The secret of the horn's traditional tone: imperfections!?
The Vienna Philharmonic Symphony's brass section has long been famous for its unique timbre. This timbre is a result of using very old instruments from famous instrument makers that have been passed down through generations. However, the brass instruments suffer a lot of wear and tear, and the symphony has often been faced with the pressing need to introduce new instruments to replace the old. To retain their characteristic tone, they asked Yamaha to find a way to reproduce their tone with modern production techniques.
Horns and other brass instruments are made from yellow brass (an alloy of copper and zinc) or red brass (also an alloy of copper and zinc, but with a higher percentage of zinc). With modern production techniques, it is easy to produce pure yellow brass or red brass. However, horns made from such pure materials do not have a good tone when played.
Yamaha analyzed the materials of these old instruments in Vienna, and to our surprise we found that the instruments were not pure yellow or red brass, but contained small impurities-less than 1%-of iron, lead, nickel and other elements. However, it would be difficult in the extreme to produce yellow brass sheets with trace amounts of impurities such as lead intentionally introduced. After many long hours and much trial and error, we were at last able to create a special edition Vienna Philharmonic model with materials that contain these impurities. When played, these new instruments produced a timbre that is extremely close to that of the instruments on which they were modeled, and the way that the tone broke when the instrument was played very loudly was identical to that of the older instruments. With this, their traditional tone was preserved, and ever since that point, the Vienna Philharmonic brass section always puts in a special order to Yamaha when they need one of those instruments made from materials with these impurities.