A. Before you even open the case…
1. The case is vital to the protection of your horn and very much taken for granted. Hard shell cases are a necessity and provide maximum protection. There are countless styles with many storage options including multi-horn compartments.
2. There WILL BE damage caused to your instrument if dropped while in the case, regardless of the construction of the case.
3. If the instrument doesn’t fit snug, damage can occur over time just from everyday carrying.
B. Brass is a soft metal and care must be taken when handling.
1. Most clarinet keys are made from brass, nickel, or a combination of the two. Then they are plated in nickel or silver. Some vintage instruments have keys that are made out of German silver, which is actually a nickel composition. They tarnish very easily and are very malleable and soft.
2. Always be aware of how you are grasping the instrument when assembling. Please do not squeeze the keys and try to hold it so you are grasping as few keys as possible.
3. It is extremely important to line up the upper section and lower section bridge keys. If not properly aligned several notes will not speak, depending on the nature of the misalignment.
4. Tenon, or joint corks, need to be greased. Too much can make a mess and too little can make the assembly very hard. Only use a small amount when necessary on each one, about the size of an average pencil lead tip. The middle tenon cork is the most crucial and carries the greatest abuse because of the weight of the top and bottom joints, which also have the weight of the bell, barrel, and mouthpiece!
C. Support your local neck strap!
1. Some clarinet players choose to use a strap and it’s up to the individual player whether it is needed. Some of my best customers wouldn’t leave the house without it, while others are embarrassed to even mention it. If there are tendon or muscle issues, I would highly recommend it.
2. The company BG makes the best straps on the market. They carry the most varied sizes and styles, including special yoke and harness straps that are extremely comfortable.
D. Playing your instrument causes damage.
1. Be smart! Do not eat or drink (other than water) before or while playing.
2. Saliva deteriorates the inside of the instrument and needs to be removed as much as possible after every playing session. It also breaks down pads and makes a wonderful home for mold and mildew.
3. Sweat, excess saliva, water, oils, and other contaminates should be removed from the outside as well. These can build up over time and cause sticking keys and can even rust the rods or screws.
4. Everyone has different acid levels in their saliva and skin. That is why instrument companies do not put warranties on any finishes.
5. The wrong finger pressure or the way you hold your horn can be harmful. Never squeeze or put excess force on the keys.
E. Cleaning up the mess.
1. There are so many swabs and cleaning products on the market. After trying many products personally and consulting various sources, I have come up with the following solutions to remove moisture.
Step 1- Remove the reed and ligature while leaving the rest of the instrument assembled.
Step 2- Pull a good quality corded/weighted swab through the entire clarinet including the mouthpiece. I recommend doing this at least twice alternating from dropping it through the mouthpiece to dropping it through the bell. You do need to be careful when dropping the cord through the mouthpiece as to not damage or chip it.
Step 3- Disassemble the instrument and clean any remaining moisture from the outside tenon joints and inside tenon sockets. I do not recommend pad savers for clarinet, especially wooden instruments.
Step 4- A separate cloth can be used now to wipe off the outside of the instrument if desired. A good name brand plated finish cloth will work well. Heavy tarnish on silver keys might need the attention of a professional. Please do not use silver creams or sprays on them. It will make a mess! Nickel keys will dull or gray out rather than turn the familiar black oxidation color of silver tarnish. The only thing that will get rid of nickel tarnish is a buffing wheel, so please do not try this either!
PLEASE NOTE: There is special care that needs to be taken with wooden instruments. Bore oil is a necessity. There is much speculation and debate on the internet about how often and whether you should even oil your instrument. I have seen too many cracked bodies to not recommend it. Think about it…saliva is acidic and strips the natural moisture from wood.
Periodically the bore needs to be oiled with a good quality oil to replenish that natural moisture. Please only use a very small amount on a stemmed swab. Think of it like painting. Small even coats are much better than thick messy ones. When you hold the instrument up to the light and look down the bore it will look shiny. You should oil your instrument at least once per month. This should be done more often if you live in a drier part of the country like the south west. If your instrument has a crack it can absolutely be fixed! BUT, this repair is difficult and if done wrong can look horrible. Pinning is the only sure way to stop a crack and if it is done correctly will virtually be invisible.
Broken tenons and tenon sockets can be repaired too. There is no glue available to mend a broken tenon, however. Specialized machinery and lathes are used to cut the old section off and graft a new one on. Cool, huh?
F. Why do I need to get my horn adjusted when it seems to play fine?
1. Normal wear and tear to any woodwind instrument happens over time. As players, we get used to and adapt to the subtle changes and don’t even realize it most of the time. Even the most careful perfectionist’s instrument needs to be adjusted because of the settling in and perishable nature of pads, corks, and felts.
2. The wrong shop can cause much more damage than good! It is critical to get the right kind of work done by someone that has the precise feel and touch for the art of repair. Some technicians with many years of experience still do not have the ability to fine tune an instrument.
3. On average, an instrument should be adjusted about once every year to year and a half. If you catch potential problems early, it will save time and money in the future and keep your horn in optimal playing condition.
G. The scoop on pads.
1. There are several pad options available today. The most common are made from felt with a card board backing covered with a bladder skin to provide a seal. There are many degrees of quality and firmness of the felt interior and outside bladder skin.
2. In the late 1970’s and 1980’s, technicians started to use cork pads. Factories even still put them on some horns today. They offer little in the way of advantage. The much firmer material is quite noisy and severely deteriorates when subjected to saliva.
3. Synthetic pads have come a very long way in the past ten years. The first several generations were very rough and didn’t hold up well at all. The most widely known are made by a company called Valentino. I do not recommend these products at all. They are very inferior and are very squishy, soft materials. They are meant for amateur or shade tree technicians and only require a heavy, sloppy seat to seal. There is no rigidity or “pop” to them at all.
4. There is only one synthetic pad that I recommend. Omni pads are a fantastic invention from a high end instrument tool specialist and fabricator. His company is called Kraus Music Products. These pads have a rigid backing and are available in numerous thicknesses and densities. I have been extremely impressed with their quality and feel. A properly installed Omni pad will last for many years, outlasting a traditional pad by a long shot!
5. Please do not ever use a dollar bill to “clean the surface” of your pads. Use either cigarette rolling paper or ultra thin pad cleaning or powder paper. Skin pad surfaces are very fragile! Always be very careful when cleaning your instrument that you do not “rake” across them and damage the skin. If the skin is ripped or frayed, the pad is toast!
Some myths, tips, and general merriment…
– Use common sense when playing and handling your horn. It does not take a lot of extra time to really take care of it.
– Do not leave your reed on your mouthpiece after you play. Find a nice flat surface to store reeds on. Glass works wonderfully.
– I do not recommend working on your own instrument. Even the most careful person can do major damage.
– Please do not sit your instrument on the floor or in a chair. Many different clarinet stands are available and work great!
– Did you know old school techs used to blow cigarette smoke through an instrument to check for leaks?
– I do not recommend key oiling your instrument. Most key oil bottles expel way too much oil and it makes a mess. Many instrument companies are using a heavier weight oil that tends to stay on the rods and pivot screws longer. Most after-market oils are very thin so they can flow very easily. Because the rods and tubes can only hold so much oil, these thin viscosity oils will only run down your posts. In some cases it can soak into a key cork and cause it to fall off. In one extreme case, I repaired an instrument where excess key oil was used and pads were falling off.
– If you are in a marching band situation, please do not play in the rain!
– Make sure your case is latched or zipped closed before you pick it up!
– Never, EVER, leave your instrument in your car or any other extremely hot or cold place. Hot and cold temperatures will reek havoc on it (the instrument, not your car silly)!
– Did I mention that a poorly repaired horn is worse than a horn not repaired at all?