now is the time

June 14, 1892

Dear Sir!

I send herewith your oboe, it is a fine beautiful instrument, which will give good satisfaction & much pleasure which you will like better the more you get used to it. Should in course of time anything turn up that you would like to have changed or altered, just let me know it please & I will have done if by any means possible. Wishing You good success and much pleasure with the new instrument, I remain

Yours very respectfully,

S. Berteling

(Letter in the New York State Museum Archives, Albany)

Summary for Everyday Use:

  1. Don't blow warm air into a cold instrument. If an instrument is cold, open the case and let the instrument warm up to room temperature.

  2. Swab out the upper joint every ten to fifteen minutes if the instrument is new. This is especially important in order to prevent cracks in the top joint. My suggestion is to put whatever you clean your instrument with right on the stand, and use it! To the extent possible, try not to play a new instrument for any lengthy periods of time. If you can keep the instrument dry inside, and gradually increase the playing time, you'll be doing the best you can for any new instrument.

  3. Use a tiny paint brush to brush the dust and debris off the instrument.

  4. Purchase a small humidifier for the case, and be sure it is full during the months of the year that humidity is low wherever you live.

  5. If possible, alternate the use of your new and used oboe (if you have one) every other day for at least the first four to six weeks in order for the bore of the new instrument to dry out completely. There are a number of people out there who believe it takes forty-eight hours for the bore to dry completely. I don’t know if they are right, but why take the chance if you don’t have to?

  6. If you are sure your instrument is all wood without a liner in the top joint, oil the upper joint bore with a turkey feather once a month for the life of the instrument. Use almond oil. Put just one drop on the end of a feather and oil the bore as if you were cleaning out the instrument.

The Care And Feeding Of Your New Oboe


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Oiling The Mechanism

Everyone has different ideas about this, but one thing is certain: an instrument not oiled regularly will lose years of its useful playing life, since the key mechanism will deteriorate if it isn't taken care of properly. Do be sure to oil the key mechanism of your oboe at least once or twice a year. Use just a tiny drop at each location; oil dripped onto pads or into tone holes can cause real problems, so being very conservative really pays off.



Here are two helpful tips on crack prevention:

Suggestion #1:  A room humidifier. A great way to humidify your instrument is to humidify the room it lives in. My suggestion is something big enough to hold at least several gallons of water. I change the filters regularly and also put a small amount of Clorox into the water from time to time to take care of any bacteria. The humidifier I use in my shop has three settings, and the low setting is very quiet. Try to avoid the noisy humidifiers—which is most of them. A humidifier is a great investment to protect against cracks and bore shrinkage. There is an extensive choice of humidifiers available on

For small case humidifiers, Humistat makes humidifiers that fit in the little reed case slot in most cases. These are available from most double reed accessory shops.

Bores shrink and keys bind up as a result of cold weather and low humidity. Major bore shrinkage can have very negative results in how your instrument performs. It can quite literally play like a different instrument, and I don’t mean this as a positive.

Suggestion #2:  Don't blow warm air through a cold instrument. If you arrive at a rehearsal or concert and your instrument is cold, put down your instrument case, open it, and leave it while you get everything else organized. This way the instrument comes to room temperature on its own. Warm air & cold oboes spell disaster. Some cracks are more serious than others. The traditional spots to watch for are: 1) between the tone holes of the two trill keys and 2) everything going north from the half hole, including all the posts. The second areas to keep an eye on are the places where wood covers metal, i.e. the top of the middle joint and the top of the bell. Wood can shrink over a metal tenon, which cannot shrink. We all know what happens next. The good news is that these cracks are far less serious, and don’t go anywhere.  If you've bought an instrument and it cracks on the top joint, stop playing it, contact your repairer, and don't wait for the crack to get worse. It's important that cracks be caught and repaired as soon as possible. This is also true for used instruments that haven't been played regularly for some time. They should be reintroduced to playing gradually, as if they had never been played. I call this a mini-break-in period. It can be quite a bit shorter than a new instrument, but the owner still needs to be very careful getting the instrument acclimatized to being played again.


Oiling the Bore

Oiling the bore of an instrument has been a controversial issue. The late American oboe maker Paul Covey recommended oiling the bore of his instruments once a day during the break-in period up to one month. On the flip side of the coin, Hans Moennig said never do it! People who have advised against oiling the bore of an instrument usually do so for one of two reasons: first, they are concerned that oil doesn't get on the pads and, second, no one should be oiling the bore of a plastic instrument, or one with a bore liner. This includes all plastic oboes, all instruments with synthetic top joints, most Laubin oboes, and all the instruments available with liners these days—Howarths, Yamahas, Foxes, etc. If you are completely sure that you have a wooden instrument without a liner, and if you aim your oiled feather along the south side of the bore instead of where the pads are, you will be doing the right thing. Since players I work with started following these recommendations, my crack work decreased by about 30%. So I know it works!

Oil the bore of a new instrument once a week for the first few months, gradually decreasing the frequency after that. A good rule of thumb is once a month for the life of the instrument once the instrument is completely broken in. Use a feather that has been dipped in one drop of almond oil. Virtually all health food stores sell almond oil. Just remember that since it is natural and organic, it will go rancid after about two years. Do replace it after that time period, simply because rancid almond oil doesn’t do any oboe any good, and it smells awful, too. If you have a second instrument, alternate them, playing the new instrument every second day, and for very short periods of time, keeping the bore as dry as possible. Gradually increase the playing time, and try to keep to the every other day program as long as you can. This also applies to older instruments that haven't been played in years.

Here's the raison dÍtre of it all: the oil will help prevent moisture/water from expanding the inner bore. Cracks in the top joint are the result of the inner bore getting wet and expanding, while the outside remains as it was—dry. The wood's reaction to this stress is a crack, and this is why so many new instruments crack where all that moisture condenses in the upper joint.


How to Keep Your Instrument Looking and Playing Like New

Even if you've just bought your oboe, sooner or later nearly all of us sell an instrument. For this reason, it's important to realize that the initial visual impression of an instrument (plus its case and case cover) can have what seems like a disproportionate effect on a prospective buyer's willingness to consider an instrument.  So it is a good idea to give your instrument the best possible care from Day One. Some obvious suggestions born out of my experience selling used instruments:

  1. Keep the key mechanism oiled. This prolongs the mechanical life of the oboe, helps prevent rust and corrosion, and helps keep the action quiet.

  2. Keep dust and feather debris off your instrument. A tiny paintbrush used occasionally will prevent dust, dirt, and whatever from getting into the rods of the mechanism. Debris slows down the action of the key work. If you use a feather to clean your instrument, keep it away from the instrument itself (i.e. don’t keep it inside the case with the instrument), since little bits of feathers can get into the mechanism of the instrument.

  3. Keep the plating of your instrument looking nice. Most jewelry stores sell silver polishing cloths, as do many double reed accessory shops. The use of one from time to time will do wonders for maintaining the condition of the plating. Experience indicates that prospective buyers don't like instruments with worn plating, or with plating that is dark with tarnish, pitting, etc.

  4. Keep your instrument in good repair while you own it. This makes your life as a musician a whole lot easier, and it can save you a huge repair bill for deferred maintenance when an instrument is put up for sale.  Far better to enjoy an instrument in good repair while you own it!

  5. Finally, try your best not to crack your instrument. Nothing, but nothing rattles a potential buyer like a long crack, no matter how well repaired it is.