INSTRUMENT REPAIR & MAINTENANCE: CLARINET
By Jeff Smith
Jeff Smith is president of J. L. Smith & Co., which manufactures and distributes
wind instrument repair tools and supplies. J. L. Smith is also the exclusive
manufacturer and distributor for Valentino products. Jeff Smith has more that
25 years experience as a repair technician and teaches clinics nationally on
woodwind repair to professional technicians.
You know the nightmare: 30 minutes before your Spring Concert
and a clarinet player has a loose pad which needs to be fixed
Here are a few tips to help in such a pinch, but it’s worth
remembering that the most important part of in-school repairs
is knowing what you can fix and what you should leave to a professional.
My suggestions cover clarinet repair using both traditional as
as newer methods and supplies such as the Valentino line of products.
First, let’s discuss the supplies you should have on-hand
for basic clarinet repair. I recommend stocking a selection of
pad sizes or even several pad sets. These can be traditional felt
pads or synthetic pads. Additional tools and supplies will include:
- Micro Pad Cement
- Goo-Gone or lighter fluid
- 220-grit sandpaper
- Flat pliers with a smooth surface
- Patch of leather
- Oversized thumbrest screws
- A hair dryer
- Cotton swabs
- Contact cement
- Feeler gauge
- Pad leveling tool
- Spring hook
Testing for Leaks
Unless the problem is obvious like a torn or loose pad, you will
need to test for leaks. Plug the end of a tenon with a neoprene
plug or the palm of your hand. Using your lips, create suction
on the other end and listen or feel for leaks in the pads.
Many pads, including new ones, can fail for a variety of reasons.
Each pad must touch the tone hole at every point of the compass,
with a first light touch. Pads are traditionally floated in with
glues that become liquid with heat and most factories now use
some sort of hot melt adhesive.
a pad comes loose, it may be easy to reinstall the pad as a temporary
measure. Simply heat up the key cup with a heat source such as
a cigarette lighter, then slip the pad back under the key cup
using a pin or needle pressed into the side between the felt and
the cardboard backing and close and open the key repeatedly with
a light touch. This action will force the pad to find its home.
If the pad is ripped or moth-eaten it will need to be replaced.
When installing pads, make sure the key cup is clean: this can
be accomplished by heating the key cup slightly and removing the
heated residue with a cotton swap. When using traditional felt
pads, apply a small dollop if Micro Cement on the bottom of the
pads. Gently insert into the key cup and press the key down slightly
to seat the pad. Use a rubber band or a clamp, such as the Valentino
key clamp, to hold the key down.
Valentino pads require a slightly different technique. Remove
all prior adhesives from cups. Select proper diameter-size pads,
remove paper backing and insert into key cup. No heat or added
adhesive is needed. All closed keys will self-seat with pressure
caused by normal spring tension. Place a pad-leveling tool between
pad and tone hole and press key cup firmly. Use a pad-leveling
gauge to measure the key opening. If the opening is too small,
either the pad or key cork are too thick and could cause a pitch
problem. All open key pads need to be seated with heat. Use an
ordinary hair dryer (on high) positioned about two to three inches
from open keypads for eight to 10 seconds. Then immediately close
key with a key clamp, such as the Valentino Key Clamp. Allow key
cups to cool for approximately two minutes. The pads will never
lose this seat as bladder pads do, because the seat is embossed
with heat and Valentino material does not have memory as the wool
does in the bladder pad.
Joint (tenon) corks
For emergency repairs, I suggest using the Valentino synthetic
cork strips. They are pre-cut and self-adhesive. Clean off
old glue residue with Goo-gone or lighter fluid. Remove the
protective paper backing and wrap completely around the tenon.
With sharp knife or single-edge razor blade, cut through both
layers. Remove excess and butt the ends together. Use commercial
cork grease if necessary.
With traditional cork, I recommend 3/64” strips. Cut
the cork to fit inside of the tenon channel. For a finished
look, bevel one end of the strip about 1/4” from the
end at a 45-degree angle. You can also simply butt the ends
together. Apply contact cement to the tenon channel and to
the underside of the cork and the topside of the bevel. For
the center tenon, I recommend removing the bridge key. Allow
contact cement to completely dry. Attach the beveled end of
the strip to the tenon and slowly wrap the cork around the
tenon covering the bevel section or butt up against the starting
end. Sand cork with 220-grit paper if necessary.
Use rubbing alcohol on swab to remove oils from cork area.
Apply contact cement to both the cork and the key part and
let dry completely before bonding. I recommend keeping a supply
of Valentino key corks. They are precut for most common key
silencers, are self-adhesive, and eliminate the need to remove
Use a commercial spring hook to set loose springs back in
place. Replacement of broken or missing springs is best left
to a professional.
There is usually only one adjustment screw on the clarinet,
on the front G#. This is designed strictly to adjust the opening
of the G# key when fingering A. Adjust this screw so that there
is only a tiny gap (use your feeler) between the A key and
The other common adjustment is the one-on-one Bb or bridge
key, which is usually pushed out of adjustment by improper
assembly of the instrument. Adjust the upper bridge using flat
pliers and a thin strip of leather to avoid scratching the
key. Other key adjustments are best left to professionals.
When a thumb rest is broken off, usually the screw holes are
broken out. It would be wise to keep a number of oversized
thumb rest screws on-hand. If the oversized screws won’t
get a grip into the holes, the holes will have to be filled
and re-drilled by a professional.
Clarinets with stuck swabs should be taken to a professional
to avoid more extensive damage.
Most supplies listed here should be available form your local
repair professional or your full service school music dealer.
For supplies not available locally visit www.valentinopads.com.
Reprinted with permission of School
Band and Orchestra magazine
Please visit them at www.sbomagazine.com
Instrument Now at www.stringseason.com/workshop