As clarinetists, it’s important to learn to take good care of the instrument to ensure that it performs as well as possible, for as long as possible. There are several common issues that can arise as part of normal “wear-and-tear” for clarinet players.
For beginners, leaks may happen as they learn to place their fingers over the tone holes with the fleshiest part of the finger (the pad) plugging each tone hole, rather than the tip of each finger. Not completely sealing the tone holes with the fingers will result in squeaks, chirps, or notes simply not speaking. Usually players quickly learn to prevent these noises from happening, but leaks can also arise from one or more keys being out of adjustment, or from a pad(s) no longer sealing properly and needing replacement. If, after checking that the player is doing everything correctly in terms of hand position, embouchure, and air support, if there are still problems with getting notes to speak, then it’s time to have a repair technician check the instrument. This is usually a quick and easy process and results in a straightforward repair.
Players with wooden clarinets must also be careful about exposing their instruments to changes in humidity and temperature: make sure it’s stored in a temperature-controlled place where the temperature won’t fluctuate wildly, and where the humidity is relatively constant. Try not to leave it in the car on a hot or cold day, for example. Wood that is exposed to these extreme changes can crack, which will cause leaks and tuning issues; depending on the severity of the crack, they may or may not be repairable.
Noisy keys usually happen when the instrument is being played regularly. Over time, the moving parts become loose, perhaps even lose a bumper cork or spacer, the springs need to be oiled, etc. While this is not usually detrimental as the instrument is played, it certainly can be annoying, and these noises can be eliminated or greatly reduced by a visit to the repair shop for a tune-up or a full overhaul. Noise is especially common among the long pinky keys on the lower joint, which have a lot of moving parts, and this is a common and simple repair for technicians to address.
When pads are no longer sealing properly, it’s usually visible. They become discolored; they may be loose; they may have a tear or rip; they may even fall off. Pad replacement is a simple repair for technicians. Also, cork pads are an excellent choice to replace regular pads because they are less susceptible to water/moisture and they last longer. Every pad on the top joint can be replaced with cork, except for the middle ring pad.
To create the necessary tension for each key, there are springs throughout the clarinet. These will wear over time and can break or bend, especially if the clarinet has been dropped, bumped, or otherwise damaged. (When it’s not in use, keep it in the case!) Sometimes the springs can simply pop out of place as well. Generally, spring repair requires removal of keys so a visit to the repair shop is needed.
An overhaul of the instrument may be needed when a major problem arises, or if there are several minor problems that happen at once. If you play every day as a music student, especially if it’s for multiple hours a day, regular overhauls are recommended to keep the instrument in good working order over its lifetime. A technician takes the instrument apart, addresses all the issues at once, and then reassembles it. These overhauls are often done by specialists, rather than a local music shop. Contact your private teacher or band director for specialist recommendations. More information about repairs and overhauls can be found here.
If you keep up with these normal repairs, your clarinet will last a very long time as an excellent tool for music-making!