Swiss Alpine Music

Construction of an alphorn

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Image caption: A slow-grown fir tree provides the raw material for a good alphorn 


It is astonishing: although the alphorn's use changed several times between the 16th and the 20th centuries, this instrument's basic shape didn't change.

The alphorn today is still a long conical tube, bent at the end like a knee. Until the 1930s, a young pine tree, which had grown curved on a hillside, was felled and cut in two halves.

Today's alphorn-makers prefer better quality than this naturally formed wood. They glue the pieces together and carve the product afterwards into the shape of an alphorn.

For both methods, the hollowing out that follows, piece by piece, is the same laborious process with a round plane and a gouge to a wall-thickness of 4 to 7 millimeters – more than 70 hours of work.
The hollowed-out pieces are stuck together and held in place with several wooden rings. A small wooden foot in the bend allows the alphorn to be rested on the ground. Afterwards the alphorns are bound with rattan, but in the past other materials were used: string, wire, strips of linen soaked in pitch, willow shoots, metal rings, bone, strips of wood, cherry and birch trees' bark.

For about one hundred years now a mouthpiece made of boxwood helps the lip vibrations to be transported on the air column and to produce the natural sounds.


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