Water in the Tone Holes

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One of the recurrent questions on Klarinet is on removing water from tone holes, or even how to try to avoid this condition in the first place. Here are some replies from the archive.

It sounds like the path of water happens to coincide with the location of your tone hole. You can redirect the water by taking a cotton swab of sweet almond oil, and very lightly "painting" around the tone hole (in the bore) the oil. It will redirect the water path. I'm not sure of other oils. I had that done by Marc Jacobi, Phila, Pa. and he had to do it twice. The second time, he used acetone to clear the oil in the bore, and he re-applied the oil. It worked the second time. The water follows the path of least resistance. If the entire bore is oiled with the formula stuff you used, the resistance is equaled along the entire bore-defeating the purpose of changing the resistance to rechannel the waters path. Either do that, or take up snorkeling.

David Blumberg reedman@msn.com
Posted to Klarinet - Mon, 4 Nov 1996

Hans Moennig, who customized my R-13 when I bought them from him in 1964 suggested the following for water in tone holes:
Using wire, trace a line of bore oil inside the bore in a path where you would like the water to go - mabye do it a few times. Then when you play, hopefully the water will follow that path.

Jim Fay nvfayxj@nv.cc.va.us
Posted to Klarinet - Fri, 18 Mar 1994

  1. Make certain that you swab the instrument carefully and completely. Do not use those nice fluffy "Pad Savers" as your only swab. They are fine for whatever purpose you would store them in your bore for, but not until the bore has been swabbed thouroughly first.
  2. Oil the bore of the instrument with a very small amount of bore oil. Put it on a wool swab (one with the metal handle, actually I found that this IS a good use for "Pad Savers") and run through the dry bore a few times. Let this soak in for a few minutes and then swab out the excess using a handkerchief-type swab.
  3. Force the water around the tonehole by placing a small amount of wax just above the offending tonehole. This will redirect the moisture away from its normal path, usually resulting in a new path that is not as offending.
Of course, if you are not inclined to do the oiling, etc. yourself, take it to a repair person. They will usually be very happy to teach you how to care for your instrument.

Steve Fowler sfowler@ix.netcom.com
Posted to Klarinet - Thu, 11 Apr 1996

I have a copy of the book The Clarinet and Clarinet Playing by Robert Willaman. The following quote from this book helps answer the water and the pads question (and it's not saliva - its moisture condensing along the bore from the player's warm breath). Here is the quote from Chapter IV, "Care of Instrument - Simple Repairs" , page 71:
"If while playing the moisture detours through one of the side holes the note gurgles when the key is opened. The worst offender is the G#-C# key because the hole is the farthest underneath in playing position. A quick remedy is to blow into the hole and shake the clarinet in the direction that will force the inner stream of water away from the hole. If the gurgling persists insert the swab in the bore and slip the corner of a handkerchief under the pad. Capillary attraction in both directions should absord all the moisture. If the trouble continues, dry the instrument thoroughly in the air, remove the key and swab the hole with an oily rag, and reach into the bore from the centre joint and paint a circle of oil around the inner end of the offending hole with a pipe cleaner. The water will not cross this oil ring for a long time. Water can often be kept out of this G#-C# hole in the first place by laying the instrument down when not in use with the four trill keys up. Gravity will drain the moisture away from this hole toward the solid side of the bore."
I would assume Willaman means a non-mineral, non-petroleum oil.

On the topic of moisture, Willaman says, on page 69 - same book,

"Moisture of the breath condenses in the bore most of the time. Usually it drains straight down the tube and drips harmlessly from the bell, except in very dry weather or in excessive steam heat. The moisture seldom causes trouble while one is playing ..."
Willaman was writing before forced air heating or electric heating was in wide use - so I take from his comment about steam heat he means playing indoors in heated rooms - especially during the winter months, can cause a greater amount of moisture.
Ian Seddon iseddon@wwdc.com
Posted to Klarinet - Tue, 22 Apr 1997

Almost every clarinetist has been plagued by the "fluttering" of the C#/G# and the Eb/Bb keys on the upper joint due to the collection of water in the tone hole. We blow at the tone hole, use blotter paper to absorb the water and swab frequently. Have you noticed how the water film remains every time you open the key?

We are never going to solve the problem of condensation in the bore. We will never be able to prevent water from entering the tone hold. Therefore, I believe that one needs to prevent any water that enters the hole from remaining once the hole is vented during the course of normal playing. If all of the water in the hole can be "encouraged to leave immediately when the hole is opened the flutter should be very minimal and will not repeat itself after subsequent openings of the tone hole.

I have taken the following steps to remedy the problem:

  • Remove the keys covering the affected tone holes

  • Obtain a can of silicone aerosol and spray a small puddle in a small glass

  • Dip a Q-tip in the solution and squeeze excess silicone out of the cotton tip

  • Apply the silicone to the inside of the tone hole and to the outside where the pad seats

  • Do NOT allow silicone to drip inside the bore past the tone hole

  • Repeat this process several times and allow to dry

  • replace the keys

I have found that if moisture does find its way into the tone hole, once the key is opened, the water is immediately expelled - ALL OF IT. Therefore, you do not experience more than one flutter - and I have found this to be minimal.

I do not intend to discard my clarinet swab. However, I have found that I can play with more assurance that this will diminish the "fluttering".

W. Eugene Hall, Jr. ariel3@bright.net
Personal correspondence, 3 Jan 2001

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