Alphorn maker – Alp’in wood

At the age of 32, Romain Boulanger is currently probably the youngest alphorn maker. I met him on the sidelines of my visit to the Federal Yodeling Festival and tried out his alphorn.

Romain has played the trumpet since early childhood and is still active in a harmony. Rather by chance he discovered the alphorn seven years ago. Via Alexandre Jous he came to the Sonneurs de Savoye . Besides this large formation, Romain also blows successfully with the Trio de la tournette in Nendaz and at the yodel festivals (in Zug with class 1). A great stroke of luck was the meeting with Jean-Noël Place. Jean-Noël is a member of the Sonneurs de Savoye and has made several alphorns for its members over the years – including the alphorn of Robert Scotton (see gallery, next to it Michel Rüfenacht with an alphorn by Gérald Pot). With open arms, he welcomed Romain, a skilled carpenter, as his successor, willingly shared his secrets with him and still supports him with ideas and advice. A few years ago, Romain has now started his own business and builds – in addition to general carpentry work – alphorns. And he is only at the beginning: so far he has sold seven horns, among others for the formation Les Entubés; currently he is working on further orders.

Romain emphasizes that so far he has limited himself to continuing Jean-Noël’s work. Together they have reduced the wall thickness and mass somewhat – their instrument now weighs just under 3kg. Scales, appearance and operation have remained identical. For Romain, the focus is on manual labor. Although he uses a small CNC machine for the rough work. However, he believes that machine processing tears the fine fibers and therefore the resonance properties of the wood suffer; therefore, he sands the last 3-4mm manually. He spends almost 80 hours on an alphorn – this is also due to the fact that he has not yet produced in series.

Jean-Noël built his alphorns in three parts. Now Romain is tinkering with a four-piece instrument; he is rather skeptical about multi-part models. His alphorns are not wound; he only uses pedigree cane for the bushings. He makes the bushings themselves from polyacetal. This thermoplastic is widely used in appliance manufacturing (often as DuPont’s POM/Delrin), is durable and exhibits similar vibration behavior to wood. Compared to aluminum bushings, it also saves some weight. The wood of Romain’s alphorns comes from the Jura. In the Forêt de Risoux he knows a forester who supplies him with suitable resonance wood. What catches the eye is the shape of the cup, which tapers off very convexly at the end – almost like the cup of a trumpet. The very simple barrel he turns boxwood. Pretty I find the little foot with a recess in the shape of a heart. The horns are painted inside and outside with boat varnish.

It was not so easy to try out an alphorn in the environment of the Yodel Festival. We finally found a reasonably quiet place with Romain’s personal instrument. I particularly liked the lightness and agility over the entire range. Virtuoso passages and leaps of tone succeed very well on this instrument. The dynamics can also be varied well. When checking intonation, I could not find any problems – for a light horn, the notes also bend quite well. I can hardly comment on the sound in view of the practice arrangement; however, those who followed the recitals in Zug have heard that competent wind players make Romain’s and Jean-Noël’s horns sound beautiful.

So far, Romain has found his customers through personal contacts in his area. This network – especially with the outstanding wind players of the Sonneurs de Savoye – also supports him in the further development of his instruments. With the price of 3050 EUR, including F and F# tube and bag, it positions itself for the French market. However, it is thus also interesting for buyers from Switzerland who are looking for a similarly priced alternative to alphorns from Germany and Austria. Further information and pictures can be found on his website and on Alp’in Wood’s Facebook profile. Below are my personal impressions of our June 16, 2023 meeting.

Conclusion: A very sympathetic young alphorn maker who has seized the opportunity of contact with an experienced alphorn maker & the network of the French alphorn scene to build a lightweight all-round alphorn at a competitive price.

Youtube Video: English subtitles available (activate in Youtube if necessary)

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