Why oboes cost the earth

Why oboes cost the earth

News

norman lebrecht

October 05, 2022

A high-end oboe can cost $14,000, four times as much as top flute.

Why is that? Something to do with scarce African blackwood and rare craftsmanship.

Watch.

Comments

  • MarcelMouse says:

    $14,000 is about the same as a professional flute. If there’s a top flute that costs a quarter of this I’d like to know about it!

  • Andreas B. says:

    flutists might not agree with that estimate …

  • lamed says:

    What are you talking about? Even a casual google search would pull up gold flutes easily at $30,000.

    Some are so expensive, you have to write them for a price quote.

    As J.P. Morgan said: “If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.”

  • Oliver says:

    “Cost the earth”? 14 000$ is very little for a top musical instrument. Ask string players…

  • Gerry McDonald says:

    There are fine professional oboes available for much less than this and flutes which are more expensive. Please check the facts!

  • Mike Aldren says:

    So how much is a gold flute or a high quality wooden one that uses African blackwood too?

  • JB says:

    Utterly cheap compared to bassoons, which are not made of African blackwood, except for French bassoons.

  • Paul Joschak says:

    Poppycock!! A top end flute can easily cost 10 – 15 K, and if it has gold in it, even more.

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    $14,000 can hardly get get one a professional level violin, let alone a bow.
    Classical music is expensive

    • David K. Nelson says:

      If things keep going they way they have been, soon $14,000 won’t get you a fresh set of strings!

  • STEPHEN BIRKIN says:

    A fascinating video, but surely it’s quite old: $14000 dollars doesn’t seem a lot these days for the workmanship that goes into manufacture. As I understand it, a professional standard flute can cost in excess of £20,000 (not dollars, although at the moment they’re almost the same!), so what price an oboe?

  • Dragonetti says:

    Well, $14,000 is a lot certainly but have a little sympathy for the string players , especially those just starting their career. New instruments are cheaper relatively but might not sound their best for years; old ones are lovely if you can find one that suits and then find the money.
    I have every sympathy with all players these days and all professional life is difficult. Sometimes it’s good to be older and on the way out!

  • Hayne says:

    They also can cost the ears…

  • E. Pahud says:

    Um yeah, the top flutes can cost upwards to almost 50k. Hard to believe you are this ignorant.

    • J.P. Rampant says:

      Actually, the maximum price fluctuates between $150,000 and $200,000 depending on gold prices, availability of materials, and demand. Those owners can literally tell certain people that their flute costs as much as their house (or Ferrari or whatever).

  • James Michael McGraw says:

    one of the more interesting articles i have listened to

  • TITUREL says:

    $14K will get you about 5 hairs on a good violin bow. Or a Fazzioli piano bench.

    • archets? says:

      14k for a violin bow.??
      That’s rubbish.
      There’s plenty of high quality in the 2-5K area, inc can you believe it (?)
      BRAND NEW, just as good or better than all those over-rated worn out french ones.

  • Jake says:

    Um… how about bassoon?

  • Anon-a-mouse says:

    How are you defining a “top flute” ? It is quite easy to spend the same or more for a custom Powell flute, for example, in sterling silver and more for a platinum model. Not uncommon for pros and top students to own these.

    Craftsmanship costs whether flute or oboe or bassoon. Then add the price of materials.

    Have you priced out a custom flute headjoint in gold? Not to mention a fully gold custom flute. Nice rose gold Haynes advertised for double the $14,000 mentioned. ($30,150, Powell version 36,120)

    Welcome to the world of the professional woodwind players.

  • Catherine Boese says:

    As a flutist, I have to dispute this. Professional handmade silver flutes tend to fall within this $10,00-14,000 range. But because materials like gold in 9k, 14k, 18k, 24k, and even platinum are available and are becoming increasingly popular, most flutists spend well over $20,000. I’ve seen some flutes marked as $64,000 or higher. Grenadilla flutes do tend to have a similar price range to these oboes.

  • Fluteplayer says:

    A top flute ( all gold) can cost 60.000 to 90.000 euro

  • Alank says:

    Norman. Oboe players have it easy on their wallets compared to Bassoonists. Last I heard, a Heckel bassoon cost more than $60,000 and a Contra even more. So if you have both, it might cost you more than $125K. A good crook cost about a $1,000. There are cheaper ones but they wont get you into the Berlin Phil or Cleveland Orchestra. Of course Oboe players spend a lot more money on psychiatrists since they typically go nuts trying to make a reed that will work for more than one piece on one program! If you want cheap, play the trombone.; no valves, no reeds and you get to make everyone who sits in front of you go deaf!,

  • Jake Keller says:

    Four times the cost of a top flute?? Hardly. My silver flute, which is pretty typical of a “top flute” was 17k four years ago. Gold flutes, not rare, can go for 30k, platinum, very rare, for 70k. Still a better bargain than an oboe. Flutes can last for many decades; not so for top instruments made of precious wood.

  • drummerman says:

    I’m certainly no expert but I was under the impression that top quality professional flutes cost many thousands of dollars.

  • J Barcelo says:

    Four times the cost of a fluTte? I have a musician friend who paid $16,000 for a Nagahara flute last year. Look up the price of a Haynes platinum flute – close to $200,000.

  • Flutist says:

    This is factually incorrect. Professional Flutes start at $15,000 and then go up $89,000

  • Christian Halstead says:

    You could probably buy a half-decent violin bow for $14,000.

  • alexy says:

    a top flute is much more (4 time) than 14.000€

  • minacciosa says:

    Meanwhile, violinists weep at how tremendously inexpensive oboes are relative to professional quality string instruments and bows!

  • Franz says:

    Top flutes can cost MANY times more than oboes (could be over $75,000!). Great reporting from SD where you watched the first 10 seconds of the video and didn’t question the accuracy…

  • Vince says:

    Why would you want to buy an oboe when a trombone costs half the price – and it plays so much louder!

  • Girolamo says:

    Last Stradivarius violin sold in a private sell was about 10 million USD. Just putting this out for perspective.

  • A flutist says:

    $3500 for a “top” flute? I’d love to know where!

  • Andreas says:

    It’s a fun video to watch – with a lot of misleading information, unfortunately. Properly aged Grenadilla is actually quite affordable (a clarinet bell blank e.g. is less than $5), and it’s an endangered species not because of the musical instrument building industry but because it’s widely used for furniture. Ever shopped for a top-of-the-line professional flute? It can cost twice as much as an oboe…

  • MusicBear88 says:

    I have no idea where they got the figure that a top flute costs only $3,500. A handmade flute in silver made by the American brands of Powell, Haynes, Burkhart, or Brannen costs between $14-17,000, and gold flutes can run two to three times that easily. A professional oboe starts around $8,500.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    There are alternatives for the rare wood.

    It is becoming a thing for high-end clarinets to be made with “ebonite” which is often thought to be plastic but is really hard rubber.

    https://www.ellisflutes.com/blog/what-is-ebonite

  • Hector says:

    “That’s more than four times the price of a high-end professional flute.”

    Yeah. Good luck playing in a high-end professional orchestra on a $3,000 flute. A $3,000 is literally a piece of junk compared to a true high-end professional flute which costs either five or sometimes six figures.

  • Oboe you didn’t says:

    Um…where are you getting your figures for “top” flute prices? While it’s assuredly true that decent intermediate level instruments can be found for $3,000-$4,000, “top” flutes routinely sell for upwards of $20,000.

  • Pino Mirandola says:

    AH, a top Gold flute, which is common among orchestral players, can cost up to $40,000 or more!

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    A Nirschl, Melton or Adams copy of the famous 6/4 size Chicago Symphony York C tuba – a very standard fixture among orchestral tuba players – runs 20K or more. Add in an additional 15K for a top drawer F tuba (also a necessary fixture), and your up to around 35K. That’s not mention if also want to own a tenor tuba (euphonium) and/or a cimbasso. It gets expensive fast.

  • TNVol says:

    Oboe makers are not on every street corner. THAT is the reason for the price.

  • Joan Sparks says:

    Actually, top flutes sell for as much as 4 times a top oboe. We have a flute for sale here at Flute Pro Shop priced at $53,000. Very expensive metals and exquisite hand workmanship.

  • Susan Bradley says:

    A top-level tuba is at least double the price you are quoting for an oboe. Most tuba players need to own several instruments. $14K would scarcely buy you a second hand instrument good enough for tertiary study.

  • Freewheeler says:

    $14,000? Chickenfeed to the likes of me.

  • E Rand says:

    Siri – how much is a fine violin and fine bow?

  • Liz says:

    This is fascinating… and it’s a real pity they took away from the story with the ridiculous and false comparison to the cost of a high end flute (my Muramatsu SR new off the shelf – their highest end silver flute – is $13,500 and that’s with no add-on features!) nevermind the fact that flutes, oboes and clarinets cost literally nothing compare to a good string instrument!

  • Ben G. says:

    Any instrument that sits on a chair or lays on a table does not make music on its own, at whatever the cost may be.

  • Steven says:

    My understanding is that a full-time professional oboist will need to replace his or her oboe every four to five years. Am I wrong?

    • Anthony Robson says:

      There’s no doubt that they do ‘blow out’ and furthermore unlike fine string instruments they decrease in value so are certainly not an investment.

  • Robin Arthur Blick says:

    Then there’s the reeds…

  • Djeedo says:

    Basson-Players will laughing out loud….60.000,- for a Heckel Fagott if you are lucky…and you have to wait aprox 7 years!

  • Dominic Stafford says:

    You can easily pay that for a top quality professional trumpet. In short, the technical skill needed to make almost any professional-grade instrument very much in demand and therefore very expensive…

  • TuttiFlutie says:

    Flutist here. My headjoint alone is worth $14,000.

    Crazy wrong info in this post. String players, flutists & maybe bassoonists have the most expensive instruments. Oboes & clarinets are way down on the food chain.

  • AD says:

    Everything very fascinating. I don’t know anything about the prices of top quality flutes or oboes. But most of the comments here are comparing the price of the oboe in the video (15000$) with full gold or platinum flutes, which I don’t think is a fair comparison (although I agree that the claim in the video is certainly misleading at least).
    My question: does anybody know how much a top of the range oboe can cost? I mean, one of those used in e.g. the Berliners or any major orchestra? That to me would be a better comparison with a full gold flute.
    And another question, for sake of curiosity (again forgive my ignorance). A part from the raw material (platinum/gold), what does make a top of the range flutes so expensive to make?
    Thank you

    • Ellie says:

      Yep I do. I sold oboes for a living. They’re about the $15000 quoted in this film – give or take. The ‘professional’ range of oboes doesn’t really differ for the true elite from what the music college students use – it’s the same oboes, keys and work involved, you can’t better the manufacture, it just comes down to feel/tone. It’s actually much better NOT to have one custom made so you can choose on tone from a range. Some people (depends on country as to how much this happens) choose gold plate which puts the price up a lot but it’s just bling and no difference to tone as that comes from the wood.

      As a former oboe manufacturer employee, let me tell you the cost of the wood is NOT really what impacts the cost of the instrument. It’s the labour hours and CNC machinery needed to make it. It’s the fact that it’s such a small business worldwide every part you use costs more. It’s the fact that there’s a high after-sales warranty cost. The wood doesn’t cost a lot, to be honest. It’s the same wood on a student instrument at 1/5 of the cost. You just pick bits that look smoother, and maybe store it a tiny bit longer. But they all use the same.

      With flutes, I’m not an expert but I knowing the repair/servicing required from my time selling oboes, I just don’t think the labour cost for making them can be as high as oboes -they are vastly simpler mechanics, set-up, finishing etc. I have a feeling expensive flutes have much better profit margins than oboes!!

      Silly to compare at all really.
      Also – top oboists do change their oboes every few years. Depends on your climate/mythology – in the States they get changed much more frequently than in the UK.

      (Bassoons last a lifetime – so probably equals out anyway)

      • AD says:

        Thank you very much. Very informative.

      • TuttiFlutie says:

        I’m sure you’re right about the profit margin on expensive flutes. Pro flute sellers (both the companies that make them & the representatives they sell through) are, shall we say, very “present” about marketing their expensive instruments. And because the world is vastly over populated with fine flutists who are mostly out of work, there’s no shortage of buyers who can be convinced that forking over $30K or more for an instrument is necessary for their career.

        Makers of expensive flutes are now often short on customer service (limited repair service for those who’ve purchased their flutes, charging for appraisals, not a lot of loyalty or professional support to flutists who’ve spent big bucks to play their brand) & focus heavily just on selling, selling, selling.

        Something needs adjusting on your expensive new instrument? Forget taking it back to the company that made it. They’re most likely too busy trying to sell new flutes to address it.

        The big flute companies often employ sales reps who tend to embed themselves (or at least try to), in the flute community. They can be very annoying. They are usually just other flute players who can’t get an orch or teaching job who’ve found they can make a living pushing expensive flutes for a commission to other flutists.

        Selling expensive flutes has evolved, unfortunately, from thoughtful small businesses creating fine, hand-crafted instruments, offering impeccable customer loyalty, to a giant impersonal car lot of costly instruments for sale focused on sales volume & the highest possible profit margin. Very sad. . .

        • MarcelMouse says:

          Worth pointing out that many great flute players have used 19th C flutes by makers such as Louis Lot. It is hard to fault the sound of someone like William Bennett who used these instruments and often favoured silver plate over solid silver. Gold and platinum instruments may be fine instruments but they are not the key to a great sound – that is skill. Playing on gold is a bit like violinists saying that they need a fine Italian instrument to be taken seriously in their career. It’s about prestige and Emperor’s new clothes often applies

  • Margaret Koscielny says:

    We live in a time where money is the first thought that comes from people discussing anything. Art and Music have become victims of this obsession, as well. In addition, such discussion discourage young artists dreaming of a career, while giving bad ideas to criminals who see yet another thing to snatch or steal.

    It ought to be possible for musicians to play on instruments which do not cost an arm and a leg. Greed on the part of manufacturers can only be the reason.

  • Andrew Condon says:

    Wind and brass players should be very thankful that at whatever level of financial outlay they are considering, questions of provenance and attribution of their instruments by and large do not arise. Far from the case with string instruments – from my own experience the violin trade (here in the UK) is a pretty murky business. A violin that I purchased in good faith from a “respected” local dealer 30 years ago has recently been assessed by a leading expert in Paris and has been discredited as a fake. Worth about 10 – 15% of purchase price from 30 years ago, as against approximately 2.5 times original purchase price if it were genuine.

  • Ellie says:

    Just a thought about all these comments comparing top flutes/oboes/other instruments.
    The thing that’s such a barrier with oboes is the ENTRY LEVEL still needs so many hand-constructed elements it’s vastly more expensive than almost all brass, strings and other woodwind except bassoon. It’s impossible to make them cheaply like clarinets. A student oboe is least 5x the cost ‘like-for-like’ student model flute/clarinet. It’s this end of the scale where oboes are expensive, not really the top end.

  • Martin Schmidt says:

    Just to give some facts, a handmade flute made of silver (or wood with silver keys) is around that, € 15.000.-. There are flutes in the market (24 k Tube, 18k keys) for a catalogue price more than
    € 150.000.- (no number as error !). Reasonable quite good flutes are available for about € 2.500.- to € 4.000.-. But of course, ist’s always the player, not the Instrument nor its price. Regards Martin

  • Igor says:

    Good grief. This post proves that Norman doesn’t know much at all about wind instruments (or instruments in general). Stick to obituaries and telling us what person from what country did whatever.

  • Ned Roarem says:

    That’s nothing. The Style 23 harp, the gold standard of concert harps for well over 100 years, is now $39,700! And how many harpists earn enough in a lifetime to have a second harp, if not more? Not many. It’s not like every orchestra has a section of four. But they have no problems paying for an extra violinist.

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