Introduction: Blue French Horn

Kids, sometimes one of your four best friends has a birthday and you just don't know what to get him. Or, maybe you want to make an over-the-top show of affection for the girl whom you barely know but might possibly love. Maybe you're just sitting around eating some sandwiches, and you're thinking, "Hey, you know what would look great on that wall?"

What you need is a blue French horn.

They are pretty hard to come by, it turns out. And they don't come cheap. So here is my best attempt at getting something into your hands that will be legen- wait for it...

Things you need:

  • French horn or mellophone (acquisition discussed in Step 1) = $40-100
  • Cleaning products, for example:
    1. Spray bottle = $1
    2. Water
    3. White vinegar = $1
    4. Steel wool, 1 pad of 00-grade = $5 for a whole pack
    5. Paper towels = $1, or rags
  • Blue spray paint + primer, 1 can = $4, or 1 can primer and 1 can paint
  • Glossy, clear protectant spray, 1 can = $4
  • Protective materials, for example:
    1. Garbage bag (use scissors to cut holes) or smock
    2. Plastic grocery bags or gloves
    3. Large scrap paper, plastic tablecloth, or garbage bag to cover surface

It could conceivably be done for as little as $50, depending on what you have on hand and how lucky you are with finding a horn, but plan for $100+.

Step 1: Challenge Accepted!

You've decided to take a crack at it! High five! First, you need a regular French horn or mellophone.

There are several avenues you can attempt. If you know of any music schools or music shops that hang onto used instruments, you can ask them if they have any for sale on the cheap. You can check with local thrift stores or Craigslist, if you happen to live in an area where such things thrive. Kids, my best solution was this online auction site that was big back in 2002 - eBay.

Whichever solution you choose, remember: you need an instrument for decorating purposes, not for playing! Search for "broken" or "for parts." Do not attempt to buy a used instrument in good condition, as it will be much too expensive!

Much like love, eBay is a battlefield. I had to bid on five auctions before I finally won one. Expect your purchasing experience to take several days, unless money is no object (Willing to bid $100? Sold!) or you are a pro "sniper."

Most of these auctions seem to end with bids of $40-70 plus shipping costs of $25-45. Since you won't need the instrument case, you might contact your seller to see if he/she would be willing to lower shipping costs by tossing the case and lowering the package weight considerably. Many of these damaged horns come without a mouthpiece. If you want yours to have one, you can find those on separate auctions for less than $10. I left mine mouthpieceless.

Then, wait for your package to walk 500 miles to your door.

Step 2: General Cleanup

Whether you found a bargain of a horn in great condition or you have just received the mustiest thing you can imagine anyone put to a mouth, you are going to want to do a little cleanup before you begin to paint.

First, if you have a horn on your hands that seems to have shared an apartment with five dogs, I invite you to use whatever methods you deem necessary for taking the ick factor out. Just bear in mind that you don't want to leave residues from soaps, disinfecting wipes, etc. to become a film between metal and paint. Follow up these products with (or skip straight to) a damp cloth and let your horn completely dry.

Second, brass often has a clear lacquer on it to protect its glossy finish. Chances are your used horn isn't so glossy anymore, and most importantly, you want your paint to stick to the metal. Martha Stewart advises removing lacquer with acetone and steel wool.

I personally used:

  • a spray bottle to apply a solution of water and white vinegar (approx. 50/50 solution)
  • one pad of 00-grade steel wool
  • lots of paper towels to wipe clean (could use rags if available)

I recommend wearing protective clothing, especially gloves, while working with steel wool and any harsh chemicals like acetone. Work in a well ventilated area if fumes are present.

(Bonus tip: brass can be polished with ketchup! Since you're painting yours, you don't have to do that. Just file the fact away in your encyclopaedia of knowledge.)

Finally, be sure your horn is clean of residues and completely dry before you attempt to paint it.

Step 3: Something Blue

You don't have to be a wedding bride to have something blue, and here's where your horn becomes that something.

  1. Select a can of blue spray paint the appropriate shade of true blue.
  2. Prepare your work area - outside or in an open area sheltered from wind, dust, grass, and bugs. Do NOT spray paint in a closed environment.
  3. If the directions on your can of paint say to work in an optimum temperature or humidity, you may have to check your weather forecast. Following instructions will help your paint set properly.
  4. Suit up! You will want to protect yourself and your red cowboy boots. Use gloves, smocks, eye protection, shoe covers, and a face mask if necessary. If you aren't going to get the gear, then raid your stash of plastic bags! I stuck each foot in a bag and tied them at the ankle, wore a bag on each hand like gloves, and cut neck- and arm-holes in a large garbage bag to wear as a smock. I wore my older sunglasses as eye protection. I was in open outdoors and had no wind to speak of, so I took a walk on the wild side without a face mask.
  5. Protect your work surface, if necessary. I used the paper that served as packing material in the horn's box. You can also use large garbage bag or plastic tablecloth.
  6. [If your paint does not have primer already in it, apply primer according to package directions.] Read the directions on your paint carefully and then apply paint. If you happen to have a horn stand and can stand the horn vertically on an elevated surface, it will really help you apply paint everywhere. I improvised by standing the horn upright and propping the mouthpiece end onto my plastic-wrapped can of clear coat to keep it from toppling over.
  7. I did the "outside" of the horn first, let it dry, then flipped the horn over so I could paint inside the bell. (I also failed to prop it up for that step, and the horn fell on its side, damaging several areas of wet paint. Take precautions!)
  8. Allow your paint to dry completely in a protected area, then apply a glossy clear coat according to the product directions. Let dry.

Step 4: -dary!


Your blue French horn is now ready to rest on a mantle, be mounted on a wall, or be given after a first date.

If you happen to have a sunny yellow umbrella, that sure would look nice displayed beside it.

Dust or wipe down this baby from time to time to keep it looking like its doppelganger on HIMYM and enjoy this piece you TM - totally made - yourself!

[Note: This is for decorative purposes only. Not only would painting a horn change its sound, but if your paint contains any lead, it would be downright unhealthy to play a horn painted this way. If you want to *play* a blue french horn, you will need to speak with professionals.]

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