Simple Tips for Musical Instrument Care and Maintenance

Jan 14, 2015

Last week we took a brief and simplistic look at how to tune your new holiday instruments. Hopefully my basic instructions helped you get your instrument tuned to your liking, or at least prompted you to find directions more specific to your instrument. In either case, now that you’re all tuned up, this week we’re going to talk a bit about to care for and maintain your instruments so they will be with you for a long time. Last week I had to be a little vague for simplicity’s sake; with all the different orchestral sections and the near limitless methods for tuning it can be nigh impossible to cover everything. There are similar obstacles with trying to fit all the care and maintenance tips for the entire band into one article, so again, basics are the order of the day. However, I’m going to try to hit a few more sections this time around, so those in the woodwind and brass sections won’t feel left out this week.

General Care

Let’s start with some simple general tips for pretty much all instruments. Regardless of what you are playing following these simple tips will help maintain the quality and value of your instrument.

Living in Canada, I’m sure we’re all quite aware of the variations in temperature we deal with throughout the year. And just like you have to protect yourself, it is best to protect your instruments from extreme temperatures, direct sunlight, and high humidity. The ideal storage environment is a cool, dry place. Winter offers it’s own challenges, during the cold months you should allow your instrument to physically warm up before you play. This simple practice will help maintain performance in every season.

Instruments are usually very pricey, so you’ll want to make sure you don’t leave it unattended at a new place or among strangers. Something about musical instruments begs for them to be picked up and handled, even by those to whom they do not belong. Strangers may not take as good care as you would hope. If it does become damaged, make sure you do not delay in the repairs; broken or neglected instruments tend to have an unpleasant, sometimes buzzing sound. The absolute best way to ensure that your instrument does not come to any unnecessary harm is to get a nice quality cover or protective box. Try to avoid using a bag at all costs.

Wind Instruments

Now on to some specifics! Wind instruments, like flutes, saxophones, or clarinets (to name but a few) require some of their own special care instructions. The number one focus when it comes to caring for your wind instrument is cleanliness. The interior channels of these kinds of instruments have a tendency to catch and collect moisture from the air blown through them. This moisture can have a few negative effects on the inside surface, like cracks. These cracks can change the quality of the music played. On the more unsanitary side, this moisture can also cause some fungal growth. For the same reason you’ll also want to avoid eating before playing, because you can get food particles down into the instrument. This may not really change the quality of the sound it produces, but it certainly isn’t hygienic. So it is very important that you use a clean cloth to wipe down any joints or connections, as well as periodically swabbing out the interior. It’s also recommended that you clean and wipe the mouth piece before and after playing. You may want to consider a periodic professional cleaning.

As far as keeping the keys in good working order goes, never pick up your instrument by the keys. Make sure you hold it by the ends when taking it out, and returning it to, your case. There may be joints or keys that are held together with screws. These need to be tightened from time to time. And every once in a while it is a good idea to take your wind instrument to a professional repair shop to ensure that it is in top working condition.

Brass Instruments

Brass instruments, like the trombone and the trumpet, are a little easier to take care of than their wind counterparts. These instruments are usually pretty easy to dismantle, and can be washed with warm water and dried with a soft cloth. You can also air dry the parts in a cool dry place, away from direct sunlight. Special care should be taken to grease all the valves with a special instrument grease before reassembling the parts. You may be tempted to use chemicals to give your brass instrument a nice shine. Don’t! These chemicals tend to leave a sticky feeling on the surface that you may not like very much.

Key Instruments

Pianos, organs, and synthesizers don’t need a ton of every day care and maintenance, but there are a few things you can do. First and foremost it is essential to protect the keys when not in use. Depending on what the instrument is (like a piano vs an electronic synthesizer) you should carefully cover the keys with a protective pads, or get a case. In the case of larger instruments, the keys can collect dust even through usage; simply make sure to periodically wipe the dust away with a clean, soft, dry cloth. Lastly, if the keys become sticky or jammed, it’s a good idea to seek professional help.

String Instruments

String instruments vary widely, from violins to cellos to guitars, but there are a few simple care and maintenance tips that will work for all of them. Again, cleanliness is next to godliness, so keep your instrument clean with a dry cloth and make sure it is free from dust particles. String instruments tend to be made of wood, and therefore require a little different kind of care occasionally: a fresh coat of varnish and wood polish is crucial. Lastly, the one thing all string instruments have in common are the strings themselves, and replacing them can be tricky. Do not replace them all at once! It is important that you replace them gradually, one at a time, so you maintain the strain on the strings. Make sure your hands are clean before you do this, strings can pick up a lot of dry skin and oil from your hands.

Remember, musical instruments can sometimes appreciate in value, so taking care of it now could become an investment for the future.