April 09, 2015
Proper Care and Maintenance of Brass Instruments
Trips to the instrument repair shop can be costly. If you want to avoid any unnecessary expenses related to the maintenance of your brass instrument, it’s important that you take proper care of it. Taking proper care of your brass instrument will also help you produce the best sound quality possible. Whether you play the trumpet, trombone, or any other brass instrument, this guide will help you answer some basic questions about how to best take care of your instrument.
General Care for a Brass Instrument
Despite the fact that they’re made of metal, brass instruments are easily susceptible to structural damage if they’re not well taken care of. Treat your instrument with respect, and keep it in a study case when you’re not playing it. Additionally, be sure to keep your instrument and case in a place where they’re not likely to suffer any damage. For example, you wouldn’t want to leave the instrument or case on the floor where people might be walking. Another place you should never leave your instrument is in a hot car. Placing a brass instrument inside of a hot car or a trunk can seriously damage it because brass instruments, like most instruments, are susceptible to the effects of extreme temperatures. Make sure to never stand the instrument on its bell; in fact, it’s best to store it with the valves up. It’s also important to remember to empty all the water from your instrument before placing it back in its case. Because the oil and dirt from your hands can damage the instrument’s finish, you should always wash your hands before playing. Even still, wiping the instrument with a polishing cloth with further prevent any damage to the finish.
If you want to avoid accumulation of nasty materials in your instrument, make sure to rinse your mouth or brush your teeth before playing. Food particles can easily build up in the instrument. It’s for this reason that you should also avoid eating, drinking, or chewing gum while you’re playing. Also, don’t let other people play your instrument, as untrained people can easily cause damage.
How Often Should I Clean My Instrument?
Clean your mouthpiece with a mouthpiece brush and a little gentle liquid soap at least once a week. If you want to avoid the mouthpiece getting stuck in the instrument, you can oil the lead pipe once a week or so. Generally, you’ll want to give your entire brass instrument a good cleaning once a month. You can tell when this needs to be done if the lead pipe begins to smell. Each month, you should flush out your instrument to clean out the dirt that’s accumulated. Doing so will also prevent corrosion. One great place you can do this is in a bathtub. Start by filling the tub with lukewarm water and a mild soap. Avoid using detergent. Before submerging your instrument, you should remove all tuning slides, unscrew the top and bottom valve caps, and remove the valves. You’ll want to make sure to remove any felts on the valves so they don’t get wet. Use a brush to clean the instruments tubes. After you’re done cleaning all of the tubing, you’ll dry the instrument. Put any felts that you removed back on the valves and reassemble the instrument. Remember to use a quality valve oil.
If you think it’s time for your brass instrument to get a deep clean, beyond what you’re capable of in your bathtub at home, you’ll want to take it to a professional for an acid bath, or chem flush. Keep in mind that this only needs to be done about every 5 to 10 years, as it costs a lot of money and is hard on your instrument. You should, however, consider taking your brass instrument to a professional repair technician at least once a year for general maintenance and cleaning if you want to avoid what’s known as “red rot,” which is a type of corrosion that commonly affects brass.
Instrument Specific Care and Maintenance Tips
If you’re playing a trumpet, you’ll want to oil your valves every time that you play, or at least three times a week. Coat the entire valve in valve oil, after first clearing away any debris that may have built up on it. Keep your valve slides airtight by applying slide grease. Never use Vaseline for anything on your brass instrument because Vaseline is corrosive to brass. You can clean the tuning slide receivers by taking a clean cloth and inserting it into the slot of a trumpet cleaning rod. Simply working the cloth back and forth in the slide receivers until it comes out clean will do, although if you make the cloth too big, it can tear.
If you’re a trombone player, you’ll want to make sure to always blow all moisture out of the instrument before storing. You should also lock the slide when you’re not playing, as it will prevent you from moving the outer slide. Applying slide oil once a week is recommended for young players. More mature trombone players should use slide cream and water. The correct way to apply slide cream is to pull the inner hand slide almost all the way out before applying the cream only on the very bottom edge of the inner slide. Much like with a trumpet, there’s a trombone cleaning rod available which can help to clean deeper in the outer slide.
As with any instrument, the proper care and maintenance of brass instruments such as trumpets, trombones, French horns, etc. is extremely important. Proper care can extend the life of the instrument by many years and will protect the quality of sound that the instrument is able to produce.