21Country: World-class bassoons handcrafted in South Whitley

Fox Products has been perfecting their double reed instruments for over 70 years
Updated: Mar. 22, 2022 at 5:30 PM EDT
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SOUTH WHITLEY, Ind. (WPTA21) - For nearly three decades, Hugo Fox performed with the Chicago Symphony. From 1922 to 1949, he was Principal Bassoon. But his dreams didn’t end after retirement. Instead, he returned to his family’s farm, beginning his journey to make his own line of bassoons, creating Fox Products, with the goal of manufacturing in the U.S.

In the 1950′s, Fox modified a chicken coop, turning it into his workshop, completing his first instrument within two years. After Fox’s health declined, his son Alan took over, leading the company in development of the contrabassoon, oboes, and the English horn. The family property became the site for Fox Products current building, and began shipping worldwide.

In 2012, the company was sold, entering new ownership under a long-time resident of South Whitley: Tony Starkey. HIs family runs the facility today, even expanding its presence in the town. In 2016, a second building was opened to bring silver plating in-house.

Hugo Fox
Hugo Fox(Daniel Beals)

“A lot of instrument manufacturers are quick to move production overseas and to other places because it’s less expensive and saves on costs,” marketing specialist Stephanie Patterson explained, “but we really want to make sure we’re making everything we can and that we have control over the pieces.”

Cost of instruments range from a couple thousand dollars, to over $30,000! The wood they are crafted from is cut from logs on location, which are then aged up to twenty years. After the instruments take shape in shop, they are then moved from room to room. “So many different hands touch each of the instruments,” Patterson said. “We have teams of 30 to 40 people working on each instrument, just because there are so many different steps so people will master just their one step.”

“We have people that will spend their time in the body shop and they’re really good at sanding those properly — and people that make the keys,” she continued. “You have this team working together and anywhere in the line something can go wrong making this instrument — it’s going to affect everybody afterwords.”

Kris Slater, a pro bassoon key mounter, has done the job for nearly twenty years. Though he’s not a musician, his love for the double reeded instrument is in the craftsmanship. “There’s over 100 parts that I actually assemble on one bassoon,” he told us. “I take 30 to 40 hours to do my key work on one of these.”

“I like working with my hands, building things,” he added. “This is a craftsman style job where we’re taking parts, fitting them together, silver sautering them together. It’s almost akin to jewelry making.”

After a rigorous finishing process, every instrument is play tested to ensure it works flawlessly, before being shipped out. “Even though we’re making 7-8 bassoons a day, with some of our models you’ll have to wait nine-plus months,” Patterson said. “With our contrabassoons, you’ll have to wait a year to get one, and it’s because they are so specialized, people are willing to wait for these instruments you can’t get from anyone else.”

“We’re really proud that in this little unassuming factory, we make these really complicated, really detailed, really high quality instruments,” she concluded, “just in South Whitley, where we have one stop light, and make world class bassoons.”

Fox Products has several full-time and part-time jobs available. To learn more or apply, click here.

Recently completed contrabassoon
Recently completed contrabassoon(Daniel Beals)

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