Thursday, June 21, 2018

TRUMPET CLEANING - Preventative Maintenance Makes It Easy

Old Trumpet
Photo  by Igor Gusarov 
A drab, dirty, and unpolished trumpet has never been inviting to play. Yet, most players, especially in high school, never do anything to care for their horn. The trumpet is one of the most visible instruments on the marching band field. Clarinets do not need to be polished, flutes are too small, mellophones are pointed straight ahead, and tubas are mostly hidden in the back. However, the trumpet is at the front of every show, with its dirty bell pointing up (hopefully) at the judges.

Your trumpet does not need to be unattractive in appearance. In fact, a few minutes every day and an hour every couple of months will keep your horn looking fifty times better than all the rest.

A preparatory note: if the trumpet appears to have the lacquer (finish) chipping off or wearing through, take it to a repair shop. Polishing the horn further will only harm the exposed metal.

Major Cleaning:
I recommend a major cleaning about three times per year. Once just after school ends, once after marching band ends, and once in the spring. A major cleaning should take an hour or less if you do it right.

First, disassemble the horn and place all parts on a soft towel or cloth. Take all parts of the valves apart, including the felt and valve caps. Keep all parts organized by valve number because some pieces fit better on a certain valve. In a bathtub or large sink, heat water until it is fairly warm. Add a drop or two of mild dish detergent, if desired. Take a spray nozzle and use it to spray through all of the tubings on the trumpet and slides. Let the horn soak in the water for twenty minutes.

Now assemble three cleaning tools: a mouthpiece brush, valve, brush, and snake. The snake is a small brush connected to plastic tubing that allows you to push the tool through the piping of the horn. Clean the mouthpiece, valves, and piping with the tools, pushing and twisting the brushes as you go to ensure that all grime is removed. Use the snake to clean the valve holes.

Rinse all the parts of the horn and place them on towels to air dry. Reassemble the trumpet. Place a fair amount of valve oil directly on the valves and work the valve up and down for at least thirty seconds to get the oil worked in. Use a very small amount of tuning slide grease on all four slides (including the second valve slide). If the slides are prone to sticking, skip the slide grease and add a very small amount of valve oil to loosen the slides up.

You can now choose to polish the horn or wipe it down.

After Practice Polishing:
Polishing the horn with a polishing cloth will reduce the number of times you need to give a major cleaning or polishing. This polishing can be extensive or very brief. Purchase two polishing cloths for your horn finish (brass or silver). Also, have another cloth that is just as flexible and small for general cleaning. Hold the trumpet with one hand near the mouthpiece, protected by one cloth. Use the non-polishing cloth to work between the slides, valve holes, and in any other hard-to-reach areas. Then, use the second polishing cloth to shine the instrument. You must apply some pressure to actually get any polishing done. Go over the same area five or ten times. Move down the horn so you are not touching any of the areas already completed. Spend the most amount of time on the outside and inside of the bell and the mouthpiece tube. They are the most visible parts of the horn.

Silver Polish:
Before marching band competitions or large performances, I always do a whole horn polish. This makes the most difference for silver horns, but can be done with brass polish on brass horns as well. This is an extremely messy process for both you and your horn.

Obtain some silver polish. I recommend using a kind that is not too liquid. The best types are those that are a semi-solid and are applied with a foam sponge. Get several small towels, hand towels work well enough, that can get very dirty. You will also need a pair of bad quality thin gloves and the three cloths used above.

You must polish only the outside portions of your horn, so do not remove any of the valves or slide parts. Also, do not polish your mouthpiece. Lay out a hand towel or two on the floor and stand the trumpet on its bell. Hold it by the pipe curve near the mouthpiece. Use one gloved hand to apply enough polish to thinly cover all easily accessible surfaces. Do not waste time trying to get polish between the slides or piping. You must work quickly so that the polish does not get cemented on. Work from the top down, ending with the outside of the bell. Then, lift the trumpet up; and complete the inside of the bell, making sure not to put polish very far into the bell. Set the trumpet back down.

Take about a one-minute break. You want to make sure that all the polish dries, but it will get hard if you wait too long. Take another towel and carefully wipe as much of the polish off as you can. Be sure that the towel remains relatively clean during the wiping process to avoid smearing used polish back on the horn. Remember to wipe off the inside of the bell.

Use the rag cloth to work out the polish that may be in the little crevices of the piping. Make sure to get off all of the polish; it will become a nightmare if left to bake on for a long time. Touch up some areas with the polishing cloths. Then you are done! Wash the towels and gloves so that they can be used for later polishing.

Caring for a horn properly does take some time. However, you only will need to give your trumpet a bath or use silver polish a few times per year if you wipe the horn down after every practice or two. One major benefit of keeping a horn clean is that the valves and slide will move faster and get stuck much less often. This helps keep the horn out of the shop and lasting longer. The second advantage is appearance. Such a benefit may seem obvious, but even the most beat-up trumpet can still look great if polished.

Resources and Products:
If you are in a high school band, hopefully, your trumpet section leader or director can point you in the right direction to get supplies. I recommend Blue Juice or Yamaha valve oil. I have found that the Blue Juice does a great job at keeping valves working quickly, but it needs to be applied often and sometimes gets gunk buildup. I have had good success with the Yamaha oil lasting a very long time and causing no buildup. It is not as fast-moving and will not unstick a valve quickly, but it is a good all-around choice. Silver polish is mostly your choice and can be purchased at grocery stores. 

Purchasing a trumpet "care kit" should get you the requisite cleaning brushes; Selmer makes one that should be fine for most. Finally, I like large polishing cloths of no particular brand. It is easier to get into small areas with a larger cloth.

William O'Brochta is a recipient of the William T. Hornaday Silver Medal for Distinguished Service to Conservation in the Boy Scouts of America and William T. Hornaday Badge. He is an Eagle Scout with nine Eagle palms and has earned sixty-five Merit Badges. William is currently an Assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 17 in Roanoke, Virginia working with Troop elections, new Scout advancement, and Eagle projects. He also serves as an active member of the Blue Ridge Mountains Council Conservation, Advancement, Eagle Board of Review, and Troop Committees. He has been involved in Scouting for more than ten years.

William attends Patrick Henry High School and the Roanoke Valley Governor's School and is ranked first in his class of 500. Currently, he is working on a three-year environmental research project dealing with using plants to remove pesticides from the soil. He has presented this research at the Society of Toxicology Annual Meeting. A musician, he plays trumpet and serves as Drum Major for the Marching Band.

Committed to community service, he has volunteered for six months for Habitat for Humanity in Hungary and helped Breakell, Inc. General Contractors achieve LEED Platinum energy efficiency certification.

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