Basics of Musical Instrument Care and Maintenance

basic instrument care

Musicians, we know how it goes: countless hours of playing your favorite instrument, in different environments, sometimes with sweaty palms, and the realization when you get home and open your case that, “I really should take care of this thing, before firing up Netflix or Hulu.”

Well, kudos for keeping the case open, and caring for your instrument because we can help you can save money and extend the life of your pride and joy. Read our handy list of care and maintenance tips for strings, wind and brass instruments. If it looks good, it’ll sound even better!

General Musical Instrument Care

  • Always keep your instrument in its case when not in use. Make sure case handles, hinges, locks and zippers are working properly.
  • Never set anything on top of your instrument, and never store anything on top of your instrument inside its case.
  • Don’t leave your instrument in extreme temperatures, as fluctuations can warp and damage your instrument.
  • Don’t leave your instrument in a car, where it’s susceptible to hot/cold temperatures as well as humidity fluctuations.
  • Don’t leave your instrument unattended, whether inside or outside of its case.
  • If your instrument is being brought inside from colder temperatures, allow it to warm up to room temperature before playing.
  • Keep your instrument clean of fingerprints and everyday dust and residue. Do this by wiping your instrument down with a clean, soft, non-treated cloth before storing.
  • Never attempt to repair an instrument at home. If a repair is needed, take your instrument to a trained instrument repair technician.
  • Consider insuring your instrument against theft or damages.

Caring for Strings Instruments (Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass)

  • Avoid placing your hands directly on varnished parts of your instrument.
  • Take care that jewelry, zippers and buttons don’t come into contact with your instrument.
  • Don’t store your shoulder rest on your instrument or in your instrument case. Use a separate bag for storage.
  • Always set your instrument down string-side-up, even when in the case.
  • Never use commercial or household solvents on your instrument. If you do need to use a polish or cleaner, purchase one from a music store and test an inconspicuous spot to ensure compatibility with your varnish.
  • Use an instrument polish every two to four weeks to keep rosin from building up on your instrument.
  • Replace your strings every 12 months. Ask a teacher or experienced friend to help you change your strings the first time.
  • Do not replace all strings at once, replace them gradually so as not to reduce string tension. Always wash your hands before replacing strings.
  • If your strings are breaking repeatedly, take your instrument to a technician to inspect the nut and bridge grooves and make necessary adjustments.
  • Use the tuning pegs to tune your instrument first, then make minor adjustments with the fine tuners. Peg drops can keep tuning pegs from slipping.
  • Take care with your bow! Don’t touch the hair of your bow, as finger oils can keep rosin from sticking. The bow also is fragile, and it may shatter if care isn’t used.

Caring for Wind Instruments (Flute, Clarinet, Oboe, Saxophone)

  • When placing your instrument back into its case, make sure it fits all the correct indentations. Do not force your case closed, as it most likely means the instrument isn’t properly placed.
  • Remove neck straps from your instrument before putting it in its case.
  • Always use a tenor plug when storing your saxophone.
  • Only pick your instrument up by the bore, never lift by the keys. Also be careful not to bend keys while assembling your instrument.
  • Avoid eating, drinking sugary liquids or chewing gum immediately prior to playing your instrument.
  • Internal moisture can cause cracks or mildew. Always pull a clean, dry swab through your instrument to remove any moisture prior to storage.
  • Gently wipe key pads of moisture prior to storage.
  • Apply a very limited amount of cork grease to cork joints when needed by rubbing a small dab of grease into the cork.
  • Never store the reed on the mouthpiece, store in a reed holder. Replace chipped, cracked or softened reeds.
  • Clean mouthpieces (ligature and reed removed) in warm, soapy water and dry completely before storing.
  • Periodically check key mechanisms for loose screws. If a key feels loose, tighten the pivot screw only until the key no longer ‘wobbles.’
  • Oil keys every 12 months with manufacturer’s key oil. Apply a single drop to the end of a needle pin. Take care not to apply too much oil.

Caring for Brass Instruments (Trumpet, Trombone, Horn, Tuba)

  • When placing your instrument back into its case, make sure it fits all the correct indentations. Do not force your case closed, as it most likely means the instrument isn’t properly placed.
  • Make sure your instrument is completely dry prior to placing it in your case. Drain water after playing and wipe your instrument dry with a clean, soft cloth.
  • Yearly professional cleaning is recommended for brass instruments to avoid costly repairs and possible corrosion.
  • Avoid eating, drinking sugary liquids or chewing gum immediately prior to playing your instrument.
  • Always remove your mouthpiece after playing. Regularly clean your mouthpiece with warm water and mild soap.
  • If your mouthpiece is dry, apply a thin layer of valve oil to the bore to keep it from getting stuck.
  • If your mouthpiece does get stuck, use a designated mouthpiece puller to remove it. Never forcefully twist your mouthpiece.
  • Bare brass sticks together when left unmoved for long periods of time. Take time to move all possible parts at least every couple of weeks.
  • Regularly oil horn key valves (3x per week) by placing a drop or two to bearings and rotors. Work the valve a couple of time to ensure oil is spread evenly.
  • Unscrew trumpet valves, wipe clean, and place a drop of valve oil, coating the entire valve. Apply oil to valve cap and bottom cap.
  • Apply slide oil to your trombone at least once a week by placing hand slide into third position and adding oil to each slide.
  • Use lanolin or similar oil to lubricate tuning slides.
  • Never try to hammer out dents at home, take your instrument to a licensed professional.

Caring is sharing, let another music lover know about these handy tips by sharing this guide with them, they’ll appreciate it! #staymusical