What is an oboe instrument? The oboe is a double reed instrument with a very important role in the woodwind section of an orchestra, band or other groups. It may looks like a clarinet from a distance to the untrained eye. It is typically made of grenadilla wood. More recently, synthetic oboes have become popular. It is one of the oldest of the woodwinds and plays in the soprano range, and has gone through many technical modifications on the way to our modern oboe since its birth in the mid 17th century. Some of the early baroque and classical oboes are still played with orchestras and other groups specializing in music from these periods.
What does the oboe sound like? Oboes have a sound all their own. A trained ear will pick up differences between European and American styles. American schools of playing have even more subtle differences. The best thing to do is to listen to a variety of players to cultivate your concept of sound. You could start with a professional recording of Gabriel's Oboe that you can find on You tube.
Oboe, Oboe d'amore, English horn and bass oboe. Bassoon is another double reed instrument, but is technically not in the oboe family.
Oboe embouchure is the placement of the reed in the mouth and how the mouth functions to let the reed take in air in a way that establishes the right balance of tone, response, pitch and volume.
Fundamentally, oboe reeds are made by tying a shaped piece of oboe cane onto an oboe staple which is mounted on a mandrel. We use knife scraping and clipping skills to establish a particular topography on the reed that will yield best results when inserted into the well of an oboe.
Have you ever placed crab grass between two thumbs, blown and gotten a kind of duck sound? When the air travels through the blade, it vibrates. Blades of different sizes will vibrate different ways. The same is true for oboe reeds. There are two blades (double reeds) that vibrate together when they are thin enough. The job of a reed maker is to craft the reed with a nuanced scrape so that it vibrates at a certain velocity, and pitch leading to a C crow. While it doesn't sound like much before it is inserted in the oboe, a well functioning reed will allow the oboe to sing.
I am sometimes asked if it is better to buy oboe reeds near me. The answer is sometimes yes, and sometimes no. If you have access to a local oboe reed maker who you like, you are one of the lucky ones. But in most cases, planning an order from a reed maker in a like climate, or altitude, gives you more, and possibly better options. Work with a reed maker that turns around orders in 3 days or less, like Magic Reed. Otherwise, you will have to factor in 2-3 weeks in the queue plus shipping time.
James Caldwell, my teacher at Oberlin College suggested one easy method. Put reed on lips (with tip of reed slightly past lips). Practice saying EEEEEEEEUUUUUU. This will help you bring your corners in, and permit a rounder shape of the lips. Some other people encourage putting a little more pressure on the upper blade of the reed, and dropping the jaw for more relaxed contact with the lower blade.
I suggest you only buy Handmade Oboe Reeds. Factory made oboe reeds are made in high volume, with inferior quality and lower price. Better materials are too expensive to use in volume. Workers rarely have oboe expertise, or the emphasis on quality control. Gluing reeds whose sides have not closed is, to them, a satisfactory result. I would look for a small sized handmade oboe reed maker without a lot of advertising. For me, I keep my business small, let and let it grow organically and through word of mouth. This keeps my hands on every step of the process for best quality control and results.
Answer to come.
There are a couple of oboes that play a little under 440, all other things being equal. Unfortunately, it is more likely to reflect your production skills or the reed you are playing on than the oboe. Here is a check list in order to diagnose the problem. 1) Is the oboe assembled correctly. There should be no space between the upper, middle and lower joints. 2) Is your reed fully inserted in the well? 3) Have you developed a proper embouchure? Bring in your corners, and make sure the reed is inserted too far in your mouth 4) Support the air flow with your diaphram 5) Increase your wind speed. If these don't work, it may be the reed, and it may benefit from a clip. Reading this response takes much longer than the tests I propose.
I don't recommend buy beginner oboes that you would typically find in elementary school music rooms. I would take a short term rental first. I suggest buying an oboe that you would be happy to play two years later than you bought it. I would want a durable construction, and a dark forgiving tone. It could be grenadilla or plastic. I would not recommend composites. My recommendations are: Fox 330 (plastic) Fox 300 (Grenadilla) and Howarth S20 or S50. If budget is an issue, consider used. I might also suggest an E or F series Loree oboe, which were made in the early 80s, but would be a good value if well maintained.
It is never too early to start discussing when it might be time to start learning to make oboe reeds. To do so, you should be taking lessons with a pro who is an expert reed maker. Your teacher can suggest some milestones that should be achieved before you start.
Oboe lessons are a wonderful way to develop skills and have more fun while you are doing it. Oboe is a hard instrument, so it makes sense to do whatever you can to have a fighting chance of success. Doing well will open up opportunities to play in groups and develop friendships. In terms of choosing a teacher, she should be a professional player who has successfully developed students to at least the advanced stage. It is best if she is a reed maker so oboe reeds can be adjusted. She needs to be affordable. My favorite teachers had great skills, were fun to be with, believed in me, and navigated around my antics.
Your first kit should include a knife (Chiarugi Reed Knife or Landwell Reed Knife if you have the resources), 5-10 professional staples (don't bother with the student staples. They will save you $1-2 ea., but it isn't worth it because they are reusable. I like Chiarugi Oboe Staples because they last longer and perform better. You will want a mandrel that matches your staple, which is one more reason to get a brand name. You will need a plaque, FF string, and cane. Typically, 10 pieces of shaped student cane don't last too long because they get wrecked so easily. I would start with 25 pieces. Check around with reed makers, or talk to your teacher. If she has relationships with reed makers, they might donate some student oboe cane to the cause. A sharpening stone is very important too, but if misused, it could ruin the knife. Check with your teacher.
Reed making equipment comes much later than tools. The rule of thumb is to work backwards from the last cane processing step to the first, and acquire each new piece when your skills and ambition make the equipment of value to you. That way you don't get ahead of yourself and waste money on equipment you will not use or improve your result. Good equipment should last 10 years with regular use and good maintenance. Start with oboe shaper tips (recommendations for tips are elsewhere on this page). You will also need a shaper handle. Most players buy the gouger with a pre-gouger and a splitter. They are all needed to process tube cane. If you are willing to buy pre-gouged slips of cane (cheaper than gouged, but much more expensive than if you processed the tubes yourself) you could just start with the gouger.
There is no best oboe shaper tip. It depends what you are looking for. Narrow tips help the reed sit up in pitch, but they tend to be too bright, especially with less experienced reed makers. Wide tips cover many sins in reed making, and are darker. However, they can often be flat in pitch, which can be unmanageable for all but the most experienced players. My suggestion is to use the same tip as your teacher, and learn make the same reed. Once you get proficient, you can make more personal choices.
Alert: Do not adjust your oboe reed until you have been taught how to do it, have practiced your knife skills on junk reeds and your teacher says it is ok to proceed. If all of those are in place: 1) Develop knife skills so that you are less likely to take off corners, go too deep or make other mistakes that wreck the reed. 2) Look for a reed maps that show the structure of the oboe reed and where to scrape (or not to scrape) to improve response, tone and pitch. Be careful to have a sharp knife so you don't have to press down too much that can have disastrous consequences. Talk to your teacher or go on-line to study more comprehensive strategies.
I like Howarth XL, Laubin (different than Fox Laubin) and Loree Royals. Certain high end Yamahas are very good, and there are some other European brands that are beautiful, but not in the American mainstream.
The two major reed styles are the American Long Scrape and The European Short Scrape. There are also variations in the US based on different schools of thinking. There are also oboe reeds with natural cane or synthetic material (plastic). American style plastic reeds are very difficult to make because of our topography, but Legere is working on it.
Plastic oboes need no break-in period. Grenadillas do, so don't turn in your old oboe too soon. A fine oboe should have two weeks of 10 minutes a day, with swabbing, then 2 weeks of 20-30 minutes. After that, you can play more freely. The trick is not to let the wood expand and contract too much, too soon. This will lead to cracking.
Typically there are medium oboe reeds, medium soft oboe reeds, soft oboe reeds, and medium hard oboe reeds. While there is a strong correlation with with the strength of the cane, the end result is also influenced by scrape.
Oboe cane diameter impacts the size of the opening (aperture). There is an inverse relationship between diameter size and aperture size. Large diameter cane results in smaller apertures, and smaller diameter cane results in larger apertures. Diameter range for oboe cane is 9.5-10, 10-10.5 and 10.5-11.