A few years ago a student of mine was struggling uncharacteristically
during a lesson. After some discussion I decided he might need to clean
his instrument out. The discussion went like this:
Teacher: “Your sound is real stuffy. When’s the last time
you cleaned your horn?”
Student: “Clean my horn? You’re supposed to clean your
When I attempted to look through the mouthpipe, I couldn’t see
any light. He was a high school senior and had gotten the horn as a
You should have heard his sound ten minutes later…or better
yet, his volume. He sounded like a foghorn. I’m surprised he
had not given himself an aneurysm trying to blow through that horn.
It turns out that blowing against all that resistance had really developed
his ability to blow. From that time on the band director was constantly
yelling at him to quit playing so loudly. The above story really happened.
The names have not been used, and there was no one innocent to protect.
One of my former professors told me that twice in his life he has
seen worms crawl out of a student’s instrument. Neither of those
times was I the student, by the way.
your horn! Nobody hates to clean a trumpet more than I do. Since
I have a room full of them, it is truly an all day affair. I don’t
do it often enough, but when I do, here is how I do it.
Fill a bathtub with luke warm water. Don’t
make it too hot. Add a little grease-cutting dish washing liquid.
While the tub is filling, remove the valves from the instrument
and lay them on a soft cloth somewhere. Except for the valves,
everything else can go in the tub. Fill it enough that you can
submerge the entire instrument.
all of your slides out and lay them in the tub. Remove the bottom
valve caps and put them in as well. For good measure, stick your
mouthpiece(s) in there and wash them while you are at it. Let everything
soak for a good thirty or forty-five minutes.
Use a wire “snake” to
scrub out the inside of all of your slides and the inside of the
main instrument. I never push the snake through the valve casings,
however. I consider them too fragile to mess with. I’ll address
cleaning them a little later. When I have a slide that is especially
cruddy on the inside, I either clean it out with a soap that contains
pumice (Lava, for example,) or I stop one end with a cork and pour
vinegar in it and let it sit there for about fifteen minutes. It
might be safe to leave the vinegar in longer, but I’m afraid
to try it. If you’re not certain of the
safety of using vinegar, don’t use it. Use a mouthpiece brush
to clean out the inside of the mouthpieces.
Drain the tub, rinse
all of the pieces of the horn with clean water (inside and out,)
and lay them on a clean dry towel. Clean the tub with a good tub
cleaner. By the time you’re done with it it’s
going to be pretty nasty, and there will be a dark ring of oil and
grease. I don’t know who in your life it will be, but someone
is going to be upset with you if you leave the tub in that condition.
all of the slides with Brasso®. It only takes a small
amount of it, but Brasso® can make all of your slides as clean
as the day it was made. They are actually still brass colored under
all of that muck. Wipe all of the Brasso residue off before proceeding.
a valve cleaning tool to push a clean, dry, lint-free cloth through
the valve casings until that are shiny and smooth. Be careful not
to let the metal tool come in contact with the valve casings. You
do not want to scratch them. If one of these tools is not available,
I use an unsharpened pencil to guide my cleaning rag through the
casings. I also use the pencil rig to clean out the inside of the
bottom valve caps.
Use a clean, dry, lint-free cloth to clean the
valves. I use the eraser end of a pencil to push the cloth into
all of the valve ports. It’s often stunning how much gunk comes
out of them (especially the third valve ports, which are the ones
closest to the mouthpipe.) Most of the stuff you get out of your
horn is moldy food that has escaped your mouth, stuck to the inside
of the horn, and sat there in a damp environment. That’s why
it’s gray, and that’s why
Now that the inside of the instrument, the
brass slides and the valves and valve casings are clean, it is
time to lubricate and reassemble everything. I use a lot of valve
oil when I first insert the valves. This is not the time to be
on. Watch out that a bunch of it doesn’t leak out on your clothes,
although the oil-stained shirt and pants are almost my trademark
at this point in my career. I rub the slides that need a lot of mobility
(first and third) with an even, thin coat of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly® followed
by a squirt of WD-40®. I first started doing this upon the recommendation
of a horn repairmen for whom I have a great deal of respect. It truly
makes the slides slick. You can use valve oil instead of the WD-40®,
but it is not quite as effective. For the other slides (those I don’t
want to slip out too easily…second valve, tuning slide, third
valve water slide,) I use a thick slide grease like the Selmer® pink
grease, or a similar product.
For those of us with silver-plated
instruments, the final step is to polish the silver plating with
a commercial silver polish. For lacquer coated instruments it is
possible to shine them up with a good furniture polish, believe it
or not. Keep all cleaners and polishes, and their residues, away
from the valves.
is one way to get your trumpet back to “like new” condition.
I’m sure others out there have their own way, and that’s
fine. This is the way I do it, and it makes my horns play better without
damaging them in the process. Realistically, this should probably happen
about once a month, although I only do it about twice a year. So far,