It usually happens right around lunch time. I hear a groan from the general direction of the repair shop then a moment or two later it is followed by a pleading voice saying “You have to see what just came out of this horn!” Although I know better I usually can not resist being a witness to the latest student biology experiment that they have unknowingly been carrying out inside their instrument.
Brass players are the worst of course. All of the bends and curves are perfect places for little partially chewed pieces of breakfast and lunch to hide. Add some saliva and a month or 6 between cleanings and you can imagine what comes out when we do a complete cleaning.
Although I am joking a bit the situation is a serious one for a few reasons. The first is the health concern. Keep in mind that the player is inhaling deeply with the mouthpiece right in front of them. Everything in that instrument will be sending all kinds of scary things along with the oxygen. If a player has been sick recently and they do not clean out the horn or at least the mouthpiece they will be re-infecting themselves regularly.
Another reason to be a Mr. or Ms Clean with your instrument is that they are all designed as acoustically correct instruments. (At least the good brands!). The difference between a medium large (.459”) and large bore (.462”) Bach Stradivarius trumpet is .003”! That is way less than one piece of lunch. Today’s instruments are designed to incredible tolerances and the slightest variance will destroy the acoustic design of the instrument as well as cause valve and slide problems.
Brass Players should at least wipe out the mouthpiece cup every day and run a mouthpiece brush through it a couple times a week. If you have to eat before you play, rinse your mouth as best possible—brushing your teeth would be ideal. There are a number of products available for trumpet players that will go a long way toward keeping your horn cleaner. The best I’ve seen of these is “Blow Dry Brass” which uses alcohol soaked foam balls to remove germs and moisture from your horn. The whole process takes about 60-90 seconds and will keep your horn brand new on the inside. I think there is a version for larger bore instruments in the works as well. There are also leadpipe swabs which are the next best thing. Most brass instruments should be given a complete bath every 6 months or more often if they are heavily used and not maintained well. Call us if you have any questions about maintaining or cleaning your horn!
We’ll talk about those woodwind folks next!