The Sax Player painting
The Sax Player, painting by Will Richwood
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Oboe FAQ & Technical Info


The most common problem on oboes is the adjusting screws.  Every player should know how to adjust those because they go out of adjustment so easily and so frequently.

1)      Look at where the tip of the screw touches the key.  There should be something there to soften the contact, usually a piece of cork.  If that’s worn through and you hear a “click” when the screw contacts the key, you should take the instrument to a repairman for replacement.  The recommended material is sheet Teflon.  It’s tough and durable, but at the same time it will reduce the key noise where the screw contacts the key.

2)      Is the screw loose (too easy to turn)?  If yes, back the screw out so the threads are exposed and put a drop of “lock-tite” or a similar material on the threads to tighten the connection.  In an emergency you can use nail polish or a small drop of glue, but lock-tite is the recommended material and is easily available at any auto parts or hardware store.  Don’t try to apply the material directly to the screw right out of the bottle!  It will make a mess.  Instead, put the material on a hard surface (like the bottom of a tin or aluminum car), then use a tooth pick or paperclip to pick up a drop of material and apply that to the screw.

3)      A.    Use a piece of cigarette paper cut into a long thin wedge as a feeler gauge. 

                 B.      Turn the adjusting screw so the key with your finger on it is closing, and the other key is not.

                C.      Turn the screw until it almost touches, but there’s still just a little bit of space between the screw and the key.  When you press down on the key that closes with your finger, the other pad will still move a little.  You should be able to hear that when you play the instrument:  finger the note you’re testing and it should be a little “fuzzy”, then use another finger to press down on the key under the screw and the fuzziness should go away.

                D.      Turn the screw just a little tiny tiny amount and test it again with the feeler gauge: put it under the key under your finger and pull it out, then put it under the other key and pull it out. When adjusted correctly it should be difficult to pull the feeler gauge out from the key under your finger, and barely possible to pull it out from the key under the screw.  DON’T OVER TIGHTEN THE SCREW!  If you do, the “not under your finger” key will close, but the one under your finger will not.  If you overtighten, back up the key and try it again.  Turn the screw just a tiny tiny amount each time and test again.  When it “feels” ok with feeler gauge, do a play test:  there should be no change of tone quality from using the “regular” fingering and using an extra finger to press down on the key under the screw.

If you google “oboe adjusting screws” there are a bunch of hits, including printed instructions and videos.  It’s worth investing in a good quality small screw driver that you can carry in your case specifically for the purpose of adjusting the instrument in an emergency.


This happens when you get a small knot in your swab and try to pull it through.  DON’T KEEP PULLING!  You’ll only jam the swab in tighter.  This happens so frequently there’s a special tool to extract stuck swabs, and any shop that works on oboes will have one (it usually takes about a minute to pull the swab out).  For the Do It Yourselfer:  start with a long thing metal rod (it must be smaller than the diameter of the bore).  Using a grinder or sander carve a “screw” type hook at the tip of the rod.  Push that into the swab from the “bottom” end, hook onto the swab and pull it out.