If you have some extra time this holiday season (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?) try to find some time to give yourself the gift of a clean french horn!
The Christmas break is a great time to do this since usually the few days after Christmas are pretty slow gig-wise (and, often, practice-wise), and if you’ve been practicing extra-hard for All State or doing some extra gigging while eating some holiday cookies and eggnog (I may or may not be guilty of this) then your horn probably really needs a good cleaning!
Start off by pulling out all the slides and giving your horn a bath. Make sure to have a snake handy (and, depending on when you last cleaned it, don’t wear nice clothes when you’re snaking/cleaning out the gunk!) and use it to get as much of the interior of the tubes clean as possible, but don’t try and force anything. Lots of times the bends in some of the slide tubes are too tight for the snake to make the turn – that’s okay, and you don’t want to punch a hole in a tube on Christmas!
Really, the big issue when bathing your horn is to try and get the leadpipe clean – that’s where probably 75% of the gunk lives, and if you can get that clean then the stuff won’t migrate through the rest of the instrument. If you have the right tools (which are basically just a snake and some patience) this is quite easy, and if you do it weekly you’ll notice that there is much less gunk to work its way down into the valves of the horn.
Once you’ve bathed and dried off your horn, don’t forget to grease the slides and then re-oil the valves! If you’ve done the cleaning thoroughly they should both be in need of a little bit of lubrication!
That’s it! You’ve spent maybe an hour or two on your horn and it should now be in great condition to start the new year (and new semester)! Of course, if you live near a good repair shop, you can just drop it off and have it chemically cleaned, but I find that the turnaround this time of year isn’t really great – since the music shops usually close for a few days around Christmas, your horn may be out of your reach for 2-4 days longer than a normal chemical cleaning would take. Take it in over the summer for the full-service chem clean, and do it yourself over this break!
If you need any supplies (Blue Juice, bearing oil, slide gel, a snake brush) make sure to stick them on your Christmas list also! The cost of a bottle of valve oil or slide grease sure beats the cost of having valve work done, or having a valve stick during an important audition!