Break-in for Wooden Clarinets

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by Peter Spriggs, peter@pspriggs.com
The Clarinet Center, Penticton, BC, Canada

This section pertains only to those of you who have wooden clarinets.

Cracks in clarinets are something that most players dread. There is one main reason why clarinets crack and that is because the bore: (A) of the instrument swells faster than the outside (B).

Clarinet Bore

There are two causes for this happening:

  1. Playing the clarinet when it is cold which heats up the inside faster than the outside. PRECAUTION: Always let the instrument warm up to room temperature before playing.

  2. Allowing moisture to enter the wood faster from the bore than it does from the outside. All wood swells when water is applied to it and a clarinet is no exception. PRECAUTION: With new instruments or ones that have not been played for some time there should be a breaking-in period. This will allow the wood to absorb moisture slowly and lessen the chance of it cracking.

There is no guarantee, however cautious you are, that the instrument will not crack; however, some advice for breaking- in a clarinet would be:

  • Play only 15 minutes per day for the first week.

  • 15 minutes twice per day the second week (i.e. morning and evening).

  • Gradually increase the time per day until you are playing regularly.

  • The longer the breaking-in period the less chance of cracking.

  • During the winter or when temperatures are low is the worst breaking-in time due to the drier air.

  • Keep some kind of humidifier in the case during the winter. There are some good quality ones available on the market, "DAMPITS" work well, or you can make one yourself. A pill bottle punched with holes and a sponge inside is adequate. Keep the sponge damp at all times.

  • Always swab thoroughly with a good quality handkerchief style swab after every playing. Also dry out the sockets and blow out any water remaining in the tone holes.

After you have broken your clarinet in, it is best not to go more than a few days without playing it. Even if you are on holiday, play every few days for a short while, not just for your sake, but for the sake of the instrument.

I am not convinced that oiling the wood lessens the chance of cracking, however, a light oiling of the wood on the bore only should not do any harm.

Inspect your clarinet from time to time to see if cracks have occurred. They most frequently occur in the upper part of the upper joint in the area of the trill keys and the A key. Should you notice a crack in your clarinet, stop playing immediately. Mark the crack with a pencil from beginning to end and then take it to a reputable repairman for repair.

Should your clarinet crack immediately before or during a concert, it is possible in many cases to put tape over the length of the crack to seal it temporarily so that you can get through. Of course, by playing after noticing the crack, you run the risk of it opening more which would then increase the cost to repair it.

Rings should be tight. If they are loose, they should be tightened by shimming them. Be sure to replace them the correct way. There is a top and bottom.

© Peter Spriggs. Reprinted by permission.

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