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Oboe/middle c too low/out of tune

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Question
Hello Joel,
happy new year, first of all!
I'm very glad that you have an open ear for the problems of "double-reeders"! Mine is an oboe with an intolerably low middle c. The instrument is a nice "Sonora" from about 1985, which so far gave me little trouble. It is in good order technically (as far as I can discern) and I can't detect any initial cause for its malfunction. It didn't happen all of a sudden but rather crept in gradually. I did change my embouchure recently from "rather rigid" so "relaxed", which I consider a step in the right direction. With my other oboes (Marigaux, Kreul, Wetzel, Markart) I experienced no such problems but rather a slight improvement of the tune. Hopefully, the problem turns out to be harmless and can be solved with a turn of some adjustment-screw or other. What do you think?
Apart from my question concerning this specific middle-c bug, I'm very interested in your view on the topic of voicing oboes which are out of tune. Is this really possible? What gets oboes out of tune? How can they be fixed (re-reaming, other position of tone holes?)? Can the result justify the necessary expense of time an money?
Thank you very much for your help! I appreciate your commitment!
Kind regard
Hans

Answer
Guten tag, Hans.  We "double reeders" have to stick together!  As you probably know, middle C is always a fickle note.  The smaller number of keys that are depressed on any note the less stable that note will be.  That's why D is much more stable than A, B or C.  It's tricky to determine the cause so we will need to do some troubleshooting.  There are basically 3 screws that will affect C.  However, I need to add that if any of these are out of adjustment, it should affect other notes - especially those in the lower register.  So the first question: is the C the only note that's affected or are you finding more difficulty in playing notes in the lower register?  If so, then there's a good chance that one of the 3 screws are in need of adjustment.  If only the C is affected, than my guess is that something else is happening. The 3 screws that are my focus are the first of the 2 double screws between the A and G keys.  This one governs the Bb vent key (the small key just below the B key.  If that key is open just slightly, that will affect the upper register (as well as the lower).  The next is the screw between the B and A key; this one governs the C vent key.  Finally is the set screw adjacent to the G key.  That determines the G key closure.  These all have to be in balance.  So, when you depress the F key, it should cause the C vent key to close tightly,  You can check this by inserting a strip of cigarette paper (not gummed) under the C vent key.  Depress the F key and try test the tension of the cigarette paper.  If it slides out too easily, that would suggest that the key is leaking and you would need to adjust the set screw.  This needs to be done very carefully and making only slight turns.  Otherwise, if it is too closed, that will affect other keys.  Other than adjusting those keys, There are only 2 other possibilities I can think of:  some structural issues with the oboe, and embouchure.  Certainly over time, the bore can be affected.  You said that your change in embouchure hasn't affected your other instruments.  Probably means that this is not the issue; however, each instrument is different and a change in embouchure will affect different instruments differently.  So, I can't totally rule that out.  If the set screws are adjusted correctly and the problem persists, I think it may be time to take the instrument to a good oboe repair specialist and get his or her opinion.  In terms of voicing, I personally have never had it done to my instruments (didn't need to), I do know that there are others in the field who have with good results.  For example, I know that Peter Hurd who sells used oboes often sends them out for re-voicing.  I hope that this is helpful.  Let me know if you have any further questions.  Joel

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Joel Simon

Expertise

Reed making, oboe technique, oboe adjustments. PLEASE NOTE, NO QUESTIONS ABOUT OBOE VINTAGE OR VALUE. THAT INCLUDES SERIAL NUMBERS, AGE OF INSTRUMENTS, AND HOW MUCH THEY MIGHT BE WORTH; AND THAT INCLUDES WHERE YOU MIGHT FIND SUCH INFORMATION. THESE QUESTIONS WILL BE REJECTED.

Experience

I've played oboe for over 40 years. During that time I've played and performed in many ensembles including full orchestras, chamber orchestras, and wind quintets. I've played as both an amateur and professionally. Out of necessity, I've learned how to care for the oboe, make adjustments and repair when necessary.

Education/Credentials
I studied with Robert Sprenkle at Eastman School of Music preparatory department and 3 years privately with Lois Wann. I've also studied with Robert Eliscu.

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