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