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Suggestions for Home-Maintenance of Your Woodwind Instrument

As woodwind players, we spend a great deal of money on our instruments when we initially acquire them whether it is a student level instrument or a professional one. The expense continues beyond the initial purchase with money spent on accessories, reeds (for woodwinds other than the flute family), and repair. Since woodwind playing is a serious commitment of effort and money, it makes good sense that we would want to preserve our investment to the best of our ability.

The good news is that, as woodwind players, there is not much that we need to do ourselves in order to maintain our instruments. Some easy and sensible steps are all that are necessary to keep our woodwind instruments up and running at peak performance levels and stave off extensive repairs for years to come. The bad news is that many of us do not take the proper steps to self-maintain our woodwind instruments which leads to inadequate performance from our instrument, higher repair costs and a shorter lifespan for our woodwind instrument overall.

Here are some easy actions you can take to maximize the enjoyment of your instrument and prolong its musical life as well as some suggestions for things to avoid doing.

All Woodwinds

· Swab the interior (bore) of the instrument and wipe off the key mechanism as well as the rest of the surface of the body tube. Be careful not to snag any key springs and yank them out of commission during this process. This may seem tedious but in reality, it is a two-minute job to swab and wipe down a woodwind instrument.

· Do not be tempted to leave your swab or pad saver in the bore of the instrument when you pack it away for the day. Doing so simply ensures that the moisture will be held inside the bore and against the pad surfaces to do its slow but steady damage. Moisture is the enemy of pads and not very friendly to the wood that composes many of our woodwind instruments.

· An effective action is to take commercially available drying papers or, even cheaper and more readily available, use paper towel to dab the moisture off of your soaked pads while being careful not to add friction during the process which could damage the skin of the more delicate pads.

· Do not continuously leave your instrument assembled. Disassembly allows for thorough drying and less opportunity for the joints to become frozen together or for corked tenons to become loose.

· Unless you are quite adept and thorough about oiling your instrument through disassembly and careful application of the proper oil, I recommend allowing the repair shop to do that for you annually or more often if you feel the need. This goes for key oil and bore oil.

Clarinets, Oboes, Bassoons

· After playing, remove the reed from the mouthpiece, dry and store. Swab the mouthpiece of clarinets with paper towel as opposed to a pull-through swab which could potentially alter the bore of the mouthpiece over time.

· Do not over-grease your tenon corks. Use grease sparingly and apply only when assembly becomes slightly more challenging than normal. Too much grease is messy but also tends to disintegrate the contact cement which adheres the corks to the keys and tenons.

· Avoid dramatic temperature changes when possible. If the clarinet or oboe has been exposed to extreme cold conditions, allow the instrument to warm-up to room temperature before playing. This will help avoid cracks. Bassoons are far less likely to crack but showing them the same care is always recommended.

· In dry conditions, many players like to use humidifiers in their cases of varying types. This is a smart thing to do and can help to avoid cracked wood as well.

Flutes and Piccolos

· Do wipe the exterior of the flute but take extra care not to snag any springs with your cloth. This occurs more with flutes than any other woodwind due to the springs being less tucked away as on other woodwind instruments.

· Take care to gently wipe the interior of the embouchure hole periodically. This is often overlooked and any buildup of residue will certainly have an effect on the acoustics of the headjoint.

· Check the placement of the headjoint cork also. The line on your cleaning rod should generally be seen in the center of the embouchure hole when it is inserted into the headjoint and placed against the cork assembly at the top. Avoid turning the head crown for fun! You will be altering the intervallic intonation by moving the cork up and down.


· As with clarinets, it is suggested that you swab your mouthpiece with paper towel to avoid altering its inner dimensions over time, particularly mouthpieces of plastic or hard rubber.

· Store the instrument in its case. Saxophone is the most bendable and dent-able woodwind of all because brass is soft.

· Do not apply an excess of grease to the neck cork as that will disintegrate the contact cement under the cork and cause the neck cork to eventually slip off at just the wrong time.

· Remove the neck from the saxophone and the mouthpiece from the neck when finished playing. These things have a way of getting stuck after a prolonged period of time joined together.

· Make the habit of putting your mouthpiece on the neck and then putting the neck on the saxophone when getting ready to play. You will be much less likely to bend the neck this way.

Anytime your woodwind instrument isn’t functioning the way it was intended, waste no time in taking it to a reputable repair shop. You will spend far fewer hours wasting time on trying to overcome problems or blaming yourself for lackluster performance when the fault was with the instrument.

Enjoy making music. Why else do we do this?

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