The Colors Of The Rainb…oboe







The Colors Of The Rainb…oboe (Yeah. Wow, that’s bad.)

If you’re an American oboist, chances are you play a Loree, have at some point played a Loree, or have at least been told “You know, you should really buy a Loree.”  For a very long time, this was good advice…the universe of the oboe maker was a very small one (quantum, really), and much like getting your coffee at Starbucks, if you bought a Loree you had a very good idea of what you were getting, and you were probably going to like it. (After all, they’ve been making oboes since 1881!) I won’t go into great detail about the history of Francois Loree and his oboes, because there are five million other places you can look online and read about it; and frankly, they probably do a better job of it than I would. My point is simply that for most of the 20th century, if you played the oboe, and you played the oboe with any remote degree of seriousness, your option in fine oboes was Loree.

Toward the middle of the 20th century (the early middle…it was the 30s), one Mr. Alfred Laubin woke up one day, took a figurative look around at the oboes available to him (for he was a fine oboist, was our Mr. Laubin) and he said “Uh-uh. No ma’am” and set to building the oboe that HE wanted to play. It took a few tries, but he finally got it right, and by the end of the 50s, his son Paul had joined the business and it was all oboes, all the time. Now, you could play a Loree OR a Laubin! (And many, many people chose the latter).  Across the pond, there were two other French makers turning out beautiful instruments that were quite popular on the Continent, Rigoutat and Marigaux, but they had for the most part been ignored by the American school of oboe playing; largely in part because most American oboists were musically descended from the great Marcel Tabuteau, who just happened to play a Loree oboe.

Nowadays, however, the situation is remarkably changed…there has never been such an abundance of top-flight oboe makers, and while I find it terribly exciting, it also saddens me a bit that I regularly encounter oboists who not only have never tried any of them, haven’t even HEARD of most of them. I shall do what I can to fix this (but I’m only one person)!

I’ll begin with Those OTHER French Oboe Guys: Marigaux and Rigoutat. Now, I’d wager that nearly all professional oboists in America have not only heard of them, but have probably at some point tried them. (And, if the oboists I personally know are any indication, a lot of you are PLAYING them now.) The popularity of these two makers has increased exponentially in recent years, though they are still considerably more popular globally than they are in America.  Many of the world’s finest oboists play one of these two, including one of my favorite oboe players in the entire galaxy, Diana Doherty (principal of the Sydney Symphony, who is giving it to the kids daily with her fierce Marigaux M2). The legendary soloist Heinz Holliger plays Rigoutat, and has done quite a bit to popularize the brand.  My experience with both of the brands is somewhat comprehensive, as I have played several examples of each of their current models (with the exception of the new Rigoutat “J”, of which I have only played one.)

They are both fantastic oboes, but if I were to pick one, it would be Marigaux. Their oboes are simply stunning…whether you pick the 901, the 2001, or the M2, you are getting a rich, fat, creamy tone; extreme reed-friendliness, and in the case of the 2001 and M2, some serious ergonomics. The pinky keys on both hands have been completely redesigned on these instruments, and they are comfortable indeed. The 901 is their basic workhorse professional model, and you will find a 901 somewhere in nearly every major symphonic oboe section on the planet (outside of the United States, that is). They are a marvelous choice for 2nd oboists because of their excellent response down low and the ease with which you can match tone colors with the principal. The 901 is an extraordinarily forgiving instrument, and one that will work for just about anybody. The 2001 has a very soloistic sort of bravura color to the sound, though maintaining that trademark Marigaux warmth. (Incidentally, the 2001 also has the most stable C5 and C6 I have ever experienced in my LIFE). The 2000 series is also available in a crystal clear material called “Altuglass”, with gold plated keys, and is one of the most visually arresting instruments ever made.  The M2 sonically is very similar to the 2001, but has a remarkably innovative construction wherein the top joint of the oboe is extremely short, terminating just above the C#/D trill keys, and you are provided with top joints in wood and phenol resin for crack resistance. The middle joint, then, is therefore much longer, and the bell remains the same. Very interesting looking instrument and it has caught on in the oboe world like a house afire!  If someone were to hand me $10,000 right now and say “YOU MUST BUY AN OBOE WITH THIS”, the odds are rather good that it’d be a Marigaux. (Here's Diana creating magic on her Marigaux: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVlGbRcN92Q )

I enjoy the Rigoutat instruments for the lovely sweet (though perhaps a tiggysquidge bright for my tastes) sound they all seem to have in common, though I find the Expression model to have a bit more oomph than the Evolution or the Symphony (however one of the finest and richest sounding oboes I’ve ever played happened to be an Evolution in violetwood, so it just goes to show you, exceptions are the rule!). The “J” model is a horse of a different color entirely, though. Beautiful, round warm sound, great response up top, and a buttery low register; basically, Rigoutat made a Marigaux. It’s exceptional.  I would imagine that this instrument in violetwood (also known as kingwood, they’re both names for dalbergia caerensis*) would be something approaching Biblical in its awesomeness. (The one I played was boring ol’ grenadilla, or dalbergia melanoxylon*  if you’re nasty).  The French oboists love ‘em! 


I would be remiss if I did not include a word about the RIEC (RIgoutat ECole) intermediate model oboe and English horn. These are exceptional instruments, and I would put the RIEC English horn perhaps actually slightly ahead of the Fossati Tiery and Howarth S40 in terms of sound quality and playability, it's that good. They may be marketed as "intermediate" instruments (The "Delphine" is the student model), but they are definitely professional quality.

(Incidentally, I believe that Rigoutat English horns are the most commonly played English horns in Continental Europe. They’re wonderful, wonderful instruments.)

                                * did you know that grenadilla (m’pingo/African blackwood/that stuff that just about all clarinets, oboes and piccolos are made of) is actually a rosewood? Technically, ALL members of the Dalbergia genus are rosewoods…some are just way prettier and softer than others. So, really, we *all* play rosewood oboes!  YAY!  The whole “rosewood” topic is actually sort of a hobby horse of mine, and I could write TONS about it, but I’ll save it for another day. Suffice it to say that I am a very big fan of “exotic” woods, and use them whenever possible.

For some godforsaken insane reason, almost no other oboe player I know in this country has even HEARD of Fossati, let alone entertained the idea of playing one.  I find this particularly maddening because…well, because *I* play a Fossati. Fossati has, by and large, been my oboe of choice for YEARS (except for that short period of time where I didn’t play a Fossati, and we’ll talk about that later).  These instruments are glorious, and they get better and better every year. They have a model out now, the MB, which is so good it will make you SLAP SOMEBODY.  I currently play a Soliste model with mother-of-pearl inlays in the keys, and a matching Soliste English horn (minus the pearl), and they are the sweet baby Jesuses of the oboe world. Their E30 “Tiery” model is also an extraordinary piece of oboe meat. It’s very affordable, and has the full conservatory keywork, including the 3rd octave key. It is totally a pro instrument in every way, and it’s amazing to me that it’s marketed as an intermediate model, but hallelu, because it’s also priced accordingly. The E30 is a doubler’s dream…very flexible and reed-friendly, sounds great, and won’t break the bank. I’ve played a Tiery on several cast albums, in countless pit orchestras, and even a few symphony gigs. (This is the Tchaik 4 solo on my Tiery: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ix2ObTCrMgg ) I’d put it up against anybody’s Loree (or Laubin) any day. The Soliste, however, takes all that awesomeness and magnifies it by about a trillion. Rich, buttery, sweet, warm, penetrating, whatever you are trying to get out of it, it’ll give you. The scale is also fantastic. These things are REALLY in tune! They make their instruments in several woods, including cocobolo, violetwood/kingwood, and a beautiful wood called gaiac, which we know better as lignum vitae. In the past, they have made instruments from pink ivory and snakewood, as well. You can also get your keys gold plated, rhodium-enhanced-silver-plated with gold posts and bands, and/or inlaid with mother of pearl. They even have a model, the Soliste V Anniversary, which features keywork plated in black ruthenium with gold posts/bands. Truly a stunning instrument, and performance to match the appearance. Those of you who have never tried a Fossati oboe would be doing yourselves a grave disservice if you did not get your hands on one and give them a go. I think you’ll be surprised at just how easy it can be to play the oboe!
(On second thought, that $10,000 from would probably go to Fossati, who am I kidding? But maybe not…read on!) 


This spectacular German maker has made quite a splash on the scene recently with the “Albrecht Mayer Platinum” model oboe, distributed in the United States by Tong Cui of Innoledy (http://www.innoledy.com ).  Though they’ve been around absolutely forever, Moennig has become very visible in the marketplace lately for their amazingly well-crafted oboes and bassoons. The AM model has been a huge hit at oboe festivals worldwide, as well it should be. I had the opportunity to take one on trial from Innoledy (along with a Diamant model English horn), and it was mind-blowingly good. It is the darkest, most liquid-sounding oboe I’ve ever played, with wonderfully innovative keywork (the right hand pinky keys, for example, all have rollers on them). The build quality is astonishing, with as much precision as a Swiss watch, and the grenadilla wood used was absolutely stunning. Albrecht himself designed this oboe over several years of collaboration with Ludwig Frank, and is the oboe he now plays exclusively, after many years on a highly-customized Buffet Greenline.

The “Diamant” and “Richard Wagner” model English horns should quickly find their way into the hands of most of the world’s top English horn players, as well. (They already have in New York, where Metropolitan Opera solo English hornist Pedro Diaz plays them). The RW model comes with two bells, one traditionally shaped and one which looks like a very large clarinet bell, and this bell transforms the English horn into something like a cross between a Heckelphone and an alphorn in terms of carrying power, without sacrificing the beautiful melancholic quality that defines the sound of the English horn. Tristan will never be the same! (One should note that the bells of the Moennig English horns are all constructed from cocobolo, which gives a gorgeous resonance to the sound and also reduces the overall weight of the instrument a bit.) My thoughts on the Diamant English horn, expressed in a rambling incoherent manner with poor cell phone recording quality: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCc2cOKHv3o

Made in the same workshop in Markneukirchen as the Moennig instruments, Adler oboes (and bassoons, which happens to be the bassoon I play) are very solidly built instruments that possess excellent scale and lovely dark sounds. The Adler 6000 oboe is a full-Conservatory model that would fit any advanced student/amateur/doubling oboists needs quite well, and probably would not need to be upgraded from. It is also available in cocobolo wood, for those who like that sort of thing. (And boy, do I like that sort of thing!)

Ludwig Frank ( http://www.frankundmeyer.de )
Ludwig Frank is one of the shining stars in the constellation of oboe makers on Earth today. His instruments are meticulously designed and crafted, and they are beloved by principal players and soloists around the world, particularly in Europe. He is the driving force behind the Moennig Albrecht Mayer “Platinum” model oboe, and the oboes bearing his own name are delectable works of art. Another one of my favorite oboists, Yeon-Hee Kwak, plays a Frank, and you can hear it in her soul-shattering performance of Ennio Morricone’s “Gabriel’s Oboe” on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmax47l2hLU). I would give anything to own an LF “Brilliant” model oboe in violetwood with gold keys.

An institution in England, Howarth oboes have finally achieved the global recognition they deserve in the past ten years or so, especially with the advent of the XL model, which is very quickly becoming the oboe of choice for many esteemed oboe soloists and principal players the world over. From the S20 student model to the XL in cocobolo with gold keys, Howarth oboes deliver excellent craftsmanship, a very solid and stable sound concept, reed friendliness, and an exceptionally comfortable mechanism. I am a very big fan of these instruments, and played a Howarth English horn for several years. Were I a wealthy man, a cocobolo Howarth XL would absolutely be in my arsenal. I have never, ever played one I did not like. Much the same can be said for the entire line…in fact, along with the Fossati Tiery E30, the oboe I most frequently recommend to friends, fellow doublers and advanced students is the Howarth S40, which gives you all the bells and whistles you need (save the split D#/E ring, and really, who’s gonna miss that? The D key is vented anyway) at a price that isn’t completely shocking.  There are many places in the US you can find Howarth oboes, some of my favorites of which are Innoledy in NYC (http://www.innoledy.com), RDG Woodwinds in LA (http://www.rdgwoodwinds.com), Midwest Musical Imports (http://www.mmimports.com) and Oboe Chicago (http://www.oboechicago.com) . If you’re in the market for a new oboe, you absolutely must try a Howarth or 3. If you don’t, then you are seriously missing out! (Also, seriously, their oboes d’amore and English horns are among the best on the PLANET.)

Bulgheroni ( http://www.bulgheroni.it )
From a small family-owned workshop on the shores of Lake Como in Italy comes the Bulgheroni oboe (and oboe d’amore, English horn and piccolo, of all things). I mentioned earlier in the Fossati section that there was a period of time where I did not play a Fossati…during this time, I played a Bulgheroni and a Patricola. The Bulgheroni oboe is one of the best-kept secrets in the oboe world, and their newest offering, the “Musa” should be a total game-changer in the high-end oboe market. The oboe that I played was the “Artist” model, which is a full-conservatory standard professional instrument, equivalent to a standard Loree C+3, Fox 400, Howarth S5, etc. What I enjoyed the most about my Bulgheroni, and indeed every one I’ve played since, is the evenness of tone from bottom to top. It is a very, very smooth instrument, and the response in the bottom register is nearly unparalleled. The keywork is also very, very heavily plated for durability, and they offer a variety of platings to choose from. Bulgheroni also offers an unprecedented SIX wood options (grenadilla, violetwood/kingwood, cocobolo, Brazilian rosewood, Honduran rosewood, and cocuswood) , and not just on their top model, either.  The “Opera” model is one of the finest oboes you can buy, and it will cost you considerably less than an equivalent instrument from one of the other big makers.

Known for the stunningly red Brazilian rosewood they use, Patricola oboes are also handcrafted by a family in Italy, and make some of the loveliest oboes/oboes d’amore/English horns/clarinets I’ve ever seen or played. I played a rosewood Patricola oboe with gold keys for quite some time, and not only was it physically stunning, it had one of the most complex, magical sounds of any oboe I’ve ever played, though I did have to work a bit harder in the upper register to stabilize intonation, and it wasn’t quite as reed-friendly as some other oboes I’ve played.  The scale is quite good (and improving every year…Patricola does huge amounts of work to constantly improve their instruments, and they get noticeably better all the time. Dying to try the newest “Rigoletto” model!), and it was a very comfortable instrument to play for long periods of time. This is a brand you absolutely MUST try if you wish to buy a handcrafted professional oboe but you are on a somewhat restrictive budget. They also come up used on eBay quite often (or are sold by large retailers via their eBay stores), and they are always quite affordable.  Definitely a great way to make a visual splash if you’re the sort of person who likes to be different and stand out from the crowd!

What would a discussion of oboes be without mentioning Fox? Entirely built here in the good old U.S of A., these instruments are some of the most reliable oboes out there, and the foundation on which many a student has built their oboe-playing career (myself included). The Renard series (330/333) are probably THE most popular student/intermediate oboes in America, and for good reason. They sound good, they play in tune, and they’re very heartily built. The professional Fox oboes are equally solid, though with the exception of the model 800, it could be said that they lack a bit of depth in the sound and tend to be a bit homogenous, but it isn’t anything that a skilled player with good reed skills can’t overcome. The most outstanding feature of the Fox instruments, in my opinion, is the dazzlingly consistent build quality and uber-stable intonation.  If you’re looking for an oboe that will get you through any gig, and not require huge amounts of work to play in tune, this is it. They blend beautifully in a section, and the all-plastic professional model 300 is a doubler’s DREAM, as well as being an invaluable backup for any symphonic professional who has to endure summertime outdoor pops concerts. The 800 plays very much like a fine Loree, and the Fox English horns are absolutely beautiful instruments. You already know about them, but you should try one anyway if you haven’t in a while. Definitely put them on your shortlist if you’re looking for a new instrument!

And then, of course, there is Buffet, maker of the (in?)famous Greenline 3613 oboe. The Greenline material was developed by Buffet to combat cracking and weather-related instability, and in that regard, it works beautifully. I must admit, though, I have never been a big fan of the Greenline oboes. I think oboe guru Peter Hurd ( http://www.oboes.us ) nailed it when he described them on his site as a “reed trumpet”. I have always found them a bit on the brash side, they are unholy amounts of heavy, and the middle tenons have an alarming tendency to shear clean off at the slightest hint of wrong-ward pressure.  They can, however, be coaxed into bliss, as Albrecht Mayer proved. (Of course, it took only a cursory glance to realize that Albrecht’s Buffet was customized to within an inch of its life…the ivory-colored adornments on the head and bell of his oboe made that clear! I believe it was Ludwig Frank who worked on his Buffet, and eventually they just started from scratch and created the Moennig AM model, but don’t quote me on that.) The all-wood Buffet 3613, however, I have found to be a perfectly lovely instrument. Some quirky scale issues (but the expected sort, like dodgy high Cs and top-of-staff Gs that caused heart attacks), but they could be fixed.

However, Buffet has gone back to the oboe drawing board, and given birth to the Orfeo. I have not tried one of these yet (if you can believe it!), so I would LOVE to hear from those of you who have tried them, or bought them, and let me know what you think about them! I am looking forward to getting my hands on one…I would really love to love a Buffet oboe. (Though lord knows I do not love their clarinets, but that is a different conversation entirely!)

The new Buffet English horn, though? A thing of beauty. It looks gorgeous (they’ve done away with the bell tenon ring), and it sounds stunning! Very smooth, rich, and the scale is great. My impression was that it was like a Howarth XL and a Fossati Soliste spawned. Definitely worth looking at it if you are cor-shopping!

Hiniker (no website)
I’d also like to briefly talk about Hiniker oboes.  The waiting list is like, a million years long, but with good reason. They’re absolutely spectacular instruments, handbuilt by one of the most genius oboe acousticians since Gillet and Triebert. Tom Hiniker is like, the Morrie Backun ( http://www.backunmusical.com ) of the oboe world! These instruments are HIGHLY sought after by top-level players, and they are stunning. Tom builds oboes out of a wide variety of woods (including cocobolo, pink ivory, and snakewood), and has made an oboe entirely out of clear acrylic, much like the Marigaux Altuglas oboe. Jonathan Marzluf has some beautiful recordings on his website (http://www.marzlufreeds.com/audio_samples.php ) of him playing on his cocobolo Hiniker, and champion reedmaker Cooper Wright also has some extensive writing about the Hinikers on his website, as does Peter Hurd (who owns/owned a mind-blowingly gorgeous snakewood Hiniker oboe).

 Roland Dupin has created the absolute Lamborghini of oboes, the Dupin Imperial. This oboe has one of the most unique appearances of any oboe on the market with its Baroque-oboe-meets-Viennese-oboe headstock and bell, and the sound is absolutely magical. Christoph Hartmann plays one, and you can see and hear it on Youtube in his Youtube Symphony oboe masterclass (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6EIgJvYx4AE) . The Dupin Imperial is also on magnificent display in this performance by the oboe section of the Royal Danish Orchestra: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N00JbKpZKKw Tragically, I’ve not yet had the opportunity to give one of these babies a spin. I HAVE, however, played a Dupin English horn, and it was a wonderful experience.  It felt like a good Rigoutat, and possessed an almost unearthly sweetness in the upper register, very unusual for an English horn. Dupin is almost unheard of in the states, but VERY popular in Europe, particularly Scandinavia. I believe Roland Dupin also had a hand in the design of the Buffet 3613 oboe, but again, quoteth me not.

Known to bassoonists as That Really Good German Bassoon That Isn’t A Heckel, Puchner has also made oboes/d’amores/EHs forever, but they’ve recently made a splash in the US marketplace with the 733C oboe and their English horn, which Peter Hurd has declared the English horn of all English horns…and who am *I* to argue with Peter Hurd?! I’m going to roll with Mr. Hurd’s opinion on this one, having not tried the EH yet, but I HAVE played the 733 oboe, and it gives me EVERYTHING I want in an oboe…which is to say, it is REALLY German. Dark, thick, beautiful, romantic sound with an excellent scale and very solid, comfortable keywork. I’d put the Puchner up there with the Moennig AM model and Ludwig Frank’s oboes, and would happily play one forever.

Last but CERTAINLY not least, can we talk about Yamaha, please? I mean, wow. Talk about an instrument that has EVOLVED! I remember playing a Custom 831 when I was in high school in the late 90s, and thinking “Well this is NICE, isn’t it?” and not giving them another thought for ten years. WELL, kids, lemme tell you, this is NOT the Yamaha of the 90s. The most recent model Custom Yamaha oboes are every bit as delicious as any other makers, and in the case of the 841 in kingwood/violetwood with the lined upper joint? OBOE-BROSIA, honey. They are one of the smoothest, sleekest, most in-tune, responsive, bottom-octave-friendly oboes on the market today. Every professional orchestral 2nd oboist should run, not walk, to get one of these on trial, because thou shalt be converted! They’re also, as the kids say today, mad cheap, son. (Relatively speaking, anyway)

Also worth noting is the new Duet+ 400 series intermediate model…the old 441 was a honky trumpety bright beast of an oboe, more of a keyed shawm, really; but the new one is right up there with the Tiery in terms of playability (and the lined upper bore eliminates crack paranoia). 

I wanted to discuss Josef oboes, but I’ve only played 2, and I’m not entirely sure my experiences jive with the other anecdotes I’ve heard from people who have played them. I also don’t have a large enough sample size to really form a strong personal opinion one way or the other. One of them was hands down the absolute best oboe I have ever played in my life, the other made me want a Xanax and my mommy. They are absolutely gorgeous, though (especially the Clement model), and Elizabeth Koch won principal in Atlanta on one, so  give ‘em a look!  

Until next time…happy oboe-nerding! (And check out Robin Des Hautbois’ blog, http://robindeshautbois.blogspot.com . He has a plethora of beautiful photos and some very well written and comprehensive posts about the world of the oboe. In fact, he does this way better than I do :P)





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