Why Are Oboes So Expensive?
When compared to similar wind instruments, oboes are easily the most expensive over time. While a very high-end bassoon or Rose Gold flute may cost as much as $20,000, these instruments are very durable and may last a lifetime. In contrast, a professional oboist will need to replace their instrument every 4-6 years, and each will cost around $8,000-10,000. Some oboists of top American orchestras replace their oboe every year.
Oboes are expensive for many different reasons, but the most important are the cost of the exotic woods and other materials, and the skill in craftsmanship. Do not despair, for I will also disclose some tips to make your oboe costs less severe.
Oboes were originally made from woods common in Europe like boxwood or maple, but as the oboe developed, instrument makers began to prefer harder woods from Africa. The harder woods like rosewood, cocobolo, and grenadilla were used to support extensive keywork previously absent from earlier versions of the oboe. To read more about the development of the oboe click here.
These hard, exotic woods are difficult to obtain and are often closely regulated when imported from Africa to Europe and again from Europe to America. Furthermore, the wood must also be aged and sorted so that only the most appropriate pieces are used to make instruments. All of this contributes to the cost of the oboe.
But clarinets are also made from hard, exotic woods and they are not as expensive!
While this is true, there is an additional condition that prevents all but the most dense and well-seasoned pieces to be selected for oboes as opposed to clarinets or piccolos. This is the extremely thick walls and the very narrow diameter of the bore in the top joint. In some places, walls of the oboe can be twice as thick as the clarinet’s, and because the appropriate pieces are less common and harder to work with, the oboe is more expensive. Additionally, oboes have many more keys than the clarinet does. I’ve often had trouble visualising these differences, but I did write an article to help demonstrate them here.
The keywork on the oboe is the most intricate of the woodwinds, as any oboist knows. It is notoriously difficult to keep the instrument sealing and the keys in adjustment. The skilled craftsmen who manufacture the instrument must work meticulously when implementing the silver-plated posts and keys so as not to crack the wood and to ensure the keys interact with each other properly. Any errors in this process could render the instrument useless.
Lastly, it is the market that ultimately decides the price for all goods, and the oboe is no exception. While there are certainly more oboes available for purchase in the USA than there were in previous generations, there are only a handful of makers that can be trusted in the professional world. To see an extensive list of oboe makers that I have encountered click here.
Additionally, since material, transportation, tax, labor, and marketing costs are similar for all makers, the price tends to be uniformly high within a narrow margin. However, there are a few techniques for reducing the cost of your oboe.
It may seem counterintuitive because maintaining your oboe regularly costs money, but this will greatly increase the lifespan of your instrument and keep it playing well for many years. I’ve discussed oboe maintenance and compiled a list of reputable oboe repair technicians here.
If you keep your oboe well-maintained, it will also be worth more when you are ready to upgrade and want to sell the oboe.
Trade In Your Oboe
Many oboe vendors will sell your old oboe in order on consignment to help finance your new instrument, so keep your oboe in great shape and it can help pay for another. A five-year-old oboe may not work for a professional orchestral oboist, but it might make a great instrument for a freshman in college. Selling your old oboe may help take $5,000-6,000 off the price of a new instrument.
Buy a Used Oboe
On the flip side, if you are a nonprofessional player, you may be interested in buying a used oboe that will work for school or amature performances. These oboes may be up to half as expensive as a new instrument and often are far less likely to crack than new instruments.
Another great alternative is to purchase a synthetic oboe. This is especially great for performers who need to play outside, or for younger students. Synthetic oboes are far more resilient, and if well-maintained can last much longer than their wooden counterparts.
Many high-end oboe manufacturers are producing synthetic oboes and top joints to complement your wooden instrument. These sound great and are even preferred by some professional players that frequently travel and perform in a variety of climates. Lorée and Howarth are both producing excellent synthetic oboes that challenge wooden oboes in tone quality and purity.
A synthetic top joint alone can save you money on repairs for your wooden instrument. This may also take some of the burden off of the wooden top joint and give it a longer lifespan. This $2,000 investment may save you $10,000 in the long term.
Less Expensive Oboes
There are also less expensive oboe brands on the market, but beware! They may not maintain their resale value when you are ready to upgrade. There are also some less expensive brands that are simply not appropriate for serious players. Students looking to take the oboe seriously should stay away from Bundy, First Act, and Jupiter.
Fossati and Patricola are less-expensive but promising alternatives, but never make an oboe purchase without input from your teacher.
An oboe is a huge investment buying something cheap may be more expensive and less adequate in the long run. If you are buying an instrument you may want to check out this guide I wrote for navigating the oboe market by clicking here.