Advice and RecommendationsMy advice and recommendations for my oboe students
First, a disclaimer. I am not telling anyone to buy anything, or insisting on any one method book, oboe maker, or piece of reed-making equipment. I do get questions all the time, though, about these things, and on this page I will lay out many of the things I have found to work. Based on your individual needs we might gravitate to one specific thing or another – or use something completely different. Please talk to me about your needs and we’ll figure out where we need to go.
I would recommend having at least three reeds in your case at all times, and using them in rotation so that you always have something that works. As they wear out, you should replace them.
For a young beginner, there is no need to start out with expensive hand-made reeds. Lesher reeds and Fox reeds, available at your local music store, should be fine. As those machine-made choices become limiting – WHICH THEY WILL – we can talk about stepping up to my reeds or someone else’s, or learning to make your own.
Additionally, you will want a good quality case to keep them in. The mailing tubes that they arrive in do not allow ventilation or protect the reeds well. I have a variety available on my site or you might check out Amazon’s offerings.
I have many of these items here on my own site. Other links here are affiliate links to Amazon.com – it’s convenient for everyone and Amazon pays me a tiny commission when you buy. But the remainder go to Nielsen Woodwinds, because sometimes you really need a dedicated double reed shop to get what you need.
The most important item is the knife, and I like a double hollow ground blade like this Chiarugi knife. The knife is nicely balanced and easy to use, and it is soft enough to sharpen easily and hard enough to hold its edge. It’s also extremely affordable compared to other professional knives. I also like this version of it at Nielsen’s, because of the comfortable handle.
Cutting Block, Plaque, Mandrel, Thread and Ruler
You’ll need a cutting block and a plaque (get several, because they get lost easily). A mandrel and a spool of FF thread should be all the items you need to get started. Well, and a ruler with millimeters and a pencil, but you don’t have to shop at an expensive double reed store for those.
Sharpening Stone and Shapers
My long-time favorite sharpening stone is by Spyderco, and I’ve recently become enamored of this diamond stone as well. Of course, as your reed-making becomes more advanced, you will want to experiment with shapes and with gougers. My current favorite shapers are from Adam Shaper Tips – the Caleb-1, Joshua +2, and also the RDG-1N. I use an Innoledy gouging machine, and a Ross gouger for English horn.
For beginners and intermediate students I love the Rubank Method (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced 1 and 2). Most school systems start with Essential Elements or Standard of Excellence – I prefer to work from one of the books I mentioned above, though I will always happily address any problems or concerns you have with your school assignment – just ask! I find that the EE or S of E books are designed for the convenience of the band director and don’t treat the oboe very intelligently. As we work in Rubank we will quickly outpace the band program.
For more advanced students I usually work in the Barret Book – very much the gold standard for oboists. The Ferling Etudes are quite advanced, but beautiful pieces that require – and build – real skills to get through. Whitney Tustin’s Daily Scales is also highly recommended for the advancing student.
If you’re just getting started with reeds, buy CHEAP cane, so you can ruin your first bunch without ruining your pocketbook. The practice cane from Midwest Musical Imports is great, or whatever is cheapest from wherever you are ordering. Something gouged and shaped. After you’re comfortable winding and scraping, get better cane. I haven’t fallen totally in love with any commercially available cane yet, but we’ve been having success with Midwest’s choices. Go with 10.5-11 diameter and Gilbert -1 shape, and any kind of cane and gouge will do. Or, of course, check out my Order Cane page, and try mine.
It is perfectly normal and OK to start out playing on a Selmer or Yamaha beginner oboe handed to you by your school or music store. I do not recommend buying one of these instruments, as even a young student will find the poorly designed keywork and pitch layout limiting after a year or less.
There are several good intermediate oboes on the market, but I particularly recommend the Fox 330 and Yamaha 441 as step-up instruments. These will keep most students happy through their early high-school years, at least, and are affordable choices. That said, if finances will allow, the Fox 300 is also appropriate for a motivated middle-schooler and can easily be played through college. It has fully professional keywork, making the highest notes easier, and is made of a high-quality resin, so cracking is not an issue and it is sturdy enough to stand up to hard use by students.
A further option for the serious student is to look into a new or used professional oboe by Loree, Howarth, Marigaux, Bulgheroni, Yamaha, or… Many pros enjoy the tightness and “new-oboe” feel of a brand new instrument, and frequently sell their used oboes after only a few years. These professional “hand-me-downs” are wonderful oboes for a student with the maturity to care for them – like buying a used Mercedes or Volvo instead of a brand new Dodge Neon.