How it works: Repair

Ever wonder what actually goes on in the repair department? We wonder that every day.

Part I: Repair

Brass:

Soldering>Sonic cleaning>Dent removal>Replaced pieces>Play test>Mouthpiece Sanitation

Soldering

Any pieces that need to be soldered back on are replaced first.

Sonic Cleaning

The horn is taken completely apart and submerged in a special cleaning solution. While soaking, sound waves vibrate to create air bubbles so solution reaches every part of the instrument for a deep clean.

After a few minutes of soaking, the instrument is scrubbed with air powered brushes.

The instrument must be completely dry before continuing service.

Dent Removal

This is done after the cleaning because dirt or debris in the horn can get stuck in the metal while smoothing out dents, which can create a ripple effect in the metal.

Replaced Felts and Corks

Once the instrument is cleaned and its dents are removed, it is reassembled with new valve felts. If other pieces, specifically water key corks, need to be replaced, they are replaced now.

Play Test

The tech will play test the instrument (with their own mouthpiece) to ensure that it’s playing correctly. If not, one of the previous steps will be revisited until it works properly.

Sanitation

Lastly, your mouthpiece will be sanitized.

Other Interesting Stuff

Silver-Lacquered instruments are dipped in a “silver dip” after their sonic cleaning to shine the silver, then are polished after their repairs are done.

Make sure you oil your valves before playing! The repair shop purposefully doesn’t do this so you can use your preferred oil.

Be sure to regularly oil your valves and empty spit valves after every session to maintain your instrument between repairs.

Woodwinds

Level & adjustment>Soldering>Play test>Sanitation

Level & Adjust

Generally, servicing a woodwind is completing a level and adjustment. The mechanics of the instrument are checked, such as straightening key rods or aligning misaligned screws and keys. If screws aren’t placed correctly, key rods can fall off. Any keypads that are worn or warped are replaced, as are any corks and springs.

After the necessary adjustments, the instrument is checked for “leaks.” The tech focuses a light on the instrument to make sure that no light shines through the keys. It needs to be sealed for proper playing and sound quality.

Soldering

Any broken keys or other pieces will be replaced, if needed.

Play Test

Using their own mouthpiece, the tech will play the instrument to ensure it’s in proper working order and revisit its repair, if needed.

Sanitation

The mouthpiece is sanitized before returning it to you.

Other Interesting Stuff

Key pads will wear out or warp over time with use, but the process can be accelerated by moisture. Swab your instrument after every session to keep your pads dry and prolong their lifespan.

When swabbing your instrument, start from the narrower opening and move to the larger, otherwise it can get stuck (trust us).

If an instrument’s keys are out of alignment, it may not play in tune and can be harder to play. Students can develop bad habits to compensate for this, so it is important that your instrument is regularly maintained. Some professionals have their instrument serviced every six months; we recommend service once a year or more frequently if you’re experiencing issues.

Part II: Irreversible Damage and How to Prevent It

Red Rot

Most brass instruments are an alloy, meaning that they are a hybrid of two metals. Specifically, brass instruments are made of copper and zinc. Red rot is the corrosion on copper after acidic substances break down the zinc.

Starting inside the instrument and moving outwards, a circular red patch with a dark spot in its center will appear on the outside. The metal will be weak and a probe can easily be pushed through it.

Red rot is caused by acids found naturally in saliva and can be intensified by food and drink, as well as some cleaning products. To prevent it, try not to eat or drink before playing, empty the spit valves after every session, oil your valves regularly, and send regularly for maintenance, particularly a yearly sonic cleaning.

Yellow brass is the most susceptible of all brass instruments. If caught early, it can be fixed on some occasions, but most often the damaged part will need to be replaced.

Cosmetic Damage

You can still play on an instrument with serious cosmetic damage, but your instrument will loose its value. Removing lacquer or scratching varnish is also not covered by maintenance or insurance, so it’s important to maintain the instrument’s appearance.

Do not use any product or tool that hasn’t been specifically designed for your instrument.

NEVER try to pull a frozen mouthpiece.

Though you can’t control everything, you can avoid some of the big disasters by keeping your instrument in its case when not playing, not running with an instrument in hand, and avoiding any staircases you find suspect.

Part III: Real Damage We’ve Seen

  • Red rot
  • Drawings etched into a violin
  • A trumpet run over by a parade float
  • A bow that used for batting practice
  • Brass scrubbed with steel wool
  • Toys stuck in a trumpet
  • Pine cones stuffed in bells
  • Glue poured onto a flute and its case
  • Marbles tossed into bells
  • Lego alligators in brass pipes
  • Mouthpieces stuck inside saxophones
Has something horrible happened to your instrument? Bring it to our repair shops in Champaign or Normal for a free repair estimate.