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What to do with Old Trumpet-Style Air Horns

Got an old, trumpet-style horn that’s grown feeble and/or worn-looking?
To replace or refurbish? That is the question.

Trumpet-Style Air Horn

1. The Basics: Trumpet-style air horns tend to be more efficient at conveying sound over long distances than hidden-type horns, which are usually installed behind plastic or metal grills somewhere near a boat’s bow. Although tipped down slightly to obviate water intrusion, a trumpet horn focuses sound forward, like a musical instrument. The hidden horn, on the other hand, broadcasts to the side as well as ahead, largely because it’s located along the curvature of the bow. Some trumpet-style horns are electric—they have spring-steel diaphragms that vibrate rapidly at the behest of electromagnets, thereby generating sound. Some other, typically more powerful horns are air-actuated—their diaphragms vibrate at the behest of air pressure produced by electric compressors. Regardless of which type you have, maintenance is minimal. Simply wash the exterior periodically with soap and water and, if you have an air horn, make sure that the plastic tube connecting the compressor and horn remains flexible and fully open.

2. Signs of Decrepitude: Although trumpet-style horns are generally long-lived, they can eventually get tired, whether from the practical, noise-making standpoint, the aesthetic one, or both. There are two signs of decrepitude. First, the horn begins to sound weak, anemic, and actually fails to work now and again. The second is subtler, at least at first—the exterior finish begins to look dull, pitted, and unpleasing, even perhaps greenish. The fix? Either replace or refurbish.

3. Brass Means Cash: If your horn is a featherweight, it’s likely wholly electric, made of plain stainless steel, and relatively inexpensive. The AFI XL Plus shown here, for example, sells for about $88 at West Marine ( Given such a reasonable price, your best bet is simply to replace such a product should it become defunct. But what if your horn is fairly heavy, an attribute that means it’s likely air-powered, made of chrome-plated brass, and pricey to replace? A Kahlenberg ( single-trumpet horn, for instance, sells for approximately $300 at the low end of the range and three or four times that amount on the high end.

4. Refurbish: Before buying a new, expensive chrome-plated brass horn, bear in mind that some manufacturers offer restoration programs whereby the finish is removed from an older horn, its surfaces are replated with copper, nickel, and new chrome, and then finally, after the interior of its sounding body is re-machined to factory specs, a new diaphragm is added. If the manufacturer of your horn does not offer a restoration program, you may find an automotive restoration shop near you that will refurbish your horn for a reasonable price. If not, break out that wallet—there’s likely a replacement in your future.

This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.