A Trip to Hannah’s Oboes

September 5, 2009

The Howarth XL with the plastic topjoint sold to someone in Lynnwood, and this past Thursday I took a trip to Hannah Selznick and tried some 30 oboes or so. I love trying out new oboes of different vintages, and it always helps me solidify my preconceived notions of what the tendencies of different years and makes are.

This trip was particularly a little fun, because my good friend Adam Shapiro recently came down and tried out some oboes from her home, and so it was a game of “Guess which oboe Adam liked” as well. I was 2 for 2, and interestingly enough, we both liked the same oboes.

One of the first instruments I tried there was LS13 AK C+3 which had a very deep and covered sound. This oboe is the prototypical AK Loree. I instantly knew this was one that Adam liked, because his Howarths are all very, VERY dark and sweet sounding and I recognized the same qualities in this instrument. I played it 4 or 5 times for several minutes each time, and while it was certainly “dark” enough and deep enough, I know that ultimately I would grow a little bored with it, because in my studies currently, we’re particularly working on varying depth and color in the sound, and I felt a little too “locked in” to the dark. I’m sure this instrument will sell very quickly.

Another oboe both Adam and I liked was a QS54 C+3 regular bore, which is in immaculate condition (like new!). In fact, all of the steel and the springs still felt tight, and snappy, which I prefer. If I was looking for a workhorse oboe to play on 4 or 5 hours a day, I would certainly be looking at this instrument with a lot of thought. It has the darkness of a Royal, but the flexibility of a normal bore instrument, and a particularly sweet tone. However, my intent is to purchase an instrument which is not to be my #1 instrument (since I already have my beloved Hiniker) but rather to have a backup that I feel comfortable picking up on a dime. There’s also a matter of finances, and this instrument priced at $5,800 would have stretched my budget.

I was shocked to find that Hannah still had the oboe that I was drawn to back in December (when I came to Arizona for a visit with Martin). The MJ72 with a Philly high D key is a normal bore, in pristine condition and has a beautiful core to the tone with tons of ring. The upper register sings and soars with massive overtones, and the tuning “sits up” better than 90% of the Lorees I’ve played. It was not surprising to me to find that the bell had been bore adjusted by David Weber, which gave it it’s massive overtones and enormous projection. When I asked Hannah why on earth hasn’t this oboe been sold, she told me that a lot of people call up only looking for AK’s, or only looking for instruments with a third octave key. This was a bit baffling to me, because I find myself generally turning away from AK’s and never use my third octave key for anything, but to each his/her own I suppose.

The final instrument was a DD that she was selling on consignment. It was in pretty rough shape, but when I played it, it felt like there was a lot of life in it, but was severely out of adjustment and so I figured I’d hold onto it.

I left Hannah’s house with three oboes new under my arm: the QS, MJ, and the DD and promptly drove over to Mr. Weber’s shop. Mr. Weber, being the gracious, generous man that he is, dropped everything to play the three instruments with me. We also used his own personal oboe (a CC) plus a couple of Weber bells to try them all out. He agreed with me on my evaluation of all of them after I initially played them all for him, and then we went into experiment mode.

Because the MJ oboe bell was already bore adjusted by David, there wasn’t a whole lot of difference switching bells on and off the instrument. What did become even more interesting though was that we decided to take the MJ top joint, his CC bore adjusted middle joint, and the MJ bell and try that out to see what it would be like after the bottom joint was bore adjusted as well. The results were fantastic, and it still makes me drool just thinking about it. While the projection and beautiful core was there, the tone actually filled in, giving it a deeper, darker, and fuller sound. It doesn’t make sense when you think about it: more wood being reamed off and producing a DARKER sound, but I guess it has to do with sonics, an area I know very little in. I’ve never played a more modern instrument like the MJ that felt so much like a “C series” but wasn’t, and the fact that the MJ is practically in new shape, makes me believe that it will be around for a long long time, without having to worry about posts loosening or steel wearing down.

Mr. Weber generously resurfaced all of the topjoint pads on the DD so that it sealed. Then we tried the topjoint on his bottom joint and bell, and the oboe was also fantastic, and we both agreed the DD topjoint was far superior to his own. The instrument still needs a lot of work; some posts need to be anchored so that they don’t turn and make the keys buckle, and there are numerous pads that need replacing, but we both agreed that it has the potential to be something special.

After a day to think about this all, and keeping in mind that I’m shopping for a backup oboe, and with a limited budget, I made an offer on the DD oboe and it was accepted. I put my name on the Weber Reeds oboe repair list and will give David carte blanche to do as he sees fit in order to get the instrument up to good working order. I’ll also have him bore adjust it, and cross my fingers! Meanwhile, sadly enough the QS and MJ will be going back to Hannah, but she’s happy I found an oboe that suits me and will serve me well. The only reservation I have about the instrument is that it’s old, and it’s bound to get some more loose posts, or need more attention, but I figure I’ll be in Arizona for the next four years (a relatively stable climate as it goes from hot temperature and dry humidity, to wind-breaker weather and dry humidity) and will be close to David’s shop in case something on the instrument goes nuts, so there’s some safety in that. Plus, this instrument will be a backup, so it won’t go through as much playing as my last CI oboe.

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