matt Stohrer and Curt Altarac (, when allowed to do so, will quite literally tweak your horn almost to death and bring each and every component up to the ultimate possible state of adjustment and regulation. They will often replace some of the materials such as cork and felt with “better” materials. Every post will be aligned perfectly. Intonation will be tweaked down to a fraction of a cent. The results can be amazing.

But do you need it? That’s really the question. Frankly, if you get a name brand horn from an established dealer, it’s probably going to play pretty damn well. Could it be even better? Probably so, but the tweaking upon tweaking necessary comes at a price, which is not low, and you have to decide if it’s worth it to you. Should you spend the money? If you want your horn to be absolutely the best it can be, yes, assuming it’s agreeable with your budget. There is a tremendous amount of slow, hand work involved by someone who spent many years learning their craft, and this sort of thing is not cheap. Should the manufacturers and dealers have done this sort of tweaking in the first place? Well, they could, but the selling price of your new horn would have to be a LOT higher. They get it to a very reasonable state of adjustment (and honestly, very few customers really find fault with the usual factory/dealer setup), and leave it there. There is a cost/benefit tradeoff to be considered.

So, what’s right for you? Only you and your banker know for sure. I will assure you that you pay an awful lot for that last 5% of adjustment, but if you’ve got the cash on the hip, it’s worth it!


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