Friday, March 13, 2009

Horn Maintenance

Brass Instrument Basic Care and Maintenance: French Horn(See separate page on re-stringing)DO NOT…Do NOT, if a valve is stuck, push on the lever. You will bend a lever or break a stem. French horn rotors are prone to ‘freeze up’ if left unused or if not well oiled. Grasp the stop arm around the center spindle and move it with your hand. If this doesn’t work, proceed to “un-sticking a valve” below.Do NOT boil your instrument or immerse it in hot water. It is important to wash your instrument periodically. Ignore web sites that suggest that instruments do not need to be cleaned. Germs can collect in the mouthpiece and mouthpipe. That said, do not over-react and boil the instruments. Do not put it in the dishwasher. Follow the steps below.Do NOT attempt to get a stuck mouthpiece loose with pliers or other devices not intended for this purpose. Pliers will harm the mouthpiece and when a mouthpiece cannot be dislodged with your own hand, chances are extremely high that you will twist or break the instrument itself with excessive force. Most music stores have a simple device called a mouthpiece puller made for the occasional stuck mouthpiece. Get thee to a music store. If you purchased or rented the instrument from the store they will pull the mouthpiece for a very nominal fee or perhaps no charge. They would much rather pull the mouthpiece as a service than have to cope with a damaged instrument.In the future, do not ‘pop’ the mouthpiece to put it in. Do insert with a slight gentle twist in one direction and extract with a twist in the opposite direction. (Most mouthpieces get stuck when the instrument is dropped. On rare occasion a mouthpiece gets stuck when the player tries to extract it by twisting aggressively in the same direction he used to insert it.)Do NOT wash the instrument with anything abrasive. Lacquered (D-500LQ, D-700LQ, and D-800LQ) have what is essentially a clear paint job protecting them from tarnish. Do not use any polish on lacquer. A soft cloth like old pajamas will usually do a superb job of wiping off finger prints. A glass cleaner like Windex can be used if necessary. Even a little valve oil on a cloth can be used for stubborn spots. The lacquer will last a lifetime if you wash your hands before handling the instrument and wipe finger prints off before putting the instrument away.Unlacquered instruments (D-780UL and D-880UL) can be polished with commercially available brass polish like BrassoTM.Mouthpieces are silver plated and can be polished with silver polish but toothpaste does a great job and is very safe. Once a month is plenty except during cold a flu season. An alcohol swab or mouthwash will not harm the mouthpiece. There is a brush made especially for the inside bore of the mouthpiece. See below. An electric razor brush also works but get one dad is done with.Do NOT remove any parts without securing them in a safe place. Piston valves need to be removed to be cleaned. But if they roll off the kitchen counter and land on the tile floor, the resultant dent may render them inoperable. Get a small box to put them in. I like to place them in a box laying at an angle with the valve stem on the side of the box. This way they do not roll around but they also do not pick up any dirt or lint.Likewise slides need a secure place if removed. Do NOT use petroleum jelly (VaselineTM) to lubricate slides. It has many useful purposes but lubricating brass slides is not one of them. Your music store has many fine inexpensive slide greases. They are a good investment. (Having a stuck slide professionally pulled costs more than the grease.) There are many lubricants on the market made for other purposes that work well. If your teacher recommends one it is probably fine.The valve oil that came with your instrument will be all you need for the first month. Soon, however, it is wise to acquire some maintenance accessories. Your music store is a great source. They can show you how to use these. You already have some of these around the house.· Slide grease· A piece of absorbent (not polyester or synthetic), lint free cloth approximately 12” square. An old cotton handkerchief will do nicely. A piece of muslin from the fabric store is great.· A soft cloth for wiping finger prints off the outside of the instrument. Old pajamas or flannel from the fabric store, or an instrument polishing cloth from the music store.· Mouthpiece brush or electric razor ‘pipe-cleaner’ type brush.· Brass instrument bore brush specially made for French horn also known as a snake.· A small wooden or rawhide mallet.· A wooden dowel rod ca. ½” diameter and ca. 5” long.· French horn string. (Fishing line works well but it must be ‘braided’ and at least 50lb test. Depending on the brand and the braid, it may require 80lb test or more and newer thin lines may require special knots so as not to pull through the hole.) Knot this and cut to length in advance. Keep some in your case for emergencies.· A screwdriver that fits the rotor screws. A cheap screwdriver can be filed thin to fit and is better than a blade that is too narrow.· A quality rotor oil with a needle tip is not necessary but recommended for those that can use it responsibly.Recommended Maintenance:Weekly:1. Wash the mouthpiece with soap and water (or occasionally with toothpaste and water) at least once a week. This is for your own health. Use a mouthpiece brush or electric razor brush to clean the inside.2. Push all the slides all the way in. It is easy to forget to move these once the tuning is set, but grease can dry inside and ‘freeze’ the slides in place or crust at the end so that the slides cannot be pushed in all the way.3. Remove the tuning slide. Place it in a safe place. Wash the inside of the mouthpipe (the first tube long, bent tube on the horn that connects the mouthpiece to the tuning slide) with the flexible bore brush and soap and water. Rinse. Wipe the tuning slide free of grease with a paper towel. Wash it with the flexible bore brush. Re-grease and replace.Cleaning the mouthpipe is very important for several reasons:1.) Your health. This is where germs collect.2.) This is also where acids and salts collect. Soap neutralizes these. If not neutralized, brass deteriorization can occur.3.) Foreign substances can build up and after time restrict the air flow. (Brushing your teeth before playing is a good habit for the instrument and the player.)* It is a good idea to take everything apart, wash and re-grease once a year. This is also recommended initially if you are using a previously owned instrument. Follow all the instructions above but remove all four slides and immerse the body of what remains in luke warm soapy water. Rinse well. Wash and re-grease all the slides, oil the pistons etc.See the new horns from W. Nirschl at


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