What to Know When Purchasing an Oboe

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Marigaux 901 Oboe

Thinking about purchasing a new or used oboe? Here’s a helpful guide to what to look for when shopping for that perfect oboe for you.

Materials

Wood is the typical material to make an oboe, with Grenadilla at the top of the list. More exotic, such as Cocobolo, Rosewood, and Violetwood are occasionally used for their sweeter tone; however, these woods are more expensive and are more prone to cracking than Grenadilla. Plastic is also an alternative to a wood instrument, having the advantage of being nearly impossible to crack. Some professionals will have an additional plastic top joint for outdoor concerts. Keys are cast or forged in copper or nickel and then electro-plated with silver, gold, or other precious metals.

Cracking

Cracks are most likely to occur in the top joint, and tend to happen during the first year of being played, but can occur at any point in an oboe’s life. As long as they are repaired by qualified technician, cracks do not affect an oboe’s performance. If you are apprehensive about purchasing an oboe that you see has cracked, have the instrument inspected by a repair technician.

Oboes come in three broad levels:

Student OboesExamples:Yamaha 241 Prices range around $2,000 newUsually made of plastic.  Recommended to start, students may quickly outgrow these oboes.
Very basic mechanism, most keys completely covered. Missing keys to play full range easily
Intermediate (Modified Conservatory)Examples:Fox 333, 330, 335Howarth S20, S40Yamaha 441 Prices range from $3,000-$4,500 newRecommended for beginning and intermediate oboists.  Can be made of plastic or wood.
Necessary keys, including:Low Bb key, Left Hand FForked F resonance keyLeft hand C/D trill keyArticulated C# key
Professional (Full Conservatory)Examples:Buffet Prestige, GreenlineFox 400, 800, SayenHowarth XLLaubin

Loree AK, Royal

Marigaux 901

Yamaha 841

Price range from $6,000-$10,000 newAlmost always made entirely of wood. Recommended for advanced players.
All above keys plus:Split ring D (D#/E trill compensator)Third octave key – facilitates the high register.  Optional, not on all pro oboes.Banana key (alternate low C)

Breaking in an oboe, care and maintenance

Purchasing a new wood instrument requires specific care to lower the possibility of cracking. By following these easy steps, you can minimize the risk of cracking. Make sure that the instrument is not cold to the touch when you begin playing.  Blowing warm air into cold wood is the easiest way to crack an instrument. Warm the instrument in your hands or under your arm.

Begin by playing 20-minute sessions 1-2 times a day, with sessions spread throughout the day for the first week. Gradually lengthen the sessions during the second, third, and fourth weeks so that you are playing hour-long sessions after a month. Eventually, you should be able to play normally, but long playing sessions are not recommended within the first couple of months of ownership. Swab out the instrument after each playing session to dry the bore. If there is any excess water in the tone holes, use a piece of cigarette paper to soak it up. Store the instrument in an environment that is not too dry (i.e. not on top of a radiator in the winter). Consider keeping a humidistat or sponge in the case with the instrument, especially during dry months. Always store the instrument in its case.

Used Oboes – A Good Choice for Advancing Students!

Professional oboists typically replace their instruments every 5-10 years due to minor changes in the playing qualities of aging instruments. Conveniently, these older oboes are excellent for beginning, intermediate, and amateur players! They have all the professional keys, but less of the professional cost, ranging in price from $3,000-$8,000 depending on age and condition.

Another point about used oboes is that they are already broken in. A player will not have to go through the drawn-out process of playing in the oboe, which forces the player to limit time on the instrument to around 20 minutes a day at first. Purchasing a used oboe allows you to play full time immediately on the oboe. Check with the seller to see how long an instrument has been out of regular playing; occasionally a used oboe will require an additional break-in if it hasn’t been played regularly.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Although it is tempting to buy an oboe over the internet (Ebay, Craigslist), resist the urge! Always go in person to purchase an oboe, or get a number of instruments shipped on trial, no matter what skill level. An oboe should always be tried out before being purchased in order to inspect the instrument’s condition up close. A used oboe may need repair immediately to bring it up to playing condition; reputable shoppes will usually have this work done before offering the instrument for sale. These repairs can be minor or could entail quite a bit of work, ranging in price from tens to hundreds of dollars.

When to Upgrade

Already playing the oboe and not sure if you need to upgrade your instrument? A few signs that you need a different oboe are: Growing frustration with your current setup due to poor quality or changing tastes, and increasing technical ability requiring the additional keywork of a more advanced instrument.

Purchasing an oboe can be daunting. When in doubt, consult a private teacher, local professional oboist, or our helpful staff! If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at 800-926-5587 or online.

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