How to Know When it’s Time to Clean Your Instrument

In order to keep your instrument in optimal condition and sounding like it should, it’s important to keep it clean. With some instruments this is more important than others – nobody wants to play a dirty harmonica, for instance. A big part of keeping your instrument clean is storing the instrument in a high quality gig bag, but even using one of our premium gig bags, you will still handle your instrument and your instrument will invariably get dirty. Cleaning your instrument can include anything from simply running a cloth over it to making sure that your instrument is in good repair and that all the mechanics are working. Knowing when to clean and maintain your instrument or do a COA (cleaning, oiling and adjusting) will help keep your instruments spick and span, and sounding like they should.

You’ve just dropped your instrument

It’s the worst feeling in the world, knowing how much your instrument cost and knowing that you’ve just dropped that on the floor. It’s usually not the end of the world having dropped your instrument, but it’s important to check your instrument for damage. If your instrument suddenly rattles when it shouldn’t or if a piece has chipped off, it may be worth taking it to a professional music store. If not, there’s no time like the present - take a soft cloth or a chamois and start giving your instrument a good clean.

Pay attention while you play

You should know your instrument better than anyone, including your roadies. If you notice something isn’t working right when you’re playing – a key is sticking, a tuner is wobbling or a screw looks like it’s coming loose, it’s time to give your instrument some TLC. Remember that if you can tackle problems sooner rather than later, it’s generally cheaper and easier to fix than simply hoping for the best.

It doesn’t look right

If your instrument isn’t as shiny as it should be, if it has smudgy finger prints or scratches where there shouldn’t be, it’s time to give your instrument a clean. While these probably won’t affect the way your instrument sounds, it will certainly make you happier when you play it, knowing that your instrument is in good repair.

Check for leaks

This will only really apply to woodwind instruments, but take a look at the colours and condition of your pads. If they’re cracked, swollen or mouldy, it’s time to replace them, and if this is the case, it’s probably time to clean your instrument too. To check for leaks properly, take each individual section, cover all the holes with one hand, cover one end with the other and blow into the open end. If air is escaping, you have a leak.

If you’re using a larger instrument like a saxophone, try taking your instrument into a dark room, and putting a small, high powered torch into the top (without the neck). You shouldn’t see any light escaping through the instrument – if you do, you have a leak.

Check the mechanics

This will differ wildly depending on your instrument. As a regular player you should have a good idea of how your instrument works – check the mechanics which produce the sound to see if they’re in good working condition. If your instrument has reeds, check that they are clean and intact. If you’re playing a guitar, make sure that the bridge and pickups (if any) are working properly and aren’t rattling. Play through the entire range of sounds – if anything feels wobbly or sticky, it’s time to take a closer look at your instrument.

Check that your corks are in good condition

Again this will only really apply to instruments which have corks, but if yours does, make sure that they are in good condition. There should be no pieces missing or split, and your instrument should not wiggle or fall apart in your hands. If this is the case you should consider taking your instrument to get recorked by a professional.

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