Maintenance Tips

All Instruments

What goes in doesn’t always come out…
With all wind instruments it is important to remember that because you are constantly blowing into them, whatever is inside your mouth ends up in the instrument.  If you have eaten before playing, be sure to drink a glass of water to rinse your mouth and remove any food particles which can get stuck and cause your instrument not to work properly.  Never drink pop or other sugary drinks before playing!  The high acidity and sugars in the drinks will cause your valves to stick, your pads to wear out, and can even corrode the metals inside the bore.   

Where should I put my instrument when I am not playing?
Musical instruments are very fragile in many ways.  Certain instruments, such as trombones, will no longer work at all with even a tiny dent that is a millimetre deep on the hand slide, and if certain keys get slightly shifted on a saxophone you may no longer be able to play any notes at all.  The safest place for your instrument is either in your hands or in it’s case.  For at home, you may consider purchasing an instrument stand specifically designed for your instrument so that it is ready to play at all times, but in the band room it is very important to protect it even more. 

Sticky keys?
On woodwind instruments, if your pads are sticking to the toneholes you can place a $5 bill (since we don’t have $1 bills any more!) between the pad and the instrument, close the key, and pull the bill out sideways.  This will help absorb the moisture that is causing the pad to stick.   This may need to be repeated a number of times before the problem is fixed.  If that still doesn’t fix the issue, then bring it in and we can help solve the problem.

Flute

Cleaning:  Regular maintenance for a flute simply includes using the cleaning rod and a cloth to remove all moisture after each time you play.  Moisture left inside an instrument is the best way to ruin pads and to create a build-up of dirt on the inside of the instrument.  Using a polishing cloth to clean the keys and body will help slow down the development of tarnish.  It is difficult to get at the areas below the keys without disassembling the instrument, but just do as much as you can. 

Head Cork:  Another thing to check on your flute is that your head cork is positioned properly.  This is how you can tune your flute to the rest of the band.  With the head joint off of the instrument, insert the end of your cleaning rod (the end that has a small line near the end) into the bore of the head joint.  When you look through the embouchure hole (the part that you blow into) the line on the cleaning rod should end up right in the middle of the hole.  If it is not, you need to unscrew the top cap of the head joint and carefully push the head cork in or out as needed.  If you find you are playing sharp compared to the rest of the band you can push the head cork closer to the end (away from the embouchure hole) and if you are playing flat the push the head cork in closer to the embouchure hole. 

Clarinet

Cleaning:  Regular maintenance for a clarinet includes using the pull-through swab to remove all moisture after each time you play.  To do this, remove the mouthpiece from the instrument and then insert the weight on the end of the string into the bell end of the clarinet.  Let the weight fall out the end with the barrel (you may need to shake the instrument to succeed at this) and then gently pull the cloth through the instrument.  Always remember to go in from the bell end; you want to pull the moisture out of the instrument the same way that it got in.  Moisture left inside an instrument is the best way to ruin pads and to create a build-up of dirt on the inside of the instrument.  Using a polishing cloth to clean the keys and body also keeps the instrument looking nice.  It is difficult to get at the areas below the keys without disassembling the instrument, but just do as much as you can. 

Cork Grease:  The cork on clarinet tenons needs greasing periodically (there is one on the lower joint, two on the upper joint and one on the mouthpiece).  Using cork grease, rub a small amount onto each cork and then use your fingers to rub it in thoroughly.  Be sure to wash your fingers before handling the rest of the instrument!  Once every couple of weeks is enough under regular use unless you notice the corks looking dry.  Repeat as often as necessary. 

Reeds:  Reeds are extremely fragile.  After each time you play, be sure to wipe off any excess moisture and store the reeds in their individual plastic cases.  Reeds that get left on mouthpieces in the case for too long end up staying too moist and can end up sticking to the mouthpiece and growing a variety of fungi or bacteria. 

Mouthpiece:  Mouthpieces should be wiped clean after each use and can also be periodically washed in warm soapy water (dish soap works fine).  

Saxophones

Cleaning:  Regular maintenance for a saxophone includes using the pull through swab to remove all moisture after each time you play.  To do this, remove the neck from the instrument and then insert the weight on the end of the string into the bell end of the sax.  Let the weight fall out the other end (you may need to shake the instrument to succeed at this) and then gently pull the cloth through the instrument.  Always remember to go in from the bell end; you want to pull the moisture out of the instrument the same way that it got in.  Moisture left inside an instrument is the best way to ruin pads and to create a build-up of dirt on the inside of the instrument.  Using a polishing cloth to clean the keys and body also keep the instrument looking nice.  It is difficult to get at the areas below the keys without disassembling the instrument, but just do as much as you can. 

Cork Grease:  The cork on the saxophone neck needs greasing periodically.  Using cork grease, rub a small amount onto the cork and then use your fingers to rub it in thoroughly.  Be sure to wash your fingers before handling the rest of the instrument!  Once every couple of weeks is enough under regular use unless you notice the cork looks dry.  Repeat as often as necessary. 

Reeds:  Reeds are extremely fragile.  After each time you play, be sure to wipe off any excess moisture and store the reeds in their individual plastic cases.  Reeds that get left on mouthpieces in the case for too long end up staying too moist and can end up sticking to the mouthpiece and growing a variety of fungi or bacteria. 

Mouthpiece:  Mouthpieces should be wiped clean after each use and can also be periodically washed in warm soapy water (dish soap works fine).  

Trumpet/Cornet/Euphonium/Baritone/Tuba

Cleaning:  Periodically wiping down the outside of your instrument with a soft polishing cloth can keep the instrument looking nice and help to keep the lacquer in good condition.  Be sure to use the spit valves regularly and definitely each time before you put the instrument away in it’s case in order to reduce the amount of moisture left inside the instrument.  Brass instruments are difficult to clean on the inside without disassembling them, but if you are comfortable doing this, you can give your instrument a periodic warm, soapy bath to help keep the insides from building up too much dirt.  I will stress that you should be comfortable doing this as disassembling and re-assembling an instrument can cause damage in itself.  Pull all of the valves out as well as the tuning slides.  Do not submerge the valves, but the rest can be washed.  A flexible wire brush (specifically for cleaning brass instruments) can help to get at some of the deposits inside the tubing of the instrument.  Make sure you remember the order that the valves go as they are specific to each valve casing.  There is usually a number written on the valve piston, which relates to the casing number.  Number 1 is the one closest to you in playing position.  Before reassembling, ensure that the instrument is completely dry, inside and out, then use tuning slide grease on all the tuning slides and valve oil on the valves.  If you would like help doing this for the first time, let us know, we would be glad to run you through the process in our shop.  Remember never to force anything when assembling or disassembling your instrument.  If it doesn’t move easily, there is probably a reason for it, and it is probably best to bring it in for servicing. 

Valve Oil:  The valves on piston instruments require regular oiling.  Before every time you play is ideal; once a week is not enough if you play regularly.  To do this, unscrew the top cap of one valve at a time and place 2-3 drops of valve oil onto the main shaft of the valve.  When re-inserting the valve, slowly twist it until you hear the click of the valve guide falling into place, and then screw the top cap back on.  Occasionally, you will want to pull each valve out completely, wipe all the oil off with a lint-free cloth, re-oil, and re-insert.  This will remove any particles that may cause your valves to begin sticking and will extend the life of your instrument. 

Tuning Slide Grease:  Greasing the tuning slides is a very important step in the maintenance of brass instruments.  If tuning slides become free of oil, then the mineral deposits from your breath make their way into the sliding surfaces and fuse them together.  This can result in an expensive repair bill (never try to remove a stuck slide by yourself or you may end up with your instrument coming apart into more pieces than it should resulting in an even bigger repair bill!).  Once per month you should remove all tuning slides (three valve instruments should have four tuning slides, one for each valve plus the main tuning slide), wipe them clean, apply tuning slide grease with your fingers, and re-install the slides.  Make sure you wipe any excess grease away once you have slid the slide tubes back into place. 

Mouthpieces:  Brass mouthpieces are designed to be placed very gently into the mouthpiece receiver of your instrument.  Any amount of force used to insert them will make them extremely difficult to remove.  If your mouthpiece does get stuck, do not try to remove it yourself, there is a special tool for this, and we would be happy to remove your mouthpiece for you at no charge.

Trombone

Cleaning:  Periodically wiping down the outside of your instrument with a soft polishing cloth can keep the instrument looking nice and help to keep the lacquer in good condition.  Be sure to use the spit valve regularly and definitely each time before you put the instrument away in it’s case in order to reduce the amount of moisture left inside the instrument.  Trombones hand slides will eventually become slow if slide oils or creams build up inside the slide tubes.  You can remove the inner slide tube from the outer and wash them in warm, soapy water to remove this oil build-up.  A wire brush on a long rod (specifically for cleaning trombone slide tubes) can help to get at some of the deposits inside the tubing of the instrument.  Before reassembling, ensure that the instrument is completely dry, inside and out, then use slide oil or cream as usual.  If your hand slide still does not slide smoothly there may be other damage that needs addressing.  Remember, a dent that is barely visible can have a major impact on your hand slide.  Do not worry about cleaning the inside of the bell section of your trombone as moisture from your breath rarely causes any problems that far “downstream”. 

Tuning Slide Grease:  Greasing the tuning slides is a very important step in the maintenance of all brass instruments.  If tuning slides become free of oil, then the mineral deposits from your breath make their way into the sliding surfaces and fuse them together.  This can result in an expensive repair bill (never try to remove a stuck slide by yourself or you may end up with your instrument coming apart into more pieces than it should resulting in an even bigger repair bill!).  Once per month you should remove the main tuning slide of your trombone, wipe it clean, apply tuning slide grease with your fingers, and re-install the slide.  Make sure you wipe any excess grease away once you have slid the slide tube back into place. 

Hand Slide Oil or Cream:  Trombone hand slides require regular lubricating to ensure that they slide as smoothly as possible and to reduce the amount of wear and tear on the slide tubes.  There are two options for lubricating a hand slide: slide oil, or slide cream with water mist.  Slide oil is definitely easier to apply; slide cream creates a more effective sliding surface. 

Applying Slide Oil:  To apply slide oil simply pull the inner section of the hand slide out until the stockings are visible (the stockings are at the very ends of the slide tubes and have a slightly larger diameter than the rest of the slide).  Then apply four to five drops of oil to each slide tube and work the slide in and out a few times to distribute the oil.  You will need to repeat this at least each time you play and occasionally during if you play for an extended time.

Applying Slide Cream:  This is a bit more involved; however the results are worth it.

  1. Ensure all old slide oil or cream is removed from the inner handslide tubes.
  2. Place a SMALL amount of slide cream on the stockings of the inner handslide tubes using your fingers (the stockings are at the very ends of the slide tubes and have a slightly larger diameter than the rest of the slide).
  3. Insert the inner slide tubes into the outer tubes ONE AT A TIME so that you can twist as you slide the tube in and out a few times to spread the cream around.  Do this to each slide tube.
  4. Remove inner slide and wipe off any excess cream.
  5. Using a water mister, spray water on the whole length of the inner slide tubes and slide them in and out of the outer slide. Now you are ready to play!
  6. Repeat water misting as needed (at least every time you play and possibly during your playing session if needed).
  7. Re-apply cream as needed.

NOTE: One common mistake is to use too much slide grease, which will then actually slow the slide action.  You want the slide to move as easily as possible. 
Once you have used slide cream for a while it will become very easy to use, and you will learn to feel exactly when you need to mist or re-apply cream.

Mouthpieces:  Brass mouthpieces are designed to be placed very gently into the mouthpiece receiver of your instrument.  Any amount of force used to insert them will make them extremely difficult to remove.  If your mouthpiece does get stuck, do not try to remove it yourself, there is a special tool for this, and we would be happy to remove your mouthpiece for you at no charge.


French Horn

Cleaning:  Periodically wiping down the outside of your instrument with a soft polishing cloth can keep the instrument looking nice and help to keep the lacquer in good condition.  Be sure to remove excess moisture regularly by rotating your instrument to allow the moisture to fall out the bell.  Also do this each time before you put the instrument away in it’s case in order to reduce the amount of moisture left inside the instrument.  Brass instruments are difficult to clean on the inside without disassembling them, but if you are comfortable doing this, you can give your instrument a periodic warm, soapy bath to help keep the insides from building up too much dirt.  I will stress that you should be comfortable doing this as disassembling and re-assembling an instrument can cause damage in itself.  Pull all of the tuning slides out.  A flexible wire brush (specifically for cleaning brass instruments) can help to get at some of the deposits inside the tubing of the instrument.  Before reassembling, ensure that the instrument is completely dry, inside and out by leaving it disassembled for a couple of hours.  At this point you should oil the rotors  and grease the tuning slides.  If you would like help doing this for the first time, let us know, we would be glad to run you through the process in our shop.  Remember never to force anything when assembling or disassembling your instrument.  If it doesn’t move easily, there is probably a reason for it, and it is probably best to bring it in for servicing. 

Oiling the rotors:  Rotors need regular oiling to keep them working smoothly and to minimize friction and wear (every day or two).  You should use specially designed rotor oil as it is a thinner oil than valve oil since the tolerances between the rotors and the casings is extremely small.  Remove the top cap to each rotor and place 2 or 3 drops of oil in the centre.  Work the rotor levers to allow the oil to be drawn into the casing before replacing the caps.  Then, with the tuning slides removed, drop another 2-3 drops of oil down the slide tubes that lead directly to each rotor.  Continue to work the rotor levers to distribute the oil.  Replace all tuning slides.

Tuning Slide Grease:  Greasing the tuning slides is a very important step in the maintenance of brass instruments.  If tuning slides become free of oil, then the mineral deposits from your breath make their way into the sliding surfaces and fuse them together.  This can result in an expensive repair bill (never try to remove a stuck slide by yourself or you may end up with your instrument coming apart into more pieces than it should resulting in an even bigger repair bill!).  Once per month you should remove all tuning slides, wipe them clean, apply tuning slide grease with your fingers, and re-install the slides.  Make sure you wipe any excess grease away once you have slid the slide tubes back into place. 

Mouthpieces:  Brass mouthpieces are designed to be placed very gently into the mouthpiece receiver of your instrument.  Any amount of force used to insert them will make them extremely difficult to remove.  If your mouthpiece does get stuck, do not try to remove it yourself, there is a special tool for this, and we would be happy to remove your mouthpiece for you at no charge.

Violin/Viola/Cello/Bass

String instruments are very sensitive to temperature and humidity fluctuations and should therefore be kept in relatively consistent conditions.  Using an instrument humidifier in the case can help to maintain sufficient humidity to ensure the wood does not dry out and crack.  A soft polishing cloth can be used to keep the surface of the instrument free of hand oils that can damage the varnish.  String instruments are under a large amount of stress when the strings are tuned for playing.  If you are going to store your instrument for an extended period of time or will be travelling with your instrument, it is important to release the tension from the strings to ensure that the inevitable fluctuations in temperature and humidity over time do not cause damage.  When the tension is released from the strings, be sure to store the bridge carefully to protect it from damage, or leave just enough tension on the strings to hold the bridge in place.  This will also help to keep the sound post from shifting inside the instrument.

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Monday September 11, 2017
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Walnut Park Elementary School Music Room

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Having an expert technician in the valley is a real treat - quality and prompt service that is right around the corner is more then anyone can ask for. I trust Michael with my professional model Powell flute and he has gone out of his way to do what I have requested numerous times. I recommend him to my all students, to my colleagues and to you.

Toby Moisey Flute - Saint Petersburg Conservatory