Choosing an instrument is no easy task as there is much to consider. I will highlight a few factors to consider when choosing and purchasing a bass oboe.
This article will focus on my personal favorite oboe brands. I will investigate the tone quality, sound production, pricing, key systems, and overall maintenance and availability of each product. But before we dive into the various brands and deciding factors of the bass oboe, we need to understand a bit of background information about the instrument.
The Bass Oboe
The bass oboe is a rare double-reed instrument that is a part of the oboe family and is also known as the baritone oboe. It is about twice the size of the traditional soprano or treble oboe. The baritone oboe is often confused with its lower family member the heckelphone. Both the baritone oboe and the heckelphone were referred to as “bass oboes” in the early 20th Century but are equally different members of the oboe family of instruments.
The baritone oboe is pitched in concert C and plays an octave lower than written. Its lowest note is a B and on some fingerings, the baritone oboe can descend to a Bb which is one octave and a semitone below middle C. Thus, the baritone oboe’s purpose is to produce low sounds and to contribute low full tone quality to the orchestra.
There are more disadvantages than advantages to purchasing a bass oboe. The same is true for the heckelphone. Let’s have a further look into the pros and cons of the baritone and heckelphone.
Pros and Cons of the Bass Oboe
The baritone oboe and the heckelphone are not common instruments that one would find in any music store. There are only a few heckelphones (approximately 100 made worldwide) and baritone oboes (approximately 27 made in Japan) available worldwide. The reason for this is that there is no real need or demand for either instrument.
The repertoire is limited and thus the musicians who can play the instrument are also limited. According to some musicians and technicians, the oboes’ tone quality, in general, becomes poorer when it stretches to the lower registers.
Thus, the baritone oboe does not have the greatest reputation for tone quality and lacks consistency compared to the heckelphone. Composers would generally prefer to make use of the heckelphone as it has consistent and reliable sound production ability compared to the baritone oboe.
However, the heckelphone presents similar problems as the baritone oboe. Due to their rarity, the baritone oboe and the heckelphone are expensive instruments to purchase. So why purchase a baritone oboe or a heckelphone? If you are a composer and you have a big budget, then purchasing and making use of both bass oboes will certainly add a beautiful tone quality to your orchestration.
In my opinion, having both bass oboes in your orchestra also presents itself with some bragging rights. Investing in a bass oboe means investing in a musician with the ability to play the bass oboe as well, but there are few musicians that can play the instrument.
Alternatively, one could use a bassoon player or an oboe player to learn either of the bass oboes. To be clear the fingering of the bass oboe is not the same as the soprano oboe or the bassoon but, there are some similarities.
The musician would need some time to learn the instrument. Initially, the sound may not be very good as the musician will still have much to learn but, with time the orchestra will have the full sound of the bass oboe at its disposal.
|Produces a low and full tone to the oboe section. Acts as support to the other oboes.||It is a rare instrument to find.|
|You will have a rare instrument in your possession.||Few musicians can play the instrument due to its rarity. Music for the bass oboe is also limited.|
|A good bass oboe can act as an investment for future use.||A good bass oboe is expensive to purchase and expensive to maintain.|
|Produces a unique sound and tone quality that is poorly substituted by the bass clarinet.||Some argue that the tone quality is not well refined and can be replaced by a cheaper counterpart being the bass clarinet.|
|The heckelphone is the preferred “bass oboe” as opposed to the baritone oboe, by some musicians and composers.||The heckelphone is a rare instrument and it is expensive.|
|Both the heckelphone and the baritone oboe will add richness to the oboe section.||Both bass oboes are expensive, have minimal repertoire available and are rare instruments with few players.|
Bass oboe Pros and Cons: Summary
Bass oboe decision-making tips: Bass Oboe Brands
The first thing that you will need to consider is the various brands that produce and manufacture oboes. The following brands are, in my opinion, reliable manufacturers of the oboe: Buffet, Bulgheroni, Convey, Fox, Howorth, Kreul, Lorée, Laubin, Marigaux, MCW, Rigout, Selmer and Yamaha.
My top two brand choices for the bass oboe would be Marigaux and F. Loree. This is not to say that the other eleven brands are bad. This is my personal preference based on sound quality, tone production, and the similar opinions of my colleagues.
Marigaux is a reputable brand and has been producing oboes to some top oboists around the world for more than 85 years. The company pays close attention to detail to all their oboes as their technicians work closely with the needs of musicians.
F. Lorée is the oldest of the oboe brands and was founded in 1881. F. Lorée is one of the few oboe manufacturers that offer a bass oboe, and the company certainly has a very good reputation throughout the world for the bass oboe.
The F. Lorée bass oboe is a professional instrument, and it is made from grenadilla wood. The use of such a material is what separates the F. Lorée bass oboe from other brands.
However, this is not the only reason that I would recommend this brand. I like the functional design and key work of the Lorée family instruments. In addition, professional musicians have argued that the Lorée family instruments have a certain “sparkle” in the sound. This is something that I value in the oboes’ tone quality.
Bass Oboe Systems
The choosing of brands is but one step in the decision-making process. One must also consider the style and the automation of the oboe. The bass oboe comes in two different system automations and two different styles. The automations being either semi or fully-automated; and the different style refers to either the German or the French style.
The term semi-automatic and fully-automatic refers to the key systems, specifically the operation, of the octave keys on the oboe. The table below explains the characteristics of the semi- automated and fully-automated key systems of the bass oboe.
|Fully-automated system||Semi-automated system|
|The structure is complicated, and adjustments are difficult resulting in bad intonation. The manipulation of this system is simple, but there is no second octave key which adds to the off-key results of the complicated system structure.||There is a higher degree of fingering flexibility amongst the octave keys as the player can manipulate the first and second octave keys.|
|Preferred automation by the German style.||Preferred automation by the French style.|
The semi-automatic system is the popular choice and recommendation for beginners. However, I would recommend this automation for both beginners and professional players. Some professional musicians feel that the fully-automated system is more difficult to keep in optimum adjustment because of the design and placement of the keys.
|German Style of the Bass Oboe||French Style of the Bass Oboe|
|Known as the Wiener style oboe.||Known as the Conservatoire style oboe.|
|This was the mainstream oboe in the 19th Century based on the 3 keyed system of the 18th century oboe.||This is currently the mainstream oboe style preferred by many professionals as it has an advanced key system that matches the demand of today’s music. It gives the musician the ability to play high volume and high speed songs.|
|Some professionals state that it has a nasal-sound with bright and rich tones.||Some musicians state that it produces a quality tone that gives a “sparkle” to the sound.|
|Can be considered as a specialized instrument pertaining to a particular style.||Popular with beginner players and professional players who prefer the Wiener oboe.|
More Decision-Making Tips (General Tips)
When making the decision to buy any instrument, one should also consider the following:
1. Instrument Pricing
Instruments in general can vary in price according to the materials used to make the instrument, the brand name, make and model etc.
The bass oboe in its entirety is a rare instrument of the oboe family, said to only have one true purpose and that is to be used in Holst’s suit The Planets. Because of its rarity one should consider purchasing a good bass oboe made from reliable and strong material.
The Lorée bass oboe is that of a high caliber. The average price for a Lorée bass oboe ranges from $12500- $15000 depending on added optional features. Optional features refer to the full or semi-automatic key systems.
1.1 Resale Value
In terms of the bass oboe, spending a large sum of money is necessary as one should also consider the resale value.
Advanced instruments such as the Lorée baritone oboe, maintain and sometimes increase in value.
With most woodwind instruments, there is a more flexible range in pricing, but the Lorée baritone oboe is specially made for the musician and there are no cheaper alternatives as the bass oboe has no grades like other instruments.
2. Tone Quality
The tone quality is an important aspect to music making. The instrument material plays an important role in sound production and tone quality.
2.2 Different Wood Types
Grenadilla Wood: Grenadilla wood is a dark/black color type of wood. It is often used to make black oboes and offers a relative density with the advantage of projecting sound further. This type of material is best suited for instruments that play in large concert halls.
Rosewood: Rosewood is a brown-colored type of wood that is also used to make oboes and other woodwind instruments. The sound does not project as far as grenadilla wood, but the tones produced from rosewood are very distinct. Instruments made from rosewood are better suited for chamber music.
In my opinion it would be best to purchase a bass oboe made from grenadilla wood as the instrument is predominantly played in the orchestra. Orchestras play in large concert halls and the instrument’s sound must be able to fill the space of the hall.
3. Servicing and General Maintenance
All instruments, whether they are entry level or advanced instruments, need to be serviced every year. The purpose of the service is to make sure that the keys are in alignment and that there are no air leaks, which cause intonation problems.
It is important to choose an instrument made from a good quality material. Instruments made from cheaper materials become out of tune faster and are often difficult to repair. If you are going to invest in an instrument you must not cut corners and must be prepared to pay annual service fees.
Most popular branded instruments such as the Lorée baritone oboe, come with warranties. I would recommend opting for an instrument with a warranty and/or service plan.
My brand and style of choice would be the F. Lorée semi-automated bass oboe. The bass oboe is a rare and expensive instrument. If you are considering purchasing a bass oboe, then you need to bring your wallet.
The Lorée family of oboe instruments is the oldest and most prestigious brand of the oboe. The Lorée bass oboe is the Rolls-Royce of bass oboes, and the semi-automated system will provide the versatility that is needed to make beautiful music.
Final Advice to the Buyer:
- I would suggest that the prospective buyer try the instruments from the various manufacturers before making a final decision. It is important for the buyer to do thorough research before purchasing a bass oboe, but the buyer should not only rely on the internet for information. The buyer could either spend time in Paris or better yet, attend the annual IDRS (International Double Reed Society) Conference.
- The buyer would need to check for evenness of scale and the natural tone production when trying out the instrument.
- Do not get carried away by fancy features. The latest models have a third-octave key which is nice for playing anything in the third register. However, the limited repertoire does not require the player to use it as the music rarely goes into the ledger lines.
Answer: The bass oboe is expensive in general due to its material and rarity. The Lorée bass oboe is approximately $12500-$15000. The price is determined by the features of the instrument and may increase if one decides to add additional features.
Answer: No, the oboe is written in and uses the treble clef. The oboe and the bass oboe are both pitched to concert C. However, the bass oboe sounds an octave (and a semitone lower for the lower Bb models) lower than the commonly known soprano/treble oboe.
Answer: The bass oboe is pitched in C. This is similar to the common oboe; however, the bass oboe sounds an octave lower.
Answer: Oboes in general are expensive for different reasons. The most common reason is the cost of expensive woods and other materials used to craft the oboe. The bass oboe is no exception to this but, is also expensive due to its larger size relative to the soprano oboe, and due to its rarity.