The physical trombone is an expensive and beautiful work of art. As a musician, it is your duty to keep it clean, working, and in good repair. The following should help you to keep your instrument in good condition.
Lubricating Your Trombone
A trombone slide should be lubricated daily or as often as needed. Always remember to relubricate the various pans after a thorough cleaning. The
proper procedure for lubrication is noted under Assembling Your Instrument.
Keeping a Shine
After playing, wipe fingerprints and other marks off the outside of your instrument carefully with a soft, dry cloth. This removes perspiration which can damage lacquer and metal.
In order to keep the finish on your instrument looking bright and new, wipe carefully with a polishing cloth developed especially for lacquered finishes. Do not use commercial metal polishes on lacquered instruments as they will damage the lacquer and expose metal to air and cause it to tarnish.
Dents, Dings, and Scratches
Do NOT try to take out dents yourself—it requires special tools and training to have the desired effects. If you have dents, dings, or scratches take the instrument to school so it can be repaired.
Special Instructions for Trombones
- Always hold a trombone by the outside handslide brace when not playing.
- Extra care should be taken not to damage the slide. Do not press hard with the cleaning or polishing cloth because trombone slides are supported on at the end of the inner slide. For this reason even comparatively light pressure can be enough to spring the tubing and cause the slides to bind and drag.
- Never strike or bump the slide against anything that will bend or dent it and impair its action.
- When using a mute, set carefully so as to not dent the bell of the instrument.
Cleaning Your Instrument
Sooner or later, no matter how well you take care of your horn, it’s going to need a bath. If this is a new horn or a used horn that has been cleaned before it came to you and you don’t play more than an hour a day, you may be able to go a month or longer between cleanings. But if your slide sounds scratchy it’s usually a good indication that the brass outer tubes have begun to get dirty inside. It’s not hard to clean a trombone, but be prepared to spend at least 20 minutes to do it correctly. And, as always, BE CAREFUL when disassembling and handling your trombone.
- A flexible brush or snake with a small brushes at each end.
- A trombone slide cleaning rod. This straight piece of inflexible metal has one looped end and one flat end that has an eyelet or slot.
- Cheesecloth (available in hardware and grocery stores) or an old bedsheet or other thin fabric that you can tear into strips. You’ll wrap these strips of material around the cleaning rod.
- A mild liquid detergent — usually dish soap (without bleach or hand conditioners).
- A couple of old bath-size towels and a washcloth (do NOT use Mom’s good towels. If in doubt ask her which towels to use).
- A mouthpiece brush — a small, tapered brush that you’ll use to keep the inside of your mouthpiece stem clean.
- Some kind of tuning slide lubricating grease to replace what you’ll wash off.
The most critical points of the slide trombone are the slides, mouthpipe, and mouthpiece. When dirt or foreign matter of any kind is allowed to
accumulate in any one of these parts, it can hinder the ease of playing and adversely affect tone quality and intonation. The mouthpiece should be thoroughly washed and cleaned daily using a mouthpiece brush to make sure there are no accumulations in the back bore. The tuning slide in the bell section should be removed and cleaned several times a year depending on the amount of playing. First run warm water (NEVER HOT) through the slide. Work the slide vigorously to loosen the accumulations of dirt and dry lubricant.
To clean your trombone, line a clean bathtub with a towel. Then run lukewarm water into a clean bathtub. Do NOT use hot or cold water, as extreme temperatures can sometimes damage your instrument. Add about one tablespoon of dish soap to the water. Turn the water off when there is enough water to just cover your trombone.
CAREFULLY disassemble the slides from the bell section and place all of the pieces in the tub. Start with the bell section and be careful not to bump the slide with the other pieces while you are cleaning.
Put a small amount of mild, liquid dish soap into the end of the bell where the tuning slide used to be, and also into the tuning slide itself. Run the snake through the openings in the bell section and also through the tuning slide. Put a small amount of soap on the wet washcloth and clean the slide grease from the legs of the tuning slide, which fit into the bell section. You can use the soap and your hands or the washcloth to clean off any spots on the outside of the horn. Be careful not to scratch the lacquer! Now, rinse the bell section inside and out and place it on the other bath towel, a safe distance from where you’re working, to drain. It’s time to clean the slide.
NOTE: Remember not to twist or otherwise put pressure on either the inner or outer slide when they are assembled or disassembled. The slightest bend or dent can cause major problems with your slide action. The inner tubes must be parallel to each other in order for them to work without dragging.
Reassemble the slide—don’t worry about the water in the outer tubes. Hold the assembled slide upright with the slide bumper on the bottom of the tub. Put a small amount of soap into the opening for each inner slide tube (one where the mouthpiece goes in, one where the slide and bell go together). Put one end of the snake into one of the tubes. If it’s a metal snake, try to keep the metal from scraping the sides of the top of the tubes by grasping the top of the tube and the snake in your fist, then feed the snake through it with your other hand. Push and pull the snake up and down in the tube for a minute or so, allowing the brush to scrub the interior. When you come to the bottom the tube, STOP. Don’t force the snake around the slide crook. Remove the snake and repeat on the other tube. Turn on the lukewarm water again. Holding the slide by one of the tubes at the brace, close your fist around the tub spout so that water is forced, under pressure, though the slide and back out the other tube (see picture). Allow the water to run through until it comes out clear. Separate the inner and outer slides again. Lay the outer slide back underwater on the towel. Put some soap on your hand or on the washcloth and wash down the outside chrome plating of the inner slides. Rinse with lukewarm water and set it aside to dry on the towel where you already put the bell pieces. Now you’re ready to clean the outer slide.
Remove the outer slide from the water and hold it vertically just above the water line. Open the spit valve and let the water drain. Put a small amount of soap into each slide tube and, holding it as you did when using the snake to clean the inner slide insert the snake into one of the tubes. Push and pull the snake up and down in the tube for a minute or so, allowing the brush to scrub the interior. When you come to the bottom of the tube, STOP. Don’t force the snake around the slide crook. Remove the snake and repeat on the other slide. Rinse out the outer slide in the same manner as you did the inner slide until the water runs clear. If the water NEVER runs clear, you will probably have to use brass cleaner. Lay the slide back under water and get your cheesecloth and cleaning rod. The cheesecloth should be cut or torn into a strip that’s about 6 inches longer than the cleaning rod and about 6 inches wide. Insert one end of the cloth through the eyelet in the rod and wrap the rest of the cloth around the rod, making sure that no metal sticks out (as pictured). You should have enough cloth left at the loop end of the rod so that you can hold the rod and the cloth at the same time. NEVER let go of the cloth while cleaning the slide. Hold one slide tube at the brace, as you did when wiping down the inner slides before applying lubricant (described above). ALWAYS work on the tube you’re holding. Carefully insert the end of the rod into the top of the tube, where you’re holding it. It should fit snugly but not so tight that you have to force it into the tube. If it’s too tight, you’ve got too wide a strip of cloth. If it’s too loose, you won’t get any of the cleaning action of the cheesecloth. Either way, rewrap the cheesecloth until it fits snugly. Push and pull the rod up and down in the slide tube. Again, NEVER let go of the top of the cloth that is at the loop end of the rod. If the cheesecloth comes out clean, you’re in good shape. If it comes out black or green, you’ll have to redo the cleaning process with brass polish.
Use a towel to remove any remaining water from the outside of the trombone. Reassemble your trombone as directed in Assembling Your Instrument.
Dry your brushes and put them all away. Wring out the towel that was soaking in the bathtub, throw towels and rags into the laundry, and put the plastic cup and dish soap away. Make sure to dry up any puddles you may have left on the floor in the bathroom and return the bathroom to better than usual condition (it’ll make Mom so much happier). Enjoy the feeling of a clean, clear-sounding instrument.