Many techs who routinely repair only band grade instruments have neither the time, the knowledge, nor the specialized tools to complete all these tasks, and little incentive to acquire them: At the $60 an hour that the average shop currently charges (plus supplies), a $600 bill wouldn't be out of the question and few customers are discerning or serious enough to make this kind of commitment to their instrument. Trying to explain why all this is necessary frequently got me looks suggesting that I was peddling Snake Oil: We are, after all, a nation of bargain hunters, and quality work is no bargain!
However, once your older instrument has been thoroughly overhauled in this manner, you can be assured that, not only is it playing its best, but that it will require little maintenance other than oiling, adjustment and occasional pad replacement for years to come! Below I include some technical definitions for the curious and foolhardy...
As clarinets age, the keys get loose from wear and dirt: metal is actually ground away at each end where it rubs against its post! Once the problem becomes severe enough, pads will no longer align properly with toneholes (causing leaks) and the whole instrument will have a loose ‘clackety’ feel.
Swedging, which is the technique used on keys with a through rod, is the process of compressing the metal at the end of the key to extend it and bring it back tight against the post. For solid keys that pivot on a screw, we countersink: slightly deepening the hole in the post until the point of the screw once again makes firm contact with the key and keeps it from shifting.
Properly done, it can restore an “almost new” feel to the mechanism, help eliminate leaks, and quiet the instrument...
OILING Most of the instruments that I receive are pretty dry, and the first thing I do, after disassembly, is coat them inside and out (not forgetting the tone holes) with a good grade of bore oil. Then they get a few days to rest, with re-applications of oil until they stop absorbing. Rehydrating the wood helps cushion it against cracking due to moisture absorption, thermal shock, etc. and gives it a better chance at a new life...
With solid nickel alloy or nickel plated keys, there is no way to remove 40 years worth of greenish-grey, crusty oxidation other than buffing - period: I don't want to see one more horn with silver polish residue under the keys! A high speed buffer with white lime compound will return a key to brand new in seconds, and take years off the wood body as well - just watch those toneholes and logos, and try not to break any springs...
To be continued....
The Licorice Shtick Blog is the creation of the Vintage Clarinet Doctor, a Winston Salem, NC based woodwind instrument repair shop specializing in vintage and antique clarinets, saxophones, and the occasional flute.