Oiling the keys
Regularly oiling the keys will not only prevent rusting and seizing, but it will also promote better key action and feel. In addition, the lubrication provides a barrier against wear on the hinges of the clarinet and will prevent the keys from becoming loose as a result of abrasion. This will maintain the seal of your clarinet because the pads will remain precisely on their seats as a result of the tight keys.
Once per month a small drop of oil should be placed at each pivot point on the clarinet before playing. These are located at the end of each hinge tube where the keys meet the posts. Do not oil the nylon pins on newer Buffet Clarinets which connect the left hand B and C-sharp to the right hand keys. They may become brittle and break off. Any key oil sold in a music store will do, or just use motor oil.
For the best protection against wear, use Syntec Key Oil from Doctor’s Products. I urge you to purchase this product for your own use. Not only will it protect the keys better than standard key oils, but it can actually be used less often. With this product, oiling the keys of your clarinet once every six months is sufficient to protect against wear.
Over time, dust and sludge will inevitably build up in all of the tone holes of your clarinet. It is important to clean these holes regularly, because any build-up will decrease the diameter of the hole and change the pitch, as well as make the instrument sound stuffy. The open holes are the easiest to clean since no keys have to be removed to do so. Cleaning should be performed as soon as dust is noticed in any of the tone holes. It is equally important, though, to clean the remaining tone holes. Unfortunately they are not as easy to clean since the keys which cover them must be removed. If this is something you are not comfortable with, I offer a Cleaning, Oiling, and Polishing service. At the very least, cleaning the open tone holes yourself is a necessity.
Cleaning should be performed at least twice a year, whether by you or by a professional. Pour a small amount of water into a shallow glass or bowl, and grab a handful of cotton swabs. I find that Q-tip or Equate brands are the best because of the sturdier construction. Dab a cotton swab into the water, and clean one tone hole with it. Sometimes a tone hole will be dirty enough to use several cotton swabs, but never put a dirty cotton swab back into the tone hole. Just change sides or swabs. Let the holes air-dry or dry them with a cotton swab before re-assembling the keys.
Dust and dirt will also collect in every crevice of the clarinet. Dust can accumulate in the key hinges, which can make them sluggish. Oiling the keys will help with this. Dust can also collect underneath the keys, where it is difficult to reach. Any dust should be brushed away with an acid brush, which is available for a few cents at any hardware store.
Oiling the wood
Although many companies and stores sell bore oil, it is usually nothing more than mineral oil, and should be avoided. Instead, a product formulated specifically for clarinets such as Bore Doctor from Doctor’s Products can be used with much better results. This bore oil will prevent the wood of your clarinet from drying by buffering its moisture levels. It can be used once or twice a year in the bore as well as in the tone holes.
Oiling the outside of your clarinet can be done in conjunction with oiling the bore, or when the wood becomes visibly dry. This occurs most often at the tenons, or joints, of the clarinet where the black wood can become a light brown or grey. Almond oil or linseed oil can be used to replace some of the moisture that has been lost, but Grenadilla Oil from Doctor’s Products is better. It is identical to the oil lost from your clarinet over time, and using it can restore the moisture and color to dry instruments.
Apply a thin coat of oil to your clarinet, working around the keys, and in several hours re-apply to the places where the oil has been absorbed. Let the clarinet set overnight, and in the morning wipe off any remaining oil.
Polishing the Keys
In most cases, polishing the keys has little affect on the playability of a clarinet, and doing so will just keep it looking nice. However, if maintaining the look of your clarinet is important, then it is advisable to wipe down the keys with a polishing cloth after each session. People with more acidic perspiration should especially do this because of greatly increased risk of tarnish. For clarinets with silver plated keys, this will maintain the shine much longer, but for clarinets with nickel or nickel-silver keys, wiping them down can actually prevent the acidity on your hands from dissolving the metal.
The Connoisseur Polishing Cloth is the best and cheapest polishing cloth I’ve found, and it can be used for everyday cleaning and wiping down of the keys. If, over time, the keys have become dulled, this polishing cloth can cut through the tarnished metal and produce a better shine.
The only simple way to keep your clarinet looking good is through regular wiping down and polishing. If the keys become severely tarnished, a professional such as me can clean silver plated keys with tarnish remover or nickel keys with a buffing wheel. However, these procedures are only possible after the keys have been removed from the clarinet. Polishing silver in this way can be accomplished with the pads and corks still intact, but nickel instruments must have all the pads and corks removed from the keys. This would mean getting an overhaul…
Some or all of the clarinet maintenance issues discussed here may be out of your comfort level. If so, I can perform any of these procedures for you for a reasonable price. Just contact me by phone or email to make an appointment or reservation. Whether by you or a professional, I urge you to keep up with the maintenance of your clarinet so that it plays as well in the future as it plays now.