Conn 80a’s – Worth owning?

Posted: July 21, 2011 in Gadget Talk
Tags: , , , ,

When’s the last time you thought about playing a cornet?

I first started my introduction to cornets about 15 years ago – like most in NZ I started on a trusty Yamaha 231 Bb Cornet that was owned by the school.

That thing was at least 10 years old and had seen a lot of action in it’s time.

Needless to say I didn’t last very long on it and quickly moved to trumpet as I preferred the brightness of the trumpet in Jazz Band.

In the last year or so I really started to rethink cornets and that has let me to purchase more than a few to test and see if I like the darker tone and playability of it vs. a Martin Committee trumpet sound.

As of yet I have yet to find anything that get’s me the same tone characteristics – so I am definately sticking with the Martin and Harrelson for now – but my search has turned up a few interesting finds.

One of these finds is the Classic (some would almost say legendary) Conn 80A Cornet.

This little guy has been around in various designs, names and designations for almost 100 years.

Now I could prattle on and give you a whole back history here – but to cut a story short there are 2 versions designated the Early 80A and Late 80A.

I would highly recommend checking out the Conn Loyalist Website for a complete backstory on everything Conn (Links on the Early and Late provided above) .

So what’s so great about these horns?

1) The are build solid

2) They are relatively inexpensive

3) They are very versatile in the sound department.

Now before you rush out and buy the first 80A you see – bear in mind that when shopping for a vintage instrument (especially in New Zealand) you want to get the best example you can find and go for that one.

There are plenty of horns out there – and they are cheap, but by the time you get them all fixed up you might as well have bought the one in good original condition.

I personally try and hold to this philosophy as much as possible when purchasing vintage instruments to ensure that I am getting a good example of what is a horn that has been well maintained and cared for over the decades that it has been around.

So how does it play?

Well, that really depends on your preference of mouthpiece selection.

I would say a lot more than usual as these horns are very, very mouthpiece sensitive. Put in a deep cup and you get a beautiful warm and rich sound ideal for Jazz Solo, Combo work and even Brass or Concert Band.

If you switch to something shallower you get a horn that is great for Dixie, Jazz and can almost hold it’s own in a section against some of the trumpets.

Because of this mouthpiece sensitivity you get a greater range of tonal colours than most instruments – this is what makes it a great option to own in the ‘tool kit’.

Valve action on these is good and smooth if the instrument has been well cared for and you look after basic maintenance (oiling and regular cleaning).

So what era is the best?

I have not played enough version to answer this – but off a general comment I like to find vintage instruments ranging between 1945 – 1954 where possible. I am just starting to dabble into the pre-war phase with a few late 30’s instruments so this may change – but in general I find the quality of workmanship, engravings and styling to be appealing.

So in summary:

If you are looking for a good value cornet that has a variety of tonal colors, is reliable,  has an abundance of parts still available (they made a ton of these horns over the years) and will last you your lifetime then you might want to check out the Conn 80A and get one in your gig bag.


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