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Dr. Rebecca Mindock

Instrument Buying Guide

The Short Version

Recommended Student Oboes
Fox Renard 330 Artist
Yamaha YOB-441
Howarth S20C

Recommended Student Bassoons
Fox Renard 222 or 220
Moosmann M-series bassoons

Recommended Professional Oboes
F. Loree
OR any other professional model you try, have inspected by a professional, and like

Recommended Professional Bassoons
OR any other professional model you try, have inspected by a professional, and like

Where to Buy New Instruments
See links to online dealers below

Where to Buy Used Instruments
See links to consignment pages below

The Long Version
(and if you're going to spend a lot of money on an instrument, it's probably worth the time to read all of this...)

Skip to: Student Oboes  Student Bassoons  Professional Oboes  Professional Bassoons

Recommended Student Oboes

My choice of student oboe has shifted in the last decade or two, due to some recent innovations at both Yamaha and Howarth. I used to always recommend the Fox Renard 330 Artist, and still do. While it is technically a plastic oboe, it is of a much higher quality resin than most plastic oboes, and can compete with similar wooden horns for tone quality. It also has all the necessary keywork that a student oboist may need, especially the crucial left F and low Bb that are not always standard on lower level student models. Yamaha's oboe division has been steadily improving since the 1990s and their YOB-441 model eventually tied the Fox 330 as my favorite student instrument to recommend. The main advantage to the YOB-441 is that it is available not only in plastic but also in an all-wood version and, perhaps the best of both worlds, in an all-wood body with a resin lining on the top joint; with that hybrid model, you are less likely to get cracks, yet you get the look and the general resonance of a wooden horn. (I say "general;" there are some compromises in tone quality with the YOB-441 hybrid model. But, not having to deal with a cracked oboe is a pretty good upside.) Finally, the newest addition to my list is the Howarth S20C. Howarths in general have been on the rise in the US for some time now, so I was only a little surprised when, taking a couple of my instrument-shopping students around at the 2016 IDRS conference in Columbus, Georgia, they both not only gravitated towards but nearly fell in love with a couple of Howarth S20Cs, even after comparing them to all of the other comparably priced oboes in the exhibit hall. I think we owe recent changes in exchange rates to why these British-made oboes are suddenly priced low enough as to be competitive with Fox and Yamaha and therefore are now on our radar, but boy am I glad they are, because they are quite nice instruments, and my students did not hesitate to choose them over the other models. They are, like the Yamahas, available in a variety of compositions (plastic, wood, half-and-half, lined top joints), and Howarth has very notably been at the forefront of using better resonating plastics in recent years. If the exchange rate stays in our favor, I feel very good about wholeheartedly recommending these oboes to students.

I generally do not recommend professional wooden oboes to students. Wooden oboes require much more careful maintenance than a plastic horn, and wooden horns drop dramatically in resale value much faster than plastic ones. While some 200 year-old violins go for 20 times the price of modern ones, few people want an old wooden oboe. It has been my experience that most professional oboists buy new instruments fairly regularly, and many believe that wooden oboes get "blown out" after 5-10 years and that they never sound as good as they did new. It seems a waste to me for a middle school student to buy an expensive professional wooden oboe only to have to buy another one by the time they head off to college, especially if they won't be able to get the full resale value of their instrument.

Recommended Student Bassoons

Fox Renard Bassoons have become the gold standard for student bassoons in this country. There are other cheaper student bassoons out there, but you get what you pay for, and the Fox Renards are great instruments, particularly for their price, and they can take a student well into college. They also maintain excellent resale value, due to their popularity. I recommend the wooden models over the plastic. The 222 is the cheapest of the wooden models; it is an excellent instrument, and though it lacks some professional keywork (the high D and the whisper key lock, for example) these can be added by request for a nominal fee. It also has a covered third finger hole to help with smaller hand reach. The 220 and 240 are "Artist" models; students who have the funds available to purchase one of these over the 222 are encouraged to do so, as they will provide additional keywork and a more professional u-tube/bore design. I would typically recommend the 220 to students over the 240, primarily because the 220 is cheaper and built more for ensemble playing, while the 240 "short" bore is designed more for soloistic playing; however, this is a subtle distinction and, if you have the funds for either, I recommend trying both models to determine which is best for you. Moosmann has also been making increasingly good student bassoons over the years; I was recommending their 100A model for awhile, but that model appears to now be custom only and they have the M-series available for students, with a variety of key options for smaller hands.

While I like the idea of a plastic bassoon for school programs, I will admit that it's rare for me to meet a plastic bassoon, even a Fox, that behaves terribly well; for the individual student looking to make the investment in their own personal instrument, I think the extra cost of buying a wooden instrument is well worth making. If you're going to make a purchase that big, you might as well go for the wooden horn and save yourself having to upgrade to it later.

Recommended Professional Oboes

I don't specifically recommend any one brand of professional oboe, because I feel that, once you get to the point where you want to buy one of these, you should be discerning enough in your tastes as a player to try out whatever you can get your hands on and make this decision for yourself. The American professional oboe world has been dominated for many decades by F. Loree, and, while their reputation is certainly well founded, there are many, many other types of professional oboes out there that are competitive with Loree. Yamaha's professional model, much like its student horn, became a much more reliable and popular instrument in recent years -- I witnessed many die-hard Loree fans switch to Yamahas in the early 2000s -- and they can be cheaper than Lorees. Also in competition (and with very devout, often regional, fan bases) are Marigaux, Covey, Laubin, and, gaining the most ground in recent years, Howarth. (I will note that, while I've always been impressed with the Marigauxs, Coveys, and Laubins I've tried at each year's IDRS conferences, I have been particularly struck in the last year or two with the Howarths I've tried, and, in particular, I've found their "ebonite" instruments, which incorporate a very high quality and nicely resonating plastic in combination with the standard woods used for oboe (grenadilla, rosewood, cocobolo), to be impressively good. Several of my professional colleagues have jumped on the Howarth bandwagon as of late (and I admit, after trying them at IDRS 2016, I was tempted to join them!). There are other models that I'm sure can be reliable instruments, as well, but these are the ones I encounter most often among other professionals.

Recommended Professional Bassoons

I don't specifically recommend any one brand of professional bassoon, because I feel that (just as I said above about oboes), once you get to the point where you want to buy one of these, you should be discerning enough in your tastes as a player to try out whatever you can get your hands on and make this decision for yourself. The most common professional bassoon -- both here in the US and anywhere overseas that prefers the German style bassoon -- is the Heckel. A German company, Heckel has been making bassoons for nearly 200 years, and has long dominated the market. Owning a brand new Heckel is no small feat, and will cost you $30,000-$40,000. (Thankfully, Heckel bassoons survive the passage of time very well, and older Heckels are also perfectly viable professional instruments. In fact, sometimes an older Heckel is preferable. More about used instruments below.) The professional bassoons made by Fox, an American company based in Indiana, are also extremely popular and extremely well made. Fox makes several different models, all of which cater to different needs, and should be thoroughly investigated by a potential buyer. Moosmann's professional bassoons are developing a hardy following, and their prices are also slightly more competitive than Heckel. (Mr. Moosmann is also delightfully charismatic.) There are also excellent Puchners, and there are fans of the professional Yamahas out there, as well. There are also other models that I'm sure can be reliable instruments, but these are the ones I encounter most often among other professionals.

Allow me to briefly add a word here about bocals. Finding the right bocal for you and your bassoon can be just as important a search as finding the right instrument, and, since there are so many different types (different metals, different bore sizes and shapes, etc.), it is usually best to try a bunch of those out, too, when making a purchase. Also, just because you have, say, a Fox bassoon, does not mean that you have to use a Fox bocal with it. You may try out a bunch of different things and find that you sound the best with a bocal made by someone else, like Heckel or Leitzinger. Be ready to shop around for those, too.

An Important Note on Buying Any Professional Double Reed Instrument

The key thing to remember with buying a professional oboe or bassoon is that all professional instruments are different. I am not saying that a Loree is different from a Marigaux and from a Covey, but that one Loree can be very different from another Loree. Most of these instruments are hand-made, and therefore one instrument can feel vastly different from another of the exact same model and make. Therefore it is of the utmost importance that you try multiple instruments before you buy. Most dealers are more than happy to send you two or three of the same type of instrument so you can try them out and select the one that is best for you. If your instrument dealer is not willing to do this, find another dealer, because this really is very important. If it is at all possible to try multiple types of oboes or bassoons, as well -- say, to compare a couple of different models of Foxes, a couple of Heckels, a Moosmann or two, a Puchner, etc. -- to make sure you are buying the right instrument for you. This can be difficult to do in many places, especially when there isn't a local music dealer who is willing to carry oboes or bassoons in the showroom, but if you are fortunate enough to live close to a dealer who does, I encourage you to take advantage of it. If you do not, and if you are really serious about your instrument and want to find the right instrument for you, it may be worth it for you to travel to a city that has a large instrument dealer -- for example, RDG Woodwinds in LA, Forrests in San Francisco, Midwest Musical Imports in the Twin Cities -- where you can try instruments on the premises. Attending the annual International Double Reed Society Conference is a great way to do this, too, as most major double reed vendors exhibit at the conference and have instruments available to try and sell, all in one place.

Where to Buy New Instruments (either oboes or bassoons)

If you know exactly what you want to buy -- a Fox Renard 222 or 330, for example -- and don't feel the need to try other models, then all you need to do is find a local instrument dealer who can order one for you. Double check with them before ordering to make sure that, if you try out the instrument you order and it doesn't meet your specifications, you can send it back and get another one at no additional cost, and see if they might be willing to send more than one of the same model so you can compare them. You don't want to get stuck with a lemon (and trust me, I've seen it happen). Most major instrument makers supply a list of their dealers online, so you can go to those websites, find your local dealer(s), and go from there. Here are the links to those sites for those of you interested in one of the student instruments I recommended:
Fox Dealer Locator
Yamaha Woodwind Dealer Locator
If you are unable to find a local dealer who supplies the type of instrument(s) you wish to try and purchase, there are many reliable online dealers who will ship instruments to you to try. (Also, if you are interested in a Moosmann bassoon, they are only sold by Miller Marketing, so you will need to go through that organization specifically, either online or over the phone.) I will attempt to make a list of these online dealers here; there are too many for it to be comprehensive, but this includes the major double-reed-specific companies.
RDG Woodwinds
Forrests Music
Charles Double Reed Company
Midwest Musical Imports
Woodwind & Brasswind

Where to Buy Used Instruments (either oboes or bassoons)

Buying a used instrument is a GREAT option for any student oboist or bassoonist. Most student oboes and bassoons -- especially those Foxes and Yamaha 441s -- are going to be sold by someone at some point, since most everyone that buys one is going to either quit playing or upgrade to something better, and, if they are well maintained, they usually still have a lot of life left in them. Again, you always want to try before you buy, to make sure everything is working correctly and that it's a good horn for you. Getting a used instrument can also be a great way to get your first professional model as a student. The resale value of wooden oboes tends to be fairly low, so getting a used Loree, for example, is always significantly cheaper than a new one, and, for a promising high school student, a 10 or 20-year old Loree, assuming its been taken care of, can be a great instrument to own. While bassoons maintain their value over time better than oboes do, there is still a pretty significant drop in price as they age (unless they are some marvelously sought-after "pre-war" vintage), and, for many advanced students or young professionals, a used instrument is the only way he or she will be able to afford a professional bassoon.

The big question I'm sure you have, though, is "where do I find a used oboe or bassoon?" Obviously, unless you live in a big, artistically diverse city, there aren't going to be a lot of decent double reed instruments for sale locally. That's always where you want to start, of course, but, unless you get lucky, that probably won't turn up too many options. The good news is that most of the major double reed dealers sell used oboes and bassoons on consignment, meaning that people who want to sell their instruments but don't want to deal with the hassle of finding a buyer themselves locally can sell them through one of these companies. These companies are then usually happy to ship one of these used instruments to you, so you can try it, and if you don't like it, you just send it back, and are only out the cost of shipping. It's a great way to find a good gently used professional instrument. Here are some links to some of these consignment sites:

Charles Double Reed Company (based in New Hampshire)
Forrests Music (based in Berkeley, CA)
Midwest Musical Imports (based in Minneapolis, MN)
RDG Woodwinds (based in Los Angeles, CA)
Mark Chudnow Woodwinds (based in Napa, CA)
Aria Double Reeds (based in Maryland)

Another good place to check is the Classifieds of the International Double Reed Society. These people know what they're talking about, so this is also a good place to look for advice and to ask questions about instruments.

There are also several individuals who run websites selling used (and new) instruments; here are a few that I would recommend. Most of these individuals can also send you instruments to try, once you leave a deposit with them.

Carlos E. Coehlo (oboes)(based in Indianapolis, IN)
Hannah's Oboes (based in Arizona)
Cygnet Studios (oboes)(based in Elizabethtown, PA)
Peter Hurd (oboes)(based in Bellingham, WA)
Keith Bowen (bassoons)(based in Seattle)

One More Word About Buying Used Loree Oboes or Heckel Bassoons....
It's always good to know how old an instrument is when you buy it, and, even if a seller isn't forthcoming with the age of an instrument they are selling, you can sometimes date the instrument by its serial number. This is particularly well documented when it comes to Loree oboes and Heckel bassoons. For Loree oboes, each serial number has two letters and two numbers; for example, my Loree's serial number is OC66. The numbers have been assigned sequentially over time, so letters earlier in the alphabet indicate older instruments. Here's a rough table to help you place the year an instrument was made just by looking at those first two letters:
XX 1930s
BX 1964
CA 1965
CI 1967
CU 1973
DK 1975
FG 1981
HI-HO 1985
HQ 1986
IM 1988
JC 1989
JE 1990
KR-KY 1993
LP 1995
LV 1996
MA-MN 1997
MY 1998
ND 1999
NO-NQ 2000
OB 2001
OL 2002
OU 2003
PG 2004
PQ 2005
QD 2006
QK 2007
RA 2008
RH 2009

Heckel bassoons have been in production since the 1830s, and they started stamping them with serial numbers in 1871. With some exceptions (gaps in the numbers, misordering since the wood is stamped before its 12-year curing process, etc.), the numbers are sequential and generally correspond to certain years over the past century. Heckel owners often refer to their instruments by their series number ("my 9000 series Heckel," "my 14000 series Heckel,", etc.), and there are also pockets of loyalty to certain vintages out there in the world. Older Heckels can be classified as "pre-war" and "post-war"; during WWII, the Heckel factory in Germany had to shut down and the location was moved, meaning all the machinery had to be dismantled and reassembled, resulting in subtle changes to the instruments produced. (Pre-war instruments and bocals in excellent condition are highly prized.) If you want to know the age of a Heckel bassoon and all you have is its serial number, here is an approximate list (serial numbers on the left, year on the right):
3000 1877
3100 1882
3200 1884
3300 1886
3400 1888
3500 1890
3600 1891
3700 1893
3800 1895
3900 1896
4000 1898
4100 1891
4200 1901
4300 1902
4400 1903
4500 1905
4600 1906
4700 1908
4800 1909
4900 1910
5000 1911
5100 1912
5200 1913
5300 1915
5400 1915
5500 1919
5600 1920
5700 1921
5800 1922
5900 1923
6000 1924
6100 1925
6200 1925
6300 1926
6400 1926
6500 1927
6600 1927
6700 1928
6800 1929
6900 1929
7000 1929
7100 1930
7200 1931
7300 1932
7400 1932
7500 1933
7600 1935
7700 1935
7800 1936
7900 1936
8000 1936
8100 1937
8200 1938
8300 1939
8400 1939
8500 1940
8600 1942
8700 1943
8800 1943
8900 1943
9000 1944
9100 1945
9200 1947
9300 1950
9400 1951
9500 1951
9600 1952
9700 1954
9800 1954
9900 1955
10000 1956
10100 1957
10200 1958
10300 1958
10400 1960
10500 1961
10600 1961
10700 1963
10800 1964
10900 1965
11000 1965
11100 1969
11200 1969
11300 1970
11400 1970
11500 1971
11600 1971
11700 1972
11800 1972
11900 1973
12000 1975
12100 1976
12200 1978
12300 1979
12400 1980
12500 1980
12600 1982
12800 1984
12900 1986
13000 1986
13100 1986
13200 1986
13300 1986
13400 1986
13500 1986
13600 1986
13700 1993
13800 1996
13900 1996
14000 1996
14100 1997
14200 1998
14300 1998
14400 1998
14700 2000
14900 2001
14080 2002
15015 2003
14900 2003
15149 2004
15200 2005
15300 2006
15400 2007
15500 2008
15600 2009
15700 2010
15800 2011
15900 2012
16000 2013

This type of serial number dating is possible for most brands of professional double reeds; if you find a used oboe or bassoon of another type and are not sure of the date, you can search online for a table of those serial numbers to help you, or you can ask around on the IDRS website.

Good luck, and remember, don't settle -- if you're going to spend a lot of money, it should be on an instrument that you love!