How to Clean a Cornet or Trumpet

Fusion's product designer Amanda Wheatley has met up with Chris Hurst, a local instrument repairer from Instrument Fixation to show us how to properly clean a cornet, trumpet or other small brass instruments. 


Amanda
: So today, what are you going to do for us, Chris?

Chris: Well, we’re just going to wash out a cornet – dead straightforward, how to wash it out, what’s the best way to go about it, or a way to go about it. And how to keep it safe, put it back together, and just make it play a little bit better.

So, first, we’re going to take everything apart.

You will need: Washing-up liquid, a toothbrush, a flexible ‘snake’ brush, a large paintbrush, kitchen roll/kitchen towel, tuning slide grease, hot water, somewhere safe to put the valves, slides etc and a cornet

Remove Slides

Take all the slides out, usually on the third slide, there’s a lock, which on this one is the finger ring.

Lay all those down somewhere nice and clean, and then we’re going to take the valves out.

Remove Valves

Obviously, we’ve unscrewed the tops to the valves, but also we’ve got three bottom caps as well. So we’re just going to take those three off – and then on the top of the valves, there, we should be able to see a little one, a two and a three. Wherever you stand to play it, the valve nearest you is usually number one.

The numbers are on this (front) side of the instrument, they’re not on that (back) side of the instrument.

Valves of cornet

Keep Your Valves and Slides Safe

So your valves are quite delicate, pop them somewhere safe. If you’re putting them on a countertop or anything like that, then just make sure they can’t roll off, and then go to wash the body out!

Wash Body of Cornet

Wash body of cornet

So at the minute, what I’m just doing is I’m just giving the instrument a little bit of a wash out with some warm water, as long as the water isn’t too hot – a little bit cooler than 'washing up temperature'.

Put Washing Up Liquid on Toothbrush – Clean Valves

Use toothbrush to clean your cornet

I’m going to use a good old trusty toothbrush, so we’re just going to pop a little bit of washing-up liquid on there and we’re going to clean the valves out. So we’re just going to go in the valves, we don’t want to go too far, we’ve probably gone about that far up the casing (indicates) so we’ll do it from both sides.

Keep a Firm Grip

If you’re careful with the brushing you can’t really damage the casing, so make sure you’ve got a firm grip of the instrument because what we don’t want to do is drop it. Because then you’ll have to go see an instrument repairer, (Amanda: Chris at Instrumental Fixations) and he’ll take all your money.

Flexible ‘Snake’ Brush

Flexible snake brush to clean inside of cornet

The only specific brush that’s for instruments I’ve brought is – we just call them Flexible Snake Brushes, as you can see it’s got a little brush on the end, and it’s got a flexible shaft on it. This is good for Cornet, so it’ll go around what we call the lead pipe – so this bit here. I wouldn’t go around there (the smaller lead pipe) with it, ‘cause it’d be a bit too tight. So we just feed it through, and usually, it gets to about there where it catches on your little water key (when feeding the snake brush in from the top). So we’re just going to come backwards now.

Amanda: Lots of gunk coming out of there then, Chris.

Chris: And then we’re going to go that way as well (feeding the snake brush in from the other way around). So that way, it goes all the way around so we’re going to wait ‘til it pops out, and then we’re just going to pull it back.

Now you can get these brushes that have got a plastic coating on, and stuff like that, ‘cause it does sound a bit noisy going through. But for the number of times you’d use it, it won’t do you any harm and look it’s already a bit dirty in there, so. This one’s pretty clean to be fair.

Use Your Thumb as a Measure

Use your thumb as a measure to clean your cornet

So, while we’ve got this I’m just going to go into the little tubes there, nice and delicately. Give them a little bit of a squish out. We don’t want to go too far around here (the inner lead pipes) ‘cause we’ll get our brush stuck, so we want to know we go about that far – so that’s to where my thumb’s holding it – so if we just push it, and we’ll know we got there because that’s where my thumb is, so we’re going into there.

And then, while we’ve got it wet and everything, I’m just going to give the outside a quick clean.

One of the easiest ways is I’ve found is just to take a dead cheap, disposable-ish paint brush.

Put Washing Up Liquid on Paint Brush – Brush Body

Use a paint brush to clean outside of cornet

We’re just going to pop a little bit of washing-up liquid there, on the brush – only a little bit. Then we’re just going to give it a bit of a clean – again, make sure you keep a hold of it because we don’t want to chase it around the bath.

These brushes are really soft, so they won’t do any damage to the lacquers or the silver plating on the cornet.

Rinse Body of Cornet

And then I’m gonna give it a quick rinse off. So as you can see, it all looks a bit cleaner.

What I’m gonna do now is clean the slides, so the bits that we took out and the valves. The body is all clean; we’ll set this to one side.

Clean Slides

So as I said earlier, there are four slides. Now, this one might have a little bit of slide grease on it, it feels a bit greasy, so what we’re going to do is take a baby wipe or a wet wipe, and we’re going to take the old grease off and make it a bit easier to clean.

Don’t use any of the wipes with bleach in or anything like that, just baby wipes or skin wipes. So I’ll do that with all the slides – try not to squeeze your slides too much in that way (putting pressure on the legs) because you’ll bend them out of line, so just be careful when you’re doing it and just lay them in your hands.

Clean Valves

Clean valves

Now we’re just gonna show you how to clean a valve. Again your valve is really delicate so be really, really careful. Only pick up one at once, and only do one at once. Keep the others in a safe place.

We’re gonna use our good old trusty toothbrush. What we’ve got to be careful of is we don’t want to force anything into the holes that are in the valve. If your valve’s sticking after about ten minutes’ playing, usually a wash out cures it. Anything more than that, then just go have a chat with your local music shop or your local repairer and maybe go from there.

Washing up liquid on toothbrush

But, to clean them out what we’re gonna do is just put a little bit of washing up liquid on the toothbrush and just give them a little foam up. The valve guide there, just give them a little bit around there, just to clean that. Around the other side, well as you can see what I’m doing is trying to get the bristles of the brush a little bit into the hole, but I don’t want to force the brush in, so just some little bits like that.

The slides again, a little bit of washing-up liquid and we’re just giving a quick go-over, just to give them a little bit of a clean. And our magic snake brush, we pop a little bit of washing-up liquid on the end, and we just go down into the slides and back out. So, again, we’re using our thumb as a measure so we don’t go too far around the corner. So we know that if I go to my thumb, then that’s as far as the brush is going to go.

Rinse Everything Off

Rinse your cornet with clean water

So now I’ve just washed all the slides, inside and out, so I’ve had a little brush through, or just to the legs, as far as I can get it. And then we’ll give them all a washout, we’ve washed all the valves. Again I’ve just left the valves at the bottom of the bath because this is a safe place to put them, they can’t roll anywhere. The last thing to do is just clean out the bottom caps, so again we’re just going to go around them with the toothbrush and a little bit of washing-up liquid, and then we’re just going to give them all a little bit of a rinse off.

Leave to Dry on Kitchen Towel

Leave to dry your valves and cornet body

I’ve laid the instrument out, so I’ll just give it a quick wipe over with some kitchen roll (kitchen towel) just to dry it, and then we’re going to pop it back together.

Grease Slides with Tuning Slide Grease

Before the slides go back in, they need a little bit of grease: Vaseline is okay, but it doesn’t last long enough, so what we normally use is what’s called Tuning Slide Grease. What you’re trying to do is, get the grease on the slide without getting the grease on the valves. It’s already had its bath so let’s try and keep it clean.

Do the Main (or Tuning) Slide Last

Replace slides

So we’ve just got a little bit of grease, you can start with whichever slide you want to do first, but I would recommend doing the main slide or the tuning slide last.  So I’ve got a little bit on this slide, what we’re going to do is just to pop the slide in like that, move it back and forwards a bit, kitchen roll (kitchen towel) to wipe the excess off.

So as we can see on this one it’s got what we call reverse slides so that one’s got both the inner legs on that bit – whereas this has got one of the inners, one of the outers. So we need to pop a little bit of grease on this bit (one of the valve slides) – so, make sure it goes all the way around the slide.

This Cornet has got what they call the third slide throw on it, so if you’re just a student playing then I’d probably leave it quite tight like the other slides, but if you want to be able to throw it out for tuning on your third finger (which would be like that (motions), then you’d throw it out like that (motions)) what you want to do is just pop a little bit of valve oil on that slide as well.

Just pop that back in and then you can set it to wherever is comfortable for your hand. It catches on that little ring there, so it can’t fall out, effectively, and then it stops. We’ve got to take the finger ring out to get the slide back in, so that’s what I’ve done there.

Replace Bottom Caps Carefully

Replace bottom caps carefully

So we’re going to pop the valves back in now, and we’re going to take the bottom caps and do them first. Always be really careful when you’re putting threads back on, we don’t want them going on like that (motions) or like that (motions). We just want to line them up nice and square and just really gently turn them, and you can feel that it’s starting to take on the thread. So that’s the bottom three valve caps on.

Replace Valves Carefully

Replace valves

So now we’re going to pop the valves back in. So, as I’ve said earlier, our valves are numbered, the little number one just by my dirty fingers. And what we’re going to do is, we’ll just very gently hold the valve and just let it fall in, and that’s that. Just let it fall in. That’s number three. Now what we need to do is we need to pop a little bit of oil on these valves, we’re just going to pop a few drops on there and there. So that’s all we need.  It’s had its bath, so we don’t need to bath it in oil; we just need a little bit. And what I tend to do is just lift and spin the valves a little bit, just to wipe the oil around the valve, on all three, and then we know we’ve got it all covered. And what we’re listening for when putting them back in place is that little click, so that’s the little valve guide, which is that bit there, sitting in its little hole where it needs to be. And what that’s there for is to stop the valve spinning when you press it. So we need all the holes that are in the valve to line up with the holes in the slide. So that’s why it needs a valve guide. So what we need to do is pop it in, and it clicks into place.

So again, we need to just screw the tops of the valves down, so if we’re just very gentle with it we can just screw them on.

Wipe Over Cornet with a Soft Cloth

There we are, that’s your Cornet washed out and it’s ready for a little wipe over with a soft cloth. This one, because it’s silver plated, we could wipe over with a jewellery cloth, or like a silver cloth. And if it was lacquered, like this one, we’d use a lacquer cloth, or maybe something like a yellow duster (small dust cloth), make sure it’s clean and it’s got no dust or grit in it.

For your mouthpiece, it’s probably worth at some point investing in a little mouthpiece brush which is about that long (around mouthpiece size) and it’s a similar shape to the snake brushes, but it cleans the mouthpieces out a treat. Or failing that, just leave them in some warm soapy water overnight and then give it a rinse out in the morning.

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