Almost 70 years ago, bassoonist Hugo Fox returned from Chicago to his farmstead in South Whitley, Ind., with an idea: What if world-class bassoons could be built somewhere other than Germany? What if they could be built right here in northeast Indiana?
A few years later, the retired principal bassoonist with the Chicago Symphony was on his way to answer the question with a resounding yes.
Fox Products is now a world-renowned instrument manufacturer with offerings of double reed instruments from the English horn to oboes to contrabassoons. In fact, Fox Products is now the world’s largest bassoon manufacturer, all under one roof in South Whitley.
Thriving in Indiana
In 1949, Fox took it upon himself to develop his own line of bassoons. In an industry then dominated by Germany, Fox took nearly two years and a torn apart bassoon to discover his method.
That legacy and innovation expanded after his son took over the company and increased production to all double reed instruments.
Now in the hands of Gabe Starkey, the organization continues to thrive in its Midwestern home.
“I grew up in South Whitley, and when I was off at college, my family actually purchased the company,” Starkey said in an interview with Whatzup. “We have family all over now. It is a family business in every sense of the word. The vice president of operations always says, ‘You’re either seeing a baby or a dog running around the plant.’”
With less than a year of experience under his belt as president of Fox Products, Starkey attributes the company’s success to its hundred and fifty employees, the company culture, and an unwavering work ethic.
“My biggest accomplishment [during my time as president] has been the response that the entire company has had to the pandemic,” he said. “We have such a strong core group that responded really well to the uncertainty thrown at us.”
Fox Products meticulously worked to create its work environment. From part-time staff to senior leadership, employees have invested as much effort into the company culture as they have their products.
This theme of resolute steadfastness and enthusiasm that created the culture of Fox can also be found in the painstaking craftsmanship that goes into each instrument.
Ordering four to five semitrucks worth of logs per year, materials are aged for six to eight years before the work even starts.
“The aging improves the quality,” Starkey said. “The natural aging takes away stressors that are naturally there and overall helps with the acoustic quality. It’s amazing because you can’t buy that kind of time.”
This dependability and excellence has served Fox’s clients well. Varying from professional, classical musicians to students in graduate school, each hand-crafted instrument is invested in from the beginning.
“It was engrained in the founding that we want to do it better, so we are on the constant search to find a better way,” Starkey said.
Quality finds a home
Fox’s location in the Midwest has been an asset that has aided in their products’ quality and company identity.
The small, in-house creation allows for a truly boutique manufacturing experience.
Some competitors produce maybe 50 high-quality instruments per year, while others focus on student space and getting them out as quickly as possible.
Fox, however, strives to achieve both.
“We straddle that fence by creating a high-quality instrument but also have that really high level of intermediate artists that students can rely on and can take all the way up through their master’s,” Starkey said. “That’s really what sets us apart.”
The company is proud of more than just its product, however. Its pride in its hometown has helped to bolster the company’s work ethic, and the town of South Whitley is just as proud to house the instrument manufacturer.
“It’s been an asset for us as far as that pride goes into the work and the work ethic,” Starkey said. “It’s a huge factor in our culture that we are in one location. We are proud to be where we are at, and we have no anticipation of going elsewhere. We have a ton of great vendors but love to have that assembly under one roof.”