How To Buy An Oboe

  • by Kathy Sheinhouse
There are more oboe manufacturers, oboe models and oboe sellers than ever before. Buying an oboe can be a very challenging process. This is true whether you are a parent with no musical training making a purchase for a talented child or a professional with highly specific requirements. The purpose of this post is to help cut through the clutter so that a great buying decision is made, and a more satisfying musical life is achieved.
A good buying decision is based on an analysis of a number of intersecting factors. Where are you in your development? What are your goals? Are you looking for a transitional oboe or a long-term investment? Do you have tonal preferences? Where do you play most? What is required of you as a musician? Are you a good reed maker? What are your financial resources? Are you willing to consider both new and used oboe options? Where are the best places to buy an oboe? Let's get started and take these one at a time?
Many advanced oboe students who plan on attending music school should have the best new or used professional oboe they can afford as soon as possible. However, if purchasing an oboe after being accepted to music school, but before your first day of class, consider the possibility that you may be studying with a teacher who has an oboe preference. If you are developing your reed making skills with that teacher, it makes especially good sense to buy the same or similar oboe, because reeds and oboes work hand-in-hand for the best outcomes. E-mail or phone your new teacher to get a recommendation. They should know who you are and should be willing and happy to offer this advice.
If given free reign, the student would benefit from listening to a variety of players and choosing an oboe that is most compatible with the tonal qualities they prefer. Note that brighter oboes usually require more developed reed making skills and darker oboes tend to cover some of the flaws of oboe reeds. If you are a developing reed maker who is pre-college, and you need to sound good now, consider the same strategy.  In the end, the bottom line with purchasing as oboe is which one helps you sound your best.  If you are not sure try them out with your teacher before you make a final decision.
When an oboe is being purchased it should include a trial period for high end instruments.  Reputable businesses almost always offer a trial period before you commit, and sometimes send more than one oboe for comparison purposes. If you have access to a repairperson on your own, or through referral, you might not need to buy from someone with an in-house repair shop. However,  the resource may be helpful if there is a major malfunction the first year. Only use an oboe repair specialist.  Local music stores are not equipped to deal with the nuances of oboe repair, although they can replace tenon corks if necessary.  Your oboe will be out of commission as soon as you have to ship it for repair. It is essential to find out whether the oboe can be serviced and shipped back in a timely manner. You would benefit from having a number of repair resources to tap when needed.  Do some research, and you will find lists of resources in your region.  This is a big purchase, and you should include your teacher's input in the final decision. He can detect nuances in the oboe's performance that may be undetectable to you. If an oboe is being tested and an improvement in your sound is not apparent it may be too much oboe for you at the time, or the oboe might be out of adjustment. Your teacher will be able to help determine the cause and make a recommendation. Players who are not conservatory bound, but talented, need to assess whether they have the motivation to continue to play in college, when their music making is likely to be less structured than in high school. These players may benefit from a vintage professional oboe whose age would be determined by family budget.
In general, If you have identified the oboe brand that matches your taste, but cannot afford a new one, consider a used oboe with an age/price combination that you can afford and has lots of life left in it. I find vintage oboes in the 70s and 80s to have great value as long as they are in good condition (no major cracks that were pinned, hairline cracks repaired by a professional, and pads in good condition). I would not buy a used instrument that required a complete overhaul. You don't know what you are getting. 
The cost of new professional oboes is generally $8000-$14,000. Buying a new oboe is very exciting, but there are certain downsides: steeper depreciation, especially the first couple of years (Laubin and Hiniker, while the most expensive oboes on the market, hold their value well because of their scarcity). There are certain brands that have flooded the market, and are not holding their value as well-you will recognize them on used oboe sites. Consider the possibility of cracks (especially first year), and do everything that is recommended to reduce this chance. There are certain high end oboes where quality has declined over the last few years, so that older versions are better values. I generally do not believe that intermediate oboes are good investments for advanced oboists because they usually hinder progress, or are outgrown very quickly. If the decision is financial, again, find a vintage oboe instead. Used intermediate oboes for players with 1-3 years experience can be an excellent investment. Always buy an instrument at least a grade level higher than current skill level.
The most important consideration in making oboe buying decisions is to do so in a way that reduces risk and improve outcomes. There are sites that provide reviews on oboes, and these should be studied in advance of purchase. Stay away from Amazon reviews. They only represent a fraction of the market, and usually oboes that are mass produced, and sold on their site. I would stick to purchasing oboes within the bonafide oboe industry. These sellers are all members of the International Double Reed Society (IDRS). Some do repairs, some do not, but you need to know who your seller is, and they need to play oboe so that they know what they are selling you.  Also, I would stick with instruments that are more widely used in the US.  There are some very good European models that are not popular here, and would be hard to sell if you want to.
If you find oboe brands on E-bay with China as an origin, even if they say professional-run for your life. Many of the oboes on E-bay that appear to be from individual sellers, but are not. Don't buy an oboe without talking directly to the seller, and make sure they are oboists.
While this is not an exhaustive dissertation on the subject, I hope that you find it useful in making your decision. Magic Reed sells a limited number of very special used oboes.  Check out our site to see if we have one that meets your needs and budget.

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