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July 1980 Preventive Maintenance, Cleaning, and Handling by Joel Guldin

The band clown is at it again before rehearsal, this time showing off his discovery of a new method for drinking orange soda. He places the neck of the soda bottle into his baritone horn mouthpiece and holds it aloft for everyone to see. “Here goes,” he shouts, upending the bottle so that the liquid travels down through the mouthpiece. After two good swallows he lowers the bottle and smiles at his audience, some of whom are laughing. Raising it for another swig, he stops short, because snaking down through the orange soda are greenish-gray rivulets of mouthpiece dirt. Seeing the dirt, the band clown also turns greenish-gray.
    This true story is one that probably happened many times in various forms. A band member learned what should be an age-old adage: instruments become dirty through use.
    Incorrect cleaning adversely affects the intonation, impairs mechanical action, corrodes metal, and strips the finish. These destructive factors can be minimized by paying careful attention to eliminating moisture, body acids, salts, and foreign matter from the instrument.

Eliminating Moisture
    Moisture, the bane of woodwinds, is also an enemy of the brasses, aiding in the tarnishing and eventual corroding of the interior tubing. Saliva, condensation, and high humidity levels are the main culprits. Teach students to empty the collected water from the instrument through water keys or by pulling each slide. A piece of camphor gum placed inside the case will absorb droplets that may have been left behind. Rust on steel water key and valve springs is best retarded by applying a few drops of oil.
    Simply holding a brass instrument reduces its life expectancy, because butyric, lactic, and hydrochloric acids present in perspiration attack metals. Players secrete either alkaline or acidic solutions that eat through plating, lacquer, and brass. You can check or at least slow down this process by wiping away fingerprint smudges after playing, using a plastic or leather valve protector, draping a cloth over the place of contact, or wearing a glove on the non-fingering hand while playing.
    Saliva, also detrimental to an instrument, may contain a variety of acids, depending on the type of food consumed before playing. Even if you’ve fasted for several days, carbonic acid is still present. The main victims are the soft solder joints, such as water key nipples. As a prevention, players should rinse the mouth out after eating, brush the teeth thoroughly to eliminate any extra acids, and blow saliva out of the instrument immediately after playing.
    Salts are present in both saliva and tap water, and on evaporation a white substance is left on the inner tubing and valves. This material acts as an abrasive on movable parts, impeding action and wearing away nickel and chromium castings, which are precious to a piston’s life. The salts, mainly carbonates, sulfates, and chlorides, are of a higher concentration in hard water and can come in contact with the instrument when it is being flushed out during cleaning, or if water is used on valves instead of oil.
    Foreign matter, like small particles of food emitted from the mouth or dust and dirt from the environment, impair acoustical arid mechanical performance.

Cleaning the Instrument
    Once a week the horn should be flushed out with lukewarm water to get rid of the build-up of dirt and saliva in the tubing. While the water is running through the horn, the valves should be worked to clean the valve chambers and slides.
    If played daily, an instrument should be cleaned at least once every two weeks with all the valves and slides removed. A systematic cleaning method eliminates the possibility of neglecting one part. Instructing the student how to take the instrument apart may seem unnecessary, but a student’s trial and error will undoubtedly lead to improper handling causing many problems.
    One system for cleaning is to remove the mouthpiece first, then the valves and slides in the following order: first valve and its bottom cap, second valve and cap, third valve and cap; first valve slide, second, third, and main tuning slide. Placing these individual parts on a lint-free cloth will prevent scratches and stop the valves from rolling. Then clean the parts in the order in which they were removed.
    The mouthpiece can be cleaned in a variety of ways; the most popular is using a mouthpiece brush. The tip of the brush, usually made of cut wire, should be blunted with a piece of adhesive tape to prevent abrasions. Use a toothpick to remove any visible lumps of dirt. A pipe cleaner, with the end doubled back so the wire can’t scratch the interior, is another alternative. Instruct players to use warm, soapy water to flush out any loose particles left inside. The soap should be non-abrasive.
    To avoid scratching, the three valves should be cleaned by immersing them separately in plastic containers full of soapy water. Felts and corks must not become wet, so the valve caps should be removed before cleaning the valve casing. Then a flexible slide cleaning brush (snake) can be used to remove debris from the valve ports. The ports should be rinsed with cold, clean water and dried with a chamois, which will deter evaporation that leaves salt deposits. The bottom caps also should be soaked and wiped dry.
    A plastic basin or a basin with a rubber mat on the bottom is necessary for cleaning the valve slides without causing abrasions. The basin should be filled only with soapy water; chemical cleansers should not be added to clean the horn because a reaction between the lacquer and the chemicals could quickly eat through the finish.
    Submerge a slide and run a snake through it. The best snake to use in this case is one with a rubber cover over the flexible metal cord. Afterwards, the player should flush clear water through the parts and blow vigorously into the tubing to remove water left on the inside. The exterior should be wiped dry with a chamois.
    Next, the body of the instrument should be immersed in the water and the tubing cleaned in the same manner as the slides. A valve brush is required to clean the valve casings thoroughly. Then the student should remove the horn from the solution, blow water from the tubing, and dry the inner casings by swabbing them with a valve cleaning rod and cheesecloth. Inserting a two-foot piece of cloth through the eye of the rod and draping it over the tip and entire length of the rod prevents damage to the interior. Drying the entire instrument with a chamois completes the job.

Oiling and Polishing
    The last steps in the cleaning process are polishing and removing smudges and fingerprints from the horn’s exterior to restore most of the original luster. Lacquer-coated instruments can be buffed with a chamois, but polishing silver-plated instruments is more involved. Most instrument manufacturers agree on the use of commercially-available products to polish and protect a silver finish. However, consult the manufacturer of a particular instrument to determine what can best be used without fear of spoiling the finish.
    Before replacing the slides, students can remove any corrosion on the slides with the same cleaning agent they used on the finish. Gasoline or kerosene can also be used, but extreme care must be exercised because contact with the finish or lacquer would be most harmful. Players must never buff or sand off corrosion. This procedure removes metal, making the slides too small and causing leakage.
    A variety of substances can be used to grease the slides after cleaning them: commercial slide grease, mutton tallow, petroleum jelly, and cork grease. After greasing, students should insert only one end of the slide in the sleeve, pushing in and out while rotating it slightly. The process can be repeated for the other slide end. Then both slides can be pushed in simultaneously as far as possible, and excess grease can be wiped off. Slides should always be removed and replaced by gripping them in the middle and applying pressure evenly to both ends.
    Valves must be oiled before replacing them. Applying a liberal amount of oil ensures a better fight against the drag caused by dust and dirt from outdoor playing. Each valve must be in the proper casing, and the guide key must be aligned with the casing keyway to avoid jamming. Pistons should never be placed in the casings and rotated until the valve guides slip into place.
    Furthermore, take steps to protect the inner tubing of the horn before playing. Students should hold the instrument in a vertical position with the mouthpiece receiver up and pour a generous amount of valve oil into the lead pipe. This action gives a protective coating to the interior, making it easier to flush out foreign particles during the weekly cleaning. Blowing air gently through the instrument distributes the oil throughout the entire tubing with any excess coming out of the bell. Excess oil can be wiped away with a chamois or polishing cloth to prevent spotting. If a small amount of oil is placed into the lead pipe before each practice, the valves will remain lubricated and free.
    All that remains in assembling is to insert the mouthpiece into the receiver. Some teachers advocate a slight twist to seat the mouthpiece better, which could be dangerous to tell a young student because he may overemphasize the action. Tell students never to thrust the mouthpiece in or hit it for good luck. This results not in a better seat but a ruined stem and receiver. The instrument is now ready to be played, but if no sound comes out, the horn has been assembled incorrectly and must be checked.
    Most instrumental music budgets can’t afford excessive repairs, and directors who are unable to make repairs themselves are often forced to shelve crippled instruments. Teaching students the fundamentals of preventive maintenance can add many trouble-free years to the life of each instrument.