Clarinet: Assembly, Care and Maintenance
Monday, 19 March 2018
Clarinets come in many shapes and sizes, are made of many different materials, and require different care depending on the kind of instrument you have. Here are some recommendations for correct handling and maintenance as well as a guide to conditioning wooden instruments.
Clarinets are quite delicate instruments, and because their keywork is vulnerable, it is important to pay particular attention to how the instrument is assembled and handled.
I try to avoid grabbing any instrument by the keywork where possible, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Take care when handling the clarinet and this shouldn’t be much of an issue.
You can start the assembly process by either fitting the bell to the bottom joint, or barrel to top joint, or the top and bottom joints together. I prefer to fit the bell to the bottom joint, then the top and bottom joint, and then the mouthpiece to the barrel and the barrel to the instrument, however I think the main concern is fitting the two middle joints together.
When assembling the top and bottom joint, ensure that the ring key on the top joint is depressed, activating the bridge key, and that you are holding the bottom joint around the end where the bell fits (I like to use my thumb to depress the low E/B key). If your palm is touching a rod or a post, stop! When pressure is applied through thick areas of muscles and skin, you risk damaging the delicate keywork of the instrument. In some cases, applying pressure to a rod when assembling an instrument can tear it away from the body, leaving irreparable damage.
Use synthetic or natural cork grease only (petroleum-based grease will seep through the porous cork and dissolve the glue over time) and use it sparingly – less is more. Once assembled, line up the bridge key so that it forms a straight line between the top and bottom joints, this ensures the pads are sealing correctly when the bridge key is activated.
For all clarinets:
- After playing, it is imperative that you swab your instrument with a good quality, absorbent swab. Remove the mouthpiece, and drop the weighted end through the bell so it comes out of the barrel and pull through gradually. Repeat this process until the excess moisture is removed.
- Disassemble the instrument by reversing the assembly process. Always remember that if an instrument or its components aren’t in your hands or on a sturdy instrument stand, it should be in its case. As you disassemble the instrument, put the components in the case.
- Wipe off excess cork grease from the joints with a cotton bud or cloth after use. This prevents the plush interior of the case from ending up on your joint and down your instrument, and also ensures that you don’t blow cork grease through the instrument and onto the pads.
- Remove the reed from the mouthpiece and place it in a plastic sleeve or reed case. Swab the mouthpiece.
- Always keep your swab in the outer pocket where possible to avoid build-up of mould and bacteria inside the case and in the instrument.
For wooden clarinets (it is important to condition the wood correctly to prolong the life of the instrument and prevent cracking):
- For the first week of ownership, it is recommended that the instrument be played for no longer than 20 minutes at a time. After 20 minutes, swab thoroughly and allow the instrument to return to room temperature before playing again.
- Increase the playing time by 5 minutes per day in the first week, for example; Monday – 20mins, Tues – 25mins, Wed – 30mins, etc. By the second week, you will be up to an hour of playing time. For week two, increase the playing time by 15 minutes per session.
- By week three the wood will be conditioned for regular use. Be aware if joints become tight or do not fit together entirely. If the joints become stuck together, do NOT force them apart. Allow the instrument to contract by letting it return to room temperature. The wood should contract enough to get the joints apart. In any case, it is important to take your instrument to a Yamaha Service Centre to have the joints shaved. You may have to return to get the joints attended to a couple of times, but realise that once wood is removed from an instrument it cannot be replaced!
- Have a technician examine the wood of your instrument every 6 months during the warranty period for cracks, dryness, or swelling. As with all instruments, it is a good idea to get them serviced every 12 to 18 months.
Blog Post by Brae Grimes
Brae Grimes (BMus., Hons. [Jazz Trumpet Performance] – Monash University) is a recent addition to Yamaha Music Australia’s Band and Orchestral team, taking on the new role of Product and Repair Specialist. Brae has had various roles in the music retail industry and brings over 10 years of experience. Brae has also worked as an educator in secondary and tertiary institutions, as well as having a number of successful private students. In 2017, Brae undertook training at Yamaha’s Toyooka Factory in Japan, and received official accreditation acknowledging his skills as a band and orchestral instrument repairer. Outside of his role at Yamaha, Brae is an active performer and composer, and trains at 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu in Melbourne.