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My Brass Instrument Smells Funny

Posted by Andrew Christophel at

My Brass Instrument Smells Funny

“I have been playing a brass instrument for several months now and there is a funny smell coming out of it, what do I do?”  Many students do not keep their instruments clean; this then causes the metal of the instrument to break down, mold to grow and the instrument to stink.  In this article I will be talking about how to clean your brass instrument at home and what materials are needed to clean the brass instrument.  Take note that I do not recommend using soaps to help clean the instrument; a brass instrument should get a chemical bath once every couple of years depending on how often it is played.

Let’s first talk about the materials needed at your home to clean the instruments.  You will need the proper brass cleaning brushes (for your instrument), I use the Yamaha Brass Maintenance Kit for Trumpet.  I also recommend using a lint free rag or a cloth baby diaper.  The other thing you will need is either your bath tub or some type of plastic container that can hold enough water to submerge your instrument.  Finally you will want a polish cloth meant for your instrument.  All of these items (except the bath tub) can be purchased from Octave Music.

The first step in cleaning your brass instrument is to collect all of your materials and place them all in the bathroom.  While gathering my materials I like to fill my bathtub with water that is room temperature.  When I have enough water to completely submerge my instrument, I shut the faucet off.  Next I remove my instrument from the case and carefully take out my slides.  I place each slide into the tub of water to let it soak in the water to break up the food and mold particles that are on the inside of the slides.  If you play a trumpet, tuba or euphonium/baritone you will need to remove the valves from the instrument; I keep my valves in the instrument case and in the correct order.  I then place the main part of the instrument in the tub of water and let it soak for about 5 minutes. 

After the 5 minutes are up, I go to the tub and pull out one slide and dump the water out of it.  I will then take my instrument snake (the long brush that is coiled in the cleaning kit) and run it through the slide about three times.  The snake scrapes the food and mold out of the instrument.  I then dip the slide back into the tub and rinse it out with the water.  Then I wipe the outside of the slide off with my cloth baby diaper, this will help remove the water spots and old slide grease and then I place the slide in my case.  I repeat the process for every slide. 

The main body of the instrument is the part that takes the most time.  First make sure you dump all the water out, for some instruments this is easy and for others it is not easy.  I then use my snake again and push it through all of the parts that the slides go into.  After every slide point has been snaked, I pick up the valve brush (the brush in the cleaning kit that is a perfect cylinder).  I then push the valve brush through the valve chambers to help scrape any large clumps of carbon build up from the old valve oil.  After I have cleaned all of my valve chambers I then rinse the instrument out by sinking it in the tub.  Again when I pull out the instrument I make sure to dump all of the water out of it.  Finally I take the cloth diaper and wipe down the instrument to remove the water and any extra residue on the instrument. 

Next part is to put the slides back into the instrument.  I place one slide in at a time; I usually start with my main tuning slide.  When I do this I put fresh new slide grease on the parts of the slide that go into the instrument.  Remember that it is good to move the slide several times once it is in place to work the grease a little bit.  I follow the same process for every slide; once every slide is in the proper place I then wipe off the extra grease that is sitting on the exterior of the slide with the cloth diaper.  Now you can carefully place the instrument in a safe place while you clean the valves, I usually place my trumpets on my K&M trumpet stand.

The next step in cleaning the instrument is to clean the valves (if you have them).  I pick up my first valve dip it into the water; make sure you do not get the felt wet.  I then use one side of the snake and run it through the holes on the valve to remove any large clumps of carbon residue in the valve hole.  Then I use my cloth diaper and wipe the outside of the valve.  Once I have removed all of the oil residue, I apply new valve oil on the part of the valve with the holes (valve oil comes in the Yamaha Brass Maintenance Kit).  I then place that valve into the proper chamber and screw it down.  I repeat this process with every valve until they are all cleaned and placed in the proper chamber. 

My final step is to drain the tub.  While the tub is draining I polish the trumpet.  I use a silver polish cloth on my trumpet, if you instrument is not silver you will need to purchase a lacquer polish cloth.  (Octave music carries all of these items and they can be purchased online).  Once the instrument is completely polished place it back in the case by holding it with the polish cloth. 


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