For over a quarter century, MMI has been serving musicians around the world with expertise in a careful and thoughtful manner. Our staff of conservatory trained instrument specialists and highly skilled repair technicians are here to provide you with the care and expertise that comes from years of performing and teaching.
Choosing the Right Oboe
July 19th, 2012 by Trent
Choosing your oboe is a very personal experience with many things to consider along the way. The material from which the oboe is made, the age of the instrument, its mechanical condition, your playing environment, frequency of use, price, resale value, your level of accomplishment just to name a few! While selecting an oboe may seem like a daunting task, remember that our staff of highly trained oboe specialists is always here to guide you through any questions you may have.
Whether you’re a professional, an aspiring professional, a college student purchasing your first professional oboe, or the parent of an aspiring oboist, we hope that the following information will serve as a starting point for the process of selecting an oboe. Remember, oboes are just as individual as the people who play them, and there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choice when it comes to selecting your instrument. If the oboe sounds good, plays well, and you feel comfortable with the purchase then gather your information and trust your own opinion; after all this is ultimately up to you!
Student oboe models are generally the bare necessity style instruments which are designed for beginners. They typically are crafted out of high-density resin (plastic) or Grenadilla wood and often these oboes do not include all trill keys and/or auxiliary features necessary for more advanced performance. These particular models are often used as rental instruments and if purchased new, will run from approximately $1,200-$1,500 depending on make and model. Most young oboists will outgrow these instruments fairly quickly, most often within their first year.
Intermediate oboes are designed for the developing student and serious player. They often have a modified conservatory system, which means that they have all essential keywork , i.e. left F, low Bb, B natural-C# articulation, and F resonance, but may be missing some keywork, such as the split E and 3rd octave. The cost of new oboes ranges from $2,500-$4,000, while used oboes in condition generally cost $1,800-$3,000. These high quality oboes are crafted of either Grenadilla wood or high-density resin (plastic.) These particular oboes will serve the intermediate player well for several years until they move on to the top level or head toward music schools or conservatories.
These full conservatory system, premiere-wood oboes are fully equipped for professional orchestral, chamber, and solo playing. The most common material for manufacture is Grenadilla wood, however these oboes are often available in different varieties of wood including kingwood, violetwood, and cocobolo. These instruments have a full-conservatory system, which is to say that they have all essential and less essential keywork including the split E and most often the 3rd octave. Current prices for these oboes can range from $5,000-10,000 depending on make and model.
Wood Oboes and Plastic Oboes: Pros and Cons
While considering your options between wood and plastic instruments, the most important factor here should be how well the instrument plays and what your needs are rather than what the instrument is made from. There exists in today’s market a variety of very high-quality plastic, or resin oboes that are certainly worth exploring. Keep in mind that just because an oboe is made of wood does not automatically make it of ‘better quality.’ Also, be aware that some wood oboes may have a plastic liner in the top joint even though the instrument is made of all wood. The lining helps reduce the risk for cracking in the top joint. Again, the most important factor is how the instrument plays; take the time to carefully play both wood and plastic oboes and find the one that best suits your needs.
Wood – The majority of wood oboes are made of Grenadilla wood, a very dense blackwood, but other wood options do exist such as violetwood, kingwood (rosewood), and cocobolo. These woods are softer, less dense, range in color from red to brown, and usually yield a lighter more ‘mellow’ tone; however, they are also much more susceptible to cracking. While the exotic appearance of these instruments may be alluring we recommend limiting your options to Grenadilla until you’ve had experience with other oboes.
- Sound quality & projection
- Higher re-sale value
- Requires a ‘break-in’ period to allow wood to adjust to moisture/humidity
- Much more sensitive to environment: ambient moisture, temperature, humidity
- Susceptible to cracking – can/will crack
Plastic (resin) – Most plastic oboes are made from a very high quality resin and are used on oboes ranging from the very beginner student models through professional oboes. Something to keep in mind is the quality of a plastic oboe has less to do with the resin it’s made from and more to do with the quality of the workmanship of the instrument. All plastic oboes, just as with wood oboes, will play differently. Some manufacturers actually offer models of oboes that have plastic top joints; meaning the top of the oboe is made of plastic and the bottom (bottom joint and bell) are made of wood.
- Will not crack – does not require a break-in period
- Withstands a variety of performance environments,i.e. – air-conditioning, heating, perfect for outdoors!
- Sound quality
- Lower re-sale value
New vs. Used Oboes
Purchasing a brand new oboe may not always be an option, but the good news is there are a wide variety of used instruments that may be just as good as a brand new one. We have a wide variety of used instruments here at MMI ranging from student oboes through professional oboes in both plastic and wood. These instruments are professionally maintained and kept up to peak playing ability by our repair shop and can be ready for trials. When considering the purchase of a used oboe, it’s generally best to speak with one of our oboe specialists to help better evaluate your needs and what instruments best apply.
Things to consider when purchasing a used oboe:
- Price of instrument compared to price of a brand new instrument of the same maker
- The age of the instrument
- What your playing needs are – Student? Amateur? Professional?
- Frequency in which the instrument was played – Does it need a break-in period?
- Quality of the instrument when it was new
- Repair work – How much is/was needed on the instrument and the nature of the repairs
The Trial Period
It is never recommended that anyone should purchase an oboe sight unseen (or unheard!). MMI offers a trial period on our instruments, new or used, in which you’re able to try up to 3 oboes at a time for up to a week to play and compare to determine if the instrument(s) best suit your needs. At the time of the trial we HIGHLY recommend you collect as many opinions as you can about the instruments you’re trying. Most importantly if you’re a student, or the parent of an aspiring oboist, consider meeting with an oboe teacher during the trial to get their professional opinion on the instrument(s). While it is important to get opinions, also remember to trust yourself and your own opinion when playing the instrument(s) as it ultimately comes down to YOU!
We here at Midwest Musical Imports certainly understand that purchasing a new oboe, for whatever your needs, can be an overwhelming task but we would like you to know that our highly trained staff of oboe opecialists are here to help when questions or concerns arise. We’ll be happy to help you every step of the way toward the purchase of your new oboe!