A Fossati Experience

For a number of years now I have been interested to try the Fossati range of oboes. Apart from a very quick blow at one of the British Double Reed Society’s Conventions I have never had any experience with this maker’s instruments. Thanks to the enthusiasm of Johan Bricout their then director of sales for a review, three oboes arrived for me to keep for a few weeks trial.
The models sent for review being:
The Fossati MB oboe
The Fossati Soloist V oboe
The Tiery E40 - the top of the range student oboe

The Company
Gérard Fossati who had worked for the Rigoutat Company founded the company in 1983. The manufacturing base was set up in Montargis a city 110 kilometers south of Paris in the heart of the region known as the Gâtinais. There is also a subsidiary workshop and sale room in Paris near to the National Conservatoire of Music. At the outset in 1983 Gérard was enthusiastic to use the latest CAD (Computer Assisted Design) technology in developing the design of his oboes. He was also keen to work with oboists throughout the world to develop ideas from many different playing styles. The Company prospered and sold a range of oboes, d’amores and cors anglais throughout the world in what is a highly competitive market. In 2009 M.Fossati retired and the company was bought back by four employees. Daniele Lefevre who is now the President, Stéphane Guillaume the head technician, M. Emery and M. Braun.

Developing the Design
Since the buy out, in order to improve the professional range Stéphane Guillaume sought opinions and play-testing from players such as Michel Benet from Orchestre de Paris, Tomoharu Yoshida from NHK in Tokyo and Hitoshi Wakui from the WDR Radio orchestra in Cologne. Two different designs of professional oboe are now in production, the new Soloist V and the MB oboe that replaces the limited edition Anniversary Oboe in the catalogue.
The traditional Soloist Model has also been discontinued.
The two designs are equal in status but have a different feel to the way they blow. Instead of designing an oboe to produce a specific sound the aim with these designs is to produce a different feel to the way the each oboe blows whilst still meeting the tonal requirements of the modern orchestral and solo player. It was therefore very interesting to have these instruments in my possession for a while to discover how well these aims had been achieved.

The Oboes
The first thing that strikes one nowadays with all the best modern manufacturers of professional oboes is the excellent way their instruments are presented. The cases are well made and fit the instruments snugly, they are attractive and practical and almost all use a cover, often sheepskin-lined, to add further protection. Fossati are no exception in this and use the typical “French-style” case with fur-lined cover. They also transport their oboes with each joint secure in a plastic bag and recommend that in the early days of blowing-in that the joints are replaced in these after playing to allow for a more gradual cool down period. This takes me back to the first Rigoutat I bought that had its top joint wrapped in a piece of bright orange/silver plastic survival blanket that I was asked to use for the first three months of blowing-in! This caused much merriment in the wind sections I was in at the time.

My initially impression with the instruments was that they are a high quality product. The finish is exemplary with Palladium plating on both the professional models and silver-plating on the student model. Palladium plating resists tarnish much better than silver for some players. The key work is well made and has quite a delicate feel as the dimensions of some keys, in particular the left hand little finger cluster, are slightly smaller than other makers’ oboes. The springing is very light and well balanced and the heights of adjacent plates and keys well judged. This shows that the finishing of the instruments is carefully carried out. This stage is so important and some manufacturers in the past have fallen short of perfection in their haste to meet a high demand. This final manufacturing stage takes time, knowledge, patience and skill.
The three oboes were equipped with a thumb plate mechanism that showed thoughtful design in that the plate sloped very gently toward the first octave key. The third octave key is carefully shaped and easily accessible from the thumb plate. Importantly it doesn’t hamper the action of the thumb by becoming inadvertently involved! It has an adjustment screw built in.

One Trill Key System
Gerard Fossati had instigated several innovations in his time with the company, amongst these was a single hole for the C/D, C/C# trills known as the One-trill system. In recent tests with many oboists, not all Fossati players, Head of Design Stéphane Guillaume made two prototypes with the same bore, one with the One-trill key system and the other with the standard Two-key system. Oboists preferred the former.
After acoustic research it appears that the extra volume of the two holes cut into the bore affected playing flexibility with regard to reed types. The single hole is a preventive measure minimising the risk of cracking but it makes the oboe with its narrow bore less flexible. D’amores and cors anglais with their bigger bores retain the single hole but the current oboe range has reverted to the double trill hole with a wider distance between them as in Rigoutat designs. (See accompanying photos)

Left Hand Reversed Adjustment - another innovation.
The G and A plates of the left hand close the B flat and C keys by direct action. This allows for an adjustment screw on the G key stop that enables the intonation of the A to be adjusted. The more traditional arrangement has the lever pushing upwards on a bar and this can result in a sloppy key action.

Fossati MB (Michel Benet) Oboe



The MB oboe was the first of the three that I played. For all the initial play-tests I used a standard shallow U-scraped reed with a medium width shape - an RC 13 straight shape from Roseau Chantant - fitted to a Reeds n Stuff shaping machine. The staple I used was a new interchangeable design from Chiarugi that fits a Loree mandrel and has four different lengths of tube that can be unscrewed to give staple lengths of 45, 46, 47 and 48mm. This was useful for maintaining pitch using the same reed if I had to compensate for any pitch differences between oboe models.
(See photograph)


I think it perhaps useful to describe how the two professional oboes feel by comparing them like for like. The
MB is the marginally the heaviest of the oboes. The walls appear to be slightly thicker and the bell is heavier than the Soloist V bell by about 8 grams. The upper part of the top joint is shaped to give more wood around the reed well. The resultant tone quality is heavier than the Soloist V and has more resistance in the blowing. The high notes were not as easily “pinged” out, that is until I became accustomed to the way the oboe blew. I was extremely impressed by the ease that the lower register played. The tone holes of both instruments’ bottom three notes are quite large compared to other oboes I own, which may or may not be a factor, and the sound is open and resonant despite needing good support. Controlling this instrument is easy and the slight resistance to blowing gives confidence that the sound will not break up and become sharp and ragged.
Both oboes are very smooth over the break between the middle C and D. A good test being the first notes of the second movement of Bach Double Concerto in the D minor version with the drop to low E after the D being critical. These oboes passed with flying colours, the low E being safe, rounded and resonant.

Soloist V

This instrument has the normal reed-well shape and features gold pillars, reed socket and tenon banding to cosmetically enhance its appearance. Both instruments incidentally have metal-lined tenons, which really helps the security of the coincidences between top and bottom joints. The alignment of these is accurately adjusted and again testament to the fine finishing these instruments have been given prior to delivery.
I found that this oboe played very easily and I was anxious that it wasn’t just too easy for comfort. So often this type of easy-blown oboe has flying Fs and unstable second octave As - but has easy harmonics, multi-phonics and extreme high notes. Often this is a result of a worn bore!
This one was very well behaved. The high notes were clean and free sounding without any suggestion of under harmonics. This means that the venting has been well thought through. The first finger left hand plate, sporting a round venting hole and not the more common diamond shape, had the middle range of D, D# and C# playing without any problem.

The Philly D worked well on both these oboes but I have never been totally convinced that this makes life easier. Oboes without it play G to top D just as easily or with just as much difficulty - so much depends on the reed!
The scale on both oboes is even with very good tonal stability throughout the range. No flying Fs, stable top As, the extreme notes up to highest A as easy as any on oboe I own and easier than some. The Soloiste model being preferred with my reed set up for the latter.
I experimented with some different reed types from wide shapes such as RC15 to the old and quite narrow Michel 7.2 and a very narrow Hörtnagel shape. I also tried reeds made on different staples and the oboes reacted well to these changes. The bigger volume staples tended to make the middle B and C a little sharper than the slightly smaller Loree style.

Tiery E40

This oboe is the top of the range student oboe and sells for a very competitive price. This model has a thumb plate installed and a third octave key neatly placed to its left and out of the way. Fossati offer an almost complete standard Gillet system with fewer adjustment screws than the professional models.
The inherent sound quality is bright and easily produced but on listening to recordings that I made it is plain that there is not quite the sophistication in its presentation as the professional models. To make the best sound would need a slightly different reed set-up with perhaps a little more resistance. There is a certain “glow” in the sound but brashness creeps in with my usual reeds. The ease of blowing, the lightness in weight and the full system make this a strong contender amongst the excellent intermediate oboes available.


I was delighted to have these oboes in my company over the Christmas period and was able to give them a good play test. I was very impressed by the high quality of finish of these instruments, particularly of the professional range. A really well buffed jewel finish reminiscent of the Loree brand.
There is a family resemblance in the sound with all makers and there is no exception here. I would place the sound in the makers’ spectrum about mid way between the brighter Lorees through to the darker Marigaux M2.
Considering the professional models the sound is vibrant yet full and warm most particularly with the MB model. The Soloiste V is a little more open and free blowing and was much like my Rigoutat in its tonal envelope. The projection of them both is excellent and they can make big controllable sounds and still be decent!
My thanks go to Johan Bricout for this opportunity to try these oboes and I was very reluctant to pack them up and see them leave the premises. I had my favourite but it would be churlish to name “her”.

Geoffrey Bridge