The Clarinet Café | PART II: Clarinet Care

clarinet.188104516_stdIn my last post on clarinets, I talked about how to select a clarinet. Now, in my second part of this clarinet-post series, I have finally decided to address the age-old issue for first-time wood clarinet owners: how do I handle my clarinet without breaking it?!

I had this problem, too. When I purchased my first wooden clarinet on October 19th, 2013, I treated it as if it were made of glass. Five months later, I’m tossing it around (gently) as if it were my old plastic Yamaha. Why? I learned how to care for it.

The Basics

First things first: the reason why professionals tell you wood clarinets are so easily breakable is because, well, wood clarinets are easily breakable. That being said, “easily,” may not be what you’re thinking of. Basically, what this means is that if you drop it, you break it. Wood cracks easily, and clarinets are no exception to this rule. Secondly, wooden clarinet keys are also more fragile than plastic clarinet keys. While a plastic clarinet’s keys are often made out of nickel, which is very durable, a good-quality wood clarinet should have keys made from plated silver. While these do give the instrument a shiny, brilliant appearance, they rust and loose their shine easily, and need care if they are to remain bright. Thirdly, the wood of the clarinet is a living thing. What I mean by this is that the wood can expand or contract in relation to the weather, just as a house’s walls can expand or contract. When the temperature or air pressure changes too quickly, the wood can crack. When it’s raining, wood swells, especially under or near the corks. This problem is not very severe and occurs often, but if you force the parts of the clarinet together, the parts may become damaged, destroying parts of the clarinet.

Basically, don’t do anything stupid with your clarinet. When I say I’m “tossing” my clarinet around, I mean I’m just not being as careful with it as I was before. I’m not literally tossing it around from hand to hand. DON’T throw it on the floor or drop it, DON’T put water on it, and DON’T take it to a super cold place or on an airplane without proper care and packing.

When Clarinets Get Stuck…

This is a fairly common issue in the clarinet world, and you’ll find many solutions online if you Google search what to do. However, some of these solutions just aren’t the best idea for wood clarinets, and you want to be careful and try not to do anything risky. However this is also, luckily, a fairly simple issue, and pretty easy to fix.

How to Get Your Clarinet Apart without Damaging It:

  1. First, try to pull your clarinet apart with a little more force than normal. Please don’t try to pull with the strength of Hercules–it may work, but it’ll probably bend or damage your keys, which is several hundred dollars worth of damage.
  2. If pulling your clarinet apart doesn’t work, set your clarinet in a cool, dry spot that’s safe and relatively away from temperature fluctuations (aka not next to a heater or fan) for a few hours and wait. The cause of your clarinet being stuck may be water suction, and this gradually will loosen over time.
  3. If it still doesn’t come apart after four or five hours, it’s well and truly stuck. You’ll want to store your clarinet in a safe place and then try to get it to a clarinet repairman as fast as possible. He or she should be able to pry it off in about ten minutes.

DON’T:

  • DON’T stick your clarinet in the refrigerator. Many people recommend this, and it’s an excellent technique for a plastic clarinet, but I wouldn’t risk it with a wood clarinet. The temperature and moisture can settle on the wood and cause it to crack.
  • DON’T pull it apart by using too much force. This, as I mentioned before, will cause damage to the keys, which will cost several hundred dollars to fix or replace.
  • DON’T leave your clarinet sitting around stuck for a week. Get it to a shop as soon as possible. If it’s something to do with the weather, this might work, but depending on the causes, it can make the problem worse.
  • DON’T play on a stuck clarinet. If the cause of the stuck pieces isn’t already moisture suction, playing the clarinet and breathing the moisture from your breath into it can make it stuck more. If you’re in a class, tell your teacher about this, and explain to him or her why you can’t play if they don’t understand.
  • DON’T take a stuck clarinet out in the cold unprotected. If it’s cold where you live and your clarinet’s stuck together, wrap it in some blankets, towels, or socks to keep it warm. Again, temperature could cause cracks.

Probable Causes:

  • A new clarinet. When a wood clarinet is new, sometimes the wood hasn’t yet settled. This means it will expand and contract a little bit until it finally reaches its resolution. You may have to take this in to the shop often for the first few months. To avoid this problem, consider buying a used clarinet in good condition.
  • A dry cork. You’d be surprised as to how many clarinets get stuck together because their owners don’t cork grease them enough! Grease your cork regularly, every few days, even if you don’t think you need to.
  • Rainy weather. Rain is an excellent source of wood expanding and contracting, so if it’s been raining, it just might be the rain. Also, weird temperature fluctuations can also cause the same problem.

Solution:

Always take your clarinet in to be looked at by a professional before deciding on a course of action.

  • If the cork is swollen, try sanding it lightly (DO NOT let the sandpaper touch the wood!)
  • Take it in to a repairman
  • Apply lots and lots of cork grease
  • Wait it out (sometimes this works if it’s the weather; you may have a swollen cork for a few days, but just don’t push on all the way and you should be fine)

Also Note:

5831lowerkeys

When taking your clarinet apart, never press down on the keys that stick out on the lower joint, or the rod that extends past the keys. Pressing too hard on these can make keys loose and also damage the keys which can cause problems later.

Sometimes, the problem may appear to be the cork, but is actually the wood under the cork swelling. In this case, you want to take the clarinet in to a specialist, who can determine what the cause really is.

If you need to take your clarinet into the shop, don’t be fooled by their saying it will take days. Unless you’re at the end of a long waiting list, which can sometimes happen in rainy season, your clarinet should be fixed and fabulous in under twenty minutes.

This procedure costs around $20, so don’t worry about cost! It’s much cheaper than buying a new clarinet because of damages caused by cracking or damaged keys!

This recently happened to my clarinet. I first tried sanding it down as per the recommendation of my clarinet instructor. If that didn’t work, she recommended buying a new, wider barrel for my clarinet (as my barrel was sticking to my clarinet’s upper joint; this is expensive and may not be worth the money if you are not interested in pursuing playing the clarinet). When sanding did not work, I showed my clarinet to a clarinet specialist who works at my youth orchestra, and she suggested taking it in to the shop, as her clarinet had had the same problem a few weeks before. The shop was able to fix it, as well as some loose keys, in less than twenty minutes, and the bill was $35. They also recommended cork greasing it to make sure a dry cork doesn’t lead to a swelled one.

My clarinet is a Jupiter Carnegie XL, approximately five months old.

– S

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