As a musician, you know how important taking care of your instrument is. With proper care and maintenance, not only will your tuba last for years to come, but major repairs that cost a fortune can be prevented. Experiencing problems with the tuba and its various components is a normal part of owning an instrument, and many of the issues that do arise can be quickly and easily fixed by a qualified repair technician. If you’re heading to the repair shop, here are some of the most common issues with the tuba that may need to be repaired.
A chemical cleaning is less of a fix, and more of a preventative measure. Recommended every 1-2 years, depending on the individual player, a chemical bath will prolong the service life of the instrument by reducing the effects of corrosion from the inside out. Essentially, think of it as very cost-effective insurance for your instrument. During a chemical cleaning, the tuba is completely disassembled and build-ups of old grease and oil, along with corrosion, are removed from the inside of the instrument with a special solution. No metal is removed during the process, and the finish of your tuba won’t be touched. After cleaning, the valves are bathed in oil and reassembled. You can also expect the repair technician to grease the slides, oil the levers and springs, and inspect the instrument thoroughly. At this time, some technicians may diagnose and recommend other repairs.
Since tuba mouthpiece shanks go from narrow to wide, it’s easy for them to get stuck over time. Don’t worry–it’s probably nothing you did “wrong”, it’s just the nature of owning a tuba. When a mouthpiece is first placed in a tuba, it’ll fit snugly. But, if it gets accidentally bumped or pushed in further, it’ll get wedged into the instrument and won’t come out. Instead of pulling out the pliers or vice grips, head to a professional–they have the appropriate tools and know exactly how to remove stuck mouthpieces without damaging the rest of your instrument. Tuba brass is soft and pliable, so whatever you do don’t try to fix this on your own. The last thing you want to do is damage your tuba even worse by attempting to dislodge a stuck mouthpiece on your own.
During a valve rebuild, the valves are returned to new (or, in many cases, better than new) condition. This process, which may have to be repeated several times depending on the severity of the issue, brings the valve and casing together in the best possible fit, effectively eliminating any low spots. During a professional valve rebuild, the relative fit of the bearings and the valve body is adjusted, so that the valve runs on the bearings only. Once the valve has been properly fit, it’s finished with a layer of bright nickel plating. Since nickel is non-reactive, corrosion of the rotor is eliminated. Plus, as the instrument is used, the nickel plated rotors will become smoother and quicker over time. Typically, this rebuild takes 1-3 weeks, based on the complexity of the job.
Whether your tuba is made with piston or rotary valves, at some point or another the valves are sure to stick. In addition to ruining the sound, stick valves can make it much more difficult to play. If you think your valves are stuck, you can handle the situation on your own with some high-quality valve oil. Once they’re “un-stuck”, make sure to keep them lubricated to avoid future issues. If you practice the tuba every day, you should make it a point to oil your valves at least once a week. Your band or orchestra teacher should be able to provide you with advice on a) how often you should oil your valves, b) which oil valve you should be using, and c) how to properly oil your valves in the first place. If you’re concerned about your sticky valves, a qualified repair technician will be more than happy to help you sort out the situation.
Finally, dents are bound to be an issue–even if you never transport your tuba to or from home, or do so very carefully. Essentially, the only way you can effectively avoid dents is to never, ever touch your instrument. If you do notice a significant dent or two, a good technician can rub and pound out the dent using special mandrels and other tools. Although this type of work can be performed by a general metalworker, an instrument technician is recommended, as they’ll handle your instrument with the care it deserves. If your tuba’s lacquer or finish was damaged in an accident, you’ll have to look very closely to even see where the dent originally was if it’s fixed by a professional.