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A Parent’s Guide to Choosing an Oboe

I recently had to buy my son a larger violin. We were borrowing one from his teacher, and it was time to move up a size. I had no idea where to start and was reliant upon the trust and good name of a local high-end string specialist to guide me in making the right decision. They helped steer me toward a good quality lightly used instrument that was within my budget and would resell well. I feel like with their help, I did ok!

The good news is, like I did, you’re already seeking the help of a specialist. A specialist won’t let you choose an instrument that is of insufficient quality or one that isn’t suited to your needs. You’re on the right track.

First Consideration: Renting an Oboe
We do offer rentals here at Woodwind Workshop. For our rentals we offer European made intermediate instruments that have all of the proper keywork, a decent tone, and a reliable mechanism. Oboes are easily misunderstood by the big box stores, especially those with large rental programs. They tend to rent out poor quality oboes that aren’t equipped with a full mechanism and even worse, they don’t have the capacity to be sure that they’re in good working order before they rent them to you. Then, they sell you an additional maintenance plan for an instrument that was poorly manufactured and in bad playing condition to begin with.

Our oboe rentals typically cost around $65/month and require a minimum six month term. To keep the paperwork at a minimum we don’t require a contract beyond the initial six month term. We’ll simply charge your credit card for rental fees on the 15th of each month until you give us 30 days notice of termination. Our rentals also include any maintenance the instrument may require. Just give us a call and make an appointment for servicing.

Renting is a great choice, especially when the student is a complete beginner and is just being introduced to the instrument. The student can give it a try without a large financial obligation. Renting can also be a longer term solution for families with dedicated students but who are on a strict budget.

We don’t do rent to own agreements. We’d rather sell you a brand new instrument at the best price we can. Read more about “rent to own” and how it rarely benefits the consumer. However, if you decide to purchase a new instrument during your rental term we will apply up to three months rental fees toward the purchase.

In addition to oboes, we also rent English horns and Oboe D’Amores, typically by the week or the month.

Buying an Instrument:
There are four considerations when buying an instrument: Price, Longevity, and Resale, and Maintenance.

Oboes are expensive! They’re expensive because they’re made in Europe from exotic imported materials and require lots of hand finishing. Prices for used intermediate oboes start at around $1800, while a new premium intermediate oboe is closer to $3500. Entry level professional oboes start at $4000 for a used instrument and top out at $6700, while new professional oboes start at around $7400 and top out at $9500. That’s quite a range of prices! It’s fair to say that you’ll need the help of a specialist (and hopefully also the student’s teacher) to decide which instrument is best suited to your family.

For younger students, lighter weight, more basic oboes are easier to assemble and to maintain. The keywork is designed for smaller hands with a shorter reach. Students age 13 and under should pretty much always go for an intermediate model instrument. Examples of good quality intermediate oboes are the Howarth S20 and Howarth S40.

For older students, especially those very dedicated to the instrument, it might be advisable to choose a new or used professional instrument. This way the student wouldn’t have to upgrade the instrument again. The Howarth S50 is an excellent option, as would be a used Loree, used Howarth XL, or new Howarth XL. The choice of instrument would depend on whether the student is on a college track to be a music major and the family finances.

It’s an inspiring and exciting moment for a student when they are able to upgrade their instrument. We do our best to help families to find the instrument that fits the student at the best possible price, and for new instrument purchases we include a Two Year Full Service Warranty in addition to the manufacturer’s warranty.

The last consideration when buying an instrument is the cost of maintenance and eventual resale of the instrument. Because the price of new high quality European made oboes typically rises 3-5% every year, oboes maintain their value surprisingly well. If you keep your oboe more than 5 or 6 years (and of course maintain it thoroughly the entire time) you can reasonably expect to sell your instrument for the price you initially paid. Of course, this applies mostly to the most popular models of mainstream brands. Off brand (even high quality) and less popular models may be harder and less valuable to resell.

Like any new high ticket item, new instruments initially depreciate in value. It takes time for the value to “catch up” to what you initially paid. However, new instruments come with a two year warranty (saving you probably $750 in repair charges) and tend to need less maintenance even after the initial two years is finished. Used oboes typically do not come with either a manufacturer’s or dealer’s warranty and require more maintenance year to year. It is reasonable to budget $400-500 annually to maintain your professional oboe, and $150-$300 for an intermediate model.

Why “rent to own” isn’t such a great deal:
The chain retailers have done very well with their “Rent to Own” models. It gives the customer a feeling like they’re not throwing their money away, but rather slowly investing it in an instrument. This would be great if the instrument was of sufficient quality that you’d actually want to buy it, and if the “Rent to Own” price were the same as the price you’d pay if you had bought the instrument up front.

Typically, rental instruments are sturdy, low cost, student model instruments. Under the “Rent to Own” model, the rental charges are deducted from the FULL RETAIL PRICE of the instrument, not the discounted “sale” price you’d typically pay had you initially just bought it outright. In other words, you pay a premium for the privilege of renting it before buying, which is not altogether unfair since you may also decide not to buy the instrument at the end of your rental contract. With the “rent to own” model you may end up getting a slightly better deal on the eventual buyout of the instrument, but the rental charges are pure profit on top of the sale.

At Woodwind Workshop we believe in offering all of our customers the best possible price. We also only offer superior quality instruments and backed by a two year full service warranty. However, we do reward our rental customers for their loyalty by applying up to three months rental credit toward the purchase of any new instrument.

Quick guide to oboe shopping:
-DO buy an instrument in current production, preferably European
-DO choose an instrument under 20 years old
-DO buy an instrument that will challenge your student to grow
-DO ask your teacher or repairperson for advice on instrument selection
-DON’T buy a high end professional oboe for a very young beginner
-DON’T purchase your oboe from a general music store

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Specializing in the sales and repair of Professional Oboes, Clarinets, and Bassoons since 2004.