Purchasing an Oboe
Are you looking to purchase an instrument for yourself or for your child? First off, congratulations! Now, take a deep breath because this is a very big purchase you are about to make. Just as with any instrument, there is a wide variety of instrument brands and models to choose from. The major difference is that oboes are very expensive compared to most wind instruments. A student model generally starts around $2,000. Professional models, however, can cost more than $10,000.
There are three categories of oboes: student, intermediate, and professional. In general a student model instrument will be plastic or resin and will be missing a few keys. This is not always the case now though, as manufacturers are now creating instruments that are “full-conservatory,” which means that those keys that had been left off the student models, are now being added. The reason it is important to have these keys is that one key that is frequently missing on student models is the Left F. Not having a Left F can really put young students in a difficult position when trying to navigate through key signatures with a lot of flats or sharps. Manufacturers have realized this, and have begun to add these keys to the instruments.
An intermediate instrument usually will have most of the keys of the “full conservatory” system. It also will be all wood, or some combination of wood and plastic. In general, I recommend buying instruments in this category because they will go a little further than the student models. They of course are a little more expensive, starting around $4,000.
A professional instrument is going to have all the keys of the “full conservatory” system. It will generally be all wood, unless that is something the buyer doesn’t want. It will also have a more advanced bore and tone hole system, which allows the player to have a more refined sound. A professional instrument is wonderful, but generally not something many young students need, unless they are at the end of their high school career and are looking at continuing music in college.
With all this being said, there is a large market for used oboes. As a professional oboist, we are purchasing a new instrument every 4-8 years because it has “blown out.” What this means is that the bore has expanded a little, and it no longer has the “sparkle” in the tone that it had when it was new. It doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be a good instrument for a student, in fact they are great for a student, because the instrument is broken in and shouldn’t be as susceptible to cracking. (This in no way means that that it won’t crack. There is never a guarantee of that.)