How to Clean a French Horn

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When cleaning and maintaining a French horn, it's important to focus on the valves, the slides and the insides of the instrument. Discover how far preventative maintenance can go in keeping a French horn in great shape with help from a horn player in this free video on musical instruments and French horns.

Part of the Video Series: French Horn
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Video Transcript

As with any machine, preventative maintenance is the most important aspect of keeping the horn in good working order. So, what we need to do is focus on three separate parameters, when we're talking about cleaning and maintaining the horn. One is the valves, one is the slides, and one is the inside of the instrument and we'll talk about all of those separately. Basically, the idea is to keep all of the moving parts lubricated with oil, the proper type of oil, or grease so that over time the metal won't wear away, and the horn will be able to keep itself in good working order. So, first we're going to talk about oiling the valves, which is probably something you should do everyday or every other day, and the reason is we need to keep the inside of the valves and the inside of the horn itself lubricated. By keeping the metal lubricated on the inside of the horn, it keeps the oxidization from happening. When we blow hot air into the instrument, much hotter than the outside air usually causes condensation, can cause corrosion on the inside of the instrument. If the inside of the instrument is basically coated with oil at all times, it will not corrode, it lasts for decades. So, the basic idea is to take just very simple valve oil, nothing fancy, petroleum product, I don't recommend synthetics although that's an arguable point. First thing we want to do, is we want to take the valve cap off and just give a couple of drops of oil right there on the valve, and of course, repeat for all of your valves, so that's basically what we call oiling the top bearing. Then you want to take out your first F slide, a little squirt of oil in there, not too much, and then replace the slide, remember push the valve down when you do that, so that you won't create a large amount of pressure in there. Let up on the valve and then we'll just wiggle the valves and move the horn, that's basically coating the inside of the valve, between the valve and the casing itself. And, then the last thing that we do is we get a little heavier oil, a little specialized applicator there so we can get into the crack between the rotor and the casing, right there, and we call that oiling the back bearing. You're going to use a little heavier oil maybe once every other day for that and it gives a really nice feel, the combination of the light oil on the inside of the valve, and this little heavier oil on the back bearing. The next thing we need to be concerned with in terms of cleaning our horn and making sure that it's in good working order is to grease the slides, and there are between eight and twelve slides on any given horn, depending on the type of horn that you have. Here's a slide, this is the first F slide, and there, it's quite simple what needs to happen here. First of all, we need to make sure that there's no oxidization on the outside of this slide itself, so a good brass cleaning product like Brasso, just take a nice, soft rag, clean off the oxidization, make sure before you grease the slide that all of the cleaning product is removed, again with another soft cloth. And then, just take your finger, use a little wheel bearing grease. Walter Lawson, many years ago told me that was the best thing to use and I've used it about once a month every since, it works great on slides, it stays for a long time. Little wheel bearing grease on the slide, replace the slide in, and then remove any excess and that'll keep you well lubricated on the slides for about a month, or so. Then remove all of the, at the end of that time, remove all of the grease that's left over, and just re-clean and re-grease the slides, again about every month and that should do fairly well. And, finally in order to keep the horn in good working order, we need to made sure that certain parts of the horn are cleaned on a fairly regular basis. The most important one of course, is the one that touches our body, and that is the mouthpiece and it's quite simple. Hot water and a mouthpiece brush, cleaning outside, and the inside once a week, or more often if you like is great. So, to clean the lead pipe out is a specialized piece of equipment called Lead Pipe Snake, or just a snake, and how this works is that, take your mouthpiece out, and take your main tuning slide out, and there's a little tubing here, a delicate little piece of tubing called the lead pipe, and it's where most of the residue from our mouth, any food particles, anything like that are going to lodge and that's what we need to make sure that we keep clean, for a lot of different reasons. The horn will respond very differently if the mouth pipe is dirty. So, basically all that needs to happen is the snake inserted into the front end of the lead pipe and pushed through, all the way through until it comes out here where the main slide attaches to the lead pipe. Have a rag ready to receive any residue there, and I probably won't get anything, if you clean your lead pipe every week, but if you wait for a couple of months there will be a little something that comes out. No big deal, just throw it away and flush with a little bit of Distilled Water, or even tap water will be fine, and you should be good to go. I do recommend that the horn be chemical cleaned about once every year to every two years, it's a really great way to remove all residue from the inside of the horn, without leaving any kind of scaly kind of mineral deposits that you could, if you gave your horn a bath. And, I know that's a very common thing to hear that band directors say give your horn a bath, wash it out, but that's a great way to freeze up your valves and leave mineral deposits on the inside of the horn. Best to spend a little bit of money, get the horn professionally, chemically cleaned, clean out your lead pipe every week, or every two weeks, keep the mouthpiece cleaned, you'll be in good shape.


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