My Trombone"”A (C)lean Machine   

Mike Rafalczyk Posaunist,
Mike Rafalczyk

Dear fellow trombonist,

Daily body care is probably a matter of course for most of us. Many of us also like to keep their car spic and span. But what about our instrument? While we simply expect a smooth response in all registers and a beautiful sound from our trombone, we tend to forget that these features can be affected by all kinds of deposits inside the instrument. Allow me therefore to discuss something quite a few teachers simply forget to mention:

Care and cleaning of your trombone

Nice on the outside

As a rule, external care"”which merely focuses on the looks"”is easy as pie. If your instrument is varnished, daily care merely requires a soft cloth. Try not to use pieces of cloth with slings (like terry, for instance). They tend to collect dust particles that will be rubbed into the instrument, causing scratches to appear. Before long, your instrument will look rather horrible. Be aware that hand sweat is always present.


And it contains acids that will damage the finish. At first, such damage may be microscopic, but if you wait too long, it will only be a matter of time before the first craters appear. They, in turn, are the perfect receptacles for new sweat, which will cause even more damage. For this reason, consider using a special cleansing agent for brass instruments every few weeks. It contains wax particles that will stop the gaps and protect them from corrosion.

Silver-plated trombones

If your trombone is silver-plated, daily care can also be performed with a soft cloth. Silver tends to react with sulphur that is contained in normal air and also hand sweat. That is why silver tends to turn brown or even black. Such traces can be eliminated with a silver cleaning cloth every few weeks. The impregnation of such cloths usually goes a long way. Even a black cloth may still be usable. Purchasing a silver cleaning cloth for musical instruments would be a smart idea... The kind of cloth you buy in supermarkets may be suitable for granny’s cutlery, but would affect a trombone’s high-gloss silver plating. You should also shy away from liquid silver polish, because it usually contains tiny abrasives that may remove silver particles each time you use the polish.

Older trombones

If your trombone is a bit older and not varnished"”just think of the specimen still seen in trombone choirs and associations"”external care will be more tedious, because it requires metal polish. Apply it to the instrument with a soft cloth using circular motions, let it settle, and then use a second cloth to make your instrument shine again. Again, only use polish suitable for brass instruments. It will leave a thin protective film on the instrument’s surface, which keeps it from tarnishing for a while.

...dirty on the inside?

I have been playing the trombone for almost 40 years and also worked at a music store with a big wind and brass department and its own master workshop for 11 years. I cannot even begin to describe what I saw there! Are you aware of the JUPITER "Killerhorn" trombone, which I helped to design? I knew right from the start that this instrument would offer a perfect response.

So when a customer came back to the shop, stating that his model (which he had been playing for four years) had become a bitch to play, I was rather skeptical. When I opened the case, I could literally smell that something was rotten... Do you know that awkward, stuffy smell that emanates from certain instrument cases? When I noticed it, I immediately knew that the instrument had never been cleaned. One look inside proved that my apprehension had been way too mild.

  • Posaune
  • Posaune

Tip: Pull your trombone’s inner slide out and hold both pipes (starting with the upper) against the light.
Left: Do you see the tiny light spot? THAT was the only remaining opening in the upper slide pipe.
Right: The lower slide pipe was well on its way towards complete obstruction, too.

Tip: a well looked-after slide pipe shines like a MIRROR!

No wonder the instrument failed to respond... I’m not sure how many drinks, sandwiches and sausages it takes to reach this degree of obstruction"”but it should never come to this! A bath is not only a delight for yourself"”it can also help your trombone relax.

Take a bath

Here’s how it works: disassemble your instrument until the bell, the inner and outer slides are separated from one another. Unscrew the bath tub’s shower head, get the detergent and prepare two pieces of cloth. Press the shower hose onto the pipes and rinse all three parts with a strong, hot water jet. Spray a few drops of detergent into the bell, fill it with water and let it rest in a safe place.

Cleaning the slides

Do the same with the outer slide. As for the inner slide... This one requires a special wiper. I can recommend several products I have used to great effect. REKA, for instance, sells a wiper set. It comprises a nylon string with sponge rubber at one end as well as a special mouthpiece brush. The wiper is intended for the outer and inner slides. The sponge rubber rubs against the pipe walls, removing all dirt it encounters. For the outer slide, push the wiper through the side where the moisture key is.

Afterwards, carefully clean the sponge rubber to prevent germ formations that might cause the rubber to disintegrate. As an alternative, consider using a metal rod with terry covering manufactured by Slide-O-Mix. Although it works well for the inner slide, it cannot be passed through the slide bow. I myself use both of the aforesaid. I’m not too fond of brushes attached to cords, because their bristles only scratch the deposits without actually removing them. Finally, cleanse all instrument parts with running water, grease the tuning slide and the slide assembly and assemble your instrument. You’re done!

The entire procedure takes 15~20 minutes tops. By repeating this every 6~8 weeks, your instrument will not only work flawlessly and sound perfect, it will also help you avoid costly repair and keep your instrument in mint condition. Because any residue in your trombone (whose inner parts are not varnished) will cause the brass to deteriorate at some point and lead to that dreaded phenomenon called corrosion. This can be detected by looking for brown spots underneath the varnish. They cannot be contained, by the way and will eventually destroy the brass pipe.

Tip: Periodic maintenance and care save you a lot of trouble and money!

Have fun with your squeaky clean trombone!

Mike Rafalczyk