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Welcome to fall everyone!
This month I am going to revisit a topic I have talked about before, because it is an important and timely one. As the weather begins to cool, here in the repair department, we start to see instruments coming in with cracks. Any instrument made of wood can crack, so here are some tips to help protect your investment. While this article is written from the perspective of woodwind instruments, many of the ideas also can be adapted to strings too.
As soon as you start heating your home, start humidifying your instrument. A home humidifier is a good start. You should also consider a humidifier (or 2, if it is a large instrument) made to fit in your instrument’s case. Ward Brodt sells a number of humidifiers for this purpose, including products from Damp-It. These are safe products, that if used according to directions, will not leak in the case. When using a humidifier in the case, be sure to keep the case closed, even when you are using the instrument, as this will help maintain the humidity level it the case. A hard case is preferable to a soft case, as it will hold the moisture longer. With a soft case, you will need to refill the humidifier much more often.
The cold is also hard on wood instruments. I believe in keeping my instruments where I am comfortable. If I’m too warm or too cold, the same is true for the instrument. For smaller instruments, fleece lined covers are available for cases, and these are great for cold Wisconsin winters when you have to take your instrument outside, and they also keep your case looking nice, too! For woodwinds, never play a cold instrument (below room temperature.) Give it time to warm up, or if you cannot wait, tuck the barrel and upper joint of a clarinet (or upper joint of an oboe) under your arm for a few minutes to raise the temperature of the wood. A cold instrument expanding from the inside out will cause a problem.
For woodwind instruments, such as clarinets and oboes, now is the time to oil the bore. Twice a year is recommended, and one of the times is now when the weather is changing. Do it again in 6 months. We sell oiling kits in our band and orchestra department, or you can ask us to do it for you in the repair department as part of your yearly maintenance. And keep those woodwinds swabbed! This should be done every time the instrument is played, as well as wiping excess moisture out of the sockets. Excess moisture can cause as many problems as a lack of moisture, so be diligent! We have a variety of swabs on hand to fit your needs.
This covers the basics. For additional information, check out our fact sheet on preventing cracks. It talks about all the points listed here and more. If you still have questions, just ask us. Unfortunately, sometimes a crack will happen despite your best efforts. Don’t panic. It is common problem, and our technicians have the experience and knowledge to repair your instrument. It is time to start your cold weather maintenance routine, so get the items you need and start using them, and keep using them until the heat is turned off next spring. But don’t forget why you have the instrument.
Make music. Enjoy!
Your Ward-Brodt Music Technicians
Not every crack can be prevented, but by following these recommendations, you can reduce the chance of a crack opening on your wood clarinet or oboe.
2. OIL THE BORE with a good quality bore oil twice a year. If you do not want to do this yourself, our repair department would be happy to do it for you.
3. SWAB THE BORE AND WIPE OUT THE SOCKETS of the instrument before putting it in its case. Liquid sitting in direct contact with wood can cause mold or cause the wood to rot. As an additional benefit, swabbing increases the life of the pads. Check the socket rings regularly, and if any are loose, take the instrument to a qualified repair technician to have them tightened immediately.
4. HUMIDIFY THE CASE – very important! Hard shell cases are easier to humidify than soft cases, as they tend to be more airtight. When the instrument is not in use, keep it in its case! The easiest way to humidify your case is to purchase a humidifier specifically made to go in your case, or even inside the instrument. Start using it as soon as you turn on the heat in your home in the fall, and continue to use it until you turn your heat off in the spring. It is much easier to dry an instrument out than it is to put moisture back in. A dry instrument is much more likely to crack than one that is properly humidified.
5. Never play a wood clarinet or oboe when the instrument is cold. Sudden temperature changes are a major cause for cracking. Think of it this way: The instrument is a wooden tube with a thick wall. If warm moist air is blown into a cold instrument, the inside will warm and start to expand at a faster rate than the wood on the outside. It basically acts like a wedge pushing outward, and if it finds a weak point, such as a bit of wood grain or the area around a tone hole or post, the outer wood will start to open up. Now you have a crack.
6. Do not leave a wood instrument in a cold car. If you do, try not to open the case until the interior of the case comes up to room temperature. This can take several hours. If you cannot wait this long, take the upper joint (and the barrel for a clarinet) and hold them against your body, or even under your arm. This will warm the OUTSIDE of the instrument more quickly than the inside, and will help prevent the wedging effect of the inside warming more quickly. Remember, it is very important that the outside warms before the inside of the instrument. Fleece-lined case covers are available that can help insulate the case, or even wrap the case in a blanket if it is going to be out in the cold for a while.
Finally, your instrument is most comfortable where you are comfortable. Not too warm, not too cold, not too wet and not too dry! Do NOT store your instrument in your basement, attic, or car. Keep your instrument in a room that has proper humidity control and a temperature that feels good to you..
A good quality instrument treated with care and proper maintenance can be with you for a lifetime. While a crack will not necessarily ruin an instrument, it can increase maintenance costs, and if not repaired can make an instrument play poorly. Some instruments will crack no matter how well you treat them. If it does happen, don’t panic! Bring your instrument to our repair department for repair, and then keep following the advice on this page. A repaired crack will probably need to be resealed from time to time. As long as it is kept maintained, the instrument will still provide you with years of use and enjoyment.
If you have questions, please contact our repair department for more information.
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