What oboe is right for me? A list of oboes, reviews, and prices.
There are so many different kinds of oboes on the market so sorting through them all when you are ready to buy one can be a headache. This guide will help you find the appropriate oboe for your level of playing, personal taste, and price range. First a quick summary.
Beginner oboeBest for smaller players who are in thier first year of playing or so.
Has reduced keywork for weight
Durable synthetic material
Intermediate oboefor second year students up to amateur players
may still be rented
wood or plastic body
Professional oboeA must for serious performers
Throughout this guide I refer to different key mechanism it may be helpful to refer to this article regarding different keys and how their presence or absence can help indicate what level of player the instrument is appropriate for. Click here to see the reference.
It may seem strange to build an oboe that cannot play all of the repertoire, but because of the large gulf in cost, capability, and sound quality between beginner oboes and their professional counterparts, being equipped with this knowledge is a must. For more on renting vs buying an instrument click here.
Beginner oboes are usually made of plastic and are generally missing the third octave key, left F key, right hand A-flat, low B-flat, and split D mechanism. This is a more durable instrument, but any moderately serious oboe student will outgrow this key system fairly quickly, probably before the end of the second or third year. On the plus side they are much lighter than more complete oboes and can be easier on the small hands of growing children. Popular beginner oboes that I can recommend include the Howarth Jr. oboe (which can be ordered in wood), the CABART Petites Mains Oboe (which is smaller and lighter to accommodate children), and the Yamaha YOB-241.
Yamaha YOB-241–new $2,938.00 on woodwindbrasswind.com
This oboe is full size but lightweight, due to the plastic body. This may be one of the most affordable oboes of acceptable quality, and has a nice tone and good intonation. However, the keywork is very basic, and a student who can already hold a full size oboe will outgrow this oboe quickly. The price range of $2000-$3,500 may be attractive; but remember while budgeting that you may need to shell out another $3000-$6000 for an upgrade in just a few years.
Lorée CABART Petites Mains Oboe- special order only from Cohelo and Innoledy around $4000
As the name suggests, this oboe is smaller than the standard size and is much easier to navigate for the small hands of younger beginners. While most 6th and 7th graders are able to manage a full size oboe, this oboe may be more suitable for elementary oboists who still have plenty of room to grow. It also has more ergonomic keys that don’t need to be covered as squarely to seal. Incredibly, it is made from Granadilla wood and has the full conservatory key system except for the split D mechanism and the third octave key, so even the smallest students can access advanced rep and develop a mature tone. These added features increase the price of the oboe, and while it may seem like overkill, it is a truly great instrument for the smallest variety of youngster who is set on playing oboe instead of violin.
Howarth Junior Oboe -$20/month
This is a surprisingly economic oboe. It is full size but only slightly heavier than the Cabart described above. It is missing the B, B-flat, right hand A-flat, left hand E-flat, and third octave keys, but may serve well for small beginners through their first year or two. It can be ordered in wood or synthetic body and has a surprisingly nice tone for such a basic instrument.
The absent keys greatly reduce the weight which is why I recommend this oboe to all beginners under 5 feet tall at least to rent for the first few months to a year. In fact, many vendors do not sell these oboes but exclusively rent them out to families of young oboe players.
The tone quality is also on par with professional oboes and I love that these oboes offer such a great sound. While not as common in the USA, American oboe players can rent them from Bonnie Haynes by clicking here.
The price range for intermediate oboes in general is about $3-5k. These oboes may be suitable for older beginners in 7th-9th grade, but for transitioning intermediate players it may be more suitable to purchase a used professional model instrument.
The intermediate oboe models include the Howarth S40c and S20c, which have a choice between wooden or synthetic body and all of keys needed on a professional model except the split- D mechanism. They can even have a synthetic sleeve added in what they call a “VT” model to help keep cracks at bay. The S50c by Howarth includes the split D and is a very nice oboe, but for the price I would recommend a higher caliber used oboe instead.
Another popular choice are the Fox 330 and 333, which are plastic oboes marketed as beginner oboes but have all the keys except the split D. Lorée also sells an intermediate oboe billed as the Cabart student oboe, and although the official Lorée website no longer lists this oboe, many vendors still have them in stock.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Tiery J10 made by Fossati. This oboe is the most affordable intermediate oboe of comparable quality I have ever seen. At around $3,500, the oboe is wood and has all the keys except the split D and banana key.
This itallian brand is not at all common in the united states but they do make a good intermediate oboe called the Rigoletto model. This Rosewood oboe is well built and relatively inexpensive. It has a good tone and my only complaint is the skin pads instead of the usual cork which makes adjustments on the instrument a little more difficult. Strangely enough, they even sell this oboe at Wall-Mart’s online store. I would be interested to see if this oboe catches on.
The only issue I might be wary of is getting the oboe maintained or repaired and having access to the parts in the USA.
There were times when students only played on the same kind of oboe their teachers did. Maybe this was because of some inherent loyalty or cartel-like business practices, but whatever the reason, the internet has changed this pattern. Now it is not uncommon to find vendors in the USA and around the world carrying oboes made by Howarth, Fossati, Marigaux, and the ever popular Lorée. If you are shopping for an oboe for a dedicated middle or high school student, a used professional level oboe is the way to go. If you are shopping for a student who plans to make a career out of oboe playing, a new oboe may serve them better.
All professional level oboes will have all the keys needed to play the full scope of oboe repertoire and should be made from wood, though the precise variety of wood is up to you. Wood has a delightful effect on the tone to serve a variety of color palettes. Professional oboes tend to be more specialized for the player and thus are a little more intensive to sort through.
If there is a feature you would like added to a new top-of-the-line oboe, makers will usually accommodate. Lorée even has an oboe available for special order that extends the range to Low A, just in case you are jealous of violin or clarinet repertoire. If you are worried about cracking, many oboes with synthetic top joints, composite wood bodies, or rubber sleeves for the interior can be ordered or found for use in bad weather.
These are the most expensive but top-of-the-line quality oboes on the market. Be prepared to spend around $10,000 on a new oboe and between $5000 and $8000 on a used oboe of good quality. If you are shopping for an intermediate player you may find an acceptable used oboe for $4000-5000. If you find a cheaper oboe, it may have been blown out for a while and may not be useful to anyone other than the most passive of hobbyists.
The following are the top-of-the-line oboes that I find to be the most attractive:
F.Lorée ROYAL, AK, and ROYAL 125
Lorée has been the most popular oboe in the United states for some time, and for good reason. They were in face, pivitoal in the development of the modern oboe, you can read more about the history of the oboe by clicking here.
The choice of wood is of superior quality, and an oboe can be ordered in Violetwood, Rosewood, or the ever popular Grenadilla. The ROYAL has always been my favorite, and though it is heavy (it won’t even float in water) it is the oboe of choice for oboists of many major orchestras in the USA. The ROYAL 125 model even has a gold reed well to help with projection and serves excellently as an operatic or symphonic oboe.
The AK was developed for the American market and has a serious following. Robert Atherholt and Anne Leek from the Houston Symphony are well-known advocates for the AK model.
Richard Killmer, professor at The Eastman School of Music, also loves his collection of Lorée oboes, including a particularly beautiful Rosewood oboe that he has occasionally played on in the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Most of his students who play in major US orchestras also play on Lorée oboes, including Erin Hannigan of the Dallas Symphony, Elizabeth Priestly Siffert of the Houston Ballet, and John Upton of the Florida Orchestra. Even Nathan Hughes, oboist of the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and professor at Juilliard, is partial to Lorée.
This oboe maker creates visually stunning instruments. The AutoGlass model is completely transparent and crack resistant. The M2 was a pet design of mine because of the new design with an extra-long mid-section and interchangeable tops. The 2001 model is also the favorite of an increasing number of professional oboists, like Peter Cooper who plays in the Colorado Symphony and teaches at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
All the professional models can be made to order in different woods and with gold plated keys. These instruments are very comfortable and reed-friendly, with a creamy tone, and are extremely ergonomic. These oboes also hold value really well, so purchasing a used Marigaux could be a great deal. In fact, a used Marigaux 2001 is what the student I mentioned at the head of this article ended up purchasing. My only hangup with these oboes is they do not seem to project as easily as a Lorée or a Howarth, but in smaller settings or in the right hall, this may not be an issue.
Buffet has been a well-known clarinet maker in the USA, but their oboes have had some success as well. Even Albrecht Mayer of the Berlin Philharmonic played on a Buffet until recently (he now plays on Mönnig, which I have never encountered in the USA). Steven Colburn in Milwaukee also plays on a Buffet.
Buffet is famous (infamous) for creating the Green Line oboe, which is made from a composite of wood and synthetic material that is impervious to cracking. Unfortunately, there are few oboists who have the finesse to make this instrument sound truly beautiful. The new Orfeo model is a completely different story. That instrument is made of the same material as the Green Line but sings beautifully. Buffet also offers its most recent Virtuose model which seems to have gotten great reviews, though I have never tried one.
I only heard about Fossati in Texas about a year ago, and I have played instruments of this make that I have been very impressed with. They tend to be a little more affordable than the other makers, but I have not been thrilled with the consistency. It may benefit buyers to try at least a couple of oboes of the same variety to see which individual oboe works best for you.
Fossati has a wide selection of professional oboes and a few intermediate models. Customization and innovation are their key selling points. The FX3 comes with interchangeable tops and bell rings to modify your sound, which can be a lot of fun indeed. The S model may be the most elegant oboe I have played (I have even seen one with pearl inlaid keys) and has a similar feel to a Lorée (standard bore) but with a little less robust tone. They are certainly very free-blowing, however, and feel nice to play for a long time. The A model I feel is not flexible enough for me to work with, though it may be great for other musicians.
Finally, the Tiery models are extremely affordable and have all the features of a professional oboe even though Fossati markets them as an intermediate model. In fact, I am currently playing on a Tiery E-30 oboe while my Lorée is in the shop.
These oboes have different pitch tendencies than the Loree and Howarth, but if you can get acustomed to them they are very beautiful free blowing instruments.
This may be the most affordable oboe of comparable quality. Though these oboes are beginning to gain popularity in the United States, they are mostly preferred by free lancers and woodwind doublers. The only oboist I know to play a Fossati is Jeffery Rathburn, professor at the Cleveland Institute of Music and principal oboe for the Cleveland Orchestra. I believe he may also play on a Buffet, but I might be mistaken.
Of all the major oboe brands to have recent success in the United States, Howarth may be the fastest growing contender. These oboes are made in England, but many major orchestral musicians have begun adopting the instrument as their tool of choice. Martin Schuring, who teaches at Arizona State University, and Elaine Douvas, who teaches at Juilliard and plays with the New York Metropolitan Opera, may be the maker’s most vocal proponents. Katherine Neddleman of the Baltimore Symphony recently began playing on Howarth instead of her Yamaha Custom.
Howarth makes 3 pro-level oboes that I would recommend: the XL, the XM, and the LXV. Each are available in cocobolo, granadilla, or synthetic bodies. They also have the option for a “VT” sleeve which stands for “velvet throat” (kind of funny, I know) that will protect against cracking.
The XL is a huge oboe that projects extremely well. It is a recent favorite of many of the orchestral musicians mentioned above.
The XM has the richness of tone and color of the XL but is a much lighter oboe with thinner walls. This oboe is easy to blow through and you don’t need the lung capacity of a whale to get a nice tone out.
The LXV was made to split the difference between the XL and XM and is an extremely cozy instrument. I have friends who love this oboe in “Coco Jazz” which is a synthetic and wood composite with a beautiful design. I feel the scale on these oboes is extremely consistent and it’s hard to find a better quality non-single-piece wood oboe.
Buying an oboe can be overwhelming. It seems like a purchase that will define your music and sense of self. That is because in many ways it is! But don’t fret. There are many resources to help you on your journey to find the right instrument; and remember, oboes don’t last forever, so it’s best not to get too attached.
Luckily with all this information I am able to find my students great oboes to try for purchase. With this information in mind, along with some professional guidance, the whole family can feel good about the oboe they go home with.
I hope you found this article helpful! If you did, please leave a comment on what issues you may have had while purchasing an oboe. I would love to know.