Prolonging The Life of Brass and Woodwind Instruments
A step-by-step guide to cleaning your instrument
Just about everyone hates washing up. But, eating dinner from a bowl encrusted with last night’s Pad Thai is a horrifying thought, so it’s perplexing why brass and woodwind musicians wouldn’t swab their instruments after they play.
Brass and woodwind instruments are often subject to acid build up due to humidity, moisture, and bacterial matter being transferred from the player through normal use. When the matter isn’t removed calcium deposits and bacterial biofilms can form, causing varying degrees of damage to the instrument. To avoid unnecessary wear and tear, which leads to extra servicing and repair costs, here is a step-by-step guide on how to prolong the life of your brass or woodwind instrument.
1. Know your instrument
Each instrument has a repair that is more common than others. Clarinets? Crow’s foot. Flutes? Low C/C# adjustment. Trumpets? Stuck mouthpiece. All of these problems can be solved by knowing the foolproof way of assembling your instrument. New Yamaha instruments come with an assembly instruction guide, but it is always best to get expert advice from a teacher, technician, or an authorised Yamaha dealer.
2. Keep it clean
Like it or not, cleanliness is an imperative part of life. Most woodwind players are accustomed to using a swab for cleaning their instrument (and if they’re not they should be!), but brass players often empty the water after playing and stick the instrument back in the case. The problem with this is that the player is using their breath, with additional spit and humidity following it, to remove moisture, which makes no sense.
Yamaha’s range of swabs are made of a thin microfiber material with a weighted “drop”, or a nylon bullet guide, to safely and thoroughly remove excess moisture and bacteria from the instrument after use. They are a cheap and time effective way to keep your instrument in good playing condition.
3a. Maintenance is key: brass
Slide, pistons, and rotor bearings need to be lubricated using synthetic lubricants as recommended by the manufacturer. Synthetic lubricant tends to be more stable, in most environments, in comparison to their petroleum counterparts.
For pistons you can either apply a tiny amount each day (one to two drops on a small valve, up to four on larger valves), or play until they start to feel dry or gummy and then wipe off the old oil with a lint free cloth and put on new oil.
For slides we recommend spraying the slide with water each time and only applying lubricant as necessary, to the stocking only. The stocking is the flared part at the end of the trombone slide. Before applying new lubricant, wipe off any excess water and old lubricant with a lint free cloth.
For rotors we recommend oiling the bearings with a few drops of oil as required. It’s common for oil to get caught up in tubes from players oiling the rotor by squirting oil into the slides - this is a somewhat ineffective way of oiling the rotor as it is unlikely to reach the contact point between the housing and the rotor. In addition to this, ensure the slides don’t feel dry by applying slide grease whenever it is necessary.
3b. Maintenance is key: woodwind
Clean moisture off vulnerable pads with Yamaha Cleaning Paper; the closer the pad is to the top of the instrument the more susceptible it is to moisture, particularly if it is a closed key. It’s a good idea to clean these pads after every use. You do so by lifting the key (if it is a closed key) and placing the paper between the tonehole and the pad, then depressing the key, and reversing the process to remove the paper. For sticky pads use Yamaha Powder Paper. This paper is treated with a powder that helps lift residue from the tonehole. Always swab your mouthpiece after playing. Some swabs won’t fit all the way through a mouthpiece, in which case it is advisable to simply pull the swab back through if it is beginning to feel tight. Never leave your reed on your mouthpiece as it is likely to warp.
A note on cork grease: less is more. If too much cork grease is applied it can make its way through the body of the instrument and onto the pads. Apart from that, cork grease can penetrate cork and soften the glue that holds the cork to the body of the instrument.
4. Enjoy playing music
Finally, the fun part! A good general rule is that the instrument is either in your hands, on a good quality instrument stand, or disassembled in its case. This will prevent any incidental damage that makes your flute look more like a banana.
Remember that music is an individual pursuit and not a race. We all get good at what we love at our own pace. Frustrated with a note you can’t quite hit? Take a breath. Passage too difficult for your fingers for the moment? Take a breath. Apart from helping to achieve your musical goals, this may prevent you from throwing your instrument in a fit of rage. They’re not baseballs, they’re valuable instruments and require care.
If you happen to have an accident of any kind, the best thing you can do is take your instrument to an authorised Yamaha service agent for Brass and Woodwind. The qualified technicians from our repair network will be able to assist you with any damage and repair your instrument thoroughly and professionally.
WORDS 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.