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[Moderator's note (BB): This text provides a set of recommendations for
working trumpets, not museum pieces. The "soaps" recommended are actually
detergents. It is very important that soaps (sodium or potassium salts of
fatty acids) should NOT be used.]
A trumpet is continually subjected to the aerosols in the musicians breath.
Over time this debris will build up inside the entire horn until the
performance of the horn is degraded. Valve action in particular is
drastically effected when those aerosols attach themselves to the piston and
valve casing. Not only will salt and enzymes in spit promote Monel valve
staining, but they will also attack solder joints. On the outside of the
horn, sweat from the hands causes dezincification (red rot) where the horn
is held tightly. Therefore, to ensure that the trumpet is performing
properly it is necessary to thoroughly clean the trumpet regularly. The
following method of trumpet maintenance will ensure that the horn can
perform at its utmost. The method is based on soapy water, a little effort,
and a lot of common sense.
To clean your horn you should use a quality snake which has a protective
coating covering its length. The snakes bristles should be moderately stiff,
but the ends should not have exposed metal tips. Wire brushes get the task
done quickly, but we do not yet have enough data to recommend them. Our
concern is that their routine use might scratch the horn interior enough to
provide a better surface for mold to anchor between washings. And, of
course, any red rot on the exterior will cause a weakened wall. We
therefore prefer to rely on the proven power of soapy water to loosen the
debris followed by a thorough but gentle brushing to remove it. To clean
the valve casings you should use a valve casing brush that is soft enough to
avoid marring the casing wall. Do not use scouring pads, metal brushes or
any abrasives on the valve casing. The mouthpiece is only cleaned with a
mouthpiece brush not a cotton swab.
Begin by removing all grease from the slides and the horn by wiping with
soft paper toweling or a clean cloth. A little grease goes a long way in
slowing down your valves, and this step will keep grease from transferring
to the valve and casing during cleaning. Silicone slide grease is uniquely
tough to remove, and if present, you might have to use a paper towel
saturated in mineral spirits. It would be wise to clean the slides
separately from the rest of the horn. Keep in mind, a grease spot in a
bathtub or on the floor is dangerous.
The most effective technique for cleaning trumpets is to work in a bathtub
or large sink. Obviously do not use an automatic dishwasher; it will not
clean the horn interior and it will permanently damage your horn. Fill the
tub with enough lukewarm water (not hot) to cover the horn, and mix in a
healthy squirt (about two tablespoons ) of a transparent liquid dish soap.
We found that Palmolive and Lemon Joy work well. DO NOT use toothpaste,
abrasive soaps, Brasso, Tarnex, or any soaps that make the tap water turn
milky. Cleaners such as Fantastic, and Mr. Clean are powerful cleaners,
but they have solvents that might soften and blush some lacquer finishes.
They are also alkaline enough to increase any red rot.
Place the disassembled horn (but not the valves) onto a large towel on the
bottom of your bathtub. Let the parts soak for about 30 minutes to loosen
any debris. Use a soft cloth to wash the external parts of the horn.
Squirt some dish soap onto the snake's brush and gently run the snake inside
every tube and slide. Don't try to force the snake all the way around the
curves of the small slides.
Use your soft valve casing brush to GENTLY brush out the valve casing.
Remember, this is a delicate part of every horn, so be gentle. Use the same
technique with the mouthpiece, but use a mouthpiece brush. If the horn is
exceptionally grungy, let it soak longer. Do not use abrasives, scouring
pads or a metal brush; the soapy water will work if you are patient.
Although in extreme cases, some dilute acid will remove dried layers, it is
far better to let an experienced repair shop perform any acid treatment.
The valves are best cleaned separately by first soaking them in individual
plastic cups containing enough lukewarm soapy water to just cover the top of
the piston, but not the felts. Use your snake to gently clean the ports of
each piston, and a soft soapy wash cloth to clean the outside of each piston.
After you're satisfied that everything is clean, rinse well with lukewarm
water until every trace of soap is gone. To prevent spotting, the outside
of all horns, must be wiped dry. Horns scratch easily, so use the softest
cloth you can find. A very worn but clean T-shirt or old cotton pajamas
work well for this. Blow out any water hanging up in the tubing, and lay
the horn out to dry overnight. It is very important that the pistons, the
valve casings, and the ends of the slides be bone dry. Oil and grease work
better and last longer if applied to perfectly dry surfaces. Remember oil
and water don't mix well.
As you reassemble your horn it is absolutely necessary to liberally coat the
valve and casing surfaces with valve oil (ten drops on each valve and ten
drops on each casing) so that excess oil will transfer to the internal
solder joints. In doing so it will protect them against dezincification
(red discoloration) and corrosion (blue-green discoloration) which are
caused by exposing the naked metal to moisture. Monel valves will similarly
be protected against spotting. During reassembly, apply slide grease to the
male end of the slide rather than the female end. Avoid applying excess
grease; valve oil will carry it into the valve area and cause problems. By
the way, if you want your horn to smell better, use a valve oil that is
either odorless, or has an odor that you can live with.
If the lacquer on your horn is worn and red spots are appearing, contact a
repair shop about a coating that will protect those spots. If you don't
protect the area, once started, the red spots will deepen until you have
only a thin red copper blotch.
Horns can be made shiny again several ways. Cloths are available that
contain polishing compounds, but select wisely. Purchase one that contains
a metal preservative if you can. Repair shops can do a bright dip on
non-lacquered horns using chromic acid followed by light buffing with a
compound that retards discoloration. Check the quality of their work
before you turn them loose.
Finally, let us say that we know that this process might sound long and
arduous, but after the first time, it will be fast and easy. The rewards,
however, will last a long time.