Directors' Toolbox

How to Handle Easy Instrument Repairs

September 26, 2018

Now that the school year is well underway, instrument repairs are soon to be an unavoidable fact of life. The good news is many of the most common repairs can be done in the comfort of your own music room. To do so, however, you need the right tools. Here is a rundown of the most important tools you need for common musical repairs.

Brass

For brass instruments, the most common problem you encounter is a mouthpiece stuck in the receiver. This is often caused by playing with too much pressure, forgetting to clean the moisture from the mouthpiece, or failing to remove the mouthpiece from the receiver when finished playing.

If a mouthpiece is stuck, it is important to use the right tool to remove it. NEVER use a wrench or pliers to remove a mouthpiece. These may damage the mouthpiece or twist the lead pipe, making it unusable.

A mouthpiece puller helps safely separate the mouthpiece from the receiver.

The right tool is a mouthpiece puller, which is specially designed to separate the mouthpiece from the receiver.

Another common issue occurs when the mouthpiece is dropped, denting the lower part of the mouthpiece where it fits into the receiver, called the shank. This dent pinches the airflow through the mouthpiece and interferes with the playing and sound of the instrument. To correct this, use a shank tool to restore the opening at the bottom of the mouthpiece shank to its correct shape.

Being such a unique instrument, trombones often need their own set of common repairs. Slides can become sticky and move more slowly than desired. Slow-playing slides are easily fixed with a simple cleaning. Remove the slide and run a clean cloth over the inner slides until they are clean of all oil and residue. If you have a trombone cleaning rod, wrap some muslin cloth on it and run it through the outer slide. You can also use a brass swab to clean the inside of the slide. Afterwards, generously oil the slide, and it should move much more freely.

The slide should be periodically checked and lubricated. For tuning slides, petroleum jelly may be used as lubrication. This is a lighter lubricant that works well for free-moving slides. However, on instruments that sit for long periods of time, lanolin is preferred. A heavier consistency than petroleum jelly, lanolin dries slower and affords more protection to the slide. If the lanolin is too thick and you desire a lighter consistency, mix some petroleum jelly with the lanolin.

Also consider picking up the Valentino Director’s Brass Fix Kit, which features several of the tools you need for typical brass repairs. That includes a stuck slide service kit, rotor valve restringing kit, mouthpiece puller, and shank dent tool as well as an assortment of washers, water key corks, and springs.

Woodwinds

It’s easy to overlook loose pads until the last moment, but you don’t want to be stuck on concert night with an emergency pad or cork repair. If you do, though, there are peel-and-stick pads available for both pads and corks. These are short-term fixes and should not be used in place of glued pads and corks.

Set screws and guard screws are a frequent problem as well. It is important to note that these are not interchangeable between manufacturers, so try not to lose these important parts. Advise all of your woodwind players to carry a small screwdriver at all times and to frequently look over their instruments for loose screws and rods.

Avoid overtightening the adjustment screw on the A♭ key. A gap needs to remain between the A and A♭ keys.

It should also be noted that not all screws are to be tightened down. For example, the A♭ key on the clarinet has an adjustment screw that is not meant to be tightened down on the A key. There needs to be a gap between the A and A♭ key so that the keys open individually. If the set screw is tightened down, the A♭ key will leak, preventing the clarinet from playing.

Guard screws on saxophones, however, must be firmly tightened to ensure they don’t fall out. But be sure not to overtighten screws and rods, and make sure your students know as well.

Bent keys are also a frequent problem with woodwinds. Sometimes the bends are simple to see and can be gently moved back into position. Other times it is more difficult to get working, especially if rods are bent in addition to the key. In that case, it is important to know your limits and take such repairs to someone with professional repair experience.

The Valentino Director’s Woodwind Fix Kit is a good purchase for any band director. It includes complete instructions on the repairs that can be done with it and features more versatile tool designs, comprehensive assortments, greater service capability, and an array of peel-and-stick emergency pads and corks.

For an extremely comprehensive woodwind and brass repair kit, Valentino Director’s Combination Fix Kit is hard to top. This kit includes repair tools for both brass and woodwind instruments, with a mouthpiece shank tool, woodwind screwdrivers, three spring tool sizes, file, scissors, drum key and more.

A ratchet key makes drum repairs easy.

Percussion

Replacing heads and fixing snare adjusters are the usual repairs needed for percussion instruments. The invention of the plastic drum head has made this repair rather easy. The Cannon Ratchet Drum Key and GrooveTech Drum Multi-Tool both make this repair much quicker.

Strings

The most common issues with string instruments involve string repair, dropped bridges, and fallen sound posts. Resetting a bridge and changing strings are easily handled, but resetting a sound post can be problematic.

Broken strings are often due to overtightening the string while tuning. However, sometimes strings are broken because of too much tension from fine tuner adjusters.

Be careful when tightening fine tuner adjustment screws.

The fine tuner adjustment screw should be firm on the string as a starting point. As fine tuning is needed, the pitch can be raised by tightening the adjustment screw down. If the screw is tightened all the way down on the string, it puts too much pressure on the string. To avoid damage to the string, it should be loosened back up and the tuning peg adjusted to get the tuning close to pitch. Then adjust the fine tuner to the exact pitch. Attention to the fine tuners can eliminate some string replacement.

Pepper carries fine tuner adjusters for violin, viola, and cello. Perfection pegs for violin and viola and for cello are also available and are popular with some string instrumentalists. Just keep in mind these pegs can be more costly to repair if they break.

Overall, if you conclude that you need to send an instrument for repairs, a simple note in the case is the best way to indicate what needs to be fixed. Placing tape or stickers on the instrument leaves residue that must be removed, taking time away from the necessary repairs. Overall, the best thing is to know your limits with repairs and to remember these do’s and don’ts. That will help keep your instruments in tip-top shape throughout the year.

If you have any other helpful tips, please feel free to leave them in the comments section.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Raymond Horton October 5, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    For trombone slides, oil is NOT a good solution. Slide o Mix is the best for slides that are in good condition. For sides with any roughness at all use Rapid Comfort. And clean the inside of the outer slide every time before you lubricate. Use a cleaning rod and cloth, not a snake.

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