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What Are the Pros and Cons of Buying a Wood Oboe?

Rebecca Mecomber
Rebecca Mecomber

Before the development of plastic, all oboes were constructed of wood. Wood oboes produce exotic and musky notes in the hands of a skilled oboist. Yet there is a price to pay for such rich tones, as a common wood oboe ailment is cracking and warping of the wood. Humidity and air temperature can also affect the pitch of the instrument. While a skilled musician carefully tends to the wood oboe's climate needs and knows how to manipulate his embouchure to accommodate for the caprices of the oboe, a music student or infrequent band musician might find these nuances frustrating.

The oboe is a member of the woodwind musical instruments family, a double-reed musical instrument first appearing in the mid-17th century classical orchestra. Early wood oboes were made of boxwood and had three keys. Developers later crafted oboes in a variety of woods: African blackwood, rosewood, violetwood, cocobolo and ebony. Plastic is the most common material for the oboe today. Even so, the wood oboe is still treasured for its rich intonations and sylvan resonance.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

The supposedly best wood oboes were constructed of very fine hardwoods, which are usually not available today. Vintage oboes made before the 1970s tend to be handcrafted from finer wood with tighter grains from aged trees. Newer wood oboes are usually made from newer trees that tend to crack or warp much easier than the old stock. Cracks in the wood oboe can certainly be repaired by a skilled craftsman with little or no discernible difference in sound quality. Modern mucilage and bonding cements provide exceptional adhesion when cracks are sealed well. Therefore, a wood oboe with cracks does not necessarily mean that the instrument is ruined.

Above all, the wood oboe produces a sound vastly superior to that of the plastic instrument. This alone makes it worth the maintenance and troublesome wood issues for some oboists. Most oboe instructors usually recommend that students avoid wood oboes, since they require great care and frequent use. Plastic oboes do not crack or warp, are easy to maintain and repair if broken, and are very affordable for a first instrument. They should also endure lengthy periods of storage between uses.

Experienced musicians might prefer wood, but only if the instrument is a high-quality wood with exceptional construction. A budget wood oboe will produce a budget oboe sound at more cost than a high-quality plastic or plexiglass oboe instrument. The infrequent or beginner musician must therefore weigh the cost, maintenance requirements, and susceptibility of cracking and warping against the polished look and rich sounds that a wood oboe affords.

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