Care and Maintenance

There are basic guidelines to follow which can extend the useful life of your clarinet and make a significant reduction in the likelihood of a crack occurring in the wood.

Woods and Seasoning

Grenadilla wood (dalbergia melanoxylon) has been the primary wood used in the manufacture of clarinets, clarinet barrels and clarinet bells for the past century. Grenadilla, or Mpingo as it is sometimes called, is harvested in east Africa. This wood is a extremely dense, oily hardwood. Cocobolo wood (dalbergia retusa), from the same dalbergia wood family, is also in use particularly for barrels and bells. The care and maintenance requirements of these woods are identical.

At Taplin-Weir we fully season the wood used to make our barrels and bells through a proprietary system which promotes stability and minimizes dimensional movement. Followed by proper ongoing care, this unique curing system reduces the risk of cracking.

Causes of Cracking

The two foremost causes of a crack occurring in the wood are imbalances in moisture or temperature distribution throughout the wood.

  • Moisture – It is most important to maintain balanced moisture content throughout the wood of your clarinet. Providing an ideal wood moisture content range of between 40 to 50% will safeguard a clarinet against cracking and enhance its playability. If a wood clarinet body becomes dry the wood shrinks. If moisture is introduced into the inner bore of the clarinet while the outer wood is dry, the inner bore wall will expand directing pressure toward the dry outer wood. This imbalance of moisture can exert enough internal force that the outer wood will crack to relieve this pressure. Loose metal tenon rings are the immediate sign that a clarinet has become too dry. Do not assemble a clarinet with loose rings! Tenon rings which are loose offer no protection to the wood in the thin wall tenon areas and the pressure from the inner tenon can crack the socket wall. Humidity introduced in the inside of a closed clarinet case will soon expand the wood to safe humidity levels with tight tenon rings. A commercial humidifier, such as 'The Humistat'® inside the clarinet case will add the required moisture. A capable repairman can also tighten loose tenon rings if they remain loose.

  • Temperature –  Warm air introduced into the bore of a cold wood clarinet can potentially cause cracking to occur. When a clarinet is cold, the introduction of warm air causes an expansion of the bore relative to the cold, constricted outer body surface resulting in an imbalance which has the potential to result in cracking. Bring a clarinet slowly up to room temperature when coming in from the cold by opening the case and holding the clarinet body under your arm before blowing warm air inside. Be very cautious playing a clarinet in areas where cold breezes or air conditioning produce a temperature differential which the wood cannot withstand. Never expose a clarinet for long periods to the direct rays of the sun. This too will create a risk of cracking due to temperature.

Prevention

  • Moisture Balance - Maintaining an even wood moisture balance on an ongoing basis is the most critical element in limiting potential cracking and enhancing the playing characteristics of a wood clarinet. A humidifier must be a constant presence in the clarinet case in order to maintain wood moisture unless there is enough ambient humidity in your geographical area to provide a minimum 40% humidity level. Low humidity, dry regions or the drier winter months in other areas exaggerate this requirement.

  • Swabbing – frequent swabbing of the clarinet bore (including wiping out the sockets) during playing sessions is imperative in preventing the clarinet bore from absorbing too much moisture. Take extra caution to thoroughly remove excess moisture prior to returning the clarinet to its case. Do not leave a swab inside the clarinet bore.

  • Bore Oil – a very light coating of bore oil can help prevent the clarinet from absorbing moisture into the bore wall too quickly and keep water from collecting in a specific area. Dedicate a swab to oiling and use Sweet Almond Oil, natural light oil which is not aromatic. Avoid commercial bore oils, their formulations may not be of benefit to the wood. Application periods are dependent upon clarinet use, but for steady playing apply bore oil inside the clarinet only every 3 months. Again, a very light, even oiling is all that is required. Too much oil may cause the inner fibres to swell which also poses the risk of cracking.

Break in Period

New clarinets must be gradually broken in to acclimatize the instrument to the introduction of a player’s moist air into the bore and the vibrations of the wood created by tone production.

  • Time – for the 1st week play the clarinet a maximum of ½ hour per day in two 15 minute sessions. Gradually extend this playing time over a one month period.

  • Swabbing – very frequent swabbing is required in the early playing period to minimize the rate of moisture absorption. Swab out the clarinet every 5 minutes during the 1st month of playing.

  • Oiling – a very light oiling of the bore can be done after the 1st and 2nd six week periods of playing. Beyond this, a very light oiling every quarter will suffice.

  • Consistency – during the break-in period it is very important to play the clarinet daily. This allows the introduction of moisture to remain at stable, consistent levels as the clarinet responds to steady playing. If you must stop playing a new clarinet during the break-in period be sure there is a humidifier present in the case to maintain stable humidity levels. Gradually extend playing sessions in even time periods when playing is resumed.

  • Tenon fit - in some cases a new clarinet will swell enough during the early playing period or in times of excess humidity to cause the fit of the tenon areas to become too tight. This generally affects the barrel/upper joint tenon due to its proximity to the player’s moisture entering through the mouthpiece. The tenon/socket relationship may have to be refit in order to provide a workable clearance. If the barrel is not removable allow the clarinet to dry down for a day or two to allow this fit to relax. Please contact us if you experience this problem with a new clarinet.

Following these simple guidelines minimize the likelihood of a crack occurring in your clarinet. It will also improve the playing characteristics and greatly extend its useable life.

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