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Oboes - smallest of the double reed family

Oboes, the smallest of the "double reed" family, the Oboe is pitched in C. Due to the fact that fewer instruments are made, mass production methods have not been introduced to oboe production - meaning all instruments are hand made, and are therefore generally more expensive than other woodwind instruments. The good news is that in the UK, after years of decline, the number of pupils taking up double reed instruments has started to rise - due to more generous government spending on LEA music services. However the practical negative ramifications of this is that there can sometimes be supply shortages as manufacturers try and keep up with the larger demand.

Technical Specifications

There are a number of different issues to consider when purchasing your oboe.


Oboes are generally made from grenadilla wood. As discussed in our clarinet section, the better the instrument, the better the quality grenadilla used. Some American student models are made from plastic - but these are not very popular in the UK - where most students tend to start on a wood bodied instrument.

The grenadilla bodies of Oboes are particularly prone to cracking unless great care is taken - and as a result green line oboes (which are "crack-proof") have been quite popular, particularly with more expensive models. For more information on the green line instruments - see our clarinet section.

Thumb plate v Conservatoire

In the UK, players are accustomed to playing 'thumb-plate' system models. This type of key work configuration is unique to the UK and (as the name suggests), includes a key for use with the thumb on the back of the instrument. The rest of the world uses the conservatoire system.

thumb plate system oboes

Simple Octave System v Semi-automatic v Automatic

Unlike clarinets, where the number of keys and key configuration has become fairly standardized, the number and layout of keys on an oboe can vary dramatically - particularly with expensive professional models. The extra keys generally allow for alternative fingerings and/or more automated venting allowing for easier playing as opposed to a greater range or better tuning.

For the student or intermediate/advanced player one of the most important decisions to make is whether you have a simple octave, semi-automatic or automatic model. Automatic models (as their name suggests) automatically open and close the relevant octave key when various fingering combinations are engaged. The semi-automatic system however partially does this with an extra key needing to be manually engaged in certain circumstances. The simple octave system requires the player to engage all keys manually.

For a student player a simple octave system oboe is the most appropriate choice. For all other players, bar the most accomplished player, a semi-automatic model is the most appropriate choice, as the drawbacks of the extra weight and complications of the automatic system (not to mention cost) over shadow the advantages.

Forked F Key

The natural acoustics of an oboe mean that F can sometimes sound stuffy when played with the "forked" fingering. A forked F key adds resonance to this particular note by adding additional venting. This key is now almost standard on all oboes - and is included on all our recommended products.

Cors Anglais

The "English Horn" is pitched in F and looks like an elongated oboe with a larger, egg shaped bell and a small curved crook. Scored in numerous orchestral and wind band works, an oboist will usually double on the cors anglais. Most popular is the Howarth S20 model.

Cors Anglais english horn - Howarth S20