Gary Got A Bath

For anyone who plays a brass instrument, you know that you have to sometimes give your instrument a “cleaning day,” where you can spend up to 2 hours just cleaning your instrument.

Today, my Euphonium (named Gary) got a bath.  And boy does he look good.

Photo on 2009-11-04 at 20.49 #2
To get him this shiny, the first thing I needed was some supplies.

-A snake.  Like a professional pipecleaner, but made to be softer so it doesn’t wreck the inside of the instrument while it rips out the gunk and buildup.

-Electric Oil.  Unfortunately, the stuff isn’t actually electric, and cannot be used to prank people.  It is, however, able to create a slippery surface, but too slippery.

-Synthetic Valve Oil.  I make the synthetic distinction from normal valve oil for one reason: it is so much better.  I’ll explain in a minute.

-Polishing cloth.  ’nuff said, the cloth makes things go from Grey to Purple, or Dull to Shiny.  Whichever.

-A large and a small towel.  A human should ALWAYS  know where it’s towel is anyway, so this should be common sense.  Also, you’re going to need it to put all your stuff on.

-Solidified Patience.  Because you’re going to NEED it.

Once I got the supplies (thanks for the ride Tim!), I eventually found my way home and got cleaning.  Cleaning a brass instrument is different from cleaning a woodwind or anything else, so unless you are a trumpet, tuba, or euphonium, or trombone, I’m not sure how this would work for you…

One last thing! Through all steps, take your time.  Take a lot of it.  Patience is needed, as a dent or a scratch could potentially lead to an annoying blemish at best, or an air leak at worst that could costs hundreds of dollars.

So take your time.

Step 1: Establish your cleaning area.
Despite how basic this is, it’s also incredibly important.  Make sure you have a dedicated space within which you can clean for the next 2 hours roughly.  It needs to have a bathtub, and a decent amount of floorspace.

Step 2: Dismantle your Instrument
This means taking all the tuning slides, valves, the mouthpiece, and any little piece of metal you can twist off/pull out must be removed from the main body.  When doing this, there are a few things to keep in mind; First, don’t you dare lose the springs for you valves if you have them, they’re kinda essential.

Second, keep any pieces that are attached to felt and any other felt pieces apart from everything else, as they are not going in the drink.

And third, keep everything ORGANIZED.  If you start misplacing things, valves will go in the wrong places and it’s just a big hassle.

Step 3: Fill your bathtub with enough lukewarm water that you can put the main body of your instrument almost entirely under water.
‘Nuff said.

Step 4: Place everything inside the tub.
Keeping the felt parts OUT, mind you.  Felt does not like water.

Step 5: Let it soak.  Chillax, read, game, whatever, just occupy yourself for 15 minutes.  And put a bug towel down on the floor while you’re at it.
‘Nuff said.

Curtis Says:
“For the record, I always run my snake through my tubing while it is still in the tub, that way the gunk will flow freely out of the water filled tubes instead of just getting spread around by the snake.”

Thanks Curtis! So here’s my bit.

Step 6: Now it’s time to put the mother&^$#ing snakes in the mother^%$#ing tubes.
When using the snake, make sure it’s the right size.  If you put one in that is too small, it will do nothing to help.  If it’s too big, it just WON’T go through.

Also, that’s probably what she said.  *snicker*

Make sure to thoroughly snake your tubes, the insides of your valves, and any other place you can possibly snake.  Why? Because gunk can appear anywhere inside the instrument, and it’s really gross.  It’s also bad for the instrument to have it lying around, so make sure you snake anyplace you can make that thing reach.  Doing this in the tub helps, as any gunk that DOES come flowing out (and there might be) will go in the tub and the water rather than on your floor, your nice shoes, or the dog.

Step 7: Carefully take everything out of the tub and place it on a towel or something you should have placed on the floor.
Remember again to keep everything organized, otherwise you will start misplacing valves if you have them.  The towel helps you keep your instrument free of dents and scratches, while also keeping your floor clear of gunk, buildup, and goop.  Win win!

Step 8: Dry everything thoroughly with the smaller towel.
This way, putting everything back together is easier and quicker; also, nothing else says you don’t care about your instrument like rusty tubes.  Drying avoids that too.  Pro tip, true story.

Step 9: Once everything is cleaned, it’s time to put this jigsaw puzzle together! Start with the tuning slides.
Here’s where the electric oil comes in: electric oil causes your slides to be smooth and easy to pull out and slide back in, but it’s viscous enough that your slides won’t slide out on their own.  For trombone users, do not use electric oil on your playing slide.

One last tip: an itty bitty, teeny weeny, small amount of oil goes a LONG way.  If you put on too much you’re just wasting a lot of oil.

Step 10: Now put in the valves.
Quick tip: this is where the synthetic valve oil kicks in.  Trombone users, you can go away for now, since you don’t have valves.

For starters, put the springs back into the valve tubes.  Second, take your unfelted, basic valves and and layer them with synthetic valve oil.  Why the synthetic stuff? My god, why NOT? The stuff makes my valves run faster than a nose in January.  I just tried out the stuff and my god is there a difference.  Try it out for yourself of course, but I think the synthetic stuff is ROCKIN’.

The synthetic stuff comes in a bunch of different numbers, but I don’t know exactly what it all means yet.  So far, #2 seems to be a good for all ages valve oil, so give that a shot if you’re as confused as I am.

One last thing: as you’re putting the felt bits back on the valves, try taking the felt pads, putting them between 2 pieces of kleenex, and squishing all the moisture, water, and oil out of them.  This will cause the felts to be more fluffy! When you put the felts back, they will make less noise than they would normally when they slam up and down.

Step 11: Take polishing cloth and rub the instrument like a magic lamp, a genie in a bottle, or like the jerk who just reminded you that you all lost the game.
Just remember: no rubbing out.  That’s wrong, kids.

Step 12: Look at your face in the shiny-ness of your instrument!
So yeah, needless procedures.  I live for them; but this is far from needless.  Cleaning your instrument needs to happen once in a while so that the instrument doesn’t rot from the inside out nearly as quickly.

Besides, it’s fun to make faces at the bell, since the conical shape messes up EVERYTHING! And fun is what it is all about.  😀



  1. For the record, I always run my snake through my tubing while it is still in the tub, that way the gunk will flow freely out of the water filled tubes instead of just getting spread around by the snake


  2. That sounds like a lot of work, but the results are truly impressive.

    Me? I just polish the fingerprints on the body of my guitar and I’m good to go…except as soon as I start jamming the fingerprints mysteriously reappear. I have no idea how that happens.


Say something!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s