Woodwinds are much more sensitive instruments compared to brasswinds. They require more maintenance due to their number of keys, pads, and corks. All of which need adjusting in order to continue to function properly. What kind of Maintenance do woodwinds need?
- Adjustment and Regulation
- Cleaning and Oiling
- Pad Replacement
- Cork Replacement
- Humidification (Wooden Instruments)
Adjustment and Regulation
The process in which two or more keys are balanced in order to either open and or close a tonehole.
Cleaning and Oiling
I use two metaphors to help customers understand instrument repairs. Cleaning an instrument is like seeing a dentist while replacing components is like seeing an auto mechanic because that is the difference of the band instrument repair industry. We deal with both the mechanics of moving metal as well as the bacterial of food and spit rotting inside of an instrument.
There are basic cleaning kits that all students and professionals should have and use, but just like flossing many of them don't. These kits typically include cleaning cloths for the body, swabs for removing spit inside the instrument, key oil, a mouthpiece brush, and some form of grease. This is essentially a players toothbrush and floss. Everyone should be brushing and flossing everyday but there are many who do not and even those who do still have to go see the dentist every six months to a year. Its just more expensive for those who didn't brush and floss. Spit and food buildup on the inside as well as outside of instruments and can cause a number of issues. Saxophones for example are made of brass and suffer the same damage from a lack of cleaning like the brasswind family; "Red Rot" or dezincification.
Woodwinds are held together by steel screws and rods, they are not however stainless steel and are subject to corrosion. This comes from excess moisture (Spit) sitting inside the instrument. A secondary effect is that the metal will deteriorate over time due to the acid in human spit. Just like your car, oil gets old and dirty and needs to be replaced. Otherwise the oil may dry and harden causing a key to either move slowly or not move at all. Sometimes adding oil will help, but adding new clean oil to old dirty oil just makes the new clean oil dirty. Essentially a bandaid rather than a repair. Ultimately the instrument needs to be taken apart in order to remove the old oil and to add new.
Just like tires on a car pads only have "X" amount of miles before they begin to lose their ability to seal a tonehole effectively. Over time pads compress, causing leaks to develop making the pad less effective. Assuming the player has been regularly cleaning their instrument, a pad can be "floated" or adjusted to seal the leak. If the pad is overly worn or if there is a buildup of dried spit and calcification on the tonehole, the pad may not be able to seal properly. Certain notes will begin to sound more airy than full, or may not sound at all. This is when a pad will need replacing.
Cork is used on most instruments because of its sealing ability, its flexibility, longevity, and sanding ability. We use corks for clarinet tenons and mouthpieces, saxophone necks, flute headjoints, and many other pieces for regulating keys. Cork wears over time from being compressed or dries from age. Both of which will require cork to be replaced.
This only pertains to wooden instruments; Clarinets, Oboes, Bassoons, piccolos etc. The wood is still alive and needs a certain amount of moisture in order to keep the wood from drying, shrinking, and cracking. Wooden instruments need to be disassembled, cleaned, and bore oiled to retain its moisture and prevent cracking. This service only needs to be done every 3-5 years, assuming the player is regularly swabbing their instrument and is seen at least once a year to check for overly dry wood.