So, you’ve finally decided to take a hammer to your piggy bank and got yourself a brand new trumpet, trombone or other brass wind instrument. It only makes sense that you want it to last you a decade or two so, in this blog, we’ll provide you with a little maintenance manual that includes five tips to keep your instrument as fresh as the day you bought it.
To make sure your instrument doesn’t end up looking like the one seen up above, there are a number of simple things you can do. First of all: regular maintenance. Always keep the valves and slide sufficiently treated with oil to prevent any internal damage and, every time you finish playing, blow out any moisture and place the instrument on a stand so it can dry completely. Also, to keep it looking as fresh and shiny as possible, buff and polish the finish with a clear cotton or other non-fluffy cloth while you’re at it. For silver-plated instruments, you may even want to use a special silver cloth to remove any finger prints. Naturally, every once in a while your instrument needs a more thorough cleaning and this is exactly what we’ll cover next.
Whether you’ve got a tuba or bugle, at some point, it’s going to get dirty inside. Since blowing air through your instrument can also leave behind moisture and possibly even bits of what you had for lunch, it’s advisable to soak it in water for half an hour or so. You can either take a large container or fill up your bathtub. Then, take the instrument apart completely but remember where everything is supposed to go so you can put it back together afterwards. Whatever you do, don’t use any force! If you can’t get a part removed or unstuck, take your instrument to a specialist. Protect the individual parts by placing a soft piece of fabric or clothing at the bottom of the bathtub or the container you’re using, and then add a little washing-up liquid to the water. You don’t want the water to be any hotter than lukewarm and you certainly don’t want to use any aggressive cleaning solutions because these will damage the finish of your instrument. After everything’s been submerged for a little while, rinse it all off and dry the various parts to prepare them for the next step.
Brushing up the Mouthpiece
By now, most of the gunk that built up inside will be gone but, to get the innards of your instruments as clean as possible, you will need to see to it with a brush. Since it’s the gateway for dirt, start with the mouthpiece. If all has gone well, you’ve already managed to detach it from the instrument. If you weren’t able to, don’t resort to a pipe wrench to remove it. There are special mouthpiece removers available, but make sure to use these with great care because if you don’t, the tube could bend in a way you definitely don’t want it to. Once removed, you can give the mouthpiece a good scrub using a mouthpiece brush. These can be bought separately or as part of a complete maintenance kit from Yamaha or Stagg. Rinse it, dry it, then move on to the next part of this instrument spring-cleaning guide.
After the mouthpiece has been scrubbed up, it’s time to clean the tubes. This can be done in the same way you just cleaned the mouthpiece: with a brush. Of course, the tubes are wider and longer, so you will need a different brush. For each instrument, special brushes are available with a matching length and thickness. These are generally short brushes of different sizes with a spiral-shaped spring attached to them. This spring has a special coating so it won’t scratch up the tubes. Run one up and down the tubes to remove any dirt that the water wasn’t able to remove. You’ll find that the leadpipe (the tube that connects to the mouthpiece) is usually the dirtiest of them all, so make sure to give it some extra attention. If your instrument has valves, use a brush to clean the valve openings too. You can even do this by wrapping a cotton cloth around the tip of a pencil to polish them up. Once you’re done, it’s time to rinse and dry again.
Putting It All Back Together
Now that every last piece of your instrument is clean again, it’s time to put it all back together. If you have a trombone, start with the slide instead of the tubes. To make sure you can easily take everything apart again the next time, it’s more-than-recommended to apply some tube grease or oxygen-free Vaseline. Then, in the case of a valve instrument, the moment has come to re-attach the valves. Apply some special valve oil to the top and slide the valves back into place while twisting them to spread the oil around. Feel free to be generous, any excess oil will eventually come out anyway. Once the valves are in place, don’t forget to secure them. For the most part, the above also goes for slide instruments such as trombones, although you will need a different kind of oil. Depending on the brand, compatible oil will consist of one or two components. Place the outer slide over the inner slide and apply a few drops of oil to the inside of the slide. Move it back and forth to spread out the oil and, if needed, add a few drops of water to thin the oil down, possibly even with the help of a special spray bottle.
Basically, all that remains now is the buffing and polishing of the finish but, while you’re at it, it’s also worth it to check the little piece of cork on the spit valve. Cork degrades and warps over time, making it misshapen which leads to leaking. No worries though, this little part is cheap to buy and easy to replace yourself. On the other hand, if you struggle to remove certain parts of your instrument or if they show signs of intense wear and tear, don’t take out your own toolbox. Always take it to a specialist because chances are, you’ll end up with an instrument that’s more broken than the one you started with. In general, if you use the maintenance tips provided in this blog once every 2 to 3 months, your instrument will remain in pristine condition no matter its age.