The bombard is a small, double-reed instrument, similar to a soprano shawm in range but shorter in length, and is the the forerunner of the bass oboe or schalmey. A bombard in the key of D is slightly shorter than a soprano recorder in the key of C. Bombards are still used in some Celtic music, often found playing in an ensemble of bagpipes or other bombards. They are quite loud, despite their small size. Their tone is high and penetrating.
The bombard is widely used to play traditional Breton music. Describing it as an oboe, however, can be misleading since it has a very powerful sound, more closely resembling a trumpet. The bombard is played as oboes are played, with the double eed placed between the lips; the second octave is achieved with increased lip pressure. Bombards in their most traditional setting are accompanied by a bagpipe called a biniou kozh' ("ancient bagpipe"), which plays an octave above the bombard. The two players are referred to as sonerion (in Breton) or sonneurs de couple (in French : "duet players"). The bombard player is also known as a talabarder. The biniou plays the melody continuously, while the bombard takes breaks, establishing a call-and-response pattern.
In the late '40s, the creation of the Bagad, an ensemble of bagpipes, bombards and drums, offered new life to the bombard. Now most of the towns in Brittany have one or several bagadoù, and they compete with each other continually in a series of annual tournaments and festivals. As the bagad is a Breton take on the pipe band concept, the music initially performed was military-oriented. Now the bagadoù play dance music, traditional melodies and new compositions. The large number of bombard players in the bagadoù was a key factor in the successful revival of the bombard.
The bombard is an instrument that has been in constant evolution, with many different keys developed as well as sophisticated silver key-work enabling chromatic possibilities. Milder versions in lower ranges such as Youenn Le Bihan's "piston" (an oboe/bombard hybrid, typically based in the key of Re/D) have been developed for use in mixed ensembles. A class of professional musicians and instrument makers has emerged, as well as standardized reeds and commonly available tutorial materials. Today, both the biniou and bombard are played in combination with an unlimited number of instruments (voice, saxophone, piano, organ, clarinet or "treujenn gaol" (a type of clarinet), fiddle, flutes, guitar, percussion...) in Fest-Noz (Breton traditional dance) bands, rock groups and ensembles of all styles - in arrangements of traditional Breton dance tunes or in new compositions.