Most people find oboe adjustments are a tricky concept. I have had more than one professional engineer have a go at doing their own oboe adjustments, and fail. So, knowing how to do your own oboe adjustments is not a simple task, but it is something that every oboe player needs to master.
I have broken this oboe adjustments guide into sections of keywork, to help try to simplify the task to some degree.
- Feeler Gauge
- Screwdriver to fit the adjusting screws
How to Cut a Feeler Gauge
For accurate testing of oboe pad pressure, cut your feeler gauge to a fine point. I make mine sharp, but you can cut a flat edge of up to 1mm in width. A gauge with a point wider than 1mm becomes less sensitive, and it becomes difficult to test everything accurately.
Related article: How to make a Feeler Gauge
Material for Feeler Gauge
Only use cigarette papers. The thickness of these measure three hundreds of a millimeter and it is ideal for testing the pads. If you use anything thicker than this, it will affect your results. Also, make sure that you use the plain flat papers, and not the ribbed ones.
Some repairers use other materials of the same thickness for this task, but they are much more difficult to use, and you really need to know what you are looking for to use them successfully. For this reason I would suggest that you stick with using cigarette papers for testing pad pressures.
Related article: “Testing for Pad Leaks”.
Adjustment Screws or Regulation Screws?
When an oboe is serviced, keys are tightened, corks are replaced and pads are made to sit completely level over the tone holes. Each individual pad must already be perfectly seated before the next step can be carried out: the regulation of the keys.
Testing the adjustments is the same as testing the regulation. You may have heard the terms “adjusting screws” or “regulation screws”. These are two names for the same thing.
When oboe adjustments are made, you are testing for equal pressure between two pads. If the pressure is not equal, then you need to make the correct adjustment.
But if you find that the pads themselves are not seated evenly over their own tone-holes, using the adjusting- or regulation-screws will never fix this. Seating the pads is something that a technician will need to address.
The Closed Keys
There are 2 sets of keys that should remain closed when the instrument is at rest.
The first set of closed keys are those that do not have adjustments that keep them closed. These keys are:
- All octave keys
- C# and D trill pads
- G# key
- Low C#
If any of these keys are not completely closed, or do not feel like they are closing firmly against the instrument, then you may need to see an oboe technician to determine the cause.
The second set of closed keys are those that have adjustments that facilitate their closure. These keys are:
- C-vent key
- Bb-vent key
- F-resonance key
- Low Bb resonance key
If these keys are not closing fully, then there will be a screw that you can check and adjust to make the closure. Check all the related adjustments also, and you are unsuccessful in making the key close, you will need to find an oboe technician to take a look at the instrument.
Oboe Adjustments – Top Joint
Firstly, before doing anything else, make sure there is a tiny bit of free movement in the F# key, before it activates the bridge rocking mechanism. This is important, because without that free movement, it may keep the C- and Bb-vent keys open in the left-hand section.
How to fix this: Turn the screw at the top of the rocking key clockwise, until the F# key has free movement before activating the rocking key. Keep the free movement as small as possible. If the gap between the F# key and the rocking key is too great, turn the screw anti-clockwise.
Two.. Check that the two left-hand vent keys (C- and Bb-vents) are closing firmly and with equal pressure.
How to do this: Open the two keys by pressing the F# key. Use a feeler gauge to test the pressures of the two pads when they are closed.
Turn screw #2 clockwise to close the vent key further, and anti-clockwise to release the pressure.
Three.. Test the regulation between the A key and the C-vent key above it.
Hold down the F# key, to keep the small vent keys open, and at the same time, press down the A key to close the two pads that we want to test. Use a feeler gauge to test the pad pressures.
Turn screw #4 clockwise to close the vent key further, and anti-clockwise to release the pressure.
Four.. Test the regulation between the G key and the Bb vent-key, just above it, using the same process… Keep the F# key pressed down while pressing the G-key to test the regulation of the two pads.
Turn screw #3 clockwise to close the vent key further, and anti-clockwise to release the pressure.
If everything is working properly, the closing pressures of G, Bb-vent and C-vent pads should all be equal.
If they are not equal, and all the steps have been followed correctly so far, then there may be some extra unwanted movement in the mechanism.
This is something that needs correcting by a repair technician.
In addition, check the right-hand D-trill banana key. It must have some free movement in it before it begins to lift the trill keys.
Oboe Adjustments – Lower Joint
The screw that sits over the G# pad regulates the F# pad with the G# pad. This fixes the F#-G# trill by making sure that the G# pad closes in the process. This one is often quite a tricky key to regulate, because the lowest post in the left-hand plateau keys (as well as the G# key tube itself) has often become worn and is allowing unwanted movement in the key action.
To test the best position for the G# pad, in relation to the F# pad, try playing the instrument. To start, unwind the screw #16, above the G# key, with a whole turn. Play a G# and carefully slur down to an F#, keeping the G# touchpiece held down. If the F# sounds unclear, gently tap the G# pad while playing, to test if the sound changes. If the sound clears up, this could be indicating to tighten screw #16 just a little more.
Do a final test of this regulation, using a feeler gauge. It is important that the screw over the G# key is not screwed in too far. Otherwise the F# key will be leaking, and causing difficulty playing the other notes.
Right-Hand Plateau keys
Firstly, ‘deactivate’ the F-resonance key using the screw at the end of the resonance key itself. This will ensure that there are no complicating factors involved, when we regulate the other keys. The F-resonance key must be sorted out after the E-key is regulated with the F# vent.
Turn the F-resonance key adjusting screw anti-clockwise for a half-turn, at least. We will regulate this key in a moment.
Secondly, press down the E key gently and, using a feeler gauge, test the regulation between the E-pad and the F#-vent pad (the small pad above the E).
Locate the upper screw just behind the E-key. This is the E to F#-vent regulating screw. Turn it clockwise to increase the pressure of the F#-vent key and anti-clockwise to decrease it.
Of the two screws behind the E-key, remember that the upper screw is for the E-key regulation (to F#-vent) and the lower screw is for the D-key regulation (to F#-vent).
Thirdly, let’s adjust the F-resonance key again. The E-to-F#-vent from the last step must already be perfectly aligned, otherwise it is difficult to regulate the F-resonance key.
Test the pad pressure between the E-pad and the F-resonance pad. Since we unwound the screw in a previous step, the F-resonance pad is probably not closing the tone hole at this stage.
Locate the adjusting screw at the end of the F-resonance key and turn it clockwise to make it close over the tone hole. Use a feeler gauge to test the pressure between this key and the E-key. Normally it is good to make the pressure equal between keys. But for this key on some oboes (such as Marigaux oboes) it is better to make the F-resonance key slightly lighter in pressure than the E-key.
Fourthly, press down the D key and test the regulation betwen the D key and the F# vent key (the small pad above the E key).
To make this adjustment, locate the lower screw that sits behind the E-key. This is the D to F#-vent regulating screw. Turn it clockwise to close or increase the pressure of the F#-vent key and anti-clockwise to decrease it.
Finally, you must make sure that the F-resonance key closes completely when the E-key is not in use. Use a feeler gauge to test this. Press the D-key to open the F-resonance key, so that you can slide the feeler gauge underneath the pad. Then release the D-key to close the F-resonance key pad.
The other test for this is to gently tap the E-key, without closing it. You want to see that it has a tiny bit of free movement before the F#-vent key (small pad above it) begins to close. If the free movement is there, then the F-resonance key should be closing when all keys are at rest.
The adjustment for this is on the D-key connection. The D-key connects to a tiny rocking-mechanism, underneath it, which goes on to connect to the F-resonance key.
If the E-key has no free movement before activating the F#-vent pad, then wind the D-to-F-resonance adjusting screw clockwise, until it does. If the E key has too much free movement before it activates the small F#-vent pad, then turn the adjusting screw anti-clockwise.